Maldives seeks more direct air links with China to boost tourist arrivals

Maldives aims to boost tourist arrivals from China by establishing direct air links between the two countries by year-end, tourism minister Moosa Zameer has said.

In an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency, minister Zameer said the Maldives is now carrying out mega marketing campaigns in many countries, including China, and is in talks with leading airlines to start direct flights between the two countries.

“Right now the European destinations are connected to the Maldives with the A380, which is the world’s largest commercial airbus. We’re in talks to link Chinese cities to the Maldives through the A380, so passengers can enjoy direct facilities,” he was quoted as saying.

“If there are no direct flights, it is not convenient for tourists. We have been trying hard to start operations with wide-body aircraft and we hope to start operations by the end of this year,” Zameer said.

Maldives flagship carrier Maldivian operates scheduled flights to several Chinese cities, including Hangzhou, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanjing, Wuhan and Xian, and is in the process of starting direct flights to Beijing. Privately-owned Mega Maldives previously served as the primary airline between the Maldives and several major cities in China, including Beijing, before suspending its operations in 2017.

Several Chinese airlines, including China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Capital Airlines and Air China, also operate charter services to the Maldives.

The Maldives tourism minister stressed that the the ongoing expansion project of the main Velana International Airport will boost tourist arrivals. Part of the airport expansion will be completed by the end of this year, while the terminal expansion will be finished by the end of 2019, he added.

The government has launched a USD 800 million mega project to expand and upgrade the Maldives’ main gateway. 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.

Minister Zameer also told Xinhua that the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge would also spread awareness amongst Chinese travellers about Maldives, and would help attract more tourists.

“Like the friendship bridge project, there is always potential for more awareness. Some Chinese are also in partnership with the private sector on tourism projects. This will enhance our opportunities in expanding the tourism sector for the Chinese,” he said.

“Maldives as of now is still the most sought after destination for the Chinese traveler. We are building more facilities for the Chinese travellers.”

China still remains the single biggest source market for the Maldives tourism industry, but arrivals have decreased significantly over the past three years.

According to the latest figures released by the Maldives tourism ministry, arrivals from China declined by 27.1 percent to reach 16,927 compared to the 23,225 in May 2017. This decline, which came after declines of 27.5 percent and 28 percent in March and April respectively and another 15.8 percent in January, offset the rare gain in arrival numbers from China in February and led to a 10.9 percent decline in arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market for the January-May period.

As arrivals from China drop steadily, the Maldives has announced plans to step up marketing in China in order to increase the number of Chinese tourists to one million per year.

Meanwhile, top officials from Maldives and China gathered last month to seek ways on expanding tourism ties between the two countries in a bit to attract more Chinese tourists to the holiday destination.

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