Maldives records double-digit tourist arrival growth during first quarter of 2013

Tourism arrivals to the Maldives during the first quarter of 2013 were up 14.6 percent over the same period last year, as declining Western European demand failed to offset growing interest in the destination from Asia and Eastern Europe.

According to official statistics, 293,112 tourists arrived in the country between January to March 2013.  During March alone, 99,498 visitors were recorded in total – an increase of 30.1 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Over the last month, the tourism industry has faced several potential boycotts as a result of negative headlines, such as the controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim who admitted to having consensual sex with an unnamed man during a police investigation.

So far over two million people have signed an online petition backing a selective tourism boycott by  The petition aims to launch a media campaign targeting local resort businesses to pressure key decision makers to push for legal reforms in how sexual offences are dealt with.

Similar boycott action has been threatened in China, where concerns over alleged discrimination of Chinese nationals by one resort operator created negative publicity for the Maldives across local press and social media services.

However, tourism authorities told Minivan News late last month that after a“challenging” 2012 following political upheavals – a much more optimistic outlook was expected for the industry over the next two years. The country is presently well on target to meet a one million visitor target that it failed to reach by the end of 2012.

Regional visitors

During the last three months, China has continued to remain the key driver behind growth in tourism arrivals.  Some 70,570 arrivals were recorded for the first quarter of 2013, an increase of 51.2 percent over the same period last year. China accounted for 24.1 percent of all tourist arrivals to the Maldives between January and March, remaining the largest national market in terms of arrivals by over ten percentage points.

Total tourist demand from the Asia Pacific region was up for the quarter by 41.6 percent, amounting to 109,233 visitors, according to the statistics.

Meanwhile, European visitor numbers were up 0.3 percent over the same period last year, as demand from Central and Eastern Europe during the quarter rose by 24.2 percent – amounting to 39,273 people.

Russia remained the key market in the region, amounting for 8.3 percent of all arrivals to the Maldives over the first three months of the year. Visitor numbers from the country between January and March reached 24,255 people – up 21.8 percent over the same time last year.

In Western Europe, tourist demand fell 5.5 percent for the quarter, amounting to 69,747 visitors. This region still represented a 23.8 percent share of total arrivals to the Maldives for the first three months of the year.

During the same quarter, visitors from key markets including Germany and France fell by 2.6 percent and 11.3 percent respectively.

Elsewhere in Europe, arrivals from the United Kingdom and Italy – key traditional markets for the Maldives – were also down. Visitors from the UK for the first three months of the year fell by 7.6 percent to 22,550. Italy posted a 13.7 percent decline for the quarter – amounting to 23,247 guests.

In Africa, 1,588 people visited the Maldives during the quarter, up by 28.9 percent over the same period last year.

Across the Americas, demand rose by 31.8 percent for the first three months of the year, amounting to 8,006 people.  Between January and March, 2013, Middle Eastern arrivals increased by 53.4 percent over the same period last year, with 6,665 visitors.


Ahead of the release of the March 2013 statistics, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News last month that the outlook for the year ahead was much more optimistic than in 2012.  He pointed to protests in Male’ during the build up and aftermath of last year’s controversial transfer of power as a key difficulty faced by the industry last year.

With the bulk of protests following the change in government last year having been concentrated in the capital, Maleeh said that “false information” indicating that tourists staying at the country’s isolated island resorts would be affected by protests had since been dispelled.

However, in light of political uncertainty in 2012, the incoming government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan had sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.

This focus has included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

Despite some challenges posed by a reduced state budget for marketing this year, Maleeh said authorities were continuing to press for private funding to help with mainstream ad pushes on services like CNN and the BBC.

“We hope to have an announcement by the middle of the year,” he said.

Maleeh added that between April to August this year, a number of foreign journalists from all over the world would be invited to take part in ‘familiarisation trips’, which were claimed to have proved “very effective” the previous year.

Efforts are also expected to be undertaken in china to provide promotional focuses in mainstream media, such as state broadcasters state broadcasters, to promote the destination with local assistance.


February tourist arrivals to the Maldives increase by 25 percent on 2012

Tourist arrivals for February have increased by over 25 percent compared to the same month in 2012.

Figures from the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture reveal that an increase of 21,493 tourists visited the Maldives last month compared to February last year.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media in February that he was confident the Maldives would reach one million tourist arrivals in 2012.

