Tourism Indicators: The changing traveller behaviour

The Maldives tourism industry performance is favourable for the first half of the year 2017. Arrivals totalled at 657,540 tourists at the end of June with a growth of 6.1% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The rest of the key demand-side indicators also reflected positive growth, while notably the average duration of stay slightly increased by 2.6% after showing a continuous downward trend in the recent years.

The major source markets

As the European economies have been picking up and the number of tourists from the region increasing, the lost market share from the region appears to be slowly regaining. Also, with the recent decline in incoming tourists from China, the overall market share from Asia and the Pacific region reduced.As the global tourism industry has been continuously and new trends emerge, many of these travel trends are reflected in the Maldivian tourism industry as well. The Maldives Visitor Survey undertaken by the Ministry of Tourism in February 2017 provides a comprehensive observation of the traveller behaviour; especially on all the stages, a typical visitor to the Maldives goes through the entire decision journey to have a vacation in the Maldives.Looking at the demographic profile of the international visitors, according to the survey majority of the respondents falls under the age range of 24-35, supporting one of the recent mega travel industry trends of millennials.

Further, the survey also revealed that Asian tourist tends to be younger than their European counterparts. It implies that the Asian millennial with the rising income is a key demographic age group in the travel market. Also, most tourists from Saudi Arabia and Russia are also younger.

The survey covered various steps within the consumer decision process made by the international visitors to the Maldives. Exploring into these insights, the most influencing factors that triggered the visitors to travel to Maldives include the beach, underwater beauty and weather.Other key factors that motivated the visitors’ decision include peacefulness, uniqueness, small islands, the reputation of Maldives and privacy, etc. Rest and relaxation was the prime purpose of visiting the Maldives among the majority of the tourists, while Maldives also continues to be a highly preferred honeymoon destination.Analyzing the behaviour of the visitors in the information gathering stage, key differences were identified among visitors from different nationalities. With the emergence of the digital era, the internet is the most prominent source for information search at the pre-purchase stage among tourists.

Yet, the travel industry being heavily service intensive, word-of-mouth is still a strong tool used by visitors to seek information about destinations.  The usage of the internet was high among nationalities of Saudi Arabia, India, Russia, Japan, America, Swiss and China compared to other European nations, while the usage of word of mouth was highest for Americans followed by Chinese. Reliance on travel agents was highest for Japanese while travel agents and other conventional media source seem popular among Europeans compared to other Asian nations.

Likewise, similar behaviour was identified at the purchase stage where the visitors actually book their holidays. Most visitors from Asian nationalities, Russia and emerging markets such as Saudi Arabians and Americans used the internet for bookings, while most of their European counterparts opt for a visit to a travel agent. These trends correlate to the fact that countries with more millennial visitors tend to use internet for information prior to travel.

Furthermore, booking.com is the most popular online travel agency (OTA) website used by inbound international visitors to Maldives. However, the preference of OTAs differs for visitors from different nationalities. Ctrip is the most commonly used OTA by Chinese, Agoda and Expedia are popular among Americans and Japanese and Holiday Check are most favoured by Germans and the Swiss.

It was also revealed that majority of the visitors book their flights to Maldives via travel agents. And, most of the tourist book their holidays in the Maldives 1 to 2 months or 3 to 4 months ahead. Some differences were identified on the booking period by visitors from various nationalities. Most tourists from the Asian region, America and Russia have shorter booking periods while the European visitors tend to plan and book their holidays way ahead.

Moving to the preferred accommodation facilities by visitors, the survey indicated that about 75% of the visitors stayed at tourist resorts, while approximately 22% chose city hotels or guest houses, and only 3% stayed at safari vessels.Furthermore, 36% of the visitors opted for all-inclusive meal plans, while 22% on full board, 22% half board, 18% bed and breakfast and just 2% preferred room only. Also, all-inclusive meal option is more favoured by European visitors than Asians. And, about 86% of the visitors travelled to Maldives with either their partner or family. The average duration of stay by the majority of the visitors is between 4 to 7 nights according to the survey, while the average duration of stay for the first half of the year 2017 was 6.3 nights.The survey also highlighted that approximately 73% of the visitors spent between US$1000 to US$10,000 on their vacation in the Maldives.

Among the various tourist activities in the Maldives, snorkelling was the highest ranked activity by tourists. Other activities such as sight-seeing, diving, dolphin watching, spa and surfing, etc., are also highly favoured by tourists. And, shopping was the least liked activity among tourist visiting Maldives.

 

The Visitor Psychographics

Finally, at the post-purchase tourist behaviour, the overall visitor experience in the Maldives stands to be very good. As one-third of the tourists also visited a similar destination, the beaches and underwater beauty are considered to be highest in the Maldives compared to other similar destinations.And, regardless of the nationality, on average, more than 90 percent of the visitors stated that their vacation expectations were met and also they intend to visit Maldives again. Nonetheless, the number of repeat visitors appears to have a reducing trend, and most of the repeat visitors are from Europe. Moreover, about 98 percent of the visitors said that they would recommend Maldives to others indicating positive word of mouth.The findings of the survey provide highlights to major trends and insights about the behaviour of the international visitors. The demographic profile of the survey respondents revealed that young millennial tourists are on the rise to the Maldives similar to the trend in the global travel industry. And, most of these millennial tourists visiting Maldives belongs to the Asian region, Russia, and other emerging nations such as America and Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, these young tourists tend to rely more heavily on internet and technology for information search as well as travel bookings indicating that they are more tech savvy. Also, tourists from these nations seem to have a shorter span of time for holiday planning, unlike traditional European travellers. Yet, despite the differences, significantly a very large number of visitors are satisfied with their vacation in the Maldives.

The survey findings regarding international tourists visiting Maldives as reviewed above will be beneficial to the tourism industry. Hoteliers, policymakers and other industry participants should craft policies and strategies based on these changing tourist demographics and behaviours to seize the opportunities in the market.