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.”


Negotiating a route into the Maldives tougher than for North Korea, record setting traveller claims

The first person to visit all 201 countries without using a plane has said he found gaining access to the Maldives far tougher than attempts to enter North Korea and Afghanistan.

Graham Hughes a 33-year-old from Liverpool, England, made it to the South Sudan capital of Juba yesterday (November 26), where he completed his journey.

Despite facing many questions on how he gained access to countries like North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, Hughes revealed that negotiating a route into the Maldives was far tougher, the Daily Mail reported.

Hughes used buses, taxis and trains to travel 160,000 miles across the world in 1,426 days, a voyage he claimed was budgeted at just US$100 a week.

He spent four days “crossing open ocean in a leaky boat” to reach Cape Verde, was jailed in the Congo accused of spying and was arrest trying to “sneak into” Russia.

Following the completion of his journey, Guinness has now confirmed that Hughes was the first person to have officially visited every nation on the earth without relying on an aircraft.


Maldives a tourism leader in Asia-Pacific region

The Maldives was among the most popular destinations in the Asia/Pacific (APAC) region for the month of July, with a 27 percent increase in visitors.

Hong Kong followed closely with a 22 percent increase in visitors.

“Even during times of economic uncertainty, the Asia/Pacific region continues to perform strongly, reinforcing its image and position as a powerhouse of international travel and tourism,” said Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Strategic Intelligence Centre director, John Koldowski.

Asia Pacific (APAC) tourism destinations continue to see an upward trend in visitors annually. July 2011 saw a seven percent regional rise in arrivals compared to the same month in 2010.

Although Japan suffered a 36 percent drop in July arrivals, allegedly due to the earthquake and tsunami, Northeast Asia on the whole saw a six percent gain on July 2010. The Pacific, meanwhile, experienced a 3 percent drop in foreign arrivals in July 2011.

A Care Ratings Maldives report recently stated that 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.

This year, the Maldives reached 700,000 arrivals by September. According to Tourism Ministry statistics, 19.9 percent of these arrivals were Chinese.

The increased activity within the APAC region could have a cultural impact at home. “Maldivian staff are more familiar with Western culture,” said Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), Mohamed Maleeh Jamal. “Many speak Italian, French, German. So, the shift required to cater to more Asian guests and customers has lead many Maldivians working in the industry to familiarize themselves with Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages and cultural practices.”

Jamal pointed to the 2004 tsunami as the turning point for the Maldives’ tourism market.

“Before then, tourism was dominated by western European countries, and travel companies in China and the Middle East had limited access. Resorts were reaching occupancy levels regularly, and so expansion was not necessary,” said Jamal.

After the tsunami, however, interest from western Europe declined and the tourism sector was forced to work more closely with neighboring countries and their travel agencies. “The Maldives was also receiving complaints that the market wasn’t diverse enough,” said Jamal.

Jamal added that China is an important trading partner for the Maldives, and there was room to expand the business relationship.

But the Maldives has several advantages in the Chinese market. “All countries want to get tourists from China, and the Maldives has an advantage,” said Jamal. “It carries an image of paradise islands and tropical vacations, which is very appealing. In addition, the Maldives is becoming a celebrity hot spot. Given the celebrity worshiping culture that is increasingly common in China, the Maldives is very appealing.”

Jamal commented that Sri Lanka is trying hard to compete with the Maldives’ market.

Tourism is the largest contributor to Maldives’ GDP and foreign currency, accounting for 70 percent of the national GDP indirectly. Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) aims to draw 1 million tourists to the Maldives by the end of 2012.

PATA international visitor arrival figures suggest that improved economic stability is bolstering APAC’s tourism trend.

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.

But PATA studies note that the source market is shifting into northern Europe and Asia.

Koldowski pointed to a 50 percent increase in Russian arrivals so far this year, and a 14 percent jump in South Asian arrivals in July with 90,000 more visitors than the same month in 2010.

Southeast Asian arrivals to the region grew by 12 percent during the same time frame.


‘Muslims of Russia’ exhibition on display at Islamic Centre

The Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation to the Maldives has organised a photography exhibition showcasing Muslims in Russia, in partnership with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The exhibition, ‘Muslims of Russia’, opened last night at the Islamic Centre and will close on 3 April. It is open to the public from 10am-12pm, 2.30-6pm and 8-10pm.

The photographs give a glimpse into the culture of Russia’s 22 million Muslims and give colour and life to the white exhibition room under the Mosque at the Islamic Centre.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Vladimir Mikhalov, gave a speech at the opening ceremony held yesterday.

Muslims of Russia exhibition

The ambassador asked for a minute of silence in the memory of those killed in the terror attacks in Moscow on Monday morning.

Mikhalov said Russian police had confirmed the attack was carried out by two female suicide bombers from the northern Caucasus Mountains.

“This region is populated mostly by Muslims and unfortunately about twenty years ago…some selfish local leaders decided to take advantage of the weakness of the central government…and declared “jihad” to Russia and started their fighting.”

