First meeting on Chinese tourist safety held

The first convening of the ‘Joint Meeting Mechanism’ to discuss the safety and security of Chinese tourists in the Maldives has been held between foreign minister Dunya Maumoon and Chinese Ambassador Wang Fukang.

Dunya spoke of the importance of strengthening tourism ties between China and the Maldives and stressed the significance of the joint mechanism to facilitate a line of communication regarding the safety of Chinese tourists, reported the foreign ministry.

“Ambassador Wang Fukang thanked the Government of Maldives for the coordination and cooperation extended in ensuring a safe environment to the Chinese tourists in the Maldives,” the statement read.

The meeting was attended by senior officials from the Maldivian foreign service and the embassy of China, along with representatives from the tourism ministry, the immigration department, the police, the Maldives Customs Service, as well as relevant tourism industry groups.

The joint mechanism was agreed under an MoU signed during Chinese President Xi Jinpeng’s official visit to the Maldives in September 2014, during which President Abdulla Yameen expressed his hope Chinese visitors would increase three-fold over the next four years – which would mean nearly one million Chinese visitors a year.

While one Chinese tourist was killed in a motorcycle collision in the capital last year, the majority of casualties are related to water sports – most often drowning.


World Bank predicts positive outlook for Maldivian economy in 2014

The World Bank predicts a positive outlook for the Maldivian economy in 2014 with a projected GDP growth of 4.5 percent, according to its annual global economic prospects report.

Economic growth would be “driven by strong tourist arrivals, particularly by robust growth in the Chinese tourist segment,” observed the report released last week.

“In the medium term, the economy is projected to grow at a more sustainable pace of about four percent annually, as tourism revenues from Europe pick up.”

The report did warn, however, that an increasingly likely El Niño conditions in the regions represented a medium-term economic risk.

GDP growth in 2015 and 2016 is projected at 4.2 percent and 4.1 percent respectively.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) had revealed earlier this month that economic activity expanded in the first quarter of 2014 “driven by the strong growth of the tourism sector during the ongoing high season of the industry.”

Total tourism receipts in the first three months of the year increased by 10 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013, reaching US$801.1 million.

The central bank noted that the 10 percent annual increase in arrivals during the first quarter was “entirely driven by the significant increase (24 percent) in arrivals from the Chinese market.”

Chinese tourists accounted for 27 percent of guests during the first quarter of 2014. Europe however retained the largest market share despite the continuing growth of the Chinese market, accounting for of 51.3 percent of all arrivals.

Challenges and risks

In late May, a delegation from the World Bank led by the World Bank Vice President Philippe Le Houérou – in his first visit to the Maldives since assuming the post in July 2013 – met President Abdulla Yameen and agreed to work with the government in developing a national strategy for fostering growth and consolidating public finances.

The discussion focused on “the need to reduce fiscal deficits, create a favourable investment climate for the private sector and delivery of key public services,” according to a press release from the World Bank.

“Maldives has enjoyed economic growth during the last decade and expects to achieve 4.5 percent growth in 2014,” Le Houérou was quoted as saying.

“But it still faces challenges, such as balancing public accounts while delivering public services on some 200 islands across hundreds of kilometres of the Indian Ocean. The issue is how Maldives can make the most of its potential in order to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.”

In May, MMA Governor Dr Azeema Adam called for “bold decisions” to ensure macroeconomic stability by reducing expenditure – “especially the untargeted subsidies” – and increasing revenue.

El Niño

The global economic prospects report meanwhile warned that impending El Niño weather conditions could be “a key medium-term risk” for growth in the South Asia region.

In 1998, catastrophic El Niño bleaching killed 95 percent of the Maldives’ corals – a key attraction for tourists – following three months of unusually high seawater temperatures that year.

The World Bank report noted that as of May “the likelihood of El Niño conditions in 2014-15 was assessed at 60-70 percent.”

Strong El Niño conditions resulting in deficient rainfalls or drought can have more significant impacts. Although ample grain stocks should mitigate adverse effects on food security, weak agricultural performance could keep food inflation, and in turn, retail inflation, high—perhaps necessitating a tighter monetary policy stance than otherwise, which may have adverse implications for investment and growth,” the report explained.

Among other risks for South Asian economies were “stressed banking sectors” and slow pace of institutional reforms as well as geopolitical and financial risks.

Given the reliance of the South Asia region on imported crude oil, it remains vulnerable to political developments in Ukraine and Russia that could result in tighter international oil supplies,” the report cautioned.

“An escalation of geopolitical tensions that cause crude oil prices to spike can significantly impact current account sustainability in the region.”

