The tourism industry is the backbone of the Maldives’ economy. Tourism revenue accounts for more than a third of the country’s GDP. Sun-seeking tourists are attracted to the country’s fabled natural beauty and seclusion. But the reputation of the Maldives as a peaceful and safe place is equally important. Safety concerns play a vital role in determining the success of a destination. Hotel Insider takes a look at security issues in the industry.

In the early days of mass tourism, the conventional wisdom was to avoid talking about safety and security. Hotel managers often avoid talking to guests about potential threats in order to avoid alarm. The Maldives is the sunny side of life after all.

But real and perceived threats do have a significant impact on arrival numbers. Holidaymakers do not want to be worried on vacation. They will go where such risks do not exist. Hoteliers will benefit from taking measures to ensure that their establishment is safe from dangers such as fire, theft, cybercrime, terrorism and natural disasters.

A fiery moment

A fire incident occurred in a high-end Maldives resort in early 2019. No one was injured but guests and staff had to be evacuated. A restaurant and seven over-water villas were destroyed and the resort had to be closed down for repairs. That meant hundreds of staff without jobs, cancellation of bookings, and refunds.

The tourism ministry has stringent preventative measures in place when it comes to the specific threat of fire. Laws and regulations have been made to bring hotels up to international fire safety best practices. Prior to getting an operating license, it is mandatory for new resorts to have detailed fire emergency plans as well as disaster management measures such as alarm systems, extinguishers and evacuation plans.

Although rare, fire incidents still occur at hotels and resorts. Wood and thatching are the most commonly used materials in resort building. So, once it starts, the fire spreads quickly.

While the tourism ministry requires all resorts to have 75 percent of its staff trained in fire fighting, and to conduct regular fire emergency exercises, some resorts do not follow these rules.

“New resorts are required by law to have fire and safety measures in place before they are allowed to open up for business. Unfortunately, most properties just do the bare minimum to obtain the relevant license,” said Adil Naeem, the Director of Global Fire Services.

Employees need to be made aware of the evacuation strategy in order to put it into practice in the event of a fire. Trained staff are likely to be calm in the event of a fire, which can help save lives. Fire is no joke and fire safety should not be overlooked. Insurance does not cover loss of jobs or lives lost.

Personal safety and theft

For travellers, theft and robbery are the most common threat to personal safety in every destination. While security personnel, alarm systems, cameras and safety deposit boxes are present in every hotel, these incidents still occur. In the last decade, there has been a hike in the number of cases of theft reported from resorts. In most cases, safes containing salaries and passports were stolen, and in some instances, safes were stolen from guest rooms.

Ensuring the safety and security of the hotel, its staff and guests should be the number one priority for hoteliers. If the existing security measures are proving to be insufficient, hoteliers could enlist the help of a security firm and invest in good security systems.

Natural disasters

Island resorts face a great threat in terms of natural disasters such as flooding, swell surges and tsunamis.

According to the World Bank, the country’s current development challenges “stem from risks from climate change, disaster resilience and environmental sustainability with rising levels of solid waste. Almost half of all settlements and over two thirds of critical infrastructure are located within 100 meters of the shoreline and are under immediate threat from rising sea levels.”

While what attracts the tourists are the overwater villas surrounded by the ocean, they are also the most vulnerable to mother nature’s fury. These remote islands are not prepared for a natural disaster. In the event of a tsunami warning, island resorts must act quickly to evacuate as soon as possible. Stocking up on enough lifeboats to evacuate hundreds of people may be costly, but they could also save the lives of hundreds.

Cyber security

Concurrent with the advancements in technology, the hospitality industry has seen tremendous growth with businesses investing in innovative technology to store and manage data. With the boost in millennial travellers and the introduction of mobile technology, more customers are using online travel agencies and internet banking. Social media is widely used to promote hotels and destinations.

While the advancement of new forms of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have made service more efficient, they also pose new threats such as online fraud and hacking.

This presents the challenge of making the internet safer without minimising development opportunities.

A few years ago, continued Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the server of the largest telecommunication service provider in the country disrupted internet services. There have been many cases of hacking, internet financial scams and identity theft reported, and an increased prevalence of money-grabbing scams using mobile phones in the past few years.

New trends in cybercrimes such as phishing and botnet attacks are constantly discovered. Large amounts of data and copyrighted material can be manipulated or stolen with the click of a mouse. There is also the threat of unauthorised access, malicious software and DoS attacks.

The increased use of new technology makes it more difficult for law enforcement officers to investigate and prosecute cybercrimes. In the Maldives, there are few laws and regulations relating to cybercrime. Deterring cybercrime is also crucial for the national security of the country. Adoption of an appropriate legislation to protect from abuse of ICTs for criminal purposes should be the highest priority for regulators, as the speed of advancement of ICTs have challenged many areas of existing legislation.

The hospitality industry relies heavily on ICTs. They extend to all the segments in the industry. Cybercrimes are a real threat to businesses. Hoteliers will benefit from securing its data and information systems, and ensuring that guests are protected from cybercrime while they are at your establishment.

Terrorism

In the past, terrorism and organised crime were not considered prominent threats. In the recent years, however, they have risen to the top of the list of threats to travellers. As tourist establishments have become a target for terrorist attacks, holiday-makers are more careful in selecting destinations they choose to travel to. And being vulnerable to attacks such as these affect travellers’ perceptions. This is apparent in the case of Sri Lanka, where the country’s tourism is still recovering from the multiple terror attacks earlier this year.

These remote islands surrounded by the ocean on all sides also make access easier. One or two security personnel making rounds might not be enough. Tourists don’t want to be worried about risks from violence when on vacation so they will go where such risks do not exist.

Hoteliers may benefit from hiring trained security staff. By checking ferries, baggage, as well as persons coming in, resorts could ensure that weapons and dangerous persons are kept out.

“Resorts need stronger security measures that cover all the threats to safety and security. Security is not a moneymaking department, it’s an expenditure but in the long run, a lot of money can be saved. And laws and regulation sneed to be enacted to enforce this, because it just takes one incident to ruin the whole industry and the economy. So we need to secure this billion-dollar industry,” says Rishyf Thoha, the CEO and chief security consultant of XCOPS Security Services & Solutions.

While the country’s ‘one island one resort’ concept is a big draw, it also brings its own set of challenges when it comes to proving safety and security to its visitors.

Tourist establishments should invest in the best technology to ensure safety and security in every aspect. Instead of dealing with safety and security threats on their own, hotels should work with the authorities to find solutions and to deter targeted crimes. Creating a local network by bringing together all the agents interacting with visitors can also be an effective way to address visitor safety and security concerns.

Safety regulations should not be ignored, and strict laws and regulations are required to ensure safety and security in every aspect. Security legislations, policies and measures may need to be reviewed to ensure that tourists have legal protection against violent and organised crime.

It is also important to ensure that different sectors of tourism, such as airlines and airports, seaplane terminals, and other types of transportation follow international safety and security practices. Organised crime and terrorist attacks are usually targeted and planned in advance, and with the proper safety and security measures, they can be prevented.

The Maldives recently topped the list of countries reliant on tourism. As the success or failure of a tourism destination depends on being able to provide a safe and secure environment for its visitors, one such incident could derail the whole industry and disrupt its economy. As the country is expanding and gearing up to welcome more visitors, stringent measures are needed to safeguard the industry.