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.”


Germany calls for Dr Waheed’s govt to “consolidate legitimacy” with “independent inquiry”

Germany has called for Dr Waheed’s government to “consolidate its national and international legitimacy” by holding an “independent inquiry” into the circumstances around Nasheed’s resignation this week.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle expressed “deep concern about recent developments in the Maldives, particularly the violent attacks against elected officials and supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Germany has taken note of President Waheed’s intention to form a government of “national unity”.

“The participation of all major parties represented in Parliament will be a decisive precondition to its political authority,” Westerwelle said, calling on the new leadership “to uphold the principles and norms of democracy and the rule of law and guarantee the right to peaceful demonstrations.”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years prior to Mohamed Nasheed’s victory in the country’s first democratic election in 2008, meanwhile hit out at international media in an interview with AFP, calling them “biased for depicting this as a coup or something illegal”.

“Mr Waheed is the democratically elected president of the Maldives, according to our constitution. I called him and congratulated him,” Gayoom told AFP over the phone from Malaysia.

He denied personal involvement in what Nasheed’s side has termed a coup d’état after “200 police officers and 80 Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers” sided with opposition protesters on Tuesday.

“No, I had no involvement at all. I had no personal involvement in anything like a coup organised by myself,” AFP reported Gayoom as saying. “He (Nasheed) resigned on his own.”

Gayoom said he would return home “within days”, and did not rule out a bid to reclaim the presidency.

“I haven’t decided yet. You can say I am keeping my options open. I don’t think I will but I cannot rule it out. It depends on the circumstances,” he told AFP.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is meanwhile sending his special envoy M Ganapathi to assess the situation in the Maldives. High level delegations from the UN and Commonwealth are active in the capital, while US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake is due to arrive tomorrow.

Male’ remains calm this evening. But meanwhile, far from the diplomats and international media thronging in Male’, MDP supporters in the southern-most city of Addu are alleging that a brutal police and PPM crackdown against the former ruling party is taking place in retaliation for the destruction of court and police buildings on Wednesday evening.

An MDP member told Minivan News this evening that he was dragged from his house, cuffed, and thrown into a pickup “like a dog.” He was taken to Gan with 33 others where the station had been burned by Nasheed supporters on Wednesday evening.

“They poured petrol around us and said: “We will burn you, we can do anything because no one knows where are you are and no one will come to save you,” he said.


Germany to provide technical assistance on waste management

Investment in waste management solutions in the Maldives had produced very little outcome due to a lack of community involvement, Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam said today following a meeting with the German government.

Visiting Parliamentary Secretary at the German Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Katherina Reiche, said that Germany would provide technical assistance to the Maldives on waste management, but was unwilling to invest in a project.

Germany would “rather provide technical assistance, guidance and support towards managing a long term waste management system,” Reiche said, noting that the Maldives’ ambitions towards carbon neutrality were “very ambitious”.

“Equipment and machinery has been sent to various islands but with little effect and outcome. What we need is a plan with more community participation,” Haveeru reported Aslam as saying. “Waste management is an issue for which we don’t have a solution.”

A previous report from the European Commission into the efficacy of its programs in the Maldives found that millions of euros invested in waste management were “too ambitious”.

“The environmental support program was too ambitiously planned and had to be scaled down to solid waste management only,” the report stated. “Constructed island waste management systems are, with few exceptions, not operational, and waste management centres are unequipped.”

The failings of this project were due in part to “technical” problems, including design weaknesses and missing equipment, “and insufficient involvement of communities in general, notably the Island Women Development committees.”


China leads Maldives’ 18 percent tourism boom

Over 700,000 tourists visited the Maldives in the first seven months of 2011, the majority of visitors from China.

The Tourism Ministry has released data showing that the number of tourists who visited the Maldives between January and July 2011 increased by 18.3 percent to 520,483. This was compared to the 439,864 tourists who visited the Maldives during the same period last year.

Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Secretary General, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, told Minivan News that the timing of Europe’s economic decline matches that of the growing Chinese market. Asia’s high season corresponds with Europe’s low season, he said, and resorts are now catering more to Chinese tourists to keep business up.

Jamal also noted that airlines such as Qatar Airways had increased direct service to the Maldives in the last 10 months. He also noted that more airports are being constructed closer to resort islands, such as in Baa Atoll.

“The President has also decided to increase the marketing budget from US$1.5 million to US$7 million, since we expect the industry’s growth to continue,” said the MATATO secretary general.

Statistics show that Chinese tourists dominated the market in the first seven months with 103,734 individuals, accounting for 19.9 percent of the total arrivals. The United Kingdom was the second-largest contributor to tourism arrivals, composing 11.7 percent of the market.

Jamal forecasted “phenomenal growth” in the Chinese market, and estimated that the Chinese would account for 40 percent of the total tourists in coming years.

The Maldives currently hosts over 100 resorts boasting a total of 22,000 beds. Jamal said 3-4 more resorts were currently under construction, and noted that it was important “to always have excess demand and limited rooms to keep the appeal of the Maldives up.”

Secretary General of the Maldives Association of the Tourism Industry (MATI), Ibrahim Mohamed Sim, was more guarded on the issue. Sim told Minivan News that “we are holding steady in growth, but the market looks mixed since the decline of the US economy could affect our traditional European markets.”

Italy and the UK, formerly leading contributors to the Maldivian tourism industry, have declined, said Sim, but Germany was holding steady.

Sim said the demand from China was significant, and that the Maldives “is in a very lucky position to have the chance to meet that demand.”

Sources in the Chinese media and Mandarin-language tourism forums have meanwhile noted the rise of practices such as segregation of Chinese visitors from other guests at meal times.