Other external risks include declining capital flows from high income countries – which could have “adverse effects on exchange rates” – and a sharp slowdown in China’s economic growth, which would “represent a risk for the global economy, and in turn, for regional growth prospects.”


Maldives reaches one million tourists target for 2013

The Maldives has reached one million tourist arrivals for the current year, with the Tourism Ministry announcing that 1,000,203 had visited the country as of Monday (November 25).

The Maldivian government had narrowly failed to reach this milestone target in 2012, after a year of political turmoil and an economic slump in key markets.

“It’s a major victory for the whole country,” recently re-appointed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was quoted as telling media yesterday.

“This victory has been made possible amidst boycott campaigns and other such obstacles. Resort owners, ministry employees and MMPRC have worked really hard for this.”

Repeated delays to the scheduled presidential elections recently brought threats of prolonged strike actions from leading tourism industry groups, including the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM).

In late October the People’s Majlis accepted a bill that would criminalise any actions calling for a tourism boycott, supporting or endorsing a boycott, participating in a boycott, or any act that would incite fear amongst tourists.

Previously this month, the Finance Ministry revealed that “political turmoil” had caused growth in the tourism industry to stall in 2012, though it did anticipate that the sector – responsible for around 28 percent of GDP in each of the past five years – would return to growth this year.

The Tourism Ministry revealed yesterday that the “Maldives received 925,413 tourists at the end of October 2013 and 783,999 tourists at the end of October 2012, which is an increase of 18% compared to the same period of last year.”

“A total 284,926 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives which is 30.8% of the total arrivals to the Maldives and is the highest arrival from a single source market,” continued the ministry’s press release.

The large numbers of Chinese arrivals to the country’s idyllic resorts, the Finance Ministry has suggested previously, was increasing arrivals whilst reducing the relative value of the industry.

“As the most number of tourists to the country now come from China, we note that the low number of nights on average that a Chinese tourist spends in the Maldives has an adverse effect on the tourism sector’s GDP,” read the Finance Ministry’s ‘Fiscal and Economic Outlook: 2012 to 2016’ statement this month.

Recent tourism statistics show that, whilst there was a slight growth in European arrivals this year, the overall share of the market is now dominated by Asia.

Prominent resort owner and leader of the government-aligned Maldivian Development Alliance Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam has blamed the relative decline in the European market on the state’s failure to properly market the destination.

The official hashtag of London’s World Travel Market was hijacked by Maldivian pro-democracy activists this month, making global headlines by linking prominent resort owners with the overthrow of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

A similar tactic was used by anti-government protesters in 2012 as the government re-launched the ‘Sunny side of life’ slogan that had been temporarily replaced under Nasheed’s tenure.

In order to celebrate the one million tourist milestone, the Ministry of Tourism together with Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation and the Airport Reps Association of Maldives will be holding a week of celebrations at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport between December 25 to December 31.


Chinese tourists, diplomats make a splash in the Maldives: AFP

“The travellers pouring off flight LV199 from Shanghai into the international airport of the Maldives, many dressed in designer labels, are an unmissable sign of China’s interest in the far-flung archipelago,” writes the AFP.

“Their arrival — Chinese visitors are now the biggest group of tourists to the Indian Ocean islands — has been accompanied by greater diplomatic engagement in the Maldives by Beijing, which is investing widely around South Asia.

Recently married Chen Hui and Fang Ye, 20-something business executives from near Shanghai, are returning for their second trip and heading to a resort by speed boat where over-the-water bungalows start at $500 a night.

“Most of our friends come here on their honeymoon,” Fang told AFP, who said they were looking forward to doing some fishing and posing for photos on the sun-kissed white sands that draw nearly a million visitors a year.”

Read more


Chinese tourist dead in snorkelling accident

A Chinese tourist died in a suspected snorkelling accident yesterday at Alif Dhaal Atoll Vakafaru resort.

According to police media, the 26 year-old male was taken to the hospital at the nearby Dhagethi island, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Police said the accident occurred around 11:40am and cause of death is believed to have been drowning.

Local daily Haveeru however reported the resort’s Front Office Manager Abdulla Saeed as saying that the deceased was 25 years-old and was believed to have sustained a head injury after hitting his head on a rock underwater.

Saeed said the tourist was snorkelling in a shallow lagoon and exhibited no external injuries. The injured tourist was first treated at the resort’s clinic before being taken to Dhagethi after his condition deteriorated, the front office manager said.

In January, two Chinese nationals in different resorts were found dead within 48 hours in suspected snorkelling accidents.


Two Chinese nationals found dead in 48 hours

Two Chinese nationals vacationing on two different resorts in the Maldives have been found dead within 48 hours in suspected snorkeling accidents, raising this month’s tourist death toll to three.

