Maldives posts 10.9 per cent growth in tourist arrivals in May

Maldives posted an impressive growth of 10.9 per cent in tourists arrivals in May, as the Indian Ocean holiday destination welcomed more than 100,000 tourists during the first month of the traditionally low tourist season.

Official figures for the month of May released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 103,022 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 10.9 per cent increase over the 92,913 tourists in May 2018.

The strong performance is mostly due to a significant rise in tourist arrivals from Asia Pacific, which recorded a 27.2 per cent growth.

Chinese market, which has rebounded after two years of major declines, recorded a 24.1 per cent growth, as arrivals reached 21,010 in May from 16,927 a year ago. This strong performance widened the increase in arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market for the January-May period to 11 per cent.

Growth in South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, also accelerated by an impressive 97.1 per cent in May, thanks to a 99.6 per cent increase in arrivals from India. A total of 17,389 tourists visited the Maldives in May from its closest neighbour compared to the 8,711 a year ago.

However, several major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia, which have been posting strong gains over the past year, posted declines in May, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore decreasing by 24.6 per cent, 40.4 per cent and 8.5 per cent, respectively. Arrivals from Thailand, however, increased by 4.9 per cent.

Relatively new markets such as the Americas maintained their strong performance in May.

Arrivals from the US, which has secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to Maldives tourism, increased by 20 per cent to reach 3,389 last month compared to the 2,825 in May 2018, whilst the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 20.6 per cent.

Despite the stellar performance in May, there are worrying signs.

The largest regional source market of Europe posted a rare decline of 3.8 per cent in May, as arrivals decreased to 38,519 from 40,056 a year ago. This was due to major declines in important European source markets such as Germany (down 29.3 per cent), France (down 21.4 per cent) and Switzerland (down 17.8 per cent). The UK, which is the single biggest European source market, Italy and Spain are the only major European markets that recorded positive growth — 14.2 per cent, 5.7 per cent and 2.8 per cent, respectively — in May.

Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, also posted a major decline of 64.2 per cent in May. Arrivals from almost all major Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia (down 60.4 per cent), Kuwait (down 71.8 per cent), Egypt (37.6 per cent), Qatar (down 82.3 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (down 82.3 per cent) posted negative growth.

According to the May statistics, total arrivals for the first five months of the year increased by 18.4 per cent to reach 749,114 compared to the 632,729 in the same period last year.

Tourist demographics remained largely unchanged in the first five months of the year, as Europe dominated with a marketshare of 53 per cent of the total tourist arrivals, followed by Asia Pacific with 38 per cent marketshare. Americas secured the third position with five per cent marketshare, whilst Middle East slid to the fourth with three per cent marketshare. African countries also contributed one per cent to the total tourist arrivals to the Maldives.

All the top 10 source markets posted positive growth in arrivals by the end of May.

China (marketshare of 15.5 percent) and Italy (marketshare of 9.5 per cent) maintained their position as the two biggest contributors to Maldives tourism, with arrivals from China increasing by 11.2 per cent to reach 116,282 and arrivals from Italy increasing by 34.2 per cent to reach 71,334 during the January-May period.

India overtook Germany and the UK, which slid to fourth and fifth position with a marketshare of 8.3 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively, to claim the third spot, as the Maldives’ closest neighbour increased its marketshare to 8.8 per cent with a 96.4 per cent growth in tourist arrivals during the first five months of the year. Arrivals from Germany and the UK, however, grew by 18.8 per cent and 12.9 per cent, respectively.

France, which saw its marketshare fall to 4.8 per cent, slid to the seventh position, as Russia claimed the sixth position with a marketshare of 5.1 per cent. Arrivals from Russia increased by 9.8 per cent to reach 38,156 by the end of May, whilst the number of French tourists visiting the Maldives in the same period grew by 22.7 per cent to reach 35,944.

The US and Japan maintained their respective rankings as the eighth and ninth biggest contributor to Maldives tourism. Arrivals from the US market increased by 38.4 per cent to reach 24,151 in the first five months of the year, whilst the number of Japanese tourists visiting the Maldives in the same period increased by 19.3 per cent to reach 19,756.

Meanwhile, Sweden was pushed out of the top 10 source markets, as Switzerland claimed the 10th position with a marketshare of 2.3 per cent. Arrivals from Switzerland grew by 2.1 per cent in the January-May period to reach 17,500.

Maldives welcomed a record 1.4 million tourists in 2018. It was a 6.8 per cent increase from the 1,389,542 tourists that chose to holiday in the Maldives in 2017.

Meanwhile, government has revised its forecast for the number of tourists visiting the island nation this year, increasing the estimate to a record 1.6 million from 1.5 million.

This positive growth in the tourism industry 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.

Photo: Kihaa Maldives

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