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.
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.