Maldives “too expensive” say tourists

With most of the tourists ranking Maldives as an expensive holiday destination in a 2011 survey, the industry is reminded of the longstanding need to explore means to change that perception, as it faces new challenges in sustaining the growing China market while European arrivals drop.

The “Maldives Visitor Survey 2011” compiled by the private consulting firm Commerce, Development and Environment (CDE) in collaboration with Tourism Ministry, depicts the tourist’s perspective on industry related products and services, reason for visiting and expenditure.

Nearly 3000 tourists who arrived in Maldives in April 2011 were given questionnaires, which were collected for analysis before their departure.

Too expensive

According to the report released today, 46 percent of the tourists believed accommodation is too expensive despite the high rankings for services at the place of stay.

Soft drinks, alcohol were also rated expensive by 42 percent, while food, water and souvenirs received a similar ranking from 41 percent of tourists polled.

Transport by sea and air, including sports activities, meanwhile made it to the top three on the “value for money” category.

The report indicates that 53 percent of the tourists spent a minimum of US$1000 during their stay in Maldives, while the expenditure trends show an increase.

However, speaking at the launching ceremony, tourism tycoon “Champa” Hussain Afeef demanded more accurate figures on expenditure, with comparisons to rival small island tourism destinations.

He also contended that the Maldives is “not an expensive country”, and that this was a mere “perception”.

“We have very top end hotels to come to” he said, which offers high quality products targeted to the tourists arriving from the traditional European market.

He insisted that resorts still offer beds at US$250 rate and prices have not increased since the commencement of Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST).

Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa agreed with Afeef.

“The current perception is coming about from the availability of current high end products,” adding that the prices cannot be lowered.

The government was moving towards boosting mid-market tourism, Zulfa observed. “This will provide more value for money, comfortable accommodation affordable to more people who want to visit Maldives,” she said.

Adapting to the Chinese market

The need to adapting to the Chinese market, which is dominating 15 percent of arrivals and plugging the gaps left by a decline in traditional European market, was highlighted by the survey team and the government.

Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, who launched the survey report today, reiterated that China is the dominating market and “products need to be changed to adapt to China market”.

“Otherwise we will not be able to sustain the market,” he said.

However, some resort operators inclined towards relying on the traditional European market.

“We need to find a strategy to maintain our traditional original market,” Sun Travel and Tours Chairman and MP Ahmed Siyam said, raising concerns over the long term dependence on Chinese market.

“We noticed arrivals from Taiwan increased in 2002. But after five years it dropped. And now we don’t see a single Taiwanese tourist here,” he claimed. “We must ask why Chinese are coming to Maldives. They don’t like the sun. They don’t like the beach or the diving.”

Negative publicity

The survey team observed that the Maldives is chosen as a destination mostly based on material published on internet, or from word of mouth. Therefore, it is critical to safeguard the reputation as a holiday destination, report recommends.

Shiyam meanwhile pointed out that the industry is threatened by increasing “negative publicity”, which has reportedly mounted due to the mass religious protest on December 23, 2011, and the short-lived nationwide spa ban imposed following protesters’ calls to close down the spas and massage parlors claiming that they doubled as brothels.

Shiyam claimed that the spa was one of the most enjoyed activities and their closure would create serious concerns. “We need to isolate tourism from politics to ensure sustainable tourism growth,” he asserted.

According to the report, snorkelling was enjoyed by 41 percent of tourists while diving and spa treatments received the same ranking from 17 percent tourists.

It also stated that one in four visitors return to the Maldives.

The main attractions include the Maldives natural environment, sun and peacefulness. Over half of the tourists rated the Maldives natural environment, quality of products, security and hospitality better than other similar destinations such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Thailand, Indonesia and Fiji.

However, the tourists were looking for improvement in cafes, restaurants, visits to capital Male and shopping, and fewer transfer delays.


Tourism Ministry issues circular to close spas and massage parlors

After thousands of protesters gathered last Friday and demanded the government “close the spas and massage parlors and such places where prostitution is conducted”, the Tourism Ministry has today published a circular asking all the resorts to shut down their spas and massage parlors.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair today confirmed to Minivan News that the Tourism Ministry had issued the circular.

The circular informs that the government has decided to shut down all the spas and massage parlors in accordance with demands made by the general public during last Friday’s protest to “defend Islam.”

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Zuhair said the protesters did not specify where exactly the prostitution was conducted but mentioned that prostitution was conducted inside spas and massage parlors.

He said the government does not know how to differentiate between the spas and massage parlors that are complicit with prostitution and those which are not.

Therefore, Zuhair said the government has decided to shut down all such locales because Maldivians, including high-profile individuals, have been visiting tourist resorts and having spa treatments.

He said the government does not want those high-profile individuals’ good names being damaged by visiting places accused of such crimes.

Zuhair added that some of the individuals making these demands last Friday also conduct business in the tourism industry. Therefore, the government believes that, given their insider understanding of the resort and spa industry, their accusations are well-founded and there is not much to investigate.

This week, five spas run in five resorts owned by opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) Leader ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim were asked by the Tourism Ministry to shut down operations over similar allegations.

The company subsequently sued the government. Meanwhile, the Civil Court issued a warrant permitting those spas to continue operations until the suit has reached a verdict.

Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa was unavailable for a comment.