In sign of post-emergency recovery, Maldives tourist arrivals gain 10 percent in June

Maldives on Wednesday reported a major increase in tourist arrivals, in the first signs of recovery after a new wave of domestic political turmoil rocked the island nation.

Maldives attracted a wave of bad publicity following the recent declaration of a state of emergency, which ended in March. However, the political turmoil was strictly restricted to the capital city, away from the resorts and local islands where holidaymakers stay in.

The political turmoil led to rare declines of 0.1 percent and 0.6 percent in tourist arrivals in April and May.

However, official figures for the month of June released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 93,786 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 1o percent increase over the 85,222 tourists in June 2017.

Europe, the largest regional source market, posted an overall growth of 5.4 percent over June 2017, as arrivals increased to 30,765 from 29,194.

The UK, which is the single biggest European source market, made a gain of 6.2 percent, while several other major European markets such as Italy, France and Spain also posted gains of 16.9 percent, 50.8 percent and 38.9 percent respectively. However, Germany, the second most important European source market, declined by 23.3 percent in June.

Russian travellers continued to show their appetite for the Maldives, as arrival numbers jumped 11.8 percent in June to reach 3,646 from 3,262 in June 2017. This strong performance last month translated into an impressive growth of 25.4 percent in arrivals from Russia for the first six months of the year.

After a decline of 8.8 percent in May, arrivals from Asia, the second largest regional source market, also increased 8.9 percent in June.

Arrivals from China once again declined by 5.4 percent to reach 22,853 compared to the 24,160 in June 2017. This decline, which came after declines of 27.5 percent, 28 percent and 27.1 percent in March, April and May respectively as well as 15.8 percent in January, offset the rare gain in arrival numbers from China in February and led to a 10 percent decline in arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market for the January-June period.

Meanwhile, almost all major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia continued to post strong gains in June as well, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines increasing by 91.8 percent, 109.4 percent and 1.6 percent respectively. However, arrivals from Singapore again saw a decrease of 6.3 percent in June after a rare uptick of 2.9 percent in May.

Arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, also posted a gain of 6.2 percent in June. This is largely due to a 6.2 percent increase in the number of tourists from India, the most important market in the region.

Along with the strong performance in established markets, relatively new markets also continued their upward growth trajectory last month, as arrivals from the Americas were up 14.4 percent and Oceania up 23.6 percent.

Arrivals from the US, which last year secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 13.6 percent to reach 3,129 last month compared to the 2,754 in June 2017, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 22.9 percent. South Africa, which has been on the recovery, also posted an increase of 16.4 percent.

Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, recorded gains of 74.5 percent in June after a decline of 24.1 percent in May. Arrivals from almost all major Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt posted major gains of 252.2 percent, 15.2 percent, 680 percent and 23.2 percent respectively. However, United Arab Emirates, one of the most important Middle Eastern markets, posted a rare decline of 7.7 percent.

According to the June statistics, total arrivals for the first six months of the year increased by 10.5 percent to reach 726,515 compared to the 657,540 in the same period of last year.

In addition to the political turmoil, the Maldives is currently experiencing the traditionally low season.

May to November is considered the low tourist season, as these months constitute rainy season in Maldives. Between May and November, the islands boast of wet weather, making it less ideal for tourists to travel and enjoy the tropical environment.

Over the past five years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to 120. That number is set to increase as the government has announced the opening of some 20 new resorts over the next two years.

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 last year 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.

Photo: Lily Beach Resort and Spa Maldives

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