Tourist arrivals reach record high in February

Tourist arrivals reached an all-time record level for a single month with 120,468 visitors in February, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

Arrivals in February was 8.8 percent higher than the same period last year, which was “a significant improvement compared to the negative growth (-7.8 percent) registered in January 2015,” the tourism ministry observed in a statement on Thursday (March 19).

“With this boost, the total arrivals at end February 2015 was 217,541, an increase of +0.7 percent compared with the 216,001 tourists that visited during the same period of 2014,” the ministry noted.

The occupancy rate meanwhile declined by 4.8 percent this year, with an average occupancy rate of 80.8 percent. The average duration of stay was six days.

After falling 12.2 percent in December and 33.1 percent in January, Chinese arrivals bounced back in February with a 30.5 growth compared to February 2014.

A total of 43,349 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives last month.

At a press conference last week, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb suggested that Chinese visitors increased sharply as the Chinese New Year was on February 13.

Adeeb noted that overall arrivals growth was at about one percent compared to the first two months of 2014.

“So our travel trends is not falling. The past month was a very profitable month,” he said.

However, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) revealed earlier this month that revenue collection was 17.6 percent below forecasts due to “the decrease in tourism related revenues by 17 percent as tourist arrivals did not meet expectations.”

MIRA also revealed that US$2.2 million was collected last month as airport service charge, compared to US$2.3 million in February 2014.

However, Adeeb said income from Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) for February would be collected in March, and would reflect the arrivals hike.

Referring to travel alerts issued by the UK in the wake of political unrest sparked by the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22, Adeeb noted that tourists were only advised to avoid Malé due to demonstrations.

Asked if arrivals could decline in March due to the ongoing political crisis, Adeeb said the tourism ministry has been monitoring booking cancellations.

“Our monitoring shows there have been no booking cancelations in March,” he said, adding that he expected arrivals to remain unchanged from March 2014.

Condemning calls for tourism boycott, Adeeb said the government was countering the social media campaign by opposition supporters through marketing efforts by PR firms.

Adeeb suggested the tourism boycott campaign would not have “much of an impact.”

Regional markets

Europe retained top spot as the largest regional source market for tourist arrivals with a 49.3 percent market share in 2015.

However, with 107,263 visitors so far this year, total arrivals from Europe registered a marginal decline of 0.8 percent.

European arrivals in February declined by 1.9 percent compared to the same period last year on the back of a steep 53.4 percent decline in arrivals from Russia.

However, arrivals from the United Kingdom and Germany increased by 10.6 percent and 10.3 percent, respectively. The number of Italian tourists also grew by 10.3 percent compared to February 2014.

Total arrivals from Western Europe declined by 2.9 percent due to a fall of 15.5 percent in arrivals from France, which the tourism ministry said has been posting negative growth since July 2014.

In terms of individual markets, China remains the largest source market with a 29.3 percent market share, followed by Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Both the national carrier Maldivian Airlines and Mega Maldives launched direct weekly flights to Chinese cities during February.

The Maldives Marketing and Tourism Development Corporation (MMPRC) also conducted roadshows in three Indian cities last month to promote the Maldives as a destination for Indian tourists.

With 4,235 visitors, arrivals from India grew by 17.8 percent in February with a market share of 3.7 percent.

“During the last two months of 2015, while important markets such as Russia, and Japan registered declines of -43.9 percent and -0.6 percent respectively, significant increases were recorded from Denmark (+82.8 percent), United Arab Emirates (+47.9 percent), Brazil (+44.6 percent), Spain (+40 percent) and Romania (+33.9 percent) at the end of the period,” the ministry noted.

At the end of February, the Maldives had 308 registered establishments in operation with a bed capacity of 27,670.

“The operational capacity included 106 resorts with 23,247 beds, 15 hotels with 1,508 beds, 106 guest houses with 1,568 beds and 81 safari vessels with 1,367 beds,” the ministry revealed.

“The total tourist bed nights of these operational establishments at the end of the period was 1,313,259 which was a drop (-3.7 percent) compared with the same period of 2014.”

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Villa Group contests US$100 million rent claim

Opposition leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group has contested a US$100million claim issued by the Tourism Ministry at the Civil Court.

