Tourist arrivals in Maldives rose to 12.3 percent -- more than projected in 2007 and its highest ever -- thanks to an improvement in the infrastructure of its tourist resorts, officials said on Wednesday.
The tourist arrivals reached 675,889 in 2007 compared with 601,860 in 2006, the island's Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation said in a statement.
"The increase was mainly because of the infrastructure improvement in the resorts," Abdulla Niam, deputy director of marketing at Maldives Tourism Promotion Board told Reuters.
"We opened some of the resorts last year, which closed after 2004 tsunami."
Tourists resorts in the Maldives were hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed over 200,000 in the region.
Although the islands' target last year was to achieve an 8.5 percent increase over 2006 tourists arrivals, the Maldives achieved saw a better-than-expected rise to 12.3 percent.
The Maldives Tourism Ministry said United Kingdom ranked top in 2007 with 125,158 tourist arrivals, followed by Italy with 117,246 tourists. Third highest was Germany with 72,269 tourists.
The average stay of a tourist has increased to 8.5 days for 2007 from 8.0 days in 2006, the ministry said.
Renowned for its luxury resorts -- accommodation in pavilions on stilts over turquoise lagoons can cost over $1,000 a night -- white sand beaches and world class snorkelling and scuba diving, tourism is the lynchpin of the Maldives' 850 million dollar economy.
Tourism revenues grew 10 percent in 2007, contributing $240 million or 28 percent of GDP. That compared to sector growth of 45 percent the previous year as arrivals recovered from the impact of the 2004 tsunami.
Tourist arrivals fell 36 percent to 395,300 in 2005 after the disaster, but recovered to 601,860 in 2006.
Spread over 1,200 tiny, mostly uninhabited islands 500 miles 800 km) off the toe of India, the country has little in the way of industry or agricultural production aside from fishing. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Ben Tan)