Maldives tourism hit by other countries' travel alerts

MALE • Tourists have been cancelling hundreds of hotel bookings in the 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 20-minute ride by speedboat from Male, where the turmoil is centred.

Tourism accounts for a third of the Maldives' gross domestic product, measured at US$3.5 billion (S$4.6 billion) in 2017.

Ratings agency Moody's has said it would lower its 2018 growth forecast of 4.5 per cent if tourists are deterred for a prolonged period.

Calls from Mr 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 has not 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.

The Chinese New Year begins tomorrow, 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.

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.

During a state of emergency in 2015, economic growth slowed to 2.8 per cent from 6 per cent the previous year, dragged down by a sharp slowdown in tourist arrivals growth.

Almost 1.4 million tourists from across the world visited the Maldives last year, according to government statistics.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Maldives tourism hit by other countries' travel alerts'. Print Edition | Subscribe