The 30-day notice, issued on March 1, came after the ministry annulled agreements for seven islands leased to Villa Group. At the time, the ministry claimed Villa had failed to begin developing the islands as resorts.

The company last week requested the Civil Court to annul the US$100million claim as well as the Tourism Ministry’s decision to cancel the seven lease agreements.

Meanwhile, the opposition has alleged the government was targeting Gasim’s businesses following his split with the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives and subsequent alliance with the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The Tourism Ministry in early February also moved to seize several lagoons granted to Villa Group, but was stalled following a Civil Court injunction. The High Court on February 24 overturned the stay order, paving the way for state appropriation.


Maldives participates in ITB Berlin fair

A total of 194 representatives from 75 tourism companies represented the Maldives this year at the InternationaleTourismus-Börse (ITB) travel trade show in Berlin.

The Maldives delegation was led by the Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) Mr. Abdulla Ziyath.

The MMPRC designed a new stand for the Maldives this year. The new design concept of the stand would allow for better business to business meetings in a modern setting with attractive imagery of the country.

“The stand has an interactive area for display of handicraft activity and cultural performances, and a more serene spa area to highlight on the relaxation and rejuvenation segment,” a statement by the MMPRC read.

“Furthermore, Maldivian gastronomy will be an added highlight at the stand through Maldivian made short eats.”


Romanian tourists increase by 32 percent in 2014

The number of tourist arrivals from Romania to the Maldives has increased by 32 percent in 2014.

According to Romania-Insider, 3204 Romanians traveled to the Maldives in 2014 – an increase of 781 arrivals compared to the 2423 arrivals 2013.

The increase in arrivals was attributed to the commencement of chartered flights from Bucharest, Romania to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

“Most tourists went to the islands in December last year, namely about 678, almost double compared to December 2013, when only 371 traveled there,” read the Romanian insider.

Romanians only account for 0.3 percent of the market share of tourists arriving in Maldives.


Maldives’ resorts among world’s best, but industry insiders express concern over Green Tax

Three Maldivian resorts have been named among the world’s top 25 hotels by TripAdvisor, but industry specialists have expressed concern over the new green tax and rising prices.

Gili Lankanfushi Maldives placed top in the recently announced Traveler’s Choice Awards, based upon the quantity and quality of reviews posted on the website, while two other Maldivian resorts – Cocoa Island and Constance Moofushi – ranked at number six and fifteen, respectively.

The survey by the world’s largest travel website acknowledged over 8,100 properties based on one year’s worth of reviews and opinions from its 315 million unique monthly visitors.

“We are very glad that three of our resorts got included as top hotels in the world,” said Maldives Association of Tourism Industry Secretary General Ahmed Nazeer.

Four other Maldivian locations were named as part of the top 25 hotels in the Asian region. Baros Maldives was awarded ninth place on the regional list, Soneva Fushi placed 13th, while LUX* Maldives and Komandhoo Maldives Resort earned 21st and 22nd, respectively.

Meanwhile, industry specialists have expressed concern that the Maldives might soon become an overpriced destination due to increasing taxes and service charges, with the latest levy taking the form of a US$6 green tax.

“The green tax will definitely have an impact,” said Shafraz Fazley, Managing Director of Viluxur Holidays to “It is (already) becoming too expensive to go to top resorts because of all the service charges and taxes.”

The US$6 green tax was announced in November last year with the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb saying that the revenue generated from the tax will go into managing waste from local resorts and other islands.

Rising arrivals, rising costs

The tax is part of  new revenue raising measures outlined in the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for 2015, which also includes the addition of ten resorts to the current 109 registered facilities. These measures are anticipated to raise MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) in revenue for the government.

The green tax will be introduced 11 months after the abolition of the US$8 per night bed tax, and one year after the hike in the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) from 8 to 12 percent. Airport service tax was also raised from US$18 to US$25 in July 2014 for visitors leaving the country.

Maldives Association for Travel Agents and Tour Operators President Abdulla Ghiyas was reported as having told TTG that the resort contracts will be unaffected as the bed tax had been taken into account, though the opposition has previously called the levying of this and T-GST simultaneously as “double taxation” on the industry.

“Have a look at the TripAdvisor Forum,” Michelle Flake from Koamas Luxury Escapes told TTG. “I am sure people are moaning and saying it will be too expensive for them to come soon.”

