Mal­dives fights off travel alerts; tourists stay away

China, In­dia, US and Bri­tain is­sue travel warn­ings

Kuwait Times - - International -

MALE: Tourists have been can­celling hun­dreds of ho­tel book­ings in Mal­dives ev­ery day since the im­po­si­tion of a state of emer­gency last week, tour op­er­a­tors say, de­spite gov­ern­ment as­sur­ances things are nor­mal in the resort is­lands, far from the cap­i­tal. China, In­dia, the United States and Bri­tain is­sued travel warn­ings after Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen im­posed the emer­gency and ar­rested judges who had or­dered him to free jailed op­po­si­tion lead­ers. “We have had about 50-60 room can­cel­la­tions per day and the num­ber is con­sis­tent since it started. This is the same for all of our prop­er­ties in the coun­try,” said a spokesman for Par­adise Is­land Resort-Villa Group which runs the 282-room ho­tel, a 20minute ride by speed­boat from Male where the tur­moil is cen­tred.

Tourism ac­counts for a third of Mal­dives’ gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, mea­sured at $3.5 bil­lion in 2017. Rat­ings agency Moody’s has said it would lower its 2018 growth fore­cast of 4.5 per­cent if tourists are de­terred for a pro­longed pe­riod. Calls from Yameen’s op­po­nents for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion by In­dia, the lead­ing power in the re­gion, have added to the un­cer­tainty. The Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion of 400,000 peo­ple lies close to in­ter­na­tional ship­ping lines and has be­come an­other arena of con­test be­tween In­dia and China.

China, which has built close ties to the Yameen gov­ern­ment in its push for a net­work of friendly ports in the In­dian Ocean un­der its “Belt and Road” ini­tia­tive, has cau­tioned against for­eign in­ter­fer­ence. But that hasn’t stopped it from is­su­ing a travel warn­ing to its cit­i­zens, who make up a fifth of the tourist traf­fic. “We have a higher mar­ket for Chi­nese and In­dian trav­ellers and we are see­ing most of the can­cel­la­tions from these mar­kets,” said a tour op­er­a­tor in Male speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity for fear of up­set­ting the gov­ern­ment. Early es­ti­mates pointed to a 20 per­cent to 25 per­cent rise in can­cel­la­tions over the nor­mal pat­tern since the cri­sis be­gan, he said.

Tourism ac­counts for a third of Mal­dives’ GDP

Chi­nese New Year travel

The Chi­nese New Year be­gins on Thurs­day when mil­lions of Chi­nese travel at home and overseas dur­ing a week-long hol­i­day. The tour op­er­a­tor said the big worry is that trav­ellers will stop book­ings go­ing into March. Ctrip.Com In­ter­na­tional Ltd, China’s big­gest on­line travel agency, said it was co­or­di­nat­ing with ho­tels and air­lines and help­ing guests who wished to post­pone or can­cel trips to the Mal­dives be­fore Feb. 28. A spokes­woman de­clined to say how many can­cel­la­tions or post­pone­ments there had been. Shang­hai’s state-run Xin­min Evening News said last week about 3,000 peo­ple from Shang­hai had been ex­pected to visit the Mal­dives over the hol­i­day, and that in re­cent years more than 300,000 Chi­nese vis­ited the coun­try an­nu­ally.

Air­lines have not yet can­celled flights but car­ri­ers in­clud­ing Air In­dia, In­dia’s SpiceJet, China Eastern Air­lines and China South­ern Air­lines have al­lowed cus­tomers to can­cel or change their tick­ets at no cost dur­ing spe­cific dates dur­ing Fe­bru­ary. The Chi­nese air­lines also echoed Bei­jing’s warn­ings about vis­it­ing Mal­dives. Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said yes­ter­day China had sent se­cu­rity re­minders re­gard­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the Mal­dives. “Ac­cord­ing to my knowl­edge, rel­e­vant Chi­nese de­part­ments are ac­tively giv­ing guid­ance to Chi­nese cit­i­zens to pay high at­ten­tion to the se­cu­rity risks in trav­el­ling to the Mal­dives and ap­pro­pri­ately plan their itin­er­ar­ies.”

If Thai­land’s ex­pe­ri­ence is a guide, the dis­rup­tion could be short-lived. The bomb­ing of a Bud­dhist tem­ple in Bangkok in Au­gust 2015 caused a 17 per­cent drop in Chi­nese tourists to Thai­land in the weeks af­ter­ward. But they be­gan com­ing back again by Oc­to­ber of that year, the gov­ern­ment said, and Thai­land fin­ished the year with a record num­ber of Chi­nese ar­rivals. Some Chi­nese tourists have com­plained travel agents have been slow in re­fund­ing money al­ready spent on book­ing flights and ho­tels in the Mal­dives, or even re­fus­ing to of­fer re­funds al­to­gether. Dur­ing a state of emer­gency in 2015, eco­nomic growth slowed to 2.8 per­cent from 6.0 per­cent the pre­vi­ous year, dragged down by a sharp slow­down in tourist ar­rivals growth.

BODUHITHI IS­LAND: Photo shows the wooden en­trance lead­ing to the Coco Palm resort on Boduhithi Is­land in the Mal­dives.

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