China Eastern Airlines, the second-largest airline in China, has recommenced flight operations between China and the Maldives. The inaugural flight from Kunming, the capital city and principal transportation hub of China’s southern Yunnan province, touched down at Velana International Airport (VIA) in Malé on Wednesday evening.

The resumption of this crucial route comes after a period of suspension due to stringent travel restrictions imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The return of these flights is seen as a significant step towards the normalisation of international travel and tourism.

A ceremonial event was held at VIA to commemorate the resumption of flights. Among the attendees were Ibrahim Faisal, the Minister of Tourism, and Wang Lixin, the Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives. Ambassador Wang expressed her delight at the resumption of the service, stating, “The recommencement of the flight from Kunming to Malé will further facilitate the people-to-people exchanges and tourism cooperation between China and [the] Maldives.”

China Eastern Airlines is a major contributor to the Maldivian tourism sector, bringing in a significant number of tourists from China. With the resumption of flights, the airline will operate daily services between the two destinations.

China has historically been the top source market for the Maldives tourism sector. Despite a temporary decline due to travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, China has reclaimed its position as the top source market this year, following the reopening of its borders and the resumption of outbound travel in late 2023.

Tourism ministry statistics reveal that as of 27 February, the Maldives has welcomed 52,995 Chinese visitors this year, accounting for 13.3 percent of the total tourist arrivals of 398,605.

As the Maldives sets its sights on attracting over two million tourists in 2024, Tourism Minister Faisal has stated that the ministry aims to increase tourist arrivals from China by 60 percent this year. Other Chinese airlines operating in the Maldives include Xiamen Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Szechuan Air, and Beijing Capital Airlines.