After receiving more than one million tourists for the second consecutive year in 2014, the tourism ministry estimates that the Maldives will see 1.4 million tourist arrivals this year.

Speaking to Minivan News about the past year, however, Tourism Employee’s Association of Maldives Secretary General Mauroof Zakir said that, despite the increased arrivals, the tourism industry suffered as a whole in 2014.

“Total tourist arrivals have increased compared to the previous year. However, as arrivals from Europe and Russia decrease, less income is generated as the replacing Chinese visitors spend less and stay for lesser periods,” said Zakir.

Last year’s Maldives visitor survey in January 2014 appeared to confirm Zakir’s point, showing that Asian tourists stayed for shorter periods of 3 to 4 days while the average stay for European tourists was between 7 and 11 days.

According to the Tourism Yearbook 2014 – published by the tourism ministry – average duration of stay by tourists is declining, from 8.6 days in 2009 to 6.3 days in 2013.

The Chinese and Russian tourist markets are two of the fastest growing in the world, with arrivals increasing by an average of 54 and 10.7 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2013.

Adeeb has acknowledged the negative impact of the falling Russian rouble on arrivals, saying that the Maldives must diversify its tourism markets as the international arena “heats up”.

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Akon arrives in the Maldives

American R&B artist Akon has arrived in the Maldives this morning to perform tonight in the second show of the ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Music Festival’ upon the invitation of Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Minister Adeeb and event organisers Chopart received Akon at the airport alongside a team of youth leaders who had shown support for Akon’s concert amid continuing opposition to the show from religious leaders.

Haveeru reported Akon as asking his fans to “get ready to party” before coming to the show, assuring a good time for all who attend.

Akon’s performance was announced during the ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Show’ on December 31, which eventually featured a host of Indian artists after the cancellation of Sean Paul’s performance.

Adeeb also confirmed yesterday (January 7) that Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra will appear alongside Akon in tonight’s show. Priyanka is due to arrive sometime this evening.

In 2010, a show featuring Akon was organised before organisers cancelled, citing a lack of technical support and security. As with the Sean Paul concert, both the Islamic ministry and local religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf had spoken out against the show.


Tourist arrivals register 10 percent growth in three quarters of 2014

Tourist arrivals in the first three quarters of 2014 registered a 10.1 percent growth compared to the same period last year, reaching a total of 901,004 guests by the end of September, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

Visitors from Asia and Pacific countries accounted for 50 percent of all arrivals during the first nine months of the year.

However, the ministry noted in a statement last week that “the pace at which arrival from the region was increasing have slowed down since June.”

“While the region enjoyed a robust growth of 22.3 percent at the end of first two quarters of 2014, growth rate slowed down to 17.3 percent by the end of the third quarter of 2014,” the ministry explained.

“The region injected 53,454 tourists to the total arrivals to the country during the month of September, summing up the total arrivals from the region to 450,296 by the end of the period from January to September 2014.”

China (31.8 percent), India (3.5 percent), Japan (3.1 percent) and South Korea (2.7 percent) were the leading markets from Asia and the Pacific region, the ministry revealed, with Australia (1.6 percent) “emerging as a potential market from this region.”

“The Chinese market, registered a negative growth (-1.7 percent) for the first time in September 2014 since becoming the number one market in 2010. However, the market ended up with a healthy 14.8 percent growth at the end of the period from January to September 2014 with a total of 286,838 tourists.”

Tourist arrivals from Europe meanwhile increased 1.6 percent in the first three quarters compared to the same period in 2013, reaching 386,914 visitors.

“In terms of individual markets from Europe, leading markets were Germany (7.7 percent), the United Kingdom (7.4 percent), Russia (5.7 percent), Italy (4.8 percent) and France (4.2 percent),” the ministry revealed.

Arrivals from the Americas registered a strong growth of 25.2 percent in September with double digit growth rates recorded from all major markets in the region.

“With just a couple of hundred tourists less than that of Americas, Middle East followed closely behind bringing in a total of 28,641 tourists at the end of the period from January to September 2014 accounting for 3.2 percent of all arrivals during the period,” the ministry noted.

“This region also posted a heavy growth of 20.5 percent during the month of September 2014 ending the period with a robust 16.9 percent growth.”

