The Republic of Maldives markets itself to tourists as one of the world's premier luxury destinations, but the island nation faces uncertainty in the wake of recent political turmoil.
Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, a former dissident who was elected in 2008, was forced to resign Tuesday amid the threat of violence and a rising tide of Islamic rhetoric.
I believe if I continue as the president of the Maldives, the people of the country would suffer more, Nasheed said, before handing power over to former vice president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
Nasheed claimed Wednesday that he was forced out at gunpoint by police and army officers in a coup, raising concerns for travelers to this popular winter getaway. Several of Nasheed's supporters were injured in clashes as riot police used tear gas and batons to ward off demonstrators in Republic Square, located in the Maldives capital Malé.
The resignation came after weeks of protests that first gained global attention when Nasheed's government abruptly banned spas and sales of alcohol at resorts after allegations from opposition leaders of lax morals.
The government reversed its decision in early January.
Where are the Maldives?
The Maldives is an archipelago of roughly 1,200 islands -- 200 of which are inhabited -- that sits in the Indian Ocean off the southern tip of India. Spread over roughly 34,800 square miles, it is one of the most disparate countries in the world. It is also the world's lowest lying country with the highest point just six feet above sea level.
The Sunni Muslim nation is a former British protectorate and houses some 350,000 people - though roughly 800,000 tourists flock to the pristine beaches and stunning island resorts each year.
The Maldives is so popular that readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted it the world's top island destination in 2011.
Several multi-national hotels operate resorts on the islands, including Four Seasons, Banyan Tree, the Shangri-La and others.
Tourism makes up about one-third of GDP and more than 60 percent of foreign currency earnings. The importance of tourism was underscored in 2009 when the Maldives was granted $93 million in assistance from the International Monetary Fund after its economy was hit by the global financial crisis that lowered the number of vacationers.
The republic is also recovering from the devastating 2004 South Asia tsunami, which destroyed several islands and cost hundreds of millions in damages.
Is it safe?
The U.S., Britain, Australia, Germany, and China have all warned nationals against nonessential travel to Malé due to political tension and unrest.
What about the rest of the country?
As long as you stay out of Malé you should be fine, said a representative from the Embassy of the Republic of Maldives in the U.S., who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The international airport and luxury resorts are located on separate islands, said the representative. I recall that some governments are issuing travel advisories, but even they state as long as you avoid Malé you will be fine.
He added that the Maldives are going through a transition and it will take some time for tempers to calm down.
Regardless of how concentrated the unrest may be, many nations urged travelers heading to the Maldives to check with their travel agents or government departments for the latest advisories.
Open for Business
Since Tuesday, Malé International Airport has remained open and hotels across the nation are operating as usual.
There have been no reports of tourists directly affected by the coup, nor have any of the other islands seen any unrest.
Most of the resorts in the Maldives are self-contained and are usually populated by the tourists and resort staff.
The biggest concern for the tourism industry in the Maldives is whether Nasheed's ousting will see an influx of hardline Islamist influence over the country's policies - a development that could directly affect the experience of foreign travelers.
Simon Hawkins, the managing director of Maldives Marking and PR Corporation, based in Malé, told The Telegraph that the impact of Nasheed's resignation would be difficult to assess at first.
The previous regime adopted very liberal policies, which have opened up the country and benefited tourism, he said. Until the new cabinet is unveiled, it is hard to predict what impact there might be on visiting holidaymakers.
However, all the politicians know that tourism is hugely important to the islands' economy - they realize that a sudden switch to Sharia law would be damaging.