MATATO endorses Maldives free trade pact with China, says will ‘greatly benefit’ tourism

Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) on Wednesday endorsed the free trade agreement signed between the Maldives and China, saying that the landmark pact will greatly benefit the local tourism industry.

In a statement, MATATO said the agreement will not affect local travel agents negatively and will continue to bar Chinese firms from operating travel agencies in the Maldives.

“The association is happy to note the positive attitude by Ministry of Economic Development towards local businesses, and Ministry’s commitment to protect and foster local travel agents,” the statement read.

MATATO stressed the advantages of direct flights that the free trade pact will enable to other cities which Maldives does not already have access. The opportunity for local travel agents to set up their offices in various cities in China will also have great advantages, it said.

“MATATO is committed to work together with all related stakeholders, and Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Economic Development on promoting the destination and creating various opportunities for local travel agents such as the SME Loan scheme among many others,” the statement read.

The non-profit has in September hosted a leading global training programme on China outbound travel market in the Maldives. It has also organised destination stands in various travel trade fairs in China and hosted travel media fam trips from China.

Next year, MATATO plans to host a roadshow in different cities in China and exhibit in two travel trade fairs in China.

The free trade agreement, which was signed on Saturday during Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s first state visit to China, commits both countries to reduce tariffs of over 95 percent of goods to zero and open service market such as finance, healthcare and tourism.

Meanwhile, Maldives and Chinese leaders specifically 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 President Yameen’s state visit, 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.

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.

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