Maldives on Tuesday reported a decline in tourist arrivals for the second consecutive month, as the destination recovers from a wave of domestic political turmoil.
Maldives attracted a wave of bad publicity following the recent declaration of a state of emergency, which ended in March. However, the political turmoil was strictly restricted to the capital city, away from the resorts and local islands where holidaymakers stay in.
Official figures for the month of May released by the tourism ministry show that a total of 92,913 tourists visited the Maldives during the month — a 0.6 percent decrease over the 93,491 tourists in May 2017.
Europe, the largest regional source market, posted an overall growth of 12.1 percent over May 2017, as arrivals increased to 40,056 from 35,739.
After double digit declines in April, major European markets rebounded last month with significant gains of 22 percent, 18.2 percent, 4.1 percent and 29.9 percent in arrivals from Germany, France, Italy and Spain respectively.
Russian travellers once again showed their appetite for the Maldives, as arrival numbers jumped 9.5 percent in May to reach 3,903 from 3,564 in May 2017. This strong performance last month translated into an impressive growth of 27 percent in arrivals from Russia for the first five months of the year.
However, arrivals from Asia, the second largest regional source market, decreased 8.8 percent in May.
Arrivals from China declined by 27.1 percent to reach 16,927 compared to the 23,225 in May 2017. This decline, which came after declines of 27.5 percent and 28 percent in March and April respectively and another 15.8 percent in January, offset the rare gain in arrival numbers from China in February and led to a 10.9 percent decline in arrivals from the Maldives’ single biggest source market for the January-May period.
Meanwhile, almost all major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia continued to post strong gains in May as well, with arrivals from countries such as Thailand and Philippines increasing by 59.5 percent and 6.4 percent respectively. Arrivals from Singapore also saw an increase of 2.9 percent in May after months of negative growth. However, Malaysia, which has recorded strong growth for consecutive months over the past year, posted a decline of 9.4 percent last month.
Arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, also posted a gain of 2.1 percent in May. This is largely due to a 7.6 percent increase in the number of tourists from India, the most important market in the region.
Despite the mixed performance in established markets, relatively new markets continued their upward growth trajectory last month as well, as arrivals from the Americas were up 9.9 percent and Oceania up 39.8 percent.
Arrivals from the US, which last year secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 6.3 percent to reach 2,825 last month compared to the 2,658 in May 2017, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 47.4 percent. However, South Africa, which has been on the recovery, posted a decline of 22.2 percent — the second major decline in almost a year.
Middle East, which has proven to be a volatile market, recorded a decline of 24.1 percent in May after a rare increase of 8.7 percent in April. Arrivals from all major Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia (down 3.8 percent), United Arab Emirates (down 40.8 percent), Kuwait (down 42.6 percent), Qatar (down 5.2 percent) and Egypt (down 18.2 percent) posted declines.
According to the May statistics, total arrivals for the first five months of the year increased by 10.6 percent to reach 632,729 compared to the 572,318 in the same period of last year.
Over the past five years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to 120. That number is set to increase as the government has announced the opening of some 20 new resorts over the next two years.
Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 450 guesthouses in operation today.
The government last year announced new steps to maintain a structured growth in tourism, including a slowdown in leasing islands for resort development and increased marketing efforts in key markets such as China and the Middle East in order to reach an ambitious target of a record 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year.