Sim commented that although he did not believe there was segregation, the Chinese “stand out, they come here for a different reason than most tourists. They do not come here to sun tan, they come here to see a different place.” He noted that some resorts were also designed to specifically appeal to different groups.

Another recent event in the Maldives’ tourism industry was its withdrawal from the New7Wonders competition.

Jamal told Minivan News, “we think it was a loss that the Maldives pulled out. New7Wonders was a marketing tool, and major tourism companies were competing for the award.”

However he said he did not think that the Maldives’ decision had affected the tourism industry.


Germany and Maldives making progress on joint environmental project

Germany and the Maldives are in discussions regarding the development of a joint environmental project, reports the President’s Office.

An appraisal mission from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) is currently in the Maldives and met with President Nasheed yesterday, together with German Ambassador to the Maldives Jens Plötner.

President Nasheed discussed the possibilities of low carbon development with Ambassador Plötner and the GTZ team, and thanked Germany for its commitment to the realisation of such potential in the Maldives, reports the President’s Office.

GTZ, a German federal organisation, is currently in the process of assessing how best to create an administrative framework in the Maldives that would help facilitate low carbon development projects in the country.


Are the Former Guantanamo Prisoners a Security Threat?: Speigel Online

“Are the two men [being resettled in Germany] a security risk or are they desperately in need of assistance? Will they be welfare cases or seek vengeance?” ask four writers for the German news website Speigel Online.

In both cases, the German host states are preparing to provide extensive assistance to the men. “To the best of our knowledge, special security measures are not necessary,” says Rhineland-Palatinate Interior Minister Bruch.

The assistance for the two men will apparently consist primarily of psychological counseling, language courses and intensive integration assistance. The goal is to enable the former inmates to live undisturbed in Germany, reports Speigel.

German authorities are determined to prevent the two men from receiving the same treatment as Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish-born resident of the northern city of Bremen. After his release in 2006, he arrived in Germany in chains.

Read more


Donor Conference pledges now US$487 million, says Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Aid commitments following the recent Maldives Donor Conference have reached US$487 million, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and State Minister Ahmed Naseem took to the stage this morning to dismiss claims made by the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that the donor conference had raised less US$20 million in pledges.

“That is their own number,” Dr Shaheed said.

“If you add up the money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the UN system, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) it’s almost US$200 million. That is 80 per cent of pledges coming from these big donors.”

Shaheed spoke about monitoring and implementation mechanisms, which would ensure the funds are used according to the donor’s wishes and the government’s pledges.

Coordinator for the UN in the Maldives Mansoor Ali said the donor conference had been very successful and it was “not the time to be negative” about the results.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of the recent climate change meeting held this week by the Progressive Group in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, where delegates from 23 countries met to advance negotiations before the next international climate change summit scheduled to take place in Cancun, Mexico in November this year.

The Progressive Group brings together the countries with a “forward-looking and constructive attitude to international climate change negotiations,” and played a key role in last year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Delegates from over twenty countries came together in Colombia to “exchange opinions and promote active participation towards the next climate change summit.”

The meeting focused mostly on creating ministerial-level communication between countries, in hopes to ease dialogue between nations and to advance on key issues such as fast-start financing, adaptation, low-carbon development and verification of emission cuts.

Maldives proposed a second ministerial-level meeting to take place in Malé in July this year.

Dr Shaheed also spoke of President Mohamed Nasheed’s recent visit to Europe, and confirmed that German Police officers will be arriving in Malé “very soon” to begin training Maldives Police Service (MPS) officers to work in a democracy.

“They are the ones who retrained the Stasi in East Germany after German reunification, as well as the police force in Kosovo,” Shaheed said. “They are the best in the world at what they do.”

He said the German team will stay in the Maldives from one year to eighteen months, depending on when they believe the MPS is ready, “all at the German government’s expense.”

Dr Shaheed added that Icelandic President, Ólafur Grímsson, will be visiting the Maldives soon to promote sustainable green energy alongside President Nasheed.

Dr Shaheed spoke of the recently signed agreement with the Rothschild banking dynasty, which has agreed to help the Maldives in the bid to become carbon neutral by 2020.

“There needs to be a study on where we have most carbon emissions,” Dr Shaheed said, adding that “they will also try to carbon-proof our current systems.”

The Rothschild group will secure international financing to fund a carbon audit of the Maldives. Dr Shaheed said the surveying will take approximately nine months.

Dr Shaheed ended the press conference with news of the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to draft a new international human rights treaty as an additional optional protocol to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was proposed by the Maldives.

Maldives was chosen to chair the core group discussing the CRC in Geneva, joined by Slovenia, Slovakia, Egypt, Kenya, France, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay and Chile.

The CRC, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, was lacking in allowing cases regarding abuse of the rights of children to be submitted to international UN mechanisms.

The new treaty proposes to allow cases to be sent to international protection mechanisms to intervene when domestic institutions fail to offer protection.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story Dr Shaheed was quoted as saying the visiting German police trainers were  responsible for retraining the Gestapo after the Second World War. This has been clarified as the Stasi, the East German secret police, who were retrained after the reunification of Germany post-1990.


Germany to assist in training Maldives police

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said Germany will assist the Maldives with police training, reports Miadhu.

This decision has been made after President Mohamed Nasheed’s visit to Germany, where he met with Chief Director of German Police on 9 March to seek assistance in training and building a qualified police force in the Maldives.

Dr Shaheed said the training would begin soon and will train the police on working in a democratic society.

The project will be sponsored by Germany and conducted in the Maldives.