It was supposed to be the idyllic resort destination, welcoming an influx of visitors particularly during the Lunar New Year period, but tourists are cancelling their plans to the Maldives in droves as the latest political upheaval drags on in the Indian Ocean nation.
The tourism sector is now struggling with hundreds of cancellations with more expected to come as the 15-day state of emergency imposed by the government on February 5 is today extended for a further 15 days.
Visitor travel to the outlying resort islands on the Maldives was typically unaffected in the past as the occasional bouts of political unrest were largely confined to the capital. However, the crisis this time was exacerbated by travel warnings issued by China, the UK, Germany, the US, the UAE and Canada, among others, while insurance companies have also shown reluctance to provide travel insurance.
In a Twitter post, Yoosuf Riﬀath, CEO of Capital Travel & Tours and president of the Association of Travel Agents (ATS) said the Chinese New Year, which normally sees an influx of Chinese tourists into the country, saw a plunge of 65 per cent this year.
Riffath also reported that a Madrid charter operator, which was not named, had cancelled their summer charter flights, which would amount to a loss of around 750 arrivals per week for about six months according to estimates.
Resort managers and trade members, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the authorities, reported mounting cancellations. “In one resort, the number of 10-20 daily inquiries has dropped to less than half,” said one source.
Trade sources said that the immediate loss to the industry would be US$20 million or more, as several luxury resorts continue to receive cancellations. “It’s not only the Chinese, but others too are cancelling trips,” another source said.
Gaisar Naseem, general manager at Villa Hotels and Resorts, which operates five resorts in the country, warned that the situation could destroy the tourism industry, a major revenue contributor to the Maldivian economy.
“The whole industry needs to do something about this. This is our livelihood. We’re not politicians. But the whole world knows what’s happening in the Maldives. We need to sort these things out if we expect tourists to come here,” Gaisar was quoted as saying in local media.
Industry officials said around 100 Maldivian companies attending the ITB Berlin next month would face difficult questions about the state of tourism in the country. Neighbouring Sri Lanka, meanwhile, is hoping to woo tourists who have cancelled plans to the Maldives.