Maldives posts double digit growth in tourist arrivals amidst political crisis
Maldives on Thursday posted a double digit growth in tourist arrivals in February despite a series of travel advisories from almost every major source market amidst heightened political instability.
Maldives has attracted a wave of bad publicity following the recent declaration and extension of a state of emergency. However, the political turmoil is strictly restricted to the capital city, away from the resorts and local islands where holidaymakers stay in.
However, official figures for the month of February released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 144,286 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 19.6 percent increase over the 121,052 tourists in February 2017.
Europe, the largest regional source market, posted an overall growth of 17.7 percent over February 2017, as arrivals increased to 79,710 from 67,730. Almost all the important European markets such as the UK (up 9.3 percent), Germany (up 10.3 percent), France (up 18.8 percent) and Italy (up 24.5 percent) made strong gains last month.
Asia followed the same growth trajectory, with a major uptick in numbers from the Chinese market despite a highly unusual travel advisory by the Chinese government.
Arrivals from China increased by 38.1 percent to reach 33,506 last month compared to the 24,263 in February 2017. This growth comes after a decline of 15.8 percent in January — a disappointing performance by the Maldives’ single biggest source market, which during the last two months of 2017 posted a stellar performance after major declines over the past two years.
Major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia posted strong performances in February, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia and Thailand increasing by 40.6 percent and 118.7 percent respectively. Arrivals from Singapore, however, declined by 40.8 percent.
However, arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, declined by 6.5 percent in February. Visitors from India, which is the most important market in the region, decreased by 1.1 percent — the first decline in almost a year — in light of repeated travel advisories.
Meanwhile, relatively new markets continued their upward growth trajectory last month as well, as arrivals from the Americas were up 26.4 percent, Oceania up 22 percent and Africa up 4.7 percent.
Arrivals from the US, which has recently secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 18.3 percent to reach 3,391 last month compared to the 2,867 in February 2017, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 23 percent. However, South Africa, which was once a major source market for the Maldives, posted a decline of seven percent after an extended period of recovery.
Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, posted another disappointing 19.4 percent decline in arrivals in February. This major decline, after a rare uptick in January, is largely due to fall in numbers from major Middle Eastern markets such as Saudi Arabia (down 31.1 percent), United Arab Emirates (down 25.1 percent) and Qatar (down 59.9 percent).
According to the February statistics, total arrivals for the first two months of the year increased by 16.3 percent to reach 286,637 compared to the 246,388 in the same period of last year.
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.