Coronavirus could cut intl tourist arrivals by 20-30 per cent in 2020, says UNWTO
The number of international tourist arrivals is expected to drop sharply this year, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said, reversing a previous forecast of a substantial increase.
In a revised assessment, the UN body said international tourist arrivals could see a year-over-year drop of 20 to 30 per cent in 2020.
This slump in travel could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts of between $300-450 billion, almost one third of the $1.5 trillion generated in 2019.
This would mean that between five and seven years’ worth of growth will be lost to Covid-19.
In 2009, on the back of the global economic crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by four per cent, whilst the SARS outbreak led to a decline of just 0.4 per cent in 2003.
“Tourism is among the hardest hit of all economic sectors. However, tourism is also united in helping to address this immense health emergency – our first and utmost priority – while working together