Tourist arrivals reach record high in February

Tourist arrivals reached an all-time record level for a single month with 120,468 visitors in February, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

Arrivals in February was 8.8 percent higher than the same period last year, which was “a significant improvement compared to the negative growth (-7.8 percent) registered in January 2015,” the tourism ministry observed in a statement on Thursday (March 19).

“With this boost, the total arrivals at end February 2015 was 217,541, an increase of +0.7 percent compared with the 216,001 tourists that visited during the same period of 2014,” the ministry noted.

The occupancy rate meanwhile declined by 4.8 percent this year, with an average occupancy rate of 80.8 percent. The average duration of stay was six days.

After falling 12.2 percent in December and 33.1 percent in January, Chinese arrivals bounced back in February with a 30.5 growth compared to February 2014.

A total of 43,349 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives last month.

At a press conference last week, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb suggested that Chinese visitors increased sharply as the Chinese New Year was on February 13.

Adeeb noted that overall arrivals growth was at about one percent compared to the first two months of 2014.

“So our travel trends is not falling. The past month was a very profitable month,” he said.

However, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) revealed earlier this month that revenue collection was 17.6 percent below forecasts due to “the decrease in tourism related revenues by 17 percent as tourist arrivals did not meet expectations.”

MIRA also revealed that US$2.2 million was collected last month as airport service charge, compared to US$2.3 million in February 2014.

However, Adeeb said income from Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) for February would be collected in March, and would reflect the arrivals hike.

Referring to travel alerts issued by the UK in the wake of political unrest sparked by the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22, Adeeb noted that tourists were only advised to avoid Malé due to demonstrations.

Asked if arrivals could decline in March due to the ongoing political crisis, Adeeb said the tourism ministry has been monitoring booking cancellations.

“Our monitoring shows there have been no booking cancelations in March,” he said, adding that he expected arrivals to remain unchanged from March 2014.

Condemning calls for tourism boycott, Adeeb said the government was countering the social media campaign by opposition supporters through marketing efforts by PR firms.

Adeeb suggested the tourism boycott campaign would not have “much of an impact.”

Regional markets

Europe retained top spot as the largest regional source market for tourist arrivals with a 49.3 percent market share in 2015.

However, with 107,263 visitors so far this year, total arrivals from Europe registered a marginal decline of 0.8 percent.

European arrivals in February declined by 1.9 percent compared to the same period last year on the back of a steep 53.4 percent decline in arrivals from Russia.

However, arrivals from the United Kingdom and Germany increased by 10.6 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively. The number of Italian tourists also grew by 10.3 percent compared to February 2014.

Total arrivals from Western Europe declined by 2.9 percent due to a fall of 15.5 percent in arrivals from France, which the tourism ministry said has been posting negative growth since July 2014.

In terms of individual markets, China remains the largest source market with a 29.3 percent market share, followed by Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Both the national carrier Maldivian Airlines and Mega Maldives launched direct weekly flights to Chinese cities during February.

The Maldives Marketing and Tourism Development Corporation (MMPRC) also conducted roadshows in three Indian cities last month to promote the Maldives as a destination for Indian tourists.

With 4,235 visitors, arrivals from India grew by 17.8 percent in February with a market share of 3.7 percent.

“During the last two months of 2015, while important markets such as Russia, and Japan registered declines of -43.9 percent and -0.6 percent respectively, significant increases were recorded from Denmark (+82.8 percent), United Arab Emirates (+47.9 percent), Brazil (+44.6 percent), Spain (+40 percent) and Romania (+33.9 percent) at the end of the period,” the ministry noted.

At the end of February, the Maldives had 308 registered establishments in operation with a bed capacity of 27,670.

“The operational capacity included 106 resorts with 23,247 beds, 15 hotels with 1,508 beds, 106 guest houses with 1,568 beds and 81 safari vessels with 1,367 beds,” the ministry revealed.

“The total tourist bed nights of these operational establishments at the end of the period was 1,313,259 which was a drop (-3.7 percent) compared with the same period of 2014.”

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Tourist arrivals decline in January as Chinese arrivals slow down

Tourist arrivals to the Maldives in January 2015 declined by -7.8 percent compared to the same period last year, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

Arrivals in January stood at 97,073 visitors, down from 105,296 visitors in January 2014, according to monthly statistics from the tourism ministry.

