BORACAY, Philippines (AP) – When a man with a beard and a beard-shaped face walks into the office of his favorite travel agency and tells them he’s going to visit the Maldives, the office clerk looks shocked.
“You have to be a millionaire or an executive to go there?” the clerk asks.
But when the man says, “I just like to go shopping and I want to get a souvenir,” the clerk doesn’t blink.
The man says he’s looking for a vacation.
The clerk says it’s a luxury, not a necessity.
He has heard all these stories before.
“So why would you travel to a place that doesn’t have any amenities?” said Maria Rosa Baguley, who runs a local travel agency called Axiom Travel.
She started her business after a friend suggested they go to Maldives.
The Maldives has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and its people are more likely to commit suicide than in any other country in the region.
They are also poorer and are far more likely than in other countries to be unemployed.
“The fact is, we don’t have a lot of amenities,” Baguly said.
She says her clients often feel like outsiders and that Maldives is a “poverty trap” that encourages people to take more risks.
“If you’re going to a country, you need to be able to take care of yourself,” Bago said.
“I would say, look, if you want to go somewhere with amenities, you have to have a plan.”
Bago says there are plenty of options for people in the Maldivian capital, Port Moresby, but the most common one is a plane ticket.
They can get a cheaper ticket in other cities or take a bus to a cheaper airport, but they have to leave behind their expensive travel clothes, shoes and even money for a haircut.
“There are so many options, but there are so few,” Bagos said.
The country is a popular tourist destination for the Maldive people who have migrated here from the island of Sri Lanka more than a century ago.
There is also the possibility that a Maldivians passport could be confiscated.
A number of Maldivis are known to be in the United States on a tourist visa, and a few months ago, they were deported for violating immigration laws.
The Maldives government says it will enforce its own laws against people who commit illegal acts.
But Bago says people who are not aware of the rules can be easily deported.
She said they are also more likely not to cooperate with immigration officers.
If a Maldivan wants to go to a different country, she said, she needs to contact the office closest to her destination.
“A lot of Maldivesis don’t want to speak English, so we have to make sure that we’re communicating in English,” she said.
When I ask about the possibility of a passport being confiscated, Bago laughs.
She knows people who were born in the U.S. and who have had problems with the U, she explained.
I told them, ‘You can go back and you can get your passport.’
And I said, ‘I can’t have that.’
“If they’re not aware, they can’t really tell if they’re doing something illegal, she added.
In the meantime, Baguleys business is booming.
She has two employees, one of whom works in the airport, and another one who drives the car.
She is also preparing to start her own business in the next few months.
She said she wants to attract more tourists to the country and that people have to learn to trust the government and that they should always keep their passports.”
Don’t be afraid, you don’t need to worry about it.
You just have to trust,” she added, laughing.
Baguley says the government is trying to teach people how to behave in the country, but she’s also frustrated that people are still reluctant to travel there.”
You can come and see the island, you can see the beach, you know, but you can’t go to the beach or the beachfront.”