Maldives records hike in Chinese tourists after two-year hiatus

Maldives on Tuesday reported substantial growth in tourist arrivals, thanks to an uptick in arrivals from China, the first increase in almost two years of falling numbers from the destination’s biggest source market.

Official figures for the month of November released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 120,506 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 15.2 percent increase over the 104,572 tourists in November 2016.

Travel trends and demographics remain largely unchanged, as all source markets posted strong gains.

Europe, the largest regional source market which has been recovering after a period of falling growth, posted an overall growth of 17.1 percent over November 2016, as arrivals increased to 60,170 from 51,363. Almost all the important European markets such as the UK (up 18.7 percent), Germany (up 9.9 percent), France (24.9 percent) and Italy (up 40.3 percent) made strong gains last month.

Asia followed the same growth trajectory, as the Chinese market, which has observed major declines over the past two years, posted a stellar performance.

Arrivals from China increased by 11.8 percent to reach 21,195 last month compared to the 18,954 in November 2016. Taking into account the latest development, the year over year decline in arrivals from China over the past 11 months of the year has narrowed to seven percent from 8.2 at the end of October.

This positive development in the Chinese market comes a week after Maldives and Chinese leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation in tourism.

In a joint communique issued after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s state visit to China earlier this month, the Chinese government said it will continue to encourage Chinese citizens to travel to the Maldives and Chinese enterprises to invest in the tourism industry of Maldives. Assistance will also be provided to the Maldives in tourism promotion in China, it added.

Meanwhile, major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia performed well in November, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines increasing by 0.6 percent, 181.9 percent and 10.8 percent respectively.

However, arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, declined by one percent in November. This was largely due to falling numbers from Sri Lanka (down 15.8 percent) and a slowdown in growth in the Indian market.

Relatively new markets continued their upward growth trajectory last month as well, as arrivals from the Americas were up 36.9 percent, Oceania up 43 percent and Africa up 35.4 percent.

Arrivals from the US, which has recently secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 35.6 percent to reach 3,961 last month compared to the 2,921 in November 2016, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 43.4 percent. South Africa, which was once a major source market for the Maldives, also showed signs of recovery, as arrivals from the country increased by 89.5 percent in November.

The volatility in the Middle East market was once again evident in November, as visitor numbers decreased by 22.3 percent. This major decline is due to weak performance by almost every major Middle Eastern market, including Saudi Arabia (down 49.4 percent), Qatar (down 29.1 percent) and Kuwait (down 16 percent). However, United Arab Emirates and Egypt posted gains of 11.6 percent and 16.4 percent respectively.

According to the November statistics, total arrivals for the past 11 months of the year increased by 6.8 percent to reach 1,246,501 compared to the 1,166,605 in the same period of last year.

After years of double-digit growth in tourism, the Maldives has over the recent years observed a slowdown in growth. The government has set an ambitious target of attracting 1.5 million tourists by the end of this year, but the country has been struggling to create demand amidst a significant increase in bed capacity.

Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 450 guesthouses in operation today.

The government has recently announced new steps to maintain a structured growth in tourism, including a slowdown in leasing islands for resort development and increased marketing efforts in key markets such as China and the Middle East in order to reach an ambitious target of a record 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year.

However, the latest figures are a welcome sign for the Maldives tourism industry, which is the main economic activity in the island nation, as the destination enters the peak tourist season.

Several international airlines are increasing flight frequency to the island nation to cater to the increasing demand.

December to April is considered the peak tourist season, as these months constitute summers in Maldives. Between December and April, the islands boast of dry weather, making it ideal for tourists to travel and enjoy the tropical environment.

Resorts across the archipelago organise special activities for the festive season, which falls during the peak tourist season. Popular resorts such as Baros MaldivesAmilla Fushi and Finolhu MaldivesSoneva FushiThe St. Regis Maldives Vommuli ResortMirihi Island ResortNiyama Private Islands MaldivesKandima MaldivesJumeirah VittaveliLily Beach Resort and Spa, and Kurumba Maldives have announced their festive programmes for this year.

Main photo: Ibrahim Asad

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