Maldives calls for joint global action on coronavirus, find ‘safest tomorrow’ to travel
Countries around the world should work together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and prioritise the need to find ways to safely ease travel restrictions, Maldives tourism minister Ali Waheed told a crisis committee of global tourism officials.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has convened a Global Tourism Crisis Committee, formed as the world tourism body prepares to launch a global guide for recovery.
Waheed, who also chairs the UNWTO Commission for South Asia, told the first crisis committee meeting on Thursday that finding safe ways to start traveling and safe markets to start with must be on top of the agenda.
“The world cannot be locked down for months. What we need to do is to find the safest tomorrow to travel,” he said.
The minister urged tourism officials to work together to tackle the shared challenge.
The UNWTO-led crisis committee is tasked with holding regular virtual meetings, reflecting the need for coordinated and efficient action by the private and public sectors, governments, international financing institutions, and the United Nations.
The UN’s key tourism related agencies will all be participating, along with WHO and the main representatives of the airline and maritime transportation sectors, as well as the private sector.
UNWTO members are a critical part of this committee, represented through the regional chairs and the chair of the Executive Council.
The UNWTO’s initiative comes as a leading industry warned that up to 75 million jobs are at immediate risk in global travel and tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The alarming figure, based on research from World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), shows a punishing travel and tourism GDP loss to the world economy of up to $2.1 trillion in 2020.
Travel and tourism contributes to 10.4 per cent of Global GDP, is directly responsible for generating one in 10 of the world’s jobs, and for eight successive years, has outpaced the growth of the global economy.
Maldives on Wednesday announced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before Wednesday’s announcement, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.
All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.
Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Twelve more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except one Maldivian who had returned from the United Kingdom — were later identified.
However, nine out of the 14 have made full recoveries, whilst the rest are being treated at designated quarantine facilities.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including a ban on inter-island travel of tourists, including for excursions and between resort islands.
A nationwide shut down of all guesthouses and city hotels has also been ordered. Spa facilities located on inhabited islands have also been closed.
The Covid-19 outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of this month. With arrival numbers falling, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 5.6 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $446 million hit.
The government has launched an emergency MVR 2.5 billion ($161.84 million) facility and a package of financial measures to shore up the local economy against the coronavirus pandemic.
The MVR 2.5 billion stimulus plan includes MVR 1.55 billion ($100 million) in emergency loans for businesses to meet short-term working capital needs.
The emergency facility is complemented by a package of financial measures, including a six-month moratorium on principal and interest repayments for personal and business loans sanctioned by commercial banks.
Meanwhile, Bank of Maldives (BML) has announced a $2 million short-term financing facility for the tourism industry.
The facility by the country’s largest bank allows operational resorts and guesthouses finance up to $2 million to manage their working capital requirements, with a repayment period of three years.