China has re-established its position as the preeminent tourist source market for the Maldives, a development that underscores the evolving landscape of international travel in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and aligns with the strategic objectives of the government to make China the top source market for the year.

Before the global health crisis, China was the Maldives’ largest tourism market; however, the pandemic-induced cessation of international travel and border closures substantially altered tourism patterns. As the world gradually recovers, China has swiftly regained its leading position this year.

China secured 11.4 percent of the market share between 1 January and 4 February, with 25,303 Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives, according to the Ministry of Tourism. As of 4 February, the Maldives has welcomed 222,502 tourists, marking 13.4 percent growth compared to the same period in 2022.

Russia and Italy trail closely, each holding a 10.1 percent market share with 22,577 and 22,436 arrivals, respectively. The United Kingdom and India complete the top five source markets, with India ranking fifth.

India, which had been the main source market for the Maldives since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, contributed 209,198 tourists in 2023. However, this trend is undergoing a transformation, fuelled by diplomatic tensions and calls from some Indian influencers for a boycott of the Maldives.

The rise in Chinese arrivals aligns with the strategic initiatives of the Mohamed Muizzu administration, which has launched a comprehensive campaign to re-establish China as the Maldives’ largest source market. This includes a publicity push to propel China to the forefront of tourist arrivals.

Recent talks between Muizzu and President Xi Jinping of China have resulted in the resumption of charter flights between China and the Maldives, with the inaugural flights from Chinese destinations scheduled to start on 14 February. This initiative stems directly from an agreement signed during President Muizzu’s recent state visit to China.

In a testament to the resurgence of international travel after the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong Airlines has resumed direct flights to the Maldives. Three other Chinese airlines—Szechuan Air, China Eastern, and Beijing Capital Airlines—also operate flights to the Maldives. China’s Xiamen Airlines is set to commence flights to the Maldives in March, according to sources.

Taking steps further, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) unveiled a series of strategic tourism promotion activities designed to enhance the Maldives’ appeal as a premier tourism destination in the Chinese market. These include participation in the ITB China 2024 fair, a leading B2B-exclusive trade show catering to the Chinese travel market, scheduled for 27 to 29 May at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Centre, Shanghai.

Other countries making it to the top ten source market lists include Germany, France, the United States, Poland, and Switzerland, respectively, according to the tourism ministry. While the daily average tourist arrivals rose to 7,529 in February, compared to 6,206 in January, Minister of Tourism Ibrahim Faisal expects the Maldives to welcome 2.3 million tourists this year if current trends continue.