Kuoni says Maldives bestseller for 16th year, set for continued growth in 2019

Maldives has for the 16th consecutive year retained the number one spot amongst travellers booking their holidays through Kuoni, the world-leading tour operator announced Tuesday.

In its annual Worldwide Travel Report, Kuoni said the Maldives delivers a level of luxury that was unheard of a generation ago. With 20 properties due to open over the next two years and a second runway on Male scheduled to open this year, 2019 looks set for continued growth, it added.

“The destination saw an overall 10.2% increase in UK visitor numbers last year,” the report read.

With the Maldives popularity on the rise, seaplane is listed amongst the “best ways to see the world”.

“Kuoni personal travel experts booked 7,130 return seaplane transfers in the Maldives last year, with an increase in the number of people choosing a flight over a boat transfer (64% upgraded), specifically because they want the experience,” the report read.

Two airlines handle seaplane operations: flagship carrier Maldivian and privately run Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA). A third operator Manta Air is set to begin service this year.

TMA, which is controlled by a consortium led by US-based Bain Capital and Chinese conglomerate Tempus Group, operates an all-amphibian fleet of more than 50 aircraft, making it the largest seaplane operator in the world. Maldivian has a fleet of 13 seaplanes and serves over 10 resorts.

Meanwhile, Kuoni predicted 2019 to be “a year like no other for the travel industry”, with booking patterns affected by Brexit but with long-haul sales getting a boost.

The reasons for booking holidays are changing drastically, Kuoni’s research further finds, with 70 per cent acknowledging their motivation had changed.

Nearly half of respondents say the variety of activities, workshops and retreats on offer had prompted their choice of holiday. Almost three-quarters had been on at least one holiday as an adult where they had had the opportunity to learn something new. Similarly, 60 per cent of adults said they had learnt something on holiday as a child, with more than half believing this had improved their life as an adult.

“We’re seeing a thirst for exciting new workshops, classes and excursions not just from the family market but for adults of all ages, from twenty-somethings to those in their seventies who want to pursue their interests, take time out and try something different in new surroundings,” Wendy Kenneally, Kuoni Commercial Director, was quoted in the report, as saying.

Maldives also features prominently in this category, with Kuoni highlighting the eco-centre at Kuramathi Maldives and PETER diving upcoming at Faarufushi Maldives resort, as well as dedicated yoga studios at several Maldivian resorts.

Kuoni’s 2019 Worldwide Travel Report also gives emphasis on eco-tourism, as the drive for customers wanting to travel responsibly has created incredible partnerships and initiatives across the world.

One such initiative noted by Kuoni is the replacement of single-use plastic straws with edible or reusable straws by several Maldivian resorts, including Velassaru Maldives. Velassaru has also built a recycling plant for plastic and glass, and a botanical chipper can mulch kitchen waste into compost for the island’s vegetable plots, the UK-based tour operator noted.

The year 2018 was a prosperous one for the Maldives tourism sector, as the country welcomed a record 1.4 million tourists in 2018.

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

Despite major increases in accommodation capacity across all segments, including resorts (up 57 per  cent), guesthouses (17.2 per cent), hotels (27.9 per cent) and safari vessels (9.5 per cent), the average occupancy rate recoded a slight growth of one per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year. The occupancy rate remained at above 60 per cent throughout the year, except for four months during the traditionally off summer season.

Average duration of stay also increased by 0.2 per cent to reach 6.4 days in 2018 compared to the previous year. Total bed nights stood at 9,470,379, which was an increase of 10.2 per cent over 2017.

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.

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