“This was the fourth consecutive month where a negative growth was recorded in tourist arrivals to the country,” the ministry observed in a statement last week.

Consequently, the occupancy rate fell from 82.5 percent in January 2014 to 73.9 percent last month.

“However, the average duration of stay remained uniform at January 2014 level with 6.5 days, this however was an increase compared with the 6.1 days at the end of December 2014,” the ministry noted.

In contrast to the negative growth recorded last month, tourist arrivals grew by 18.5 percent in January 2014.

Tourist arrivals also registered negative growth in November (-5.1 percent) and December (-1.2 percent) last year on the back of a steep decline in arrivals from Russia and Western Europe as well as Asia and Pacific markets.

The number of Russian tourists declined by 44.7 percent in December 2014 compared to the same period the previous year.

Arrivals from China and Japan in December meanwhile dropped by 12.2 percent and 11.8 percent respectively.

Last month, industry insiders expressed concern that the Maldives could become an overpriced destination with the introduction of new taxes.

While the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) was hiked from 8 to 12 percent in November 2014, the government announced that a US$6 per day ‘green tax’ would be imposed on tourists from November 2015 onward.

“The green tax will definitely have an impact. It is (already) becoming too expensive to go to the top resorts because of all the service charges and taxes,” Shafraz Fazley, managing director of Viluxur Holidays told travel website TTG Asia.

Chinese market

In a phenomenon that caught many industry experts by surprise, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives tripled from about 100,000 in 2010 to more than 300,000 last year.

In 2014, Chinese tourists accounted for nearly one-third of arrivals with a 30% market share, representing the single biggest source market for tourists to the Maldives.

A total of 363,626 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives in 2014, up 9.6 percent from the previous year, which saw 331,719 arrivals.

However, during 2014, the annual growth rate of Chinese tourist arrivals slowed from 20 percent at the end of June to 9 percent by the end of December.

“Arrivals to the Maldives from China started slowing down during mid-2014 and negative growths were registered since August that year,” the tourism ministry explained.

“January 2015 was recorded as the worst performed month for the Chinese market to the Maldives so far, with a strong negative growth of 33.1 percent. China being the number one market to the Maldives, the negative growth registered from the market was reflected in the total arrivals to the country.”

Meanwhile, according to the tourism ministry’s visitor survey for 2014, less than 10 percent of Chinese tourists were repeat visitors.

In contrast, the survey found that more than 25 percent of British, Italian and German tourists visited the Maldives between two to 10 times.


With the decline in arrivals from China, Europe has regained top spot as the largest regional source market for tourists, increasing its market share from 43.9 percent at the end of December to 54.1 percent in January.

A total of 52,545 visitors were recorded from European countries, representing a marginal growth rate of 0.5 percent compared to January 2014.

In 2014, the annual growth rate of tourist arrivals from Europe flatlined to 0.4 percent.

However, with Chinese arrivals representing more than a quarter of visitors, total arrivals during the year reached the government’s target of 1.2 million visitors.

In terms of individual markets in January 2015, Italy was the second largest source market with an 8.3 percent market share, followed by the UK with 7.4 percent, Germany with 7.3 percent, and Russia with 6 percent.

However, Russia was the worst performing market during January, the ministry noted, registering negative growth of 38 percent.

Registered establishments

In January, the Maldives had a total of 529 registered tourist facilities with a total bed capacity of 32,087, including 112 resorts (24,151 beds), 19 hotels (1,704 beds), 231 guesthouses (3,397 beds) and 167 safari vessels (2,835 beds), according to the tourism ministry.

However, a total of 302 establishments (27,520 beds) were operational during the month, the ministry revealed.

“Operational capacity included 106 resorts with 23,247 beds, 15 hotels with 1,468 beds, 107 guest houses with 1,569 beds and 74 safari vessels with 1,236 beds,” the ministry’s statistics showed.

“The total tourist bed nights of these operational establishments in January 2015 was 630,840 which was a drop (-7.8%) compared with that of January 2014.”

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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 sails on with luxury in fragile setting

Maldives tourism has made an impressive comeback since the 2009 global recession, and investment from China and India is expected to surpass precedents in coming years, finds a report from Care Ratings Maldives.

Nonetheless, the Maldives occupies a precarious market, and government controls limit foreign investment, the ratings agency found.

