Maldives begins 2019 with 6.5 per cent hike in tourist arrivals

Maldives has begun the year with a 6.5 per cent increase in tourist arrivals.

Official figures for the month of January released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 151,552 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 6.5 per cent increase over the 142,351 tourists in January 2018.

Growth in Europe, the largest regional source market, accelerated in January, as arrivals increased by nine per cent to reach 83,528 from 76,603.

The UK, which is the single biggest European source market, made a gain of 7.8 per cent, whilst several other major European markets such as Italy, France and Spain also posted gains of 17 per cent, 12.9 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively. Arrivals from Germany, the second largest European source market, also increased by 17.9 per cent.

Arrivals from Asia, the second largest regional source market, increased by 4.9 per cent in January.

The Chinese market, which had been declining for the past two years, continued to post negative growth in January, as arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market declined by 0.1 per cent to reach 25,804 from 25,830 in January 2018.

Several major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia, which have been posting strong gains over the past year, declined in January, with arrivals from countries such as Thailand, Philippines and Singapore decreasing by 35.1 per cent, 15.7 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively. Arrivals from Malaysia, however, increased by 24.9 per cent.

South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, rebounded after major declines during the last few months of 2018. The 25.1 per cent gain in the South Asian market in January 2019 is mainly driven by an impressive 37.2 per cent growth in the Indian market, which saw arrival numbers climb to 11,633 from 8,481 a year ago.

Along with the strong performance in established markets, relatively new markets such as the Americas and Africa also performed well in January.

Arrivals from the US, which has secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 13.3 per cent to reach 4,454 last month compared to the 3,930 in January 2019, whilst the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 2.8 per cent. South Africa, which has been on the recovery, also posted an increase of 44.6 per cent.

However, arrivals from the Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, dipped by 24.6 per ent in January. Arrivals from almost all major Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Qatar posted negative growth of 39.8 per cent, 10.4 per cent, 8.8 per cent and 5.3 per cent respectively. United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the only Gulf state to have posted positive growth in January, as arrival numbers increased by 25.3 per cent.

Maldives welcomed a record 1.4 million tourists in 2018. It was a 6.8 per cent increase from the 1,389,542 tourists that chose to holiday in the Maldives in 2017.

Other factors such as average duration of stay, bed nights and occupancy also posted positive growth in 2018.

This positive growth in the tourism industry comes amidst concerns by private organisations representing industry stakeholders such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) over the lack of effort and budget to promote the Maldives as a destination.

These concerns come as the world-famous holiday destination struggles to match an increased bed capacity.

Over the past few 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 more than 130. That number is set to increase as another 20 resorts are expected to open 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 500 guesthouses in operation today.

The previous government announced 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.

Meanwhile, the new government has pledged to ramp up tourism promotion.

Reflecting the new government’s pledge, the state budget for 2019 includes MVR 104,200,000 (USD 6.7 million) for tourism promotion, up from MVR 34,733,333 (USD 2.2 million) this year and the previous year.

Photo: LUX* North Male Atoll

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