Chinese tourist arrivals on upward trajectory

3 mins read
Tourism minister and Chinese ambassador welcomes first batch of tourists in January.

China has moved up to the seventh largest source market for tourists to the Maldives, just over three months since Chinese tourists started returning after a nearly three-year hiatus.

The Maldives welcomed 22,700 Chinese tourists as of 26 April, representing a market share of 4.2%.

Two Chinese carriers, Capital Airlines and China Eastern, currently operate direct flights to Malé’s Velana International Airport. “Additional airlines are expected to resume direct flights between China and Maldives in the coming months,” according to the tourism ministry.

China was the single largest source market before the pandemic with 284,029 holidaymakers in 2019, representing a 17% market share. The first direct flight from China since early 2020 arrived on 18 January 2023, shortly after the country ended Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“I believe that Maldives will be one of the most favoured destinations for Chinese tourists for the coming 5-day May Day holiday,” Chinese Ambassador Wang Lixin predicted in April, citing a media report about a boom in Chinese outbound tourism during the holiday (29 April to 3 May).

According to Chinese online travel agency Group, bookings for May Day holidays have overtaken pre-pandemic levels. The Maldives was among the most popular destinations along with Thailand and New Zealand.

The main obstacle to attracting Chinese tourists was the lack of direct flights to the Maldives, Tourism Minister Dr Abdulla Mausoom told local media last week.

“Talks are underway for three connections, including Batik Air which is expected to begin flying from Malaysia in June,” he said. Jet Star will launch flights in November and the authorities hope that Korean Air would also resume flights, he added. The tourism minister expressed confidence in achieving the target of 100,000 Chinese tourists for 2023.

The warm welcome accorded to the first group of Chinese tourists in January received widespread coverage in Chinese media. A week later, China was back among the top 10 source markets as direct flights resumed from Beijing and Shanghai.

According to the Chinese embassy in Malé, Chinese travel agencies and online travel operators were authorised to resume “pilot outbound group tours for Chinese citizens” with effect on 6 February. The Maldives was among the first group of countries cleared for group tours by the Chinese government.

A Sino-Maldives mutual visa-waiver arrangement also came into force last February. On the day that it took effect, searches related to vacationing in the Maldives doubled on major Chinese travel platforms. The visa exemption agreement signed last year grants Chinese citizens a free 30-day on-arrival visa for holidays, business purposes, family visits or transits.