Chinese survey says Maldives fifth most popular destination

The Maldives is China’s fifth most popular overseas destination according to the 2014 Global Times Annual Survey.

The survey carried out by the Chinese newspaper showed that the Maldives was behind Switzerland, Japan, France, Hungary in a top ten which also included Thailand, Spain, UAE, Sweden, and New Zealand.

Data used for the compilation of the survey includes Chinese tourists visits, duration of stay, international awards, a survey of experts, online voting, and public opinion monitoring through social media to rank the top countries.

The award was received by the Maldives Ambassador to China Mohamed Faisal at the Global Times Billboard Awards Ceremony on Sunday.

Faisal also participated in the closed door session of the Tourism and Culture Forum organised by the paper as a guest speaker, said a Maldives foreign ministry press release

“The Forum focused on cultural tourism development in China and how international experience can be used to enhanced Chinese cultural tourism products,” explained the ministry

“Ambassador Faisal in his presentation, highlighted how Maldives tourism package culture as a lived experience for tourists and how Maldivian tourism industry is positioning itself to cater for the Chinese tourist.”

China’s share of the Maldives’ tourism industry continued its rapid growth last year, contributing 363,000 of the 1.2 million visitors – a year on year rise of 9.6 percent.


Indian state employees granted travel concessions on trips to Maldives

India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation will provide leave travel concessions (LTC) for state employees travelling to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nepal in an effort to boost regional tourism among SAARC member nations, reports The Financial Express.

State employees will require approval from the ministry in order to utilise the LTC on Air India when flying to the selected countries.

Senior government officials were reported as saying the move is expected to enhance tourism, and subsequently economic development, in the South Asian region.

“There are around two million government employees. With the extension of the LTC scheme there is bound to be greater tourist inflow and outflow with these countries,” an Indian government official is quoted as saying.

Air India currently operates 14 flights to the Maldives per week – between Malé, Trivandrum, and Bangalore – although Indian tourists make up less than four percent of the million-plus visitors to the Indian Ocean archipelago each year.

During the 18th SAARC Summit held in Nepal last November Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed the need for increased regional connectivity noting that “it is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore, and more expensive to speak to each other”.

The conclusion of the summit saw the signing of the Kathmandu Declaration which called ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity’.


British Airways stops summer flights to the Maldives

British Airways (BA) has decided to suspend summer flights to the Maldives, as well as cancelling flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Telegraph reports.

“British Airways will continue flying between London Gatwick and Malé. However, the service will be operational only during the winter… to cater to the high leisure travel demand.” a BA spokesman is reported to have said.

The airline has assured all customers affected that a full refund will be issued and has apologised for any inconvenience caused as a result of the changes in flight schedules.

BA began three scheduled flights between Ibrahim Nasir International Airport ( (INIA) and Gatwick London Airport in 2009.

Meanwhile, airport officials last week announced that German airline Lufthansa is to start scheduled flights to INIA from next December, while the national carrier Maldivian airlines’ new A321 is due to arrive in the country next week.

Source: Telegraph


Comment: Where is the love? Chinese tourists in the Maldives

In one of Minivan News’ recent articles, a tourism sector official from the Maldives was quoted as saying:

“[E]ven though total arrivals increased, 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,”

As the Maldivian airline that brought over 30 percent of the Chinese to the Maldives – more than any other foreign or domestic airline – we know a thing or two about Chinese visitors to the Maldives. And we would like to point out that this idea of the Chinese as the poor, pot-noodle-eating, ‘second-class’ tourist is not only offensive, but also untrue.

The data

Don’t take our word for it. Data from the World Tourism Organisation show that at US$102.2 billion, Chinese passengers were by 2012 already the biggest spenders abroad. By 2014 this had reached over US$155 billion, and is expected to hit US$194 billion in 2015.

Individual country results also show similar patterns. According to the US Travel Association, Chinese tourists spend on average US$7,200, compared to US$4,500 from other nationals. Chinese tourists are so important, that some countries, like the UK, are changing their entire visa systems to attract them.

In fact, data from our own tourism ministry also implies that the Chinese are big spenders here in the Maldives too. According to the Maldives Tourism Visitor Survey 2013, 40 percent of Chinese spent over US$5,000 (not including their hotel and air package), while only 27 percent of the Germans, 24 percent of the British, and 23 percent of Russians spent more than this in the Maldives.

So, whichever way you look at it, the data does not agree with the common (mis)perception of Chinese passengers as being poor.

