1.4 million figure for 2014 tourist arrivals incorrect, says Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has said that the 1,450,637 figure quoted as the total tourist arrivals for the year 2014 has been misinterpreted.

Speaking to Minivan news, Adeeb explained that the figure revealed at the conclusion of the ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Show’ on New Year’s Eve was actually the projected arrivals for the new year.

“There was a little confusion regarding the figure, maybe it is because of the way we presented it. The 1.4 million is projected arrivals for 2015, while 2014 arrivals is more than 1.2 million,” said Adeeb.

Statistics made available through the tourism ministry’s website reveal that the total tourist arrivals at the end of November 2014 stood at 1,101,113 – just under the total figure for 2013 – with 89,778 tourists visiting in November alone.

A ministry press statement released today said that 1,204,857 tourists arrived in the Maldives during 2014, adding that Adeeb had started the tourist countdown for 2015 during the show with the aim of reaching 1.4 million.

The ‘Tourist Arrival Countdown Show’ was itself mired in controversy after Jamaican dancehall star Sean Paul cancelled his appearance following an online video threatening to kill him if he were to perform at the show.

However, the show went ahead with Indian music duo Salman and Sulaiman Merchant headlining the event before the tourist arrival countdown figure was revealed shortly after an 8 minute firework display at midnight.

It was also revealed that American R&B star Akon would be performing in Malé on January 8 – also on Adeeb’s invitation – to promote Maldives tourism.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor suggested the misinterpreted arrival figures were aimed to deceive, warning that such things could have a “negative impact of public and investor confidence in”.

“These figures were obviously not misinterpreted. They were presented in manner through which everyone was made to believe that this was the arrivals for 2014,” said Hamid.

Speaking to Minivan News about the tourism industry in 2014, Tourism Employee’s Association of Maldives (TEAM) Secretary General Mauroof Zakir said that even 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,” said Zakir.

Speaking in a press conference last month, Adeeb noted that the weakening Russian ruble has effected occupancy rates, while Haveeru reported industry insiders of saying that the Russian market could drop by 10 percent.

According to the Maldives Monetary Authority’s (MMA) last quarterly economic bulletin , the number of Chinese tourists – representing the single largest market share with 27 percent – declined by 4.9 percent.

Expressing his opinion on the Chinese market, Hamid said that Chinese Tourists see the Maldives as a “trending and fashionable” destination, suggesting the market’s growth may not last.

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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.