For some of you who follow my social media channels, you might recall my gleeful announcements a few months back that I had been invited on a press trip to the Maldives.
What was truly unbelievable about the invitation was that I had only been blogging for three months – with only a few thousand followers on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest combined.
Like I said: UN. FUCKING. BELIEVABLE.
And, sure enough – it was.
In reality, my invitation was based on unsavoury motives, from a man targeting impressionable, attractive, young bikini-clad newbie travel bloggers.
Here’s how it all went down.
January 8th, 2016
A hotel manager in the Maldives reached out to me via Instagram. After some initial chatting about a possible collaboration, we spoke on the phone. After a lengthy convo, he offered me an all-inclusive stay at his boutique hotel, including transfer to and from the airport. He asked me if I was a solo traveller, and when I confirmed, he said great – better that I come alone. He also made sure to tell me that though the Maldives was a conservative island nation, I would be free to wear a bikini all day (and no, I hadn’t asked, as I do strive to respect local customs). I was to pay for my plane ticket, but it wasn’t going to cost me much to book a ticket from Korea six months in advance – so I agreed to the terms and proceeded to announce my upcoming adventure on all my social media networks.
The rest of January
Suddenly, strange things started to occur. I started getting weird messages like this :
Yes, it struck me as a bizarre question – especially the “what a coincidence” part – but I reasoned that in his culture, it was probably customary to ask a woman’s age; after all, I had gotten used to fielding questions about my age in Korea, where it’s customary (that, along with your marital status, and a prompt explanation as to why you’re single).
Then things got a little more personal:
An unsolicited photo of the hotel manager – and a non-professional, lewd looking one at that. It was soon followed by a message telling me how gorgeous I am – which many women (hopefully) would take as a red flag in a so-called professional transaction. However, as I have done so many other times in my life, I told myself to shut up, take a compliment and give him the benefit of a doubt. Again, maybe it was normal and accepted in his culture.
Still, I hadn’t received any formal contract, and at this point, I started to receive text messages on an almost daily basis, six months ahead of my contract – some with photos, some not, and all unnecessary.
I never received an e-mail, and the bullshit continued.
And then one day, the red flag slapped me in the face. Hard.
The oldest trick in the book: asking a girl how her boyfriend is – so she can confirm she doesn’t have one.
At that point, I made it known to some close friends that my trip to the Maldives not only seemed like a bad idea, but a potentially dangerous one.
A solo, single female traveller, new to the travel blogging world – stuck in the Maldives with a hotel manager who’d have access to my room.
I started to become a little colder with my exchanges, and soon, the messages started to slow down. I figured I’d still keep in contact with him to further validate my suspicions.
This was the last message I received:
I reiterated that he should send me an e-mail with a contract.
That e-mail never came.
Instead, I received a message on Instagram from Orla Corrigan of Travel Orlabout. She wrote to tell me that she had been approached by the same man from the Maldives, and wanted to know what my experience was like after reading my earlier announcement on Twitter. Just as I expected, she was a young, gorgeous woman, with a few beautiful bikini-clad photos – and under 1000 followers.
We exchanged e-mails comparing our experiences, and though he did send her a flimsy contract, he also asked if she was travelling solo, and told her she looked gorgeous in her photos.
No, I’m not going to reveal the name of the resort (though hopefully some will remember the name from my social media blasts). I’m not interested in getting sued or otherwise for libel, especially as all I have is my word – something society has deemed insufficient for women who are sexually harassed.
I’m also not interested in being told that it was all a big misunderstanding, that I encouraged his behaviour with my friendliness/ emoticon use/ exclamation marks, that I’m culturally insensitive, that I’m a feminazi, that I brought it onto myself by posting photos of myself in a bikini on Instagram, and the rest of the shaming that comes along with being a walking, breathing female in society.
However, I will say this: if something seems to good to be true, it usually is. As a woman, it is all the more imperative to be vigilant, get everything in writing, and be very clear about professional expectations from the start of any business relationship. Thankfully, in my case, it was a lesson learnt at an affordable price.
Special thank you to Orla Corrigan for sharing her experience.
Please check out her blog and follow her on Instagram at @travelorlabout.