The Chinese ‘fad’

We in the Maldives have consistently been wrong about the China market. Let’s not forget that in 2010, there were senior officials in the tourism sector who regarded Chinese tourists to the Maldives to be a ‘passing fad’.

Thankfully for the Maldives, it wasn’t. Since 2010, the ‘fad’ tripled from about 100,000 to 300,000 today. Chinese tourists are the reason why we count ourselves a million visitor destination today.

Retail therapy

“Yes they are here”, you say. “But they do not spend”.

Despite the statistics above, we believe there is some partial truth to this. The Chinese do not spend like the Europeans on holiday do. This is partly because ‘spending’ for Chinese on holiday meant primarily one thing: shopping.

Unlike Malaysia, Thailand, or Dubai, we in the Maldives do not do ‘shopping’ as a tourism product. So when they first arrived, the Chinese did not have much to ‘buy’: no Burberry scarves, no Godiva chocolates and no Rolex watches. It was not that they lacked money. They were simply not the type to spend US$500 on a bottle of wine (at least not one they could not take back as a gift).

This gave the local tourism industry a perception of the Chinese passenger as ‘poor’. However, those of us who sold duty-free products to them, either at the airport or on their return journeys, knew perfectly well that they were not. On one flight from Male to Beijing, the entire contents of a Mega Maldives Airlines duty-free shopping trolley were sold out. Every single item!

The coming opportunity

That said, it is unlikely that we can, or even want to turn the Maldives into a shopping-focused haven of malls and discount-retail outlets. Luckily for us, we don’t have to. The spending habits of Chinese tourists are changing.

According to research by China UnionPay – one of China’s biggest bank-card association – the importance Chinese customers assign to shopping is falling. According to data analyst at China UnionPay Chen Han:

“The data show that outbound Chinese consumers are focusing more on what they gain from their travel experiences instead of what they buy at their destinations. This shift shows a heightened awareness of ‘quality time’ during their holidays.”

This means that the Chinese tourist is becoming a little more similar to the Western tourist. They will start appreciating cuisine, drinks, spas, diving and all the other ‘experiences’ that make the Maldives unique today. However, this also presents us with an opportunity to develop a much more active and innovative tourism sector product. Maldivian culture does not have to just mean the weekly local cuisine buffet, or the staff ‘bodu-beru’ band of the resort.

We could for example, have festivals of music, art, dances, poetry and literature, all of which will be highly appealing to the Chinese market. We could have talks on conservation, sustainability, nature and the environment – concepts becoming very popular in China. Natural remedies and approaches to health and well-being, as well as meditation and ‘mindfulness’ are also increasingly popular with this market, especially as Chinese cities like Beijing become increasingly polluted.

All of these opportunities generate a lot more in terms of jobs and creative opportunities for our youth, and is much better for us than selling a $20,000 Gucci handbag.

How will we get this diversified product to the tourists? The answer to this question may be difficult, but the Maldives tourism product has shown itself to be highly dynamic. The recent emergence of guest houses is one such example of this dynamism. The current government’s ‘Thumburi project,’ is also another very good opportunity to diversify these products and really develop a product that appeals to the Chinese market.

Where is the love?

Look around you. Every country in the world – from Canada to South Africa – is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in promoting their destination in the hope of attracting Chinese tourists.

But we in the Maldives, with our pristine natural beauty, were able to make the Chinese fall in love with us with little or no effort. It’s about time we put our prejudices aside and learnt to love them back.

Mizna Ahmed is a Director at Mega Maldives.

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Maldives mulls tourism future as China reaches quarter of all arrivals


German airliner Lufthansa to start scheduled flights to Maldives

German national carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG is to start scheduled flights to the Maldives from December 2015.

Plans to start the flights by Europe’s largest airline were revealed at a special ceremony held yesterday (January 8 ) at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) by Maldives Airports Company Limited’s (MACL) Managing Director ‘Bandu’ Ibrahim Saleem.

Speaking at the ceremony, local media reported Saleem as saying that Lufthansa will be operating flights to the Maldives starting from December 9 this year, and that these flights will provide many benefits to the tourism industry.

Aviation website reported that the flights are part of a “jump” network project by Lufthansa, with the Maldives, Mauritius, and Mexico the initial destinations.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said one of the biggest aims of nationalising INIA was to bring bigger airlines into the Maldives, adding that 2014 had been one of the best years for Maldives tourism.

