Maldives opens arms to Chinese visitors

Saturday, 8 September 2012 11:02

Chinese food? Shopping? Gaming? It will no longer be difficult for travelers to find these popular Chinese pastimes when enjoying a holiday in the Maldives, the collection of idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean.

The island nation's resorts have traditionally been designed for European tourists, but the Maldives is now focusing on how to better cater to Chinese travelers. Maldivian President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, told China Daily in an exclusive interview that the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives is rising, and they have quickly become the biggest money spenders of all tourists to the Indian Ocean country.

"Most resorts in the Maldives were developed for European tourists ... With more Chinese tourists coming, I think we can also create resorts that are better suited to, and cater to the needs of Chinese travelers with more Chinese restaurants, with shopping, with gaming," Waheed said at the second China-Eurasia Expo. The expo started in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on Sunday.

China has become increasingly important to tourism in the Maldives.

China leapfrogged the United Kingdom in 2010 to become the No 1 source of arrivals for the country's pillar travel industry.

Official figures reveal that China made up 22.2 per cent of all arrivals to the island nation this year - up 14.5 per cent from last year.

In June, 17,809 arrivals from China were recorded, representing 30 per cent of the total market share and a 15.6 per cent growth compared to June last year.

As a result, Beijing established an embassy in the Maldives last year.

Now the Maldivian president has himself led his country's delegation to Xinjiang. Pictures and videos of beautiful scenery from the Maldives were shown in an attempt to attract people from Xinjiang autonomous region, which unlike the Maldives boasts mountains covered by snow, lakes and deserts.

Even though the potential visitors may never have been to the ocean and cannot swim or dive, this will not be an obstacle to enjoying their holiday, Waheed said.

"I think we have to have more supportive services, they can come to Maldives to learn to dive, learn to swim, and they will enjoy the Maldives better."

For the Maldives, China's status as the largest source of tourists can only partially illustrate its importance.

"China is a fast-developing nation and most products are being made there. Both small and big economies are trying to establish trade ties with China. Hence we should also follow suit," Waheed told local media on the eve of his China visit.

The Maldives Ministry of Economic Development's figures show that imports from China have more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, reaching US$68.9 million (S$86 million).

Waheed had a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao in Urumqi on Sunday. The two leaders later witnessed the signing ceremony of cooperation documents between the two sides, including the granting of Chinese loans for infrastructure and construction projects in the Maldives.

"This year marks the 40th anniversary of the bilateral relations between China and Maldives. So I always want to visit China to express the gratitude from the people of my country to the people of China, for the excellent cooperation between our two countries, and for the support and assistance China provides to Maldives," the president said.

"China is a big country, we are very small. But China has been very good to Maldives," he said.

"China has always treated us as an equal ... China believes in non-interference by other countries, China has always been very supportive of our country, in good times and bad times."

The Maldives has decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Beijing "in a big way", the president said.

Aside from various events, "we'll have a big party for the anniversary in Maldives".

China and the Maldives established diplomatic relations on Oct 14, 1972.


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