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.


Chinese market shows signs of recovery as UK, Italian arrivals plunge in April

Chinese tourist arrivals have shown signs of recovery with a 3.5 percent increase in April 2012 compared to the same period last year, after a massive 34.8 percent decline was recorded in February.

“The Chinese market performed well due to resuming of charter airlines with more frequency and flights from additional cities and strong demand for Maldives. Tour operators’ forecast phenomenal growth in June and July,” observed the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

Figures released by the MMPRC show 10,523 Chinese arrivals during April, still making it the country’s largest market, but only narrowly eclipsing Germany’s 10,145 arrivals.

That 8.1 percent increase in German visitors places the country above the Maldives’ former mainstay market of the UK, which was badly affected by the 2008 economic recession. UK arrivals plunged 20 percent in April this year to 8,934 visitors, compared to 2011.

In its April report, the MMPRC speculated that the UK market would continue to shrink throughout 2012 on the back of a 14.3 percent drop in arrivals so far this year.

Italy, one of the Maldives’ first and traditionally strongest markets, recorded a huge 27 percent drop in arrivals during April compared to the same period  last year.

The MMPPC said the Italian market was not expected to perform well in 2012, due significantly to the bankruptcy of major tour operators in Italy.

“The strict fiscal policies of Italian government also discouraged long haul outbound tourism,” the MMPRC stated. “The whole of Southern Europe is not performing well due to the economic crisis. The region is going to be the most challenging region in terms of arrivals in 2012.”

The Russian market – a favourite at many resorts due to its proportionate affluence, insulation from the economic crisis in Europe and general disregard of political turmoil – grew 24.1 percent compared to April last year.

The MMPRC’s figures show declining occupancy at resorts across the country this year, as markets in the Maldives reshuffle and the country battles negative international publicity around the controversial change of power in February.

Occupancy was down 3 percent in February, 7.4 percent in March and 6.1 percent in April, compared to the corresponding months last year. Bed nights followed a similar pattern.

George Weinmann, CEO of Mega Maldives Airlines – the Maldives’ national carrier that currently flies long-haul services to major Chinese cities including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, said the market had recovered through April-May “and we’re now back up to where were – six flights a month to each destination, 12 to Beijing. But we were supposed to reach there two months ago – our first quarter was pitiful,” he told Minivan News.

Mega Maldives halted flights to Hong Kong in February, which were restored on April 4. Flights to Beijing and Shanghai continued non-stop, Weinmann stated.

Such was the anticipated demand that Mega Maldives had taken on a second aircraft and was looking to deploy a third before the end of the year, said Weinmann, adding that such high potential demand for the destination could see the airline conceivably expand to 10 aircraft.

“We’re aiming to add two a year,” he said, expanding the carrier’s reach to developing markets for the Maldives such as Eastern Europe, Australia, South Africa and South Korea.


Analyst spies Maldivian room occupancy turnaround

Room occupancy within the Maldives was found to have risen by 17 percent last year compared to figures recorded in 2009, representing a solid turnaround from the “poor market conditions” of two years ago, data analyst STR Global has said.

Based on figures supplied by the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the analyst said that the number of tourist rooms being filled in the country last year was said to be down by only 0.7 percent on 2008, where conditions were not yet impacted by global economic uncertainty.

Demand from European tourist remained the key driver for market growth, with the STR Global findings claiming that 63.5 percent of tourist arrivals between January to November last year were from the region; the findings were based on official tourism figures.

According to the analyst, in terms of calculating the average daily rate – used to record sales of available room rates – increased occupancy numbers were not thought to have yet helped sales catch up on 2008 and 2009 levels.

In local currency terms, the average daily rate was found to be down by 17 percent on 2009 and 26.8 percent when compared to 2008.

However, STR Global Managing Director Elizabeth Randall, claimed that an apparent gradual slowdown in growing room supply in the country was expected to help strengthen demand.

“In the long run, this will give hoteliers the chance to improve rates,” she stated.

The findings were said to be based on the performance of 25 properties within the Maldives.