INIA was leased out to Indian Infrastructure giant GMR under a US$500 million contract in 2010 before the following government deemed the deal ‘void ab-initio’ in 2012. GMR have subsequently won an arbitration case leaving the Government of Maldives liable for an amount that could reach up to US$803 million.

“Lufthansa airline is one of the top airlines in Europe. They have previously operated some charter flights to the Maldives, but this is the first time they will be starting scheduled flights,” local media reported Adeeb as saying.

Adeeb also said that one of the most prominent requests made by European tourists is to set up more direct flights to the Maldives without having to transit in the Middle East, and that the request would be addressed by Lufthansa flying to the Maldives directly from Frankfurt, Germany.

According to the tourism ministry, 527,274 European tourists landed in the Maldives last year – amounting to 47 percent of total arrivals. The European airline with the most arrivals was Turkish Airlines with 33,303 arrivals followed by British Airways with 25,798 arrivals.

The industry received a record-breaking of 1.2 million in 2014.

Related to this story

GMR lodges US$803million claim, pleads for award of further damages for loss of reputation

Changi signs consultancy deal as MACL aims for 9.6 million passengers


Weak Russian ruble sees drop in resort bookings

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has noted that the fall in the price of the Russian ruble has affected occupancy rates in the Maldives.

Local media outlet Haveeru has reported industry insiders as saying that bookings are at a five-year low, with some anticipating the Russian market could drop by 10 percent.

Russia represented the fourth biggest source of tourists to the Maldives in 2013, with 76,479 people making up 6.8 percent of the total market share. As the second fastest growing tourist market in the world (behind China), arrivals to the Maldives from Russia have grown by an average of 10.7 percent over the past five years.

A combination of low oil prices and Western sanctions on Russia in relation to the conflict in the Ukraine has seen the rouble fall to an all-time low this month.

While Adeeb said he was confident the government would meet its target of 1.2 million tourist arrivals in 2014, he said the country must diversify its tourism markets: “The international arena is heating up,” he told a press conference on Monday.

The current government has suggested that diversification of the economy – to be encouraged through the Special Economic Zones Act – will reduce the country’s vulnerability to external shocks.

Tourism currently contributes directly to around 35 percent of the country’s GDP.


MMPRC believes Thumburi project will bring an additional 150,000 tourists per year

Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) Abdulla Ziyath believes the government’s Thumburi integrated resort project will increase visitors to the Maldives by 150,000.

“The market had become quite stagnant, as there were not many new hotels on the way and we were becoming perceived as a place just for five-star tourists,” Ziyath told TTG while at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London.

“This addresses those issues and for the first time enables small businesses to invest; in fact we are actively discouraging the main existing resort owners from being a part of Thumburi”.

The government’s integrated resort project – or ‘vertical tourism’ – is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”, says the MMPRC, after the rapid expansion of guest houses on inhabited islands under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed between 2008 and 2012.

Some within the industry have expressed fears over the guest house’s impact on the Maldives image as a luxury travel destination, although critics of the new scheme say the multi-ownership guest house island concept will not bring the same benefit to local communities.

Ziyath spoke during the WTM, at which it unveiled the Thumburi project. The event features 146 representatives from 54 countries and is to conclude tomorrow.


Government decides to implement a ‘green tax’ on tourists

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has told local media that a bill detailing proposed ‘green tax’ for tourists will be sent to parliament this month.

“Levying this tax is necessary given Maldives’ fragile environment. Revenue generated from the tax will go into managing the waste from local resorts and other islands,” said Adeeb who also serves as the co- chair in the cabinet’s Economic Council.

The exact percentage to be levied will be decided after consultations with relevant stakeholders, he added.

Earlier this month, Adeeb said he would aim to resolve waste management issues within the next two years using state-owned companies, after announcing the termination of the deal with India based Tatva Global Renewable Energy.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad also spoke of the proposed green tax while submitting a record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget for parliamentary approval today.

Jihad noted that the tax will form part of revenue raising measures, which also include the addition of ten resorts to the current 112. The proposed changes are anticipated to raise MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) in new revenue.

Levies on the tourism industry – which accounts indirectly for up to 90 percent of the country’s GDP – formed a major part of proposed revenue raising measures in 2014.

An IMF-recommended hike on Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) from eight to 12 percent was approved by parliament in February and came into force last Saturday (November 1), prompting concerns from industry insiders.

Speaking to Minivan News today, former Managing Director of Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Mohamed Matheen said that the budget issues could not be resolved without addressing the structural issues within the budget.

