Maldives tourism industry upbeat despite rocky first quarter

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Tourism’s robust recovery continued in the first quarter of 2022 despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The impact of the war clouded an optimistic outlook after the Maldives lifted Covid-19 restrictions and allowed entry without a negative PCR test. Tourist arrivals from Russia – formerly the top market in 2022 with 44,055 holidaymakers as of 2 March – plummeted after its national airline Aeroflot suspended international flights. Ukraine was the seventh-largest market with 7,948 tourists as of March but dropped from the top ten.

A survey showed that more than 3000 room nights were cancelled as a result, according to the first quarter newsletter of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), a group representing resort operators. Russia, Ukraine and the CIS market accounted for between 20% to 40% of the clientele for the survey participants.  

“While we abolished our State of Public Health Emergency and the mask mandate and as the majority of the countries of the world were putting Covid-19 behind us, we were all blindsided to learn of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the ensuing crisis which is still ongoing,” observed MATI Secretary General Ahmed Nazeer. “Our strong hopes for the enhancement of the global economic and tourism recovery efforts were dealt a severe blow. Furthermore, countries such as ours, deeply vulnerable to external socio-economic and geo-political shocks, faced the prospect of another devastating period ahead.”

But the worst fears were assuaged as arrivals reached 431,250 in the first three months of 2022, up 44.4% from Q1 2021. The average occupancy rate rose to 68% from 60% last year. Reflecting the strong performance of the industry, the tax authority collected US$153.8 million as goods and service tax from the tourism sector, an increase of 58.9% compared to the same period last year.

“I am also relieved to learn that Aeroflot will be resuming flights to Maldives in May of 2022 and I hope and pray that we see an end to the Russia-Ukraine crisis soon,” said Nazeer.

MATI’s key activities during the first quarter included multiple meetings with the Ministry of Tourism and their team of researchers to provide feedback and input for the formulation of the 5th Tourism Master Plan. Following discussions with the tourism and environment ministries, the authorities extended a grace period to ban resorts dumping food or biodegradable waste into the ocean, “but we hope that they will facilitate industry wide alternative solutions before they proceed with implementation and we will be following up with them in this regard,” Nazeer added.