China back among top five tourist markets

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China has overtaken Germany to become the fourth largest source market for tourists to the Maldives, nearly five months since Chinese tourists started returning after a nearly three-year hiatus.

The Maldives welcomed 74,348 Chinese tourists as of 12 July, representing a market share of 7.6%.

India remained the top market with 115,837 tourists, followed by Russia (115,334), the United Kingdom (83,942) and Germany (68,484).

A total of 984,635 holidaymakers visited by 12 July, up 13.6% from the same period last year, putting the Maldives on course to achieving the arrivals target of 1.8 million tourists for 2023.

China was the single largest source market before the pandemic with 284,029 visitors 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. 

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. 

“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). 

Two Chinese carriers, Capital Airlines and China Eastern, currently operate direct flights to Malé’s Velana International Airport. The main obstacle to attracting more Chinese tourists was the lack of direct flights to the Maldives, Tourism Minister Dr Abdulla Mausoom told local media in May. 

“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.

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.

Last week, the Chinese embassy advised tourists from the country to exercise caution in the water.