Maldives central bank posts strong growth forecast for ‘resilient’ tourism industry

Maldives central bank has posted a strong growth forecast for the country’s tourism industry as it hailed the resilience of the industry observed last year.

In its annual report for 2016 released Tuesday, Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) said the strong growth observed in the tourism sector during the latter part of last year is expected to continue this year. The strong growth is attributed mainly to the increased number of tourists from the European market, which reflects better growth prospects for the region, it added.

Mirroring the positive outlook for the sector, MMA projected bed nights growth to be at five percent in 2017.

“These projections may be even higher if the remarkable performance seen in the tourism sector at the turn of the year continues,” the report read.


Recovery in second half of 2016

Maldives marked 2016 as ‘Visit Maldives Year’ in an effort to reach a target of 1.5 million tourists entering the country during the year. Several tourism promotion activities were carried out in Asia and Europe, and many competitions and events were also held within the Maldives to boost tourist arrivals. While the campaign was successful in attracting 1.3 million tourists — four percent more than the previous year — it fell short of reaching the 1.5 million target.

According to MMA, the trend in tourist arrivals to the Maldives during 2016 showed that arrivals picked up strongly in the second half of the year. This increase was underpinned by improving economic conditions in European countries, coupled with a rise in flight movements by international carriers over the period, the authority said adding that the strong growth in arrivals from the European markets more than offset the decline in arrivals from the Chinese market.

MMA noted that other key indicators such as bed nights growth also followed a similar trend, gaining momentum towards the latter part of the year and recording an overall growth of three percent for the year. Reflecting this, the average duration of stay, which has been on a downward trend, fell only slightly to 5.6 days in 2016 from 5.7 days in 2015, contributing to a six percent growth in estimated tourism receipts, it said.

The tourism sector witnessed a major expansion in terms of the number of resorts and bed capacity in 2016, the authority stressed. With the opening of 11 new resorts, the total number of resorts in the country increased to 126 at the end of the year, while the number of registered guesthouses, hotels and safari vessels reached 382, 16 and 144, respectively. With regard to bed capacity, the average operational bed capacity of the industry7 stood at 29,457 beds.


Tourist demographics: Europe regains market share

As for the market share of tourists, Europe accounted for 45 percent of total tourist arrivals, while Asia accounted for 46 percent. Reflecting the improving economic conditions in the European markets, market share for Europe increased; this was a reversal of the downward trend of previous years. However, the market share of Asia — the market leader since 2014 — dipped from the 49 percent in 2015 to 46 percent in 2016.

Arrivals from the European market grew significantly at seven percent during 2016 after recording a marginal growth rate of one percent in 2015. This was mainly supported by growth in arrivals from the UK, despite a marked depreciation in the pound sterling. On the other hand, Germany, the second largest market from the region registered a marginal growth owing to political tensions in their country. Other key markets such as Italy registered a remarkable positive growth, whereas growth in tourists from France dropped significantly during the year. Arrivals from Spain also registered a sizeable growth compared with previous years. In addition, arrivals from smaller source markets in Eastern, Central and East Mediterranean Europe also improved.

“This can be attributed to an increase in flight movements to these regions during the year,” the report read.

MMA noted that arrivals from Russia — the fourth largest European market — also showed a strong positive growth after recording two consecutive years of negative growth. This reflected the easing of the recent economic recession that was prevalent in the country, it said.

Total arrivals from the Asia and Pacific region registered a marginal decline in 2016 after posting a positive growth during the previous year. Growth was largely hampered by the 10 percent decline in Chinese arrivals.

However, other key markets from the Asian region — such as India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia — showed pronounced growth on the back of increased flight movements. Some operators introduced flights to new destinations in 2016, including new flights to New Delhi and Colombo, contributing to more arrivals from both India and Sri Lanka.

MMA attributed the increase in arrivals from Malaysia to the growth in flight movements of a regional low-cost carrier from South East Asia during the year.

Arrivals from the Middle East also posted a strong growth rate, owing to an increase in arrivals from Saudi Arabia. This may be due to a new the commencement of Saudi Arabia’s flagship carrier Saudia between Riyadh and the Maldives, according to MMA.

Arrivals from the Americas, which have doubled in the past five years, also increased due to considerable growth in arrivals from the US.


Similar trends in 2017?

Despite the strong growth forecast by the central bank, Maldives has experienced another slowdown in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of the year. January saw a significant increase in arrivals, but growth has slowed down since then with a 2.1 percent drop in arrivals in March.

Europe, the largest regional source market which has been recovering for the past couple of months after a year of falling growth, also posted a drop of three percent in March with important European markets such as the United Kingdom declining by nine percent.

Middle East, one of the most important emerging source markets, also observed a decline of 8.3 percent in March with arrivals from Saudi Arabia dropping by 31 percent.

Leading global market research and analysis firm STR has also said that the Maldives tourism industry observed a moderate performance in the first quarter of the year.

A report analysing Asia Pacific hotel industry performance shows that occupancy fell by one percent to 69 percent in the Maldives during the first quarter. Average Daily Rate (ADR), however, increased by 2.3 percent to MVR13,044.63 (USD846.5) and Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) was up 1.3 percent to reach MVR9,000.17 (USD584).

RevPAR growth was moderate in the Maldives throughout the quarter despite a 10.3 percent increase in January, which was due to a 32 percent rise in arrivals from China during the Spring Festival Golden Week holiday. RevPAR growth for the quarter, however, became muted with declines in both February (-3.8 percent) and March (-4.2 percent).

Over the past three 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 by the end of this year.

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 300 guesthouses in operation today.

Government has come under fire from 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.

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.

Photo courtesy: Amilla Fushi

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