I have been using Tripadvisor for years to research holiday destinations, hotels and restaurants. I will often start by using a tool such as Lastminute or Booking.com to find a holiday or hotel and then I will check the options using TripAdvisor. When checking I tend to only look at recent reviews as I know from experience how much hotels and restaurants can change with time. If a location gets a bad review I will move on to find a different location. If my searched location gets great reviews then I tend to book.
This was the same process I went through recently to book my trip to the Maldives. I had used Lastminute.ch to identify potential holiday destinations, and then having narrowed it down to the Maldives (where I had had a fantastic holiday back in 2007) I then went to TripAdvisor to select the resort to go to. The island I opted for was called Biyadhoo and it was touted as being a simple and basic resort on an island with a fantastic house reef. Reviews commented on how great the snorkeling and diving was and what a lovely island it was. A few also posted photos of the resident cats. It was this combination of a great reef as well as resident cats that swung it for me and I booked myself a week’s holiday on Biyadhoo.
At first glance the island looked like paradise, as so many tropical islands do. The rooms were not as basic as I had expected and things looked promising so as soon as I had changed I went for my first snorkel. And this is where it all started going down hill. The supposed amazing house reef appeared to be mainly dead. I though perhaps it was just the area I had gone in, close to the pontoon, that was damaged. I decided to call a night and went to dinner. Sadly I was met with more disappointment. In the restaurant we were to be allocated with a table and that was were we would have to stay for the entire week. The food itself was okay – nothing amazing and as I found out based around a limited selection of recipes. The curry’s were always good, but after one week I had my fill of fish curry.
The following day I rose bright and early to go for a dive around the house reef. Again I had high hopes but again my hopes were dashed. The dive was extremely disappointing, with strong currents and dominated by brown, dull and dead coral. The fish selection was mediocre and equally disappointing. For the afternoon I opted not to dive again but try snorkeling on the other side of the island. This was the supposed house reef that people had raved about on Tripadvisor. All I can say is that these people had obviously never seen a decent coral reef. Bar the odd “normal” outcrop most of the reef was again dull and dead. This holiday was turning into a huge disappointment – one week on a small island with overwhelmingly dead coral and as it turned out on-off weather was not what I had hoped for.
Things however were soon to get so very much worse. My first days I was overjoyed by the island cats, in particular an adorable “blue” kitten (who I called Blue) who was terribly sweet, adorable and cuddly. Then after my 2nd dive (this time a good wreck dive) I saw two men carrying a box of screaming kittens. Myself and the other divers stopped them and to our horror we saw in the box new born kittens that were still so young their eyes were not even open. Despite our emotional and vehement objections that these kittens should be returned to their mother or they would die the men took the kittens off on their speed boat. I was absolutely distraught. I went straight to the hotel manager to complain. He promptly told me they would be fine and would be put on an island. If we were concerned they would also catch the mother and take her there too! When I continued to complain he told me he did not care at all about the cats and only cared about the happiness of the guests. My happiness, as a guest, would it appear not be relevant however.
I demanded to speak to the manager, and threatened to go public on social media with this heartbreaking story. On digging deeper I found out that this was standard practice and had happened the year before and was happening again at the time moment – due to the cats not being neutered there were too many so they would catch them and dump them, to essentially die, on another island. Now I also understood how Blue’s little sibbling had the most horrific, raw and bleeding neck wound. Someone had clearly tried to catch the poor little soul with a wire trap (or possibly just tried to strangle it) and the result was a raw, open wound on this kittens neck. I was no longer able to sleep worrying about the fat of little Blue, no more than a few months old, and her injured sibling.
The next day I got to speak the the CEO via telephone. I had a long discussion with him, during which he assured me he himself was a cat lover and had cats himself, and during which we discussed the options. Option one was that I would go public with the animal abuse that was happening or alternatively I would fund for a vet to come over in February to neuter the cats (there is not one single vet on the Maldives due to the government not allowing them to import veterinary products). To me this seemed like a simple choise – make money or lose money or do the right thing or do the wrong thing. He had said that the action was a result of a few people complaining – but how many people were happy with the cats but never said a word? I know I was not the only one who had selected the resort because of the cat pictures. To me this seemed like a potential business opportunity in itself. With dying coral why not optimise another resource -cats? I for one would pay extra to stay at a hotel with animals.
The rest of my stay remained a disappointment, the snorkeling did not improve, the weather got worse (afternoons with nothing but torrential rain) and more distressing examples of animal cruelty, including one cat, with an injured front paw, whose back paw was deliberately snapped broken. This was witnessed by other tourists, who like most I spoke to, where appalled at the dreadful treatment of the cats. Again I complained and was assured this would be looked into. I also informed the resort that I would be adopting Blue, and possibly her sibling, and would get the vet I was going to send to bring her to Europe.
I was very happy to leave Biyadhoo island behind. The Tripadvisor reviews had been so very far from the truth that what was meant to be a relaxing weekend of snorkeling and relaxing turned into a dull, distressing and horrible experience that I was desperate to see end.
Happy as I was to get home I was then absolutely shocked and appalled to then hear from a tourist still on the island that the order had been given by the management to clear all the remaining cats from the island and that little Blue, who I was going to adopt, had been one of the first to go. I was, and still am, absolutely devastated that this little life was needlessly snuffed out, by a management so intent on making a profit and disregarding customer complaints that they did not want to hear. They were only interested in the few that complained about the cats that they where they intent on ignoring the multiple complaints they received from guests about how the cats were being handled. They clearly also presumed once I, and the other guests, were gone that that would be the last they would hear of this.
My message to the management of Biyadhoo is shame on you and how wrong you are. In today’s world it is a very high risk strategy to ignore a guest, who works in social media, and dismiss they complaints as worthless. In today’s world full of animal lovers, who are very active on social media, it is a foolish thing to publicly be seen to be killing of cats that had a positive future. As to the future of the island – I can only see it getting worse. Now with the cats all gone the rat population (which was an issue in the past) will explode again. According to the management this is simple to resolve with poison. Will that get a mention on TripAdvisor I wonder? Will families with children want to visit an island riddled with rat poison? Will people really want to continue visiting an island that how coral and fish being killed off even more due to poison leaching into the water? I know I would not want to. Whereas TripAdvisor let me down this time I hope for the sake of other travellers that it does not let them down in future around what Biyadhoo Island Resort is really like.
UPDATE: Blue has been found alive but not looking happy and is losing weight & the island she is on has now been closed and with the dry season she will have limited access to water. This has now turned the importance of this post from a focus on boycotting #Biyadhoo island to rescuing Blue – or #RescueBlue – and is now URGENT! I don’t know how many days Blue has left. Please contact Ministry of Tourism & Ministry of Health in the Maldives to ask them to step in and help, share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin etc. PLEASE HELP SAVE BLUE!