The tropical, Indian Ocean, archipelago nation of the Maldives has quickly become a major destination for Chinese tourists. Over the last few years, the number of Chinese tourists traveling to the Maldives has exploded. However, this year has also been tumultuous for the country, with a major political crisis and state of emergency declared by the increasingly dictatorial President Abdulla Yameen. The crisis grew so intense that Chinese authorities issued a travel advisory and urged Chinese citizens to avoid travel to the Maldives until the crisis died down. However, this ongoing crisis has apparently neither eliminated the interest in the Chinese market for travel to the Maldives, nor reduced China’s state commitment to the archipelago nation and tourism expansion. In fact, there are ongoing negotiations to finally secure a direct air route between the Maldives and China.
In 2009, 60,000 Chinese tourists arrived in the Maldives, but in 2015 the country had 360,000 Chinese tourist arrivals
In 2009, some 60,000 Chinese tourists traveled to the Maldives, by 2015 this figure had risen to around 360,000. A huge figure for a country with a population of just around 430,000 and an area of 115 square miles. These figures have leveled off and fell to 306,000 in 2017.
Nonetheless, China is still the Maldives largest tourism source market. In the first five months of the year, some 104,000 Chinese tourists traveled to the Maldives. While still representing a drop of 11 percent compared to the figure for the same period last year, it’s impressive given the political crisis and the travel advisory. In fact, the busiest months for Chinese tourism to the Maldives have yet to come, and the country could break even compared to last year.
While Chinese arrivals so far in 2018 are lower than 2017, Chinese tourism to the Maldives is quite strong considering the ongoing political crisis
Chinese involvement in Maldivian tourism goes beyond simple tourism arrivals. One Chinese company has already secured a 50-year lease on a currently uninhabited island of Feydhoo Finolhu for tourism. There are also major Chinese interests in various major infrastructure projects. The largest among them is an $830 million airport upgrade, which will include the building of a 1.3-mile bridge connecting the island the airport is located on to the island where the capital city of Malé is located.
Indeed, the healthy relationship between Chinese actors, including the Chinese state itself, and the administration of Yameen explains, in part, why Chinese tourism has remained relatively strong. Tourism has provided a strong incentive for certain Maldivian parties to further facilitate a shift away from their traditional allies in India and to their newer, and richer, Chinese partners.
Along with the geopolitical and economic aspects of the country’s relation with China, the continued success this year of the Maldives as a destination, despite the potentially explosive nature of the political crisis, is the form tourism takes in the country. The Maldives is a group of 26 atolls made of 1,190 islands. Many luxury hotels and resorts occupy their own island and tourists can travel to the country and be wholly separated from the local population, aside from those working at said resorts and hotels. While it doesn’t necessarily result in a particularly authentic or holistic tourism experience, these resorts are largely safe from political turbulence.
Moreover, authorities in Malé, the nation’s capital, are hopeful that direct flights to and from China can start up by the end of this year. It’s clear that the brand of the Maldives as a destination has remained strong this year in the Chinese market. Direct flights would only further cement the status of the country as a welcoming and easily accessible tropical getaway for Chinese travelers.