The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour operators (MATATO) believes an improving economic situation in a number of key travel markets has helped drive a bounce back in visitor arrivals to the Maldives during 2010, when compared to the same period last year.
Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, Secretary General for the group, said that an improving economic climate and better complimentary packages have been positive developments for the industry after recent negative headlines generated in light of the high profile ‘false wedding’ video widely circulated in the press and online.
The comments were made as tourist arrivals to the Maldives were found to have increased by 19.7 percent during October compared to the same period last year, marking improved fortunes for the country’s travel industry during 2010, according to new official figures.
The statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture found 74,707 visitors had arrived by air to the Maldives, up from 64,432 a year earlier. The growth continues a successful nine-month period for Maldives tourism that has seen year-on-year visitor growth of 21.8 for the last ten months.
In addressing the increases, Jamal told Minivan News that an improvement in the global economic climate had aided tourist industry commitments to try to be more competitive by offering more complimentary offers like an additional night’s stay or free transfers.
Alongside an explosion of interest from Chinese tourists that the MATATO Secretary General expects to continue during the next few months and years, a ‘good number’ of travellers from established markets in Europe also continued to flock to the nation’s atolls to provide a more balanced revenue source.
Between January to October 2010, Tourism Ministry figures found that 63.3 percent of visitors to the Maldives came from European markets. Asia Pacific territories contributed 32.3 percent of overall travel demand to the country.
The figures come after a turbulent month for Maldivian tourism, following a video recording of a ‘false wedding’ conducted at the Vilu Reef Resort and Spa that depicted some staff members mocking a Swiss couple in the local dialect of Dhivehi during a vow renewal ceremony being leaked online. The incident garnered both local and international coverage.
Jamal said that with many people now deciding to take or research holidays over the internet, the high profile nature of the incident was definitely likely to stain the country’s reputation as a hotspot for luxury and honeymoon travel.
“To be honest, it was a strange incident that we never would have expected to happen,” he added. “We don’t know yet how much of an impact it will ultimately have on tourism. It is not good, but [the impact] has not yet been as bad as we first thought.”
Addressing the incident, Ahmed Solih, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Tourism told Minvan News that he was reluctant to use the term ‘false wedding’ in regard to a ceremony that had been booked as an authentic experience for the couple who had been filmed.
In response, Solih pointed to a number of high profile apologies made to the couple – including a personal call from President Mohamed Nasheed with an offer to come back to the country as his guests – as a reflection of the serious anger among the industry and Maldivians about the incident.
The Permanent Secretary added that although it is impossible to speculate how the wedding video would impact tourist demand in the future, it was now vital for the industry’s reputation to prevent any repeats of the incident in the future.
Solih said that although the incident was isolated to a single occurrence on one of the country’s more than 90 tourist resorts, a number of e-mails and correspondence had been received reflecting the bad taste left by the incident on the tourism market.
In looking at current tourist growth though, Solih believed that the complex nature of tourism means that there are many contributing factors to the growth beyond just fauvorable economic conditions.
The Permanent Secretary claimed that the Ministry was itself focused on trying to diversify the nation’s appeal to a wider number of markets and nations wads vital to try and protect the industry from external factors such as economics that it has no control over.
“Along with the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB) we have spent years of hard work researching and looking to new markets,” he said.
Aside from lucrative emerging economies like China, Solih claims that the industry had been making inroads to Middle Eastern and American markets in attempts to try and broaden the Maldives’ appeal around the world.