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Page added on May 13, 2012

Police to crack down on tour agents scamming tourists

Police to crack down on tour agents scamming tourists thumbnail

Police have announced plans to crack down on tour operators who are allegedly scamming tourists visiting Maldives, after several complaints were filed by tourists who have been targeted in these scams.

The reports of the tourist scams will be unwelcome for an industry which is already struggling to remain on top of its niche market of small island tourism as it faces fluctuating arrival rates, a decline in traditional markets, potential tax increments and a deteriorating image as political instability grows.

According to the police, some tour operators are defrauding tourists by charging large amounts of money in advance to pay for reservations, without actually making the payments to the resort.

“A lot of problems are created when the tourists arrive in Maldives after making the payments to the travel agencies and discover [the agencies] have not paid the resorts,” Deputy Head of Crime Specialist Command Mohamed Riyaz told press on Saturday.

Although the reported cases are uncommon and several were successively resolved, Riyaz noted that the police have started investigations into the tourist rip-offs as they are being “repeated”.

Police are taking administrative action against four agencies suspected of defrauding tourists, while investigations are pending in six “serious” cases, according to the Deputy Head of Crime Specialist Command.

He added: “The licence of agencies not paying advance money to the resorts will be terminated and their bank accounts will be frozen under the criminal investigation.”

The police have also requested tour operators to refrain from such scams that have the potential to “deeply harm” the tourism industry of Maldives, which contributes almost 80 percent to the national income.

“Operated from bedrooms”

Speaking to Minivan News, the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI) – associations which represent tour operators and resort owners, respectively – revealed that the roots of the scam runs deeper.

MATATO’s President Mohamed Khaleel contended that there are “no legal restrictions to the fraudsters who want to run these scams”.

“Anyone can go to the Economic Ministry and set up a company. Get a travel agent licence, set up a website and start bringing tourists. Over the past two years, we have raised several concerns in various platforms about these paper companies defrauding the tourists and resorts,” Khaleel explained.

Police yesterday confirmed that the tour operators suspected to be complicit in the tourist rip-offs were registered, liscenced and had their own online booking service. However, the police did not reveal the identity of the companies as the investigation is pending.

However, MATATO’s President claims that out of nearly 500 registered and licensed tour operators and agents, only 50-70 are  professional agents “committed” to the industry.

“Others don’t even have offices, they just put a name board on the street and operate from bedrooms. No commitments. They take money from tourists, close it down and go open another agency again,” he added.

MATI’s Secretary General Mohamed Ibrahim Sim echoed similar concerns, recalling several instances where resorts have faced difficulties in collecting payments: “Some tour operators with outstanding payments have declared bankruptcy and disappeared. We have not even been able to trace some of them back.”

Both Sim and Khaleel emphasised the establishment of legal frameworks to provide legal protections to the industry and to prevent “a few fraudsters from tainting the image of whole tourism sector”.

“The solution lies in establishing better legal frameworks where the tour operator, resort operator and the customer is protected,” Sim argued.

“We have to enforce these laws and regulations. Beacause of the new innovations in the sector, the dealings between the resort and the tour operators are changing very quickly. We need to keep up with them in terms of an updated legal framework, where laws and regulations are revised and revamped consistently as the technology changes everyday. If we do not keep up with it, we are going to face these problems.” he further noted.

Meanwhile, MATATO’s President Khaleel observed that they are working on a draft of Local Travel Agent Regulation and Code of Conduct to gap the loopholes in the system and facilitate in protecting the industry. However, it is yet to be approved from the ministry and necessary laws need to be amended as well, according to Khaleel.

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15 Comments on "Police to crack down on tour agents scamming tourists"

  1. Rice on Sun, 13th May 2012 10:33 PM 

    Don Manik is here.
    Hawwa Lubna why dont you talk about his visit?

  2. earthling on Mon, 14th May 2012 8:30 AM 

    this is of grave concern! i know of cases where local agents with a history of such schemes.
    Though, unline MATATO’s Khaleel, i do not think the problems lies in not having a big office. that shows lack of committment perhaps, however, the problems runs in our moral values, social values and business ethics. solution is building a nation with educated citizen, self respecting and respecting others.

  3. spectator on Mon, 14th May 2012 12:15 PM 

    People who do not have anything to loose, will do anything to grab a dollar.

    that is how far moral and ethics go.

  4. Rationale on Mon, 14th May 2012 12:53 PM 

    Dear MATATO executives …. pls clean up your own back yard

  5. Cleaner on Mon, 14th May 2012 4:02 PM 

    Where is the secretary general of MATATO? Is there any sec.general now? Having a big office does not mean that you are clean. There are so many people with big offices who do not have any respect for ethical business.

  6. nova on Mon, 14th May 2012 6:09 PM 

    @ earthling : Spot on. :)

  7. Dominick Macan - Dive Advice Travel on Mon, 14th May 2012 6:58 PM 

    We just got defrauded of $10,000 when Sunscape Maldives, also known as Intasun Travel in Thailand, took our payment and then did not pay the resort. Its taken dozens of e-mails to even get a response from someone at the ministry of tourism but I would love to know who I should contact as far as a criminal investigation. It seems they are still in operation and probably continuing to steal people’s money but I’m not sure what the Government is doing about it.