Despite the Ministry’s aim, January saw a 7.6 percent drop compared to the same month in 2012 – the first time the Maldives had seen a decrease in January arrivals in three years.

The Asian market – which holds a 43.7 percent share of the overall tourist market – increased by 106.8 percent in February compared to the same month last year.

China, which has the largest share of the market for a single country, saw an increase from just 12,237 tourist arrivals in February 2012 to a total of 33,592 in 2013.

The 174.5 percent increase from Chinese tourists could be attributed to Chinese New Year, which was held in February this year as opposed to January in 2012.

Despite the continuing rise in the Asian market, Europe – which holds the largest share of the tourism market at 51.6 percent – fell by 6.2 percent in February 2013.

Arrivals from the United Kingdom also continued to fall last month from 9,006 in February 2012 to 7,745 in 2013 – a 14 percent decrease.

Tourists from Italy, which has the second largest share of the European market after the UK at 7.5 percent, fell by 12 percent in February compared to the same month in 2012.

Whilst arrivals from southern, western and northern Europe continued to fall, the eastern and central European market grew by 22.9 percent from 9,376 in 2012 to 11,519 in 2013.

Political turmoil

Despite the sharp rise in tourist arrivals last month, February 2012 saw unusually low tourist arrivals following the political instability that took place on February 7, 2012, when former President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from power.

Following widespread media coverage of the country’s political unrest, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) released a statement claiming that resorts had registered 500 cancellations in the first week following the change of government.

One Shanghai-based travel agent, Sun Yi, told Minivan News she was faced with many cancellations just two days after the events of February 7.

”It has seriously affected our business. Many guests cancelled the Maldivian holiday package which used to be very popular,” she explained, adding that her company had suspended plans to hold a commercial event at a Maldives resort this spring.

“Quite a lot of Chinese customers are very concerned of this situation. Some of them are hesitant to make reservations now,” said Emy Zheng, a Chinese national working at Villuxa Holidays.

‘Cup noodle’ scandal

Meanwhile, calls for a tourism boycott to the Maldives exploded across Chinese social media networks earlier this month, after allegations of discrimination against guests from China at one resort became widely circulated.

On March 1, dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli resort – formerly Waldorf Astoria – posted allegations on the Chinese forum Tianya that guests from the country were receiving inferior treatment to Europeans, despite paying the same prices.

The staff alleged that this discrimination extended to removing kettles from the rooms of Chinese guests, to prevent them making instant noodles in their rooms and thereby forcing them into the resort’s restaurants.

By Sunday, the employees’ post had been forward over 91,000 times across the Chinese blogosphere, according to one report from the International Herald Tribune, and sparked calls for a Chinese tourism boycott of the Maldives in Chinese media.

One Bejing-based travel agent specialising in the Maldives told the South China Morning Post that many Chinese tourists had started cancelling their plans to visit the country.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb said no formal complaints had been received by Maldivian authorities over alleged discrimination at the country’s resorts.

However, Adheeb asked that in future, any tourists who had such complaints about their treatment file such concerns with the tourism ministry and other relevant authorities rather than through the press and social media.


Tourist arrivals show decline of 7.6 percent in January 2013

Tourist arrivals for January 2013 were down by 7.6 percent compared to the same month in 2012, figures from the Ministry of Tourism have revealed.

Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media he was confident the Maldives would reach one million tourist arrivals in 2013, after narrowly falling short of the same target for 2012.

However, figures released by the ministry show that tourist arrivals from Europe and Asia – the two largest markets – had fallen by 4.4 percent and 16.8 percent respectively in January 2013 when compared to the same month in 2012.

According to figures from the tourism ministry, last month was the first time in three years there had been a decline in tourists coming to the Maldives in January when compared to figures from previous years for the same month.

The monthly number of Chinese tourists arriving in the Maldives fell for the first time in over six months compared to figures from previous years.

China, which holds the largest share of the arrivals to the Maldives at 21.6 percent, fell by 31.4 percent from 28,008 in January 2012 to 19,208 in January 2013.

The European market continues its steady decline, with Italy – which held the largest share of tourist arrivals in Europe in January 2012 – falling by 32.5 percent from 10,451 to 7,050 in January 2013.

