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.