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20 Feb, 2006

Impact of Tsunami on 2005 Arrivals to Maldives, Sri Lanka

Visitor arrivals to the tourism-dependent Maldives slumped by a massive 35.9% in 2005 but Sri Lanka, the other island-nation devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, appears to have been less affected, just released arrival figures show.

According to the first set of full-year 2005 visitor statistics provided by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), arrivals to the Maldives fell from 616,716 in 2004 to 395,320 in 2005 in the aftermath of the tsunami, while arrivals to Sri Lanka fell 3% from 566,202 to 549,308 in the same period.

The figures show more precisely the extent of the downturn caused by the December 2004 catastrophe, and also offer some pointers on the future directions of the island nations’ tourism industry.

The Maldives was worst hit because its economy is almost totally dependent on tourism which in turn is dependent 77% on visitors from Europe.

The impact on Sri Lanka was less because its visa waiver policy for the neighbouring Indian market allowed it to mount rapid-fire recovery campaigns targeted at India which produced significant results in the first quarter of 2005.

Mr John Koldowski, Managing Director of the Strategic Intelligence Centre, Pacific Asia Travel Association, noted that the figures clearly pointed to the need for destinations to better diversify their market sources as well as to seek ways to facilitate visitors from India.

Although arrivals to both countries had recovered strongly towards the latter part of 2005, it was not enough to offset the sharp drops in the first half.

Although Europe remains a significant source of visitor arrivals for the Asia-Pacific region, a number of countries are reviewing their marketing profile there because of the slumps caused by natural disasters like the tsunami, the issuance of the controversial travel advisories as well as the growth prospects emerging from India and china.

A more in-depth analysis of the arrival figures for Maldives and Sri Lanka shows the following (although it needs to be kept in mind that a lot of the “visitor arrivals” were post-tsunami relief and recovery teams and executives of companies visiting to survey their damaged properties):

MALDIVES: Visitors from all the European countries fell dramatically in 2005.

However, after the destruction of several island resorts triggered a massive initial slump, the Maldives had made a strong recovery as the year progressed.

Thanks to rapid recovery campaigns, the UK market rose from 4,470 in January 2005 to 8,080 in December 2005 and other markets like Italy were up from 3,039 to 10,201 and France, up from 870 to 4,010 over the same period.

But other markets are also showing promise, e.g., China, up from 146 in Jan 2005 to 1,370 in December 2005.

The Maldives has long been conscious of its over-dependence on the European market but is hampered from doing much about it due to the shortages of direct flights from other destinations.

According to the Maldives tourist office in India, a conscious effort is now being made to woo more Indians, similar to the efforts being mounted by Mauritius.

Indian arrivals to the Maldives totalled 10,260 in 2005, a marginal decline of 6.7% over 10,999 in 2004. A target of 12,000 has been set for 2006.

The only direct air link is an Indian (formerly known as Indian Airlines) service from the south Indian port city of Trivandrum to Male, capital of the Maldives, but talks have been initiated with private carriers like Jet Airways to open direct flights from key metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi.

Thai visitors to the Maldives fell 66.1% from to 3,289 in 2004 to 1,114 in 2005. Bangkok Airways had initiated plans for a Bangkok-Male service but dropped them after the tsunami.

SRI LANKA: India last year edged out the UK as Sri Lanka’s top visitor source market. Indian arrivals rose 7.8% from 105,151 in 2004 to 113,323 in 2005, while arrivals from UK fell 13.1% from 106,645 to 92,629 in the same period.

The Indian surge was because Sri Lankan tourism authorities mounted a vigorous bounce-back campaign in the first quarter of 2005 to take advantage of the visa-waiver policy.

Sri Lanka gets half of its arrivals from Europe, much less than the Maldives. Total arrivals from Germany fell 20.4% to 46,350 and arrivals from France were down 11.1% to 26,653.

As a result, the market share of European visitors to Sri Lanka fell from 50% in 2004 to 41% in 2005, while India’s share rose from 18% to 20%.

Arrivals from Thailand to Sri Lanka rose 7.7% from 5,035 in 2004 to 5,424 in 2005. Both Singapore and Malaysia generate more than twice as many visitors for Sri Lanka than Thailand, although that is in part attributable to the ethnic communities in both countries.

More final arrival figures for 2005 from other tsunami-hit countries like Indonesia and Thailand are expected to be released in the next few weeks.

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