In 2005 Asia surpassed America as a tourist destination, coming in second to Europe. According to Care Ratings, Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) surged this year as China’s economy flourished and European economies made a slow comeback. Chinese tourists are projected to account for 15 percent of Maldives FTA by 2020.

Plans are being made to expand capacity accordingly. The Maldives tourism sector will add 77 new resorts and increase bed capacity by 47 percent over the next three years, the report finds. Additional safari vessels are also expected to be added to the industry, which already boasts a fleet 150 strong.

By the end of 2011, the report projects the direct employments in tourism will have grown from 35,000 to 38,000. Fifty percent of these are likely to be expatriate hires.

Revenues are also expected to increase by 10 percent by the end of the year, claims the report.

Tourism is the largest contributor to Maldives national GDP and foreign currency, however the sector is restricted and vulnerable. The reports lists terrorism, global economic crisis, and limited land and human resources as obstacles to growth. It also points out that environment is a major factor of success.

“The tourism industry is capital-intensive in nature due to the high cost involved in leasing the land, developing the land and constructing a self-contained tourist resort,” states the report. Maldivian resorts frequently sell the appeal of the natural environments, but the Maldivian construction industry lacks the capacity to process raw materials.

Importing processed materials drives the average resort room construction cost up to US$30,000 to US$60,000, one of several factors which makes tourism in the Maldives a high-end market.

Human capital is mentioned as a complicating factor. Resort employment could account for one-tenth of the Maldivian population, 32 percent of which is unemployed. However, only half of resort employees are Maldivian.

Coincidentally, a recent study found that social stigma limited female Maldivian employment in the resort sector to 3 percent, a number far below the demographic’s potential.

Another challenge to growth is government oversight. “The industry now is very much regulated by the government of the Maldives,” states the report. “Tourism is now developed and managed according to country-wide policy based on a master plan.”

All Maldivian islands are government-owned, and resorts can only be leased for 25 to 50 years. Construction is limited by the “One Island One Resort” policy, which allows only one resort per island, and structures are limited to 20 percent of the land available.

Over the past three decades, the ministry has introduced three tourism master plans.

Although the report recognizes the complicating effect of government restrictions on developers and investors, it states attributes these plans with significant growth.

“The growth of the industry in the last couple of decades was mainly due to the efforts taken by the government to promote the tourism industry and the progress was largely on a planned path determined by the First Tourism Master Plan (1983-1992), the Second Tourism Master Plan (1996-2005) and the Third Tourism Master Plan (2007-2011).”

The Maldivian government also created the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), which promotes the Maldives as a brand in the world tourism arena.

Last week, MMPRC recognized the value of the Asian travel market by co-hosting a travel agents networking event with GMR. In a nod to the region’s booming business culture, MMPRC MD Simon Hawkins pointed out the advantages of hosting meetings at Maldives resorts.

MMPRC aims to draw 1 million tourists to the Maldives by the end of 2012.This year, the Maldives reached 700,000 arrivals by September.


Sri Lanka must take cue from Maldives’ tourism tactic: Sunday Times

Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Times reviews successes and risks in Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, highlighting the Maldives as an example of successful marketing in a tight economy.

“Sri Lanka could take a cue from the Maldives where active promotion in going on to promote the destination, additionally now as a mid-market destination, from a high-end location. Resorts in the Maldives charges rates from US$200-300 upwards to over $1000 per night, and the authorities are now looking to attract the mid-market clientele which is also Sri Lanka’s market – though the two markets have different attractions.”

Adverse publicity is a weakness for Sri Lankan tourism, the Times noted, citing the Maldives as an example of proactive marketing in a time of change.

“[The Maldives] islands are attracting thousands of Chinese, which has made China the biggest source market for the Maldives in the past two years. According to one travel agent in the Maldives, ‘every agent is scrambling to get a slice of the Chinese market.’ The Chinese are seen as the biggest tourism source market of the world while India is also becoming a huge travel market. Sri Lankan hotels are still western-oriented with a few frills to meet the needs of other travellers.”

Read more


US bank failed ‘to spot’ billions of Mexican drug money: Bloomberg

One of largest banks in the US, Wachovia Corporation, “admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007,” reports Bloomberg writer Michael Smith.

USA and Europe’s biggest banks and financial institutions are handling money from the Mexican drug cartels which export hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines into the US, in a business generating US$39 billion a year.

