Abu Dhabi: Maldives Tourism said it was hoping to double visitor numbers from the Middle East, with a focus on GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) travellers as the country works to its goal of attracting a total of 1.5 million guests by 2016.

Ebrahim Asim, director of Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, said that the country was looking to attract more visitors from emerging markets such as the GCC, South America, and Eastern Europe after seeing a dip in Western European travellers on the back of a depreciating euro.

Europe has long been Maldives’ biggest source market, though the fall in euro has seen a shift in trends, making China the country’s biggest guest market recently.

“The reason we’re focusing on the Middle East is that it has been a very steady market for the Maldives. Although we’ve seen a downfall from Europe, the Middle East continued to grow, so it’s an important market for us,” Asim said.

In an interview with Gulf News, he said that Maldives is currently developing various three- and four-star hotels in order to attract a wider range of visitors who may be looking for more affordable accommodation.

“Maldives is perceived as a very expensive destination. These changes will help more economic travellers to visit. That doesn’t mean that the resort concept will fade off; Maldives will remain a premium destination that also has affordable packages,” Asim said.

He added that the country is creating an events calendar that will celebrate different festivals such as Eid, and launch new events to attract visitors.

Asim was speaking on the sidelines of a road show organised by Maldives Tourism to showcase the country’s destinations to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Qatar.

In the first half of this year, the GCC market accounted for 2.9 per cent (an equivalent of 5,576 people) of total tourist arrivals in Maldives, with Saudi Arabia topping the list in terms of visitors. The figures are an increase of 14.7 per cent, however, compared to same period in 2014.

In 2014, a total of 12,405 guests from Saudi Arabia visited Maldives, while UAE visitors reached 7,007 guests. The Tourism Board is set to launch a roadshow in Saudi Arabia by early next year.