New analysis says Maldives challenges short-term, will remain highest rate-yielding Asia Pacific market

Despite increased pressure on the resort market due to a large influx of new supply, Maldives will remain as one of the highest rate-yielding markets in Asia Pacific, global hospitality consulting firm Horwath HTL has said.

In its market outlook for the Maldives, Horwath HTL said foreign tourist arrivals have grown at a 10-year compound average annual growth (CAAG) rate of 8.1 per cent from 2008 to 2018. Though 2018 recorded an increase in foreign arrivals to 1.48 million, YoY growth was at a slower pace of 6.8 per cent due to several factors, including a downturn in the Chinese market and increased political turmoil, it added.

Horwath HTL highlighted the slight shift in demographics in recent years following a decline in Chinese arrivals and an increase in key European arrivals. In 2018, Europe accounted for almost 49 per cent of total foreign arrivals due to a robust increase in arrivals YoY from Italy (18.5 per cent), Germany (4.8 percent), and the United Kingdom (10.2 per cent), it said.

“Placement of countries in the top ten have mostly remained the same compared to 2017, except that the USA overtook Japan to claim eighth place on the back of a larger leap in YoY arrivals. Additionally, Australia replaced South Korea in the tenth place after significant growth in tourist arrivals by about 36 per cent YoY,” the report read.

2018 saw highest supply increase

Horwarth HTL stressed that hotel bed capacity saw the greatest increase YoY in 208, growing by 21 per cent, with the number of registered beds for 2018 totalling to 43,025.

Kaafu Atoll, comprising both North and South Male Atolls, has consistently accounted for the largest share of beds in a single atoll in the Maldives (40 per cent in 2017). The second most concentrated single atoll by bed capacity in 2017 was Alif Atoll (Ari Atoll). Alifu Dhaalu (South Ari) Atoll accounted for about 12 per cent of beds whilst Alifu Alifu (North Ari) Atoll accounted for another eight per cent.

Whilst Baa atoll has become popular for resort development given its UNESCO Biosphere Reserve tag, other atolls that are fast developing include Raa atoll, Dhaalu atoll, and Haa Alifu Atoll. In 2017, bed capacity YoY increased by 99 per cent, 52 per cent, and 48 per cent, respectively.

“With the abundance of resorts in Baa atoll, developers are now looking at its neighbour to the north – Raa atoll. Due to its relatively untouched marine life, developers are now flocking to the atoll for its interesting underwater topography and marine life,” the report read.

Luxury resorts away from Male perform better

According to Howarth HTL, ultra-luxury resorts (above USD 1,000 per night) situated away from Male atoll have historically achieved higher rates than those within Male atoll, albeit at the expense of lower occupancy levels.

“Higher rate premiums are often justified by the more exclusive location of resorts further away from Male atoll, as well as the less polluted waters when situated further away from the capital city of Male,” the report read.

“Rate-wise, since 2015, other atoll resorts have achieved higher rate premiums over Male atoll resorts.”

Howarth HTL found that resorts in Male atoll within the USD 600-1,000 ADR category had experienced a large decline in their historically high occupancy levels over the last five years whilst occupancy of resorts in other atolls had been more stable. Rate-wise, Male atoll resorts had achieved a higher average ADR than resorts in the other atolls despite their overall ADR growth in the past five years being negative (-1.7 per cent) compared to the positive growth (1.2 per cent) of resorts in the other atolls, it said.

Howarth HTL noted that ADR of resorts in both Male and other atolls that are in the below USD 600 category has seen overall declines in the last five years (-2.4 per cent and -0.4 per cent YoY, respectively). This was attributed to the rising competition from cheaper guesthouses.

“In 2018, other atoll resorts with an ADR of above USD 1,000 achieved the highest RevPAR among all categories. This was largely on the back of higher overall ADR. Meanwhile, Male atoll resorts with an ADR of below USD 600 achieved the lowest RevPAR performance due to its low overall rate despite a higher average occupancy,” the report read.

Short-term challenges, market correction to occur 

This year will see a large influx of supply into the resort market, with 17 new openings (2,175 keys) overall. The luxury, upper upscale and upscale segments will see ten, six and one new additions, respectively.

Male atoll itself will contribute 581 more keys in 2019. Dhaalu atoll trails behind for 2019, with an anticipated 536 keys. Gaafu Alifu Atoll is third (331 keys), followed by Raa atoll (312 keys), then Baa atoll (226 keys). The remaining 37 per cent of new supply will be spread out over 2020 and 2021.

Howarth HTL stressed that the large influx of new supply is expected to put pressure on the resort market in the short to mid-term, with occupancy falling to 55 per cent in the above USD1,000 category, 70 per cent in the USD 600-1,000 category and 65 per cent in the below USD 600 category. Rate-wise, the market should not expect large bouts of growth given the stiffer competition compared to five years ago, it said.

“However, the market should remain as one of the highest rate-yielding markets in Asia Pacific. As supply growth tapers and demand continues to grow because of the destination’s unique geography, we should expect overall resort market occupancy to improve in the long run,” the report read.

This report comes amidst concerns by private organisations representing industry stakeholders such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) over the lack of effort and budget to promote the Maldives as a destination.

These concerns come as the world-famous holiday destination struggles to match an increased bed capacity.

Over the past few 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 more than 130. That number is set to increase as another 20 resorts are expected to open 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 500 guesthouses in operation today.

The previous government announced 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.

Meanwhile, the new government has pledged to ramp up tourism promotion.

Reflecting the new government’s pledge, the state budget for 2019 includes MVR 104,200,000 (USD 6.7 million) for tourism promotion, up from MVR 34,733,333 (USD 2.2 million) this year and the previous year.

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