Maldives concludes March with 22 per cent hike in tourist arrivals

Maldives has concluded another high performing month in tourist arrivals, as the number of tourists that visited the Indian Ocean island nation hiked by 22 per cent in March.

Official figures for the month of March released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 162,843 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 22 per cent increase over the 133,466 tourists in March 2018.

Growth in Europe, the largest regional source market, contributed to the stellar performance in March, as arrivals increased by 12.2 per cent to reach 92,474 from 82,383.

The UK, which is the single biggest European source market, made a gain of 4.6per cent, whilst several other major European markets such as Italy, France and Switzerland also posted gains of 38.5 per cent, 36.5 per cent and four per cent respectively. Arrivals from Germany, the second largest European source market, also increased by 11.1 per cent, whilst Russian travellers continued to show their appetite for the Maldives as arrival numbers jumped 18 per cent in March to reach 9,282 from 7,867 in March 2018.

Arrivals from Asia, the second largest regional source market, posted positive growth of 35.4 per cent in March.

The Chinese market, which has been showing signs of recovery this year, recorded a 47.5 per cent growth, as arrivals reached 19,479 in March 2018 from 13,203 in March 2018. This strong performance widened the increase in arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market for the January-March period to 5.6 per cent.

However, several major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia, which have been posting strong gains over the past year, posted declines in March, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines decreasing by 5.1 per cent, 15.7 per cent, and 43.5 per cent respectively. Arrivals from Singapore, however, increased by 35.6 per cent.

In contrast, growth in South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, accelerated by an impressive 97.1 per cent in March. This major gain in the South Asian market is mainly due to an increase of 140.8 per cent in arrivals from India, the Maldives’ closest neighbour.

Relatively new markets such as the Americas and Africa also performed well in March.

Arrivals from the US, which has secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to Maldives tourism, increased by 62.8 per cent to reach 6,583 last month compared to the 4,043 in March 2018, whilst the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 28.2 per cent. South Africa, which has been on the recovery, also posted an increase of 46.2 per cent.

Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, posted a 37.4 per cent growth. Arrivals from almost all major Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates posted negative growth of 59.5 per cent, 36.2 per cent, 7 per cent, 118.6 per cent and 11.3 per cent respectively.

According to the March statistics, total arrivals for the first three months of the year increased by 15 per cent to reach 482,978 compared to the 420,103 in the same period of last year.

Tourist demographics remained largely unchanged in the first three months of the year, as Europe dominated with a marketshare of 56 per cent of the total tourist arrivals, followed by Asia Pacific with 35 per cent marketshare. Americas secured the third position with five per cent marketshare, whilst Middle East slid to the fourth with three per cent marketshare. African countries also contributed one per cent to the total tourist arrivals to the Maldives.

All the top 10 source markets posted positive growth in arrivals by the end of March.

China (15.9 per cent marketshare), Italy (10.9 per cent marketshare), Germany (7.7 per cent marketshare), the UK (7.5 per cent marketshare) and India (7.5 per cent marketshare) secured the first, second, third, fourth and fifth position, respectively. France contributed 5.5 per cent to the total arrivals and posted a growth of 28 per cent to secure the sixth place, whilst Russia (5.4 per cent marketshare), the US (3.4 per cent marketshare) and Japan (2.3 per cent marketshare) followed on the seventh, eighth and ninth position, respectively. Although growth in the Swedish market declined by 1.1 per cent, Swedish visitors accounted to 2.2 per cent of total arrivals making it the 10th biggest source market to Maldives tourism.

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.

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