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Maldives orders resorts to close spas

The Maldives government has ordered hotels to close their spas, possibly in a nod to a conservative religious group’s claims that the spas double as brothels.

The tourism minister last Thursday instructed all resorts on the Maldives’ islands to close down spas and health centers that offer beauty treatments and massages immediately, the BBC and Telegraph report.

For travelers, that could mean no facial, body wrap, massage or other pricey treatment – if your hotel’s complying with the order.

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The Telegraph reports that the “Banyan Tree, Four Seasons, Six Senses and Shangri-La resorts have…confirmed that their spas are operating as normal.” A travel piece on says that more than 100 hotels are complying with the spa ban, but it doesn’t cite any resort names.

In recent years, the Maldives has built a reputation as an exclusive playground for honeymooners, celebrities and other adults happy to pay premium prices to get away from it all.

The industry’s top luxury brands such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Hilton’s Conrad and Starwood’s W have all opened resorts there – and they are expensive places to stay.

To book a basic villa built on stilts over the lagoon at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island next week, for example, the hotel’s website shows nightly rates of $2,650 a night – or more.

The Maldives’ luxury hotel spas are typically a highlight of a visitor’s stay – and, sometimes, the main reason for booking the lengthy trip.

Most of the luxury hotels specially designed their spa facilities around the Maldives’ stunningly beautiful turquoise waters and white sand beaches.

What’s driving the ban?

The ban appears linked to a conservative Islamist group’s claims that spas are serving as a front for prostitution, the Telegraph reports.

The country’s tourism industry association is fighting the move, saying that a spa ban would be financially devastating to hotels – and tourism. About 850,000 people visited the Maldives last year, the Telegraph says.

Some articles speculate that the ban won’t last. But the government’s spa ban has already sparked odd headlines around the world that would likely make any travel destination marketer lose sleep for days. Consider this one from the Toronto Star: “Maldives denies resort spas are brothels.”

The UK’s Daily Mail’s report explores other possible reasons for the spa ban – including a dark rumor that “the ban is a bid by those in authority to hamstring (political) opponents who also happen to be the owners of… luxury spa resorts.”

The Telegraph also notes that “Islamic fundamentalism has gained support in the Maldives during recent years, with anti-semitic protests taking place over the government’s decision to allow direct flights to the country from Israel.”

What else is there to do in the Maldives?

Regardless of the reason, the Daily Mail notes that “removing the spa element from a Maldivian holiday is like removing the Eiffel Tower from Paris (or) the Colosseum from Rome.”

If it weren’t for the menu of exotic and expensive spa treatments, traveling to one of the Maldives’ beautiful islands could make for a rather boring stay since the resorts – unlike Caribbean resorts – tend to be built on isolated, exclusive islands where there’s little to do, the article says. The piece continues:

“This blissfully pretty set of atolls – and the Maldives is blissfully pretty – is a place for once-in-a-lifetime holidays. But only in the sense that if you go twice in a lifetime, you may well find that your prevailing state of mind is rather akin to boredom.”

In other bad news for the Maldives, National Geographic yesterday reported that residents on the low-lying islands are having greater difficulty getting water for drinking and cooking as sea levels continue to rise. The reporter spoke to one family who’s spending 85% of their income on fresh water, which is imported in plastic bottles via cargo boats.

Readers: Would you go to the Maldives if you couldn’t get a spa treatment? Are you there now, and having success in obtaining spa treatments?

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