Banks and institutions involved in handling the money include Bank of America, Wachovia Corporation (now owned by Wells Fargo & Co.), American Express Bank, Western Union, London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, and Mexican units of Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc. and HSBC.

“Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S.,” writes Smith. “In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid-June.”

Read more


Tourists still stranded in the Maldives due to volcanic ash

London’s Heathrow Airport reopened flights on Tuesday night after almost a week of flight cancellations due to the volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which erupted last Wednesday and spread a thick cloud of ash over Europe.

Major airports around Europe are now reopening their airspace for more flights to resume, allowing stranded tourists and goods to reach their destinations, although recent reports suggest this is happening somewhat haphazardly.

Anecdotal reports suggest some hotels and resorts are reaching capacity with stranded tourists, particularly those near the airport on Hulhumale.

Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said tourists who have been stranded in the Maldives will not have any issues with immigration.

“We are willing to extend their visas,” he said. “There is no problem with visas expiring. The problem is when they over-stay their booking at the hotels and resorts.”

Deputy Director at the Ministry of Tourism Hassan Zameer said no resorts have reported any cases of stranded tourists to the ministry, but they have informed resorts not to take passengers to the airport unless their flight has been confirmed.

Zameer said members of government, the tourism industry and resorts met earlier this week to discuss the situation, and said some resorts had offered to give their guests discounts “so long as they are not losing money.”

He said he did not know whether any resorts were implementing these discounted rates.

Zameer noted that “if this situation is prolonged it will be very costly to [the resorts],” and they are trying to help guests how they can.

Deputy Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Waheed said the ministry does not have any statistics on how many tourists have been stranded in the Maldives or how many were expected to arrive but were stranded in Europe.

But he added the airport has set up a hotline (call 332 2211) to help tourists with information on flights.

Staff at the One & Only Reethi Rah resort said most of their guests have extended their stay for at least four nights, but could not give any more details about whether they were giving special rates or any other assistance to these guests.

Many resorts around Malé that are reported to be over-booked with stranded tourists did not wish to comment on how they are handling the situation.

Stranded in paradise

Minivan News spoke to one British couple with their two young kids who had planned to return to the UK on Monday, when Sri Lankan Airlines informed them their flight had been cancelled and they would have to stay in the Maldives until flights resumed.

Because the airline is not party to the EU legislation, it does not have to provide financial assistance, such as accommodation and food vouchers, to its stranded customers.


The couple said they knew some people who were flying with British Airways and noted that BA customers were getting compensation from the airline.

They stressed the point that insurance would not cover any of their expenses, noting “nothing is covered.”

Because they were staying at a resort that cost US$450 per person per day plus food, they have found new, more affordable, accommodation in Malé until they can be rebooked on a flight home.

“We’re just waiting for Sri Lankan Airlines to call us,” they said. “There’s a three-flight back-log.”

The couple added they were meant to be back at work in the UK early this week and their kids should be back at school.

“We’re losing our salary on top of the extra expenses,” they said.

They noted neither the airline, the resort or the government had assisted them in any way.

An Italian couple had a different story to tell. They were stuck in Shanghai and were told their best option was to take a flight to Kuala Lumpur and then to Cairo. But by when they reached KL, they discovered their flight to Egypt had been cancelled.

“So we came to the Maldives to relax for a few days,” they said, adding that they had no swimsuits or beach clothes, “just scarves and jackets.”

They had been told of a flight back to Italy on April 29, but were still awaiting confirmation from their airline and are hoping to get back on Sunday, if possible.

“For now, we will go relax at a nice resort with beautiful beaches,” they said.

Two young Britons said they had not yet been affected by the volcano since their flight was originally scheduled for tomorrow, and are hoping they will be able to keep their seats.

Many import/export businesses, such as tropical fish exporters, have also faced difficulty since they cannot send their products to Europe. Cargo has been stopped in hubs like Dubai and stored by the airlines, while some if it has been returned to the Maldives.

With airlines gradually reopening their flights again, goods and products are now queued, waiting to reach their destination.


New licence required to export fish to Europe

All organisations involved in the export of fish to Europe must carry a special licence from next month.

The Maldives Seafood Processing and Export Association said that from next year they will only accept fish from vessels carrying this license.

Haveeru reports that the Fisheries Ministry will issue licenses for free until the end of December. After that licences be issued at a price depending on the length of the vessel.