A Chinese woman identified as Shuhui Li, aged 58, was pronounced dead after she was pulled out from the waters of Lily Beach resort on Thursday afternoon, while a Chinese man identified as Ding Hai, aged 30, was found dead whilst snorkeling at the newly-opened Ayada resort the following afternoon.

Confirming both incidents, Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said the two reportedly drowned while snorkeling and police are conducting an investigation into both incidents.

He noted that the body of the Chinese man has been moved to the Male’ mortuary inside the Galolhu district cemetery, while the woman’s body was sent to China on Friday through “formal channels” after the police finished examining it.

Lily Beach’s Front Office Manager Yuri Chang told Minivan News that the woman was vacationing with her family on the resort.

“She was snorkelling and we found that she was not moving any more. So we got her out of the water and found her heart had stopped,” Chang said. She was pulled out of the water by her son-in-law and a resort staff member, she added.

Public Relations Manager for Ayada, Ramesha Samarasinghe, said the resort “regrets to confirm the tragic demise of one of its in house guests.”

“After preliminary investigations, it is believed that the extreme surface currents coupled with high winds led to the accident that occurred within the lagoon last evening. The victim was reported to have been snorkeling without a life jacket within the western lagoon, when he became distressed,” Samarasinghe said. “The victim’s wife raised the alarm and sought the help of resort staff who responded by jumping into the lagoon to aid other nearby swimmers to pull the victim out of the water. Immediately, the medical team on site began CPR whilst arrangements were made to transport the guest to a local hospital.

“The victim was rushed by speedboat to the closest medical facility in Gaddhoo with the resorts medical staff continuing their efforts to resuscitate him en route. However all our efforts failed to save the life of the deceased,” Samarasinghe said.

The resort’s management “extends their deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. The management is conducting a thorough investigation into this incident with the help of the local authorities. All efforts have been made to transport the wife and the victim back to their home country as quickly as possible.”

The first tourist found dead this year was 49 year-old French national Alan Marshall, who went missing from Club Med resort while swimming and was later found dead near Paradise Island resort on January 8.

Chinese fatalities rise

Tourist deaths – usually while snorkeling – are disproportionately higher among Chinese tourists, which now account for a majority of Maldives tourist arrivals, compared to the traditional European market.

Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’ from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) pointed out in an earlier interview with Minivan News that Chinese guests in particular needed to be made more aware of the dangers of snorkeling in the Maldives, “because it is a totally different environment than what they are used to.”

“While UK tour operators passed on advice and information to tourists, China was a relatively new market and the operators need to be made aware also,” Sim said in September 2010, following the death of a 48-year old Chinese woman who had been snorkeling at Paradise Island Resort and Spa. She was the sixth Chinese tourist to die that year.

In mid-August 2010 a Chinese couple vacationing in the Maldives disappeared from their resort after going for a swim.

The 38 year-old woman and 40 year-old man were staying with their 13 year-old daughter on the Hilton Irufushi Beach and Spa Resort in Noonu Atoll.

On March 14, police received a report that a Chinese national, Rui Dai, died while snorkeling at Holiday Inn Kandooma Resort, South Malé Atoll.

Earlier that same month another Chinese man died while snorkeling at Chaaya Lagoon Hakurahura Island Resort, less than a day after a German tourist died in a snorkeling accident at Embudu Village Island Resort.

A 36 year-old Chinese tourist was also found dead off the coast of Sun Island Resort and Spa in January 2011.

Many resorts and Chinese tour operators have reacted to the higher incidence of casualties by issuing life-jackets to Chinese guests on arrival. However, despite efforts to adapt to a market which in 2011 brought over 100,000 visitors to resort beaches and house reefs, Sim observed that “things still have not changed” as Chinese fatalities remain higher compared to European market.

“I do not think it’s going to change until the Chinese tour operators are able to educate the tourists visiting Maldives. They are not aware of the physical conditions here. Sometimes the [sea] currents are too high, and the Chinese are not aware of it”, he added.

Sim explained that it is difficult to monitor each tourist’s activity once they arrive on the resort. Therefore, he suggested that the best measure would be to ensure the tourists are educated about the local conditions prior to their arrival.

“We must set up guidelines for what tourists need to be educated about before coming to Maldives, and implement a way to monitor it”, Sim said. “Because once they arrive it is difficult to monitor each tourist or couple’s activities on a resort, and they would not like that either, because they want the privacy.”

Sim noted that the return visitors will be familiar with the Maldivian environment, while a rise in Mandarin-speaking resort staff will help bring down the fatality rate.

“I think in the long term the situation will work out,” Sim said.