“The budget deficit cannot be resolved regardless of how the tax regime is set without addressing issues like the high recurrent expenditures of the government, which is a lot higher than the majority of the countries,” said Matheen.

One general manager from a prominent resort told Minivan News last weekend that bookings appeared to be down for November, with both guests and operators aware of the “double tax” as the T-GST increase combines with the bed tax – a measure also continued this year as a way to boost government coffers.

“November will be tough,” he explained. “Top end resorts will really feel this. There’s no way further increases could be stood.”

He also expressed concern that the resorts were being asked to carry the fiscal burden of the government’s failure to curb expenditure.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has also criticised the hike in the T-GST saying that it would cause immense difficulties to the general public.

“Now a [ticket] to a flight to Addu has gotten more expensive than a flight to Colombo. This is not, in any situation, how it should be priced,” Nasheed told local media.


Addu City condemns government’s “obstruction” of guesthouse venture

Addu City Council has condemned the government’s alleged “obstruction” of its flagship guesthouse venture which aims to establish up to 2000 guesthouse beds.

“Government officials are spreading falsehoods to reduce investor confidence with the aim of obstructing Addu City Guesthouse Venture,” read a council statement released on Monday (October 20).

Condemning the “atrocity,” the council urged “government officials to stop such acts and facilitate an environment for this project – intended to bring development to the people – to succeed.”

The tourism ministry has denied the allegations, though the President’s Office has told local media it believes the scheme was designed purely to benefit members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The council on October 13 had handed over 29 plots of privately owned land to an India’s SG18 Realty to develop approximately 250 beds.

Companies from Denmark, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates have also expressed interest in building and operating guesthouses, the council has said.

A source close to the Addu City Council said government ministers had told investors foreigners they would not be allowed to operate and manage guesthouses.

However, State Minister for Tourism Hussein Lirar has dismissed Addu City Council’s allegations, and said he has to consult with a lawyer to definitively say if Maldivian laws and regulations bar foreigners from operating guesthouses.

“If foreigners get involved in guesthouse business, it narrows the opportunity for Maldivians to benefit,” he said.

An amendment to the Guesthouse Regulation of 2010 says licenses will be issued only to Maldivians, or partnerships without foreigners or companies registered in the Maldives as per the 1996 Company Act.

The Company Act says foreign companies may do business in the Maldives if they register in the country.

Meanwhile, President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has today said the Addu City Guesthouse Venture is a scheme by opposition MDP to benefit its supporters. All six Addu City Councilors belong to MDP.

“It seems to us as if it’s a plan to benefit individuals of a certain party. MDP members have participated in Addu City Guesthouse Venture meetings, and it seems from the photos and media that it is aimed to benefit party members. So it appears the project is designed for political gain,” he told newspaper Haveeru.

He claimed the council should have shared information on the venture with the government and the Local Government Authority if they sincerely intended the project to benefit all Addu residents. The council has previously said the Ministry of Tourism has been informed and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has written a letter approving the venture.

The ministry has meanwhile revealed plans to establish guesthouse islands where multiple investors will be invited to build guesthouses on uninhabited islands.

The guesthouse island consists of three components, leasing of 5000 square feet plots for 25 rooms, 10,000 for 50 rooms and water villa plots for 100 rooms.

Foreigners can only invest in the 5,000 and 10,000 square feet plots if they form a joint venture company with a Maldivian. However, they will be allowed to bid for the water villa component without a Maldivian partner.

The Addu City Council in its statement said investors have expressed interest in developing guesthouses in all areas designated for guesthouse development in Addu.

Although landowners will have the option of operating guesthouses once they are built, the majority of landowners have no desire to manage them, Mayor Abdulla Sodiq previously told Minivan News.

The council has said the aim of the US$20million venture is to create jobs in the country’s second most populous region and increase living standards in Addu.

The region’s Gan International Airport will only become viable with 3,000 – 4,000 beds in operation in Addu, the council has said.

There are only two resorts in Addu at present and only a few additional islands for resort development. Even if all the remaining uninhabited islands are developed as resorts, it would not increase bed capacity to the required figure, the council said.

Hence, guesthouse tourism is key to ensuring the viability of the Gan International Airport, the council added.

Despite being the country’s second largest urban area, Addu is home to just 3.6 percent of the industry’s registered bed capacity.

The Maldives’ tourism industry, with over 100 resorts and nearly one million visitors per year, brings in approximately US$2 billion annually.