Maldives, China to strengthen tourism cooperation
Maldives and China has agreed to strengthen cooperation in tourism, as the island nation faces major declines in visitor numbers from its biggest source market.
In a joint communique issued after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s first state visit to China last week, 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.
“The two sides agreed to make full use of the Joint Meeting Mechanism to ensure the safety of Chinese tourists in the Maldives,” the communique read.
Similar assurances were also made when President Yameen met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Thursday.
“China has been the Maldives’ biggest source of tourists for seven consecutive years, and there is huge potential for more cooperation,” Li said.
He said he hoped that the Maldives would offer more conveniences to Chinese tourists, and that both countries could discuss cooperation and share their experiences in developing tourism.
“Chinese people see the Maldives as a travel destination, and we support that since it will promote people-to-people exchanges and consolidate the two peoples’ friendship,” Li said.
Yameen said he was grateful for China’s assistance to his country’s economic and social development, and praised China’s efforts to cope with climate change.
He said the two countries have had a very close and friendly relationship since bilateral diplomatic ties were established 45 years ago. Praising bilateral relationship as a “model” of country-to-country relations, he said bilateral ties have developed even rapidly in recent years.
“The Maldives is willing to respect China’s core interests, strengthen cooperation with China in tourism, civil aviation and infrastructure, and expand people-to-people exchanges to further strengthen ties on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” Yameen said.
China still remains the single biggest source market for the Maldives tourism industry, but arrivals have decreased significantly over the past two years.
According to the latest figures released by the Maldives tourism ministry, China continued its downward spiral in October as well with a 2.6 percent drop. Taking into account the latest decline, arrivals from China have decreased 8.2 percent in the past 10 months of this year compared to 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.