China has eclipsed the traditional European tourism markets of the Maldives to become the highest contributor of tourist arrivals to the country, but that gain is unlikely to last, says the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).
Figures from the Ministry of Tourism indicate that that 15.3 percent of all arrivals this year originated from China – a staggering growth rate of 137 percent compared to the first eight months of 2009.
UK arrivals, traditionally the Maldives’ greatest market, sits at 14.9 percent followed by Italy at 12.6 percent. Average length of stay has dropped to 7.7 days, compared to the same period 8.1 last year.
Secretary General of MATI, Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, told Minivan News that Chinese tourists regarded the Maldives as a “novelty” destination, and that the growth would not last.
“The Chinese can swamp a destination in terms of numbers, but this is not the tourism the Maldives is about. Our product attracts sunseekers – Europeans,” he said.
“The Chinese who come do not come for the sun and the beach – they come because the Maldives is a novelty, a safe destination, and because of their new-found freedom to travel. Resorts are saying there are not many repeat visitors from China.”
Sim said that while it was “a good thing” that the spike in Chinese arrivals had filled in a seasonal gap in the market, Chinese tourists were comparatively low “yield” compared to other markets.
“137 percent growth is huge, but that’s heads-on-beds,” Sim said. This had not “had the impact on yield as much as it should” because of lower-than-average length of stays, uptake of full board packages and a general disinclination among Chinese visitors to spend on resort restaurants, bars and excursions.
“What we’ve seen January to August is that while most traditional markets have grown, except Italy, there hasn’t been much difference in arrivals figures from Jan-August last year. But Germany, France and the UK are all registering growth and picking up.”
Seasonal dips in the Maldives market during warmer months in the northern hemisphere have historically been filled with the arrival of Russians and Japanese, Sim explained.
“he Japanese market is not growing – it used to be a good market but it hasn’t been showing growth, and we need to do more work in Japan,” he said.
Early visitors from Russia used to be among the highest yield tourists, “but they have since become more seasonal like everyone else.”
“South Africa would be a good market for us, but it requires good flight connections, perhaps via Mumbai.”
The Maldives was proving a victim of fashions in the travel industry, Sim noted, particularly in the high-end segment.
“Right now the Seychelles and Mauritius are in fashion. We haven’t done much in terms of destination marketing, and we have lost the buzz we used to have. We have no new products that people can afford, there’s been mismanagement of the local economy, and it’s been hard for the new government to put things back together,” he said.
“Environmental doomsday messages” had not helped attract investors either, he added.
“Hopefully the new budget will have more money for destination marketing.”