Mikhalov said most people, including Islamic spiritual leaders of the region, condemned their actions.

“That’s why they were defeated and peace in general was restored,” he said, but noted that the remnants of the group had been financed from overseas in order to destabilise the situation in Russia.

He assured guests that Russians had never associated terrorism with Islam and believe “terrorists have neither religion nor nationality.”

He said Islam is currently the second most widely professed religion in Russia, and Russians wanted to show “Muslim men, women, their children and elders in every day life.”

He also wished “the friendly Maldivian people…all the success in their development, as well as peace and prosperity.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed also spoke before guests explored the exhibition room.

The exhibition

symbols of faith
'Symbols of faith' and Khan's Mosque

The photographs are set out around the room, printed on canvases, depicting Muslim festivities, gatherings during Ramadan, Qur’an reciting competitions, Islamic architecture and Russian mosques, Muslim schools, prayer, sermons, Russian pilgrims in Mecca, and even an Islamic fashion show in Moscow.

A beautiful blue-lit photograph shows one of Russia’s oldest mosques, Khan’s Mosque, in the town of Kasimov in Ryazan district. Next to it sits one of the most captivating photographs, named ‘Symbols of Faith’ which shows a crescent-shaped light display on a mosque’s dome.

Another photograph shows a conference named ‘Russia-Islamic World: Partnership in the Name of Stability” held in Moscow and the 2009 International Contest of Qur’an Reciters.

The photographs depict everything from geese seemingly flying towards a mosque, to Russian dancers in a National Dance, History and Modernity Festival.

Russian Muslims

The first Russian Muslims were the Dagestani people in the current region of Derbent, after the Arabs arrived in the 8th century. The modern Tartars inherited the religion from them. European and Caucasian Turks also became followers of Islam.

Many churches and mosques were closed down during Soviet rule of the country, but started reopening in the 1990s.

In 2005, the Kul Shariff Mosque in Tatarstan was rebuilt in celebration of the 1000 year jubilee of Kazan. It is now one of the biggest mosques in Europe.

Kazan has the second largest Muslim population in Russia after Moscow, and is the location of the Russian Islamic University at Tatarstan.

The St Petersburg Mosque will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary in 2013. It was the biggest mosque in Europe when it was built in 1913 and is still one of the largest in Europe.


Comment: ‘Terrorists are just bandits’

Extract from a speech given by His Excellency Vladimir P Mikhalov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Maldives, to mark the opening of the ‘Muslims of Russia’ exhibition in Malé.

Unfortunately I have to change my proposed speech. Just two days ago in Moscow terrorists planted two explosives killing 38 people and injuring dozens of innocents.

The law enforcement agencies of Russia have already established that the terrorist attack was conducted by two female suicide bombers from the northern Caucasus Mountains.

This region is populated mostly by Muslims and unfortunately around 20 years ago, just after disintegration of the Soviet Union, some selfish local leaders decided to take advantage of the weakness of the central government and create their own small kingdoms.

By calling on terrorist and anti-Russian circles from abroad, they declared ‘jihad’ on Russia and started their fighting.

But they were not supported by the majority of people were condemned by the Islamic spiritual leaders of the region. That’s why they were defeated and peace in general was restored.

Nevertheless up to now their remnants continue to be financed from abroad by interests attempting to destabilise the situation in Russia through terrorist attacks.

I should tell you that neither Russia’s government nor its people have ever associated terrorism with Islam and we have strongly stood against [this assumption] in all international foreign affairs.

We believe that terrorists have neither religion nor nationality – they are just bandits. Throughout the whole history of our country Christians and Muslims have lived side-by-side in peace a thousand years, which proves that peace is a natural thing among those who truly believe in one all-mighty and love their brothers and sisters regardless of their nationality and confession.

Islam is currently the second most widely professed religion in the Russian Federation with more than 20 million out of Russia’s 145 million being Muslim. There are Muslims in the Russian government, in the Parliament, in all ministries and for example, the Director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Colombo is also Muslim as is his wife.

But as we say in Russia: “better to see once than to hear hundred times”.

That’s why we decided to bring these photographs to Male’ and show you the beautiful mosques in various parts of Russia; modern Madrassas where thousands of people freely study Islam and the Holy Qur’an – Muslim men, women, children and elders in everyday life.

I wish the friendly people of the Republic of Maldives all the success in their development, as well as peace and prosperity.

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Maldives to attend Moscow travel exhibition

The Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB) has announced the Maldives’ participation in the 17th Moscow International Exhibition Travel and Tourism Fair (MITT) beginning on 17 March, reports Miadhu.

MTPB has said it will promote the Maldives as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The fair, known as Russia’s number one travel exhibition, will be attended by tourism experts, members of the tourism industry and potential tourists.

The Russian market has been a growing and important market to the Maldives. The MTPB says Russian tourists look to take long holidays and approximately 40,000 Russian tourists visited the Maldives in 2009.