  8. Mohamed on Mon, 14th May 2012 7:15 PM 

    Its not only the inbund operators. Its also the outboubd agents. There are few agents issuing airlne tickets without a valid civil aviation license. Also big fat rogues like ismail son of athama are engaged in daylight robberies collecting money from innocent passengers claiming to be sending them on haj, holidays etc and absconding. These guys operate under aero global and maleesha which owe airlines and agents huge sums of money. These guys never pay refunds claimed by passengers. This is the ultimate truth in this market. But their families live like kings in malaysia, sri lanka etc

  9. Mohm Shiraz - uninhabited on Mon, 14th May 2012 7:44 PM 

    Such agents just follow the suit of dictators regime : looting the people. In this case tourists. No issue since all whites are anyhow missionaries, their baggage full of bibles, churches, temples and statues. They should just block all so called tourists from not fully Islam countries, very simple that.

    Difference in income can easily be paid by the resort owners and regime leaders who have looted and still loot the state coffers.

  10. Adam on Mon, 14th May 2012 10:42 PM 

    This is a growing problem as the industry gets bigger and more people participate. But it is not limited to local agents only. There are several big cases against foreign agents also and the amounts can get big. It’s not just a few thousand or ten thousand dollars, but even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In such cases, Maldives has few tools to go after the deadbeats. It’s hard to file a case against them even in local Maldivian courts “because they have no address here.” Then if the courts or police take on the case, they need to rely on relationships to police in foreign countries. Maldives needs a better framework as well as relationships with Interpol and stronger capability in its Embassies to deal with such matters or guide the victims to proper resources. The industry is only getting bigger, and it won’t be just small crime anymore, but large scale fraud.

  11. Khaleel on Tue, 15th May 2012 1:33 PM 

    @ADAM, yes, industry is getting bigger. But what about local travel agents? they are still small. And the major players and resort owners have their own travel agencies and work shops, supply centers, carpentry, laundry and transport centers. The questions are:
    1.do we need local agents here?
    2.Can every one own a resort or a hotel?
    3.Can everyone be a product owner?

    The problem here does not limited to local agents, its in every business.

    The basic problem is we do not have a proper trade law. On 21 December 2011, there was a WORKSHOP ON BUSINESS LAW REFORM in Nasandhura Palace Hotel and so far nothing concrete has come out. GOD HELP US NOW!

  12. sayah on Tue, 15th May 2012 3:50 PM 

    talking of such crime is bad but doing it is fine, local maldivian mentality.
    we, the maldivian to understand it and to act accordingly. Don’t consider what we say but to look what we do.

  13. Dominick Macan - Dive Advice Travel on Wed, 16th May 2012 12:43 PM 

    I like the discussion but we are a small dive travel wholesaler with offices in the US and Europe and when a Male based agent steals $10,000 from us and there is nothing we can do about it, then why should we ever wish to promote the Maldives again. We certainly cannot afford to lose $10,000, and if there is nothing in place to prevent this happening in the Maldives, then it would seem foolish for us to risk sending more money for our clients. No one at MATATO or MATI has replied to our mails, but if there is someone who can give us the contact for the Deputy Head of Crime Specialist Command, then maybe they can offer us some advice on how we can pursue this. For everyone’s information, the person who has taken our money and although admitting she has received it, will not pay it back to us, is a lady called Mariyam Yarah – see her details below.
    If anyone has any suggestions on what we do next, then please contact me by e-mail at Dom@DiveAdvice.com

    Mariyam Yarah (Ms)
    Sales & Marketing – Manager

    Sunscape Maldives Pvt Ltd

    G. Lyon, Kalhuhuraa Magu, 00-01 Male,
    Male’, Republic of Maldives (Indian Ocean)
    Tel: + (960) 740 7616
    Fax: + (960) 331 3240

    E-mail: info@sunscapemaldives.com.mv
    Website: http://www.sunscapemaldives.com.mv

  14. Dominick Macan - Dive Advice Travel on Thu, 17th May 2012 9:26 PM 

    Hi again everybody, is anyone in the Maldives going to try to stop these people ? I just heard from an agent who just booked something thru Mariyam and when she called the resort, they had no record of the booking and nothing from Mariyam. Does no one in the Maldives understand the serious damage this women is doing to the reputation of the Maldives and how this may soon be picked up by major international news with advice to advice to potential visitors that they cannot trust agents in the Maldives. What does it take to shut this lady down ?

  15. Dominick Macan - Dive Advice Travel on Tue, 30th Apr 2013 11:48 AM 

    More than a year since the Maldives Police, in the hands of Detective Police Corporal Hussain Lirar & team Fraud & Financial Crimes Department, Maldives Police Service, Republic Of Maldives, were informed of the criminal activities of Sunscape Maldives and their accomplices, and Sunscape are still active – still stealing money from agents and unsuspecting clients. Even the Director General Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture, Aishath Ali, has done nothing about dealing with thsi issue. One might conclude they have no interest in protecting agents or tourists who may want to visit the Maldives. What a shame that they seem unable or unwilling to clean up their own backyard.


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