Russia now holds the largest share of tourists for all countries classified under ‘Europe’ by the ministry, accounting for 10.2 percent of all arrivals in January 2013 at 9,061.

Arrivals from United Kingdom fell from 7,001 in January 2012 to 6,367 in January 2013, while German arrivals – which account for the third largest share of the European arrival market – fell by eight percent when compared to the same month in 2012.

In contrast, India’s tourist arrivals grew by 51.2 percent from 2,303 to 3,483 and arrivals from countries in the Middle East increased from 1,303 to 2,312.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Tourism budget increased by MVR 60 million

Earlier this month, the tourism budget for 2013 was increased from MVR 20 million (US$1.2 million) to MVR 80 million (US$5.1 million).

The increase came after criticism from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), who last month called for the government to reconsider the MVR 20 million budget allocated for tourism marketing in 2013.

The initial sum of money allocated was the lowest in eight years, according to a statement from MATI, which highlighted concerns that the Maldives’ economy was mostly reliant on tourism.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media that the ministry had initially requested a budget of MVR 200 million (US$12.9 million) to carry out tourism promotion for the year, however parliament had “erased a zero” from the figure when finalising the budget.

Adheeb noted that while tourism promotion is expensive, the revenue generated from the industry “drives the entire engine”.

“When we put down MVR 200 million, the government authorities don’t actually realise the priority that this requires. Parliament erased a zero from the MVR 200 million we proposed, and gave us MVR 20 million,” he told Sun Online.

“Then we had to work in all other different ways, and now the Finance Minister has committed to give us MVR 60 million more.”


Tourism Minister confident to meet 2013 one million tourist target

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb has claimed the Maldives will post one million tourist arrivals in 2013 after falling narrowly short of the mark last year.

Adheeb told local media that the government had “re-set” its sights on the one million arrival target that was set in 2012.

Last year, a total of 958,027 tourists arrived in the Maldives, with visitor numbers showing an eventual improvement despite the negative impact on the industry from political uncertainty in February.

“I really believe we can bring one million tourists to Maldives. We can very much confirm that when January and February end,” he was quoted as saying in local newspaper Haveeru.

The Tourism Minister said that with Chinese New Year being celebrated this month, the Maldives would see an unprecedented boost in arrivals, local media reported.

“As the Maldives market is based in China, large numbers of tourists come here to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I will say that Maldives’ New Year is already here,” he added.


Maldives completes Japanese road-show as part of national promo tour

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has this month completed a Japanese road-show taking in the cities of Fukuoka and Osaka, as part of wider push to bolster arrivals from the country.

Teaming up with the Maldivian travel groups, the MMPRC has said the tour, which concluded on September 9, formed part of plans to provide information to the Japanese press and tour operators ahead of the JATA Tourism Forum and Travel Showcase that concludes today in Tokyo.

An estimated 90 Japanese tour operators were involved in the road-show, according to the MMPRC.

The focus by local travel groups on the Japanese market comes as official travel figures released this month indicated arrival numbers to the Maldives between January and August this year totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011.

According to the same statistics, arrivals from Japan for the first eight months of the year totalled 22,534 – a figure down 0.3 percent compared to the same period in 2011.


Maldives over half-way towards one million visitor goal following August arrival growth

Arrival numbers to the Maldives between January and August this year totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011, official figures provided by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have shown.

With Maldives travel authorities aiming to welcome a million visitors to the country by the end of the year, the figures highlight a 3.8 percent increase in arrivals for August 2012 when compared to the same period the previous year.  A total of 79,768 international arrivals were recorded coming to the country last month.

Although unavailable for comment today, Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News earlier this month that the country’s travel industry was on target to meet its goal of attracting one million annual visitors – claiming the “the hard days” were over for Maldives tourism.

Maleeh claimed at the time that the industry remained on track to attract one million visitors, despite facing challenges such as the impact of ongoing financial uncertainty on some core European tourism markets like the UK and Italy.

According to the Tourism Ministry figures, for the first eight months of 2012, Europe continued to dominate visitor numbers to the Maldives, accounting for 55.7 percent of all arrivals – down 2.9 percent when compared to 2011.

During August, total European arrivals on a year-on-year basis fell by 9.6 percent to 35,488 visitors.