Meanwhile, one new resort – Loama Resort Maldives on the island of Maamigili in Raa Atoll – and seven new guest houses opened during September.

“With these new additions, the total number of registered establishments reached 488 with 30,893 beds at the end of September 2014,” the ministry noted.

“While the total number of registered resorts increased to 112 with 23,917 beds and guest houses increased to 195 with 2,723 beds, number of hotels and safari vessels remained at 18 and 163 with 1,542 beds and 2,711 beds respectively by the end of September 2014. At the end of this period on average there were 292 establishment with 26,905 beds in operation.”

Statistics show that total bednights during the period was 5.4 million, with an average occupancy rate of 74.6 percent – an increase of 1.6 percent compared with the same period in 2013. Average duration of stay remained steady throughout the January to September period.

Quarterly economic bulletin

The Maldives Monetary Authority’s (MMA) quarterly economic bulletin released last week meanwhile observed that the “favourable growth in the tourism industry during the year suggests that the arrival of a million tourists during one calendar year is likely to be achieved in 2014 as well.”

Reflecting the growth in bed nights, total tourism receipts grew by an annual 12 percent during the first six months of 2014 and totalled US$1.3 billion,” the central bank revealed.

While the market share of Europe fell from 51 percent in the first half of 2013 to 47 percent in the same period this year, the MMA noted that arrivals from Germany and the UK increased.

In particular, the sustained growth of arrivals from UK, with a market share equivalent to 8 percent, reflects its economic revival to pre-crisis levels,” the bulletin suggested.

“Other markets in Europe, however, indicated sluggish or negative growth in tourist arrivals, contributing to the overall marginal increase in arrivals from Europe.”

The MMA also observed that in the past five years “the development of guesthouses as a low cost accommodation option for tourists in local inhabited islands has gained significant momentum.”

The authority noted that the number of guest houses in the industry is now over 2,400

“As at the end of June 2014, the number of registered beds in the [guest house] industry is recorded to be over 2,400. While the bed capacity of guesthouses accounted for a mere 2 percent of the bed capacity of the industry as a whole in 2010, it has now come to represent 8 percent of the total bed capacity in tourism establishments,” the bulletin stated.


Tourism Ministry reports 14 percent increase in tourist arrivals in July

Ministry of Tourism has reported on a statement published on their website that tourist arrivals during the month of July have shown a 14 percent increase when compared with figures from the same month last year.

It reports that total number of tourists who visited the Maldives in July 2014 amount to 100,191.

While Europe has traditionally been the area from which the Maldives gets the most number of visitors, the statement reports that in July, visitors from Asia and the Pacific exceeded those from Europe.

Countrywise, the most number of tourists arrived to the Maldives in July from China, reaching 30.6 percent of the total number of arrivals.

The ministry further reports that by the end of July 2014, the total number of registered tourist establishments are 474, with 30,732 beds. However, only 291 of these establishments – with 26,894 – beds were operational within January and July this year.


Araam Travels asks government to reconsider cancellation of Farukolhu airport deal

Araam Travels has asked the government to reconsider its decision to cancel an agreement made with the company to develop an airport on the uninhabited island of Farukolhu in Shaviyani atoll.

Former Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela’s husband Mohamed Ibrahim Didi’s Simdi Company reportedly has a major stake in Araam Travels.

An official from Araam told newspaper Haveeru that the government breached the terms of the contract by terminating the agreement on the grounds that the island was an environmentally sensitive area.

He added that the tourism ministry has not responded to a letter from the company seeking renewal of the agreement. If the agreement is not renewed within 60 days, the official said Araam would sue the government.

He noted that the company won a bid to develop an airport on the island and that the cancellation came after an investor was secured.

The agreement was signed in June 2013 by the administration of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

In June this year, Environment Protection Agency Director General Ibrahim Naeem told Minivan News that the island’s ecosystem would be damaged by the airport development.

Farukolhu has extensive mangroves and is a nesting ground for several species of birds. Sharks and rays frequent the island’s bay for breeding.

Araam was awarded Gaaf Alif Atoll Innahera Island for resort development under a public-private partnership agreement to subsidise the airport venture.

The US$4 million project involved reclaiming 1.8 hectares from the island’s mangrove sites to construct an airport runway. Generators, desalination plants, sewerage, drainage facilities, and a jetty were also planned.