Tourists headed to Maldives undeterred by political unrest

Friday, 2 March 2012 20:45

At Male International Airport, inbound and outbound flights remain normal with only several security guards maintaining order.

Flights between China and the Maldives on the airline carrier Mega Maldives remain packed with Chinese tourists.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Ahmed Adeeb, the country's minister of tourism, admitted that there is some unrest in the capital and areas away from tourists.

However, "we would like to note that no tourist was ever hurt in these series of demonstrations", he said. "We would like to assure the safety for all tourists and resorts."

Ahmed Salih, permanent secretary of Maldives' Ministry of Tourism, said: "We will try our best to avoid or reduce any negative impact on safety for all tourists. Please be assured that it remains a paradise for visitors and tourist satisfaction is the nation's top interest."


The country, best known as the Indian Ocean's top five-star beach destination, has 101 resorts, all of them on uninhabited islands reached by speedboat or seaplanes. Tourism officially accounts for 30 percent of the country's $2.1 billion economy.

But Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary-general of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry, said the figure was closer to 75 to 80 percent, Reuters reported.

MATI said in a statement that the country stands to lose more than $100 million in revenue from travel cancellations.

Terence Tan, Shangri-la Hotel's executive assistant manager on Villingili Island, said the association's forecast has yet to materialize.

"I cannot say there are absolutely no cancellations of visitor bookings at our hotel due to the turmoil, but the proportion of cancellations is no more than 1 percent," said Terence Tan, Shangri-la Hotel's executive assistant manager on Villingili Island.

If MATI's estimate is correct, "we must already have felt the impact", he said, explaining that a $100 million drop in tourism revenue would require a loss of thousands of visitors, which would be immediately felt since hotel capacities typically range from dozens of people to 300.

He added that Shangri-la Hotel's occupancy rate is very stable at 80 percent, which is equal to last year's figure.

Tan attributed the minimal effect on the tourism industry to the country's "one island, one resort" policy.

"Maybe they want to create social pressure on the government to stabilize the domestic situation as soon as possible."

Visitors unfazed

Foreign visitors typically have little contact with locals and holidaymakers whisk away from the main airport to resorts on outlying islands.

Zhou Xiaoyi, 25, a Chinese honeymooner from Daqing, Heilongjiang province, said he had reserved his honeymoon trip last month and considered canceling it. But his travel agency said that he and his wife would receive a refund of only 1,000 yuan ($159) each, whereas the two had paid a total of 40,000 yuan.

"The travel agency said most of our prepayment had been spent on reservations on flights and hotels," he said. "So we decided to come here anyway and found that our honeymoon was little influenced. We also saw other Chinese people here."

The resorts, which see mostly Western tourists and a steadily increasing number of Chinese visitors, are located on uninhabited islands.

French tourist Marc Pasquier came for vacation without hesitation. He said he wasn't scared since he had visited the country several times and was familiar with the area.

'Political trick'

A man from Male, who only gave his name as Zuba, said hundreds of Nasheed's supporters demonstrated in a square on Feb 20.

According to Zuba, some of them carried clubs and clashed with local supporters of the current president, resulting in several injuries until riot police force dispersed them with tear gas.

"The unrest was just a trick played by politicians. The size of hundreds of people is very large," he said, adding that nobody used guns in the demonstrations.

Zuba said former president Nasheed's plans to establish new resorts and sell alcohol on inhabited islands had generated great discontent in the Islamic state.

"As for me, I only hope the situation will calm down as soon as possible. I would be happy as long as I could dive and bask in the sun since it is my greatest pleasure in life," he said.

China Daily


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