The Maldives welcomed the first direct Chinese arrivals since 2020.
China closed down its borders in 2020 following the global pandemic outbreak, grounding all of its outbound aviation operations. China reopened its borders for international travel this year after a three-year hiatus.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) held a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the arrival of Beijing Capital Airlines flight JD455, which arrived carrying 198 passengers from Beijing Daxing International Airport. This is the first direct flight from China since its borders reopened.
The arriving tourists were greeted with traditional Bodu-Beru, and special gift packs were presented to them as well. The celebratory event was attended by a high-level delegation that included ministers, ambassadors, and other senior officials from the governments of both Maldives and China.
Speaking about China’s resumption of its direct flights to the Maldives, MMPRC Managing Director and CEO Thoyyib Mohamed said, "We are extremely pleased to be welcoming flights from China to the Maldives again."
"China had been our key source market for some years prior to the onset of the pandemic, and we are looking forward to Chinese travellers topping our arrival charts again," he added.
In late December 2022, the Chinese ambassador to the Maldives, Wang Lixin, said the Maldives was one of the most popular archipelagic tourist destinations among Chinese travellers, adding that the border reopening would boost Chinese arrivals to the Maldives once more.
While the arrival count at the recommencement will not match the pre-pandemic levels, the arrival figures from the country will remain significantly large, she said.
Earlier in January 2023, Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) revealed three Chinese airlines were set to resume direct flights once more. They included Hong Kong Airlines, Chinese Eastern Airlines, and Beijing Capital.
While Hong Kong Airlines has acquired slots from January 1 to the end of March, Beijing Capital will operate four charter flights from January 18 to February 22.
China is one of the strongest markets in the Maldives consistently topping the arrival charts prior to 2020. In 2019, the Ministry of Tourism reported a total of 284,029 annual arrivals from China, which made up 16.7 percent of the total tourist arrivals that year.
While the Maldives achieved its goal of 1.6 million tourists in 2022, the country has set a new goal of 1.8 million tourists for 2023. The government predicts that the resumption of the Chinese market will boost the annual arrival figure. The Minister of Tourism Dr. Abdulla Mausoom earlier estimated a 10 percent increase in annual tourist arrivals when China reopens.