(MENAFN - NewsIn.Asia) Colombo, April 1 (newsin.asia): The Maldivian airports operator has called the German Ambassador's bluff about a purported decision by major European airlines to cancel flights to the Maldives to punish the Abdulla Yameen government for alleged transgressions of democratic norms.
The Colombo-based German envoy for the Maldives, Joern Rohde, tweeted on Friday: "We hear big airline carriers from Europe will suspend their Maldives flights for the summer season."
The reason for this is that, despite the apparent lifting of the State of Emergency by Yameen, "democratic rights remain curtailed as MPs remain jailed on politically motivated prosecutions. The economy and thus the people suffer since tourists continue to stay away," Rohde added.
Cautioning the Yameen government, Rohde said: 'Solution: Only a return to democracy will bring back stability and the positive image of the wonderful Maldives now tarnished by the ongoing undermining of democratic rights."
In response, the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) said that contrary to the negative reports, Air France has actually planned to increase flights to the Maldives.
"Earlier Air France was scheduled to operate until end of March. But now they've extended it until end of April," the official told AVAS news agency.
"Summer season in Europe would normally lead to major airlines cutting back on flights or in some cases even suspending them for the season because there would be less tourists travelling on holiday. That's normal and we've seen this every year during the summer season," the MACL official explained.
Despite the stark travel advisories, the German envoy's contention, official tourism statistics show that the Maldives began 2018 with a 13.6% increase in arrivals in January with 54% of them from Europe as compared to January 2017.
Europe, the largest regional source market, posted an overall growth of 19.6 percent over January 2017, as arrivals increased to 76,603 from 64,030.
Almost all the important European markets such as the UK (up 9.4 percent), Germany (up 6.7 percent), France (up 30.1 percent) and Italy (up 18.6 percent) made strong gains last month.
Arrivals from China decreased by 15.8 percent to reach 25,830 last month compared to the 30,669 in January 2017.
German envoy Jorn Rohde meeting Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen'
Major contributors to Maldives tourism from South East Asia posted strong performances in January, with arrivals from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines increasing by 15 percent, 223.6 percent and 24.3 percent respectively.
Arrivals from South Asia, which has become one of the fastest growing source markets, increased by 33.8 percent in January. This was largely due to a strong growth of 40.3 percent posted by the Indian market.
Arrivals from the US, which has recently secured a place amongst the top 10 contributors to the Maldives tourism industry, increased by 12.3 percent to reach 3,930 last month compared to the 3,499 in January 2017, while the number of visitors from Australia also increased by 42.5 percent.
Target 1.5 million Per Year
The government has set an ambitious target of attracting 1.5 million tourists by the end of 2018.
Over the past five years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to 120.
That number is set to increase as the government has announced the opening of some 20 new resorts over the next two years.
Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for.
The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 450 guesthouses in operation today.
(The featured image at the top shows a new Air France flight being welcomed in the Maldives)
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