by Tahir Mustafa (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)
Saudi Crown Prince and his entourage of 100 are relaxing on the sin islands of Maldives even while hundreds of tourists had their bookings cancelled without notice or apology.
“Exhausted” by his tour of a couple of countries, Crown Prince Salman bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz felt it was time to take a break and relax on some nice tropical island. What better place than the Maldives, those tiny islands in the Indian Ocean that are fast sinking into the sea. But when you are the Crown Prince of a rich kingdom like Saudi Arabia and the president of Maldives, ‘Abdulla Yameen sends an invitation to visit and stay for a while, it may be difficult to resist.
The Maldives are a nice place. Spread over more than 1190 Atols of which only 192 are inhabited, it has a tiny population of only 330,000. Tourism and fishing are the only sources of earning. Thus, when the Crown Prince decided to visit, hundreds of European tourists were bumped off and told they could not come between February 19 and March 15.
While invited by the Maldivian president, the 78-year-old Crown Prince has paid a cool $30 million for his month-long stay. He is occupying three of the finest resorts — Anantara Veli, Naladhu and Anantara Dighu — in the Maldives. These are five-star resorts where all amenities of life are available. There is little doubt, the Maldivian resorts are really nice — this scribe can confirm, having visited one of them some years ago, all expenses paid courtesy of a well-connected Maldivian friend.
It may well be asked, why does the Crown Prince have to book three Islands, even if he is travelling with all his wives? Besides, at 78, he is not able to indulge in many extracurricular activities that other Saudis are notorious for. The problem with the Saudi “royals” is that they travel with a huge entourage. Prince Salman is no exception. He is accompanied by more than 100 sycophants, guards and other hangers-on. Many of these hangers-on need space to live in even if they have not come accompanied by their spouses. Not to worry, these resorts come fully equipped. There are plenty of Filipino, European and even Russian girls available, not to mention Sri Lankan and Indian maids.
According to the resort operators, Prince Salman came with a floating field hospital (he does not want to take chances in case something goes wrong; when you are 78, it is best to be careful) and a luxury yatch. When he landed at Male international airport, he and his security detail were taken by a special yatch to his island resort. Others followed in other yatchs. In any case, the islands are nearby and it only takes about 20 minutes to get there from the airport.
At the resort landing site, carpets had been laid out to welcome the royal guest. Scantily clad girls were there to garland his royal highness as well as offer exotic fruit drinks. The who’s who of the Maldives government were also there to bow to the royal guest and his entourage before accompanying them to their exclusive villas.
On one side, the villas open into the ocean. The other end opens into a private swimming pool whose water is always warm, being in the tropical zone. The bedrooms are situated in the middle of the villa. If one were looking for paradise on earth, this would be it.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Maldives is that the water is very clean. One not only can see sand at the bottom of the ocean floor because it is so clear, but there is no environmental pollution either. Cans, plastic and other refuse, so much a part of modernity, are not found on the beaches in Maldives, especially in the resorts. The food is excellent. Made up of islands, there is plenty of fish.
In addition to the $30 million paid for a month’s stay, Prince Salman is also likely to drop a lot of bakhsheesh on the workers, staff and others that he comes in contact with. Not surprisingly, President ‘Abdulla Yameen was so eager to invite the Crown Prince. He knows which side his bread is buttered on. He too can expect some bakhsheesh from his royal highness. Who knows, when he returns home, and narrates his wonderful experience at the resorts, the other royals might also come for a holiday and drop some more dollars or riyals into the struggling Maldivian economy.
Western tourists whose bookings at the holiday resorts were cancelled are furious. Resort operators, many of them British or German, did not even bother to inform the tourists whose bookings were cancelled. Many of them found out when they contacted the tour operators requesting transportation from the airport to the resort. There are regular speed boats travelling between the island where the airport is located and the resort islands.
One holidaymaker who had booked a four-night stay at the Antantara Veli resort for mid-March, said, “Our reservation was cancelled with NO notice and we were informed only AFTER we contacted them.” Naturally, he was pretty upset.
When you have royal guests that come loaded with money to throw around, what are ordinary tourists, even if they happen to be British, German, Swedes or others? Tough luck!