COLOMBO (AFP) : Visit the Maldives and there’s a high chance the fellow holidaymakers at your island retreat will be from China, according to new figures that show the Asian giant as the biggest source of visitors.
The Maldives, a string of low-lying islands fringed by azure waters and white sand in the Indian Ocean, has long been popular as a luxury honeymoon destination for Europeans -- but times are changing.
“China has emerged as the biggest source of tourists for the Maldives, displacing our traditional markets of Italy, the UK and Germany,” Simon Hawkins, an official from the Maldives Tourism authority, told AFP.
The Maldives welcomed 65,148 Chinese tourists for the five months to May this year, which is a 56.7 percent gain over the same period of 2010, according to figures given by Hawkins.
A total of 392,000 visitors were recorded in the same period, including 47,000 Italians, 39,000 Germans and 47,000 British tourists.
Hawkins said that hotel owners were having to adapt to the different tastes of its new visitors from East Asia.
“The Chinese don’t want the beach like the Europeans.
They want activities, like visiting other islands, swimming classes, karaoke, discos, during the average five days they spend in the Maldives,” he said.
Neighbouring Sri Lanka, which is recovering from decades of ethnic conflict, has also seen a surge in visits from Chinese holidaymakers.
It greeted 8,613 Chinese from January to June this year -- a rise of 83.8 percent compared with 2010, tourist board figures showed.
The Maldives is aiming to greet some 850,000 foreign tourists this year, from 800,000 in 2010, and tips 2012 as the year when the figure will cross one million.
Sri Lanka hopes to attract a record 780,000 visitors in 2011 from a record high of 654,476 last year.