Luxury tour operator highlights 35 percent slump in Maldives bookings

High-end luxury tour operator Hayes & Javis – part of the TUI group which also includes Thomson Holidays – has reported a 35 percent slump in bookings to the Maldives.

The company’s ‘long-haul trends’ report observed a similar slump in Caribbean island destinations, with Barbados down 51 percent and Antigua 58 percent.

“While off-the-peg beach packages are still popular – especially four and five-star all inclusive ones – there is no doubting the steady decline in demand for traditional fly-and-flop beach holidays,” said Hayes & Javis’ Commercial Head, Sean Dowd.

At the same time, the UK-based luxury operator noted an 11 percent rise in bookings to Mauritius, and similar increases for Tobago (16 percent) and the Dominican Republic (14 percent),” fuelled by the affordability of five-star all inclusive resorts”.

“Mauritius may yet prove to be the new Maldives. Strong airfare and hotel offers, high quality all inclusive resorts and the opportunity to twin with Dubai and other cities have all helped to fuel demand,” he added.

Implying that the trend away from ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays was not solely recession-related, Dowd observed that the operator’s multi-centre trip bookings “have doubled over the past two years because growing numbers of people are keen to see more of what a country – or a region of the world – has to offer when they travel further afield.”

The report noted that the destinations “making waves in 2013 are ones which lend themselves to a combination of city, beach and culture or heritage tours.”

“Multi-centre trips now account for over a third of our business and this growth trend is one which we expect to accelerate,” Dowd said.

Bad PR and changing demographics

The Hayes & Javis report attributes the sharp slump in Maldives bookings to “tough market conditions including increased land costs and poor exchange rates”, however the destination has recorded a steady increase in arrivals from around the world.

Tourism arrivals to the Maldives during the first quarter of 2013 were up 14.6 percent on the previous year, however up to a quarter of all arrivals at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) are now Chinese, with the market eclipsing the country’s traditional staple of European holidaymakers. Some 70,570 Chinese arrivals were recorded for the first quarter of 2013, an increase of 51.2 percent over the same period last year.

Beyond changing demographics, the Maldives has also grappled with widespread negative global publicity in the wake of a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim in February.

The incident, which received particularly high volumes of media attention in the country’s core European markets – the UK and Germany – led to a petition calling for a moratorium on flogging by activist website Avaaz. The petition reached two million signatures barely a week – twice the annual number of visitors to the Maldives.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed pledged to appeal the sentence given to the minor by the country’s Juvenile Court, and review local laws to enact potential reforms of the use of flogging. No timeline for such reforms was set.

The tourism ministry meanwhile slammed what it labelled the “dubious” motives of the petition, alleging it to be “politically motivated”.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal in March said tourism had been a key driver of national development and democratic reforms in the Maldives for the last 40 years, and had “sacred” importance in the Maldives.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he told Minivan News at the time.