In Central and Eastern Europe, which includes markets like Russia, Poland and Bulgaria, visitors during August fell 7.7 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

In Northern Europe, which incorporates markets including the UK, Sweden and Ireland, arrivals dropped 14.3 percent to 8,202 last month, according to the official statistics.

Southern Europe also recorded a drop in arrivals with 7,710 visitors from markets such as Greece, Italy and Spain coming to the Maldives – a fall of 24.1 percent compared to the same period last year.

Arrivals were up by 5.6 percent from the Western Europe region on the back of growth in markets such as Germany, France and Austria, with 12,434 visitors entering the country during August 2012.

Europe’s smallest tourism market for the Maldives, Eastern Mediterranean Europe, saw 617 arrivals visitors coming from countries like Turkey and Israel, a fall of 7.9 percent.

The Asian impact

Asia was responsible for 38.5 percent of arrivals in the Maldives between January and August 2012, an increase of 9.1 percent over the same time last year.

Despite the overall decline in European visitors during August 2012 when compared to the same period last year, arrivals from the Asia Pacific market were up 12.6 percent to 38,898. The increase was reflected in increased visitors from key markets throughout the region.

North East Asia, which represents the bulk of the region’s travel market for the Maldives – with countries like China, Japan and Korea – saw arrivals increase by 9.4 percent to 31,020 people.

In South East Asia, visitors to the Maldives rose 45.1 percent during August 2012 to 2,809 from markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

South Asia meanwhile posted a 19.6 percent rise in visitors, with 3,623 arrivals from markets including India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh being recorded for the month on a year-on-year basis. Arrivals from Oceania markets like Australia and New Zealand were up 18.1 percent to 1,446 people.

According to the same findings, arrivals from Africa reached 524, an increase of 24.5 percent, while visitors from the Americas rose 19.9 percent to 2,146. Arrivals from the Middle East during August rose 3.4 percent to 2,712 people.

Occupancy rates

Despite the growth in arrivals, the total occupancy rate for resorts, hotels, guest houses and safari boats during the first eight months of the year was down 1.2 percentage points in total to 70.8 percent. On a year-on-year basis, total average occupancy for August 2012 fell one percentage point to 68 percent.

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, the average resort occupancy between January and August this year fell 2.3 percentage points to 77 percent compared to the same period in 2011. During August alone, average occupancy fell 0.8 percentage points to 74.9 percent.

At the country’s hotels, average occupancy for the first eight months of the year was down 8.8 percentage points to 30.3 percent. In August, average hotel occupancy was down 6.1 percentage points to 25.8 percent over the same time frame last year.

Guest house occupancy for the first eight months of 2012, rose 0.8 percentage points to 16.3 percent. The same level of growth was also recorded in terms of average guest house occupancy for August 2012, which rose 0.8 percentage points to 16.3 percent.

Safari vessel occupancy meanwhile increased 4.1 percentage points between January to August 2012, totalling an average of 28.4 percent. However, average occupancy during August had fallen two percentage points to 19.1 percent.


May arrivals drop 1.4 percent on 2011 figures

The Maldives recorded a 1.4 percent drop in arrivals in May, compared to the same period last year.

Overall arrivals for January to May 2012 were up 1.7 percent on the same period last year. However according to figures from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), while South Asia was the second fastest growing market reporting 14 percent year-on-year growth in March in terms of visitor volume, the Maldives was the only destination to record a decline (five percent).

Figures released by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) for May showed sharp dips across many emerging and traditional markets, including Central and Eastern Europe (-12.7 percent), Northern Europe (-15.8 percent), Southern Europe (-32 percent) and North East Asia (-1.1 percent).

Russia, a key emerging market for the Maldives, showed a decline of 17.4 percent in arrivals for May, while the country’s largest and formerly fastest-growing market, China, recorded an 8.5 percent increase.

Core traditional markets showed double-digit decreases in arrivals for May, particularly Italy (-39.1 percent), the UK (-16.5 percent) and Korea (-42.5 percent).

“Traditionally, tour operators experience a drop in bookings and travel during big soccer events, and with the UK also taking part in Euro 2012, chances are more people might be distracted from thinking about a summer break during this period. Also, the upcoming Olympic Games during July will also impact long haul travel,” the MMPRC stated.

Western Europe meanwhile showed signs of rapid recovery, led by exceptional growth in German arrivals (30.5 percent) to 9736 for the month – comfortably putting it in second place behind China in terms of volume.

In an accompanying statement, the MMPRC speculated that the reasons for the increase in arrivals “are the strong economic conditions in Germany together with the increase in frequency of flights between the two countries.”

The average occupancy rate at the country’s resorts fell from 80.7 to 66.2 percent for May, but this pattern was in line with 2011 as the country’s low season sets in. However, average occupancy rates for resorts in 2012 were down 5-6 percent on 2011 for February to April.

“MMPRC is in line with the set target of attracting 1 million tourists during 2012,” the corporation said. “A strategic digital and social media campaign is in place. Road shows and other strategic marketing activities are being planned for the year ahead. Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation has a policy to carry out joint promotions and marketing campaigns with airlines, tour operators and other stakeholders.”

Middle East arrivals up 77.8 percent in first quarter 2012

The Maldives has registered a 77.8 percent increase in tourist arrivals from the Middle East region in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, while some traditional markets have shown signs of recovery.

The quarterly report from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) speculated that the Middle Eastern increase came following the opening of several hotel chains from the region.

“In particular it is important to note the exceptional growth from the Saudi Arabian market,” the report noted.

Arrivals from Germany increased 20.4 percent on the back of improved economic conditions and increased flight frequency, while Switzerland increased 24.5 percent – largely due to the availability of direct flights from Zurich.

However several of the country’s other high-volume markets registered substantial decreases. Arrivals from the UK – the Maldives’ second largest market – fell 12 percent, while Italy and France also recorded a decrease. Small increases in arrivals from Denmark and Norway were offset by declines in arrivals from Finland and Sweden..

Growth slowed in Chinese arrivals, which last year eclipsed the UK as the country’s largest market by volume, with a 16.4 percent increase on the back of cancelled charter flights due to the country’s ongoing political turmoil. Tour operators suggested growth would return in June-July, the MMPRC noted.

Russian arrivals, 19,919 of whom accounted for 7.8 percent of the country’s market share, increased 19.7 percent: “Eastern European region remains the most important emerging market for Maldives,” the report noted.

The MMPRC identified South Africa, India and the USA as potential new opportunities for Maldives tourism, but noted the need for improved flight connections. Growth in the Indian market was hampered by the lack of air connections and the financial difficulties of Indian airline operators.

“Much interest has been generated amongst the Americans with the emerging trend in live aboard cruises in the Maldives,” the MMPRC observed.

Arrivals from selected markets and growth in first quarter 2012 on 2011:

Germany 26,355, +20.4% (10.3 percent market share)
Switzerland 11,803, +24.5%
China 46,662, +16.4%
Russia 9,919, +19.7% (7.8 percent market share)
South Korea 4329, +21.7%
France 25,195, -1.3% (9.8 percent market share)
UK 24,395, -12%
Italy 26,939, (10.5 percent market share)
Japan 8114, -5 percent
India 6179, -10.4 (2 percent market share)
Austria 7152, +11.4%
South Korea 4329, +21.7%
South East Asia (inc Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) 4515, +12.1%
USA 3566, +6.6%)
Middle East 4344, +77.8% (1.7 percent market share)
Spain and Portugal 1828, -1.33%
South Africa 576, -21.2%
Northern Europe 4499, – 9.2% (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden)
Israel 713, +61.7%
Turkey 1088, +20%


Chinese arrivals to Maldives drop but rates hold: TTG Asia

The political shake-up in the Maldives has affected Chinese arrivals – now its biggest source – and triggered concerns in its traditional Europe and Japan markets, but rates appear to be holding, reports Mimi Hudoyo for TTG Asia, from ITB Berlin.

Let’s Go Maldives managing director, Mohamed Riyaz, said his company had seen 12 per cent of its Chinese bookings wiped out: “The Maldives gets between three and five charter flights from China every day, so if we lose one or two flights that means we lose quite a large volume.”

Maldives Marketing & PR Corp deputy director, Ibrahim Asim, said the China market was “quite sensitive about political issues”.

“Buyers (from other markets) at the show have also shown concern, but we have not seen a significant impact from the other markets so far,” he said. “Having said that, we are putting together plans to minimise the impact, and we expect to launch these by the end of this month.”

China is the Maldives largest market in terms of tourist arrivals, at nearly 23 percent.

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