Maldives ends 2017 with record 1.39 million tourist arrivals

Maldives has ended 2017 with a record 1.39 million tourist arrivals, as the island destination posted double digit growth in visitor numbers during the festive season.

Official figures for the month of December released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 143,041 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 19.7 percent increase over the 119,530 tourists in December 2016.

December to April is considered the peak tourist season, as these months constitute summers in Maldives. Between December and April, the islands boast of dry weather, making it ideal for tourists to travel and enjoy the tropical environment.

Resorts across the archipelago organise special activities for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, which fall during the peak tourist season.

Travel trends and demographics remain largely unchanged, as all source markets posted strong gains during the last month of the year.

Europe, the largest regional source market which has been recovering after a period of falling growth, posted an overall growth of 21.3 percent over December 2016, as arrivals increased to 74,322 from 61,285. Almost all the important European markets such as the UK (up 13.3 percent), Germany (up 13.9 percent), France (up 16.5 percent) and Italy (up 32.1 percent) made strong gains last month.

Asia followed the same growth trajectory, as the Chinese market, which has observed major declines over the past two years, posted a stellar performance for the second month in a row.

Arrivals from China increased by 22.6 percent to reach 19,918 last month compared to the 16,249 in December 2016. Taking into account the latest development, the year over year decline in arrivals from China over past year has narrowed to 5.5 percent from 8.2 at the end of October.

However, major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia posted declines in December, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia and Singapore decreasing by 16.3 percent and 6.3 percent respectively. Thailand (up 115.9 percent) and Philippines (up 2.1 percent) are the only major South East Asian markets that posted increases in arrivals in December.

However, arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, declined by one percent in November. This was largely due to falling numbers from Sri Lanka (down 15.8 percent) and a slowdown in growth in the Indian market.

Meanwhile, arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, increased by 15 percent in December. This was largely due to a strong growth of 30.5 percent posted by the Indian market.

Relatively new markets continued their upward growth trajectory last month as well, as arrivals from the Americas were up 20.9 percent, Oceania up 36 percent and Africa up 42.1 percent.

Arrivals from the US, which has recently secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 21.1 percent to reach 4,769 last month compared to the 3,938 in December 2016, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 33.3 percent. South Africa, which was once a major source market for the Maldives, also showed signs of recovery, as arrivals from the country increased by 80.1 percent in December, with numbers crossing the 1,000 mark for the first time in years.

Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, also posted a slight increase of 4.1 percent in arrivals. This positive sign after months of falling numbers is largely due to growth in arrivals from major Middle Eastern markets such as Saudi Arabia (up 16.3 percent), United Arab Emirates (up 5.1 percent) and Kuwait (up 21.8 percent). Arrivals from Qatar and Egypt, however, declined by 42.9 percent and 4.7 percent respectively.

According to the December statistics, total arrivals for the year 2017 increased by eight percent to reach 1,389,542 compared to the 1,286,135 in 2016.

The arrival numbers for 2017 are in line with the government’s projections.

Tourism minister Moosa Zameer recently told local news outlet Avas Online that the country will post an year over year increase of seven percent in visitor numbers in 2017.

Maldives welcomed 1.2 million tourists in 2015 and 2016.

Minister Zameer admitted the challenges in attracting more visitors to the tropical holiday destination, blaming it on the existing conditions at the main airport. Until the ongoing expansion project at the airport is completed, the country will only be able to welcome 1.4 to 1.5 million tourists, he added.

“Most airlines from China and Europe, which are our biggest source markets, want slots for morning or night. But the existing runway, taxiway and terminal are already congested at these hours,” Zameer said.

Tourism minister Moosa Zameer. PHOTO/ AVAS ONLINE

In addition to the minor improvements, a USD 800 million mega project has been launched to expand and upgrade the main Velana International Airport. The project involves building a brand new runway, an international passenger terminal and a seaplane terminal as well as other support facilities, including a fuel farm that can store 45 million litres and a 120,000 tonne cargo facility.

The airport is a key infrastructure that supports the Maldives multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Expansion of the airport is expected to boost tourist arrivals to the island nation as it aims to attract at least two million tourists by 2020.

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.

Over the past five 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 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 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.

Main photo: Ibrahim Asad

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