by Jamila, Yang Meiju
MALE, May 8 (Xinhua) -- In a bid to further strengthen its tourism market, the Maldives is aiming to attract at least 1 million Chinese tourists per year in the coming five years through the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer has said.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, Zameer said the close cooperation between China and the Maldives had been further strengthened because of the Belt and Road Initiative and through this initiative they now expect more Chinese investors and tourists.
Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (also known as One Belt One Road initiative) refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of Silk Road.
Because of the initiative, there are many Chinese businesses coming in, mainly into tourism, Zameer said.
"And because of the One Belt One Road, Maldivian investors are also aware the best option is to buy products and materials from China," he added.
Commending the Belt and Road Initiative, Zameer said that it would strengthen the Maldives' economy.
The Maldives has invited more Chinese airlines to land in the island country as China has been one of its strongest markets with the most number of tourist arrivals, and the government now wants to expand the market further.
Zameer explained that his government was planning to send a team to China, which will consist of civil and island aviation authorities to discuss increasing the number of flights between the two countries and that they were hopeful of getting it underway soon.
"China has been a very important market for the Maldives although we have had some ups and downs in tourism arrivals. But overall we are gaining ground and we have planned a lot of new activities for the Chinese market," Zameer said.
The Maldives attracted its highest number of Chinese tourists during the Chinese Lunar New Year and Zameer said they were hoping the figures would only increase.
While last year recorded a drop in Chinese tourists to the island country, the Maldives is now planning on launching a more aggressive tourism campaigning across many cities in China so that the numbers would rise.
Tourism has been the No.1 foreign exchange earner in the Maldives with many visiting the honeymoon islands for romantic getaways.
Zameer said that while China had once again recorded the highest number of outbound tourists in 2016 with 100 million travelers, the Maldives hoped to increase the number to 1 million Chinese tourists per year from the existing 400,000.
He explained one of the reasons it could not expand its tourism industry currently was due to the congestion at its main international airport. However, due to loans and infrastructural assistance from China, the construction of a new runway is now underway at the Velana International Airport which will be completed by mid-2018.
The Maldives aims to cater to more than 7 million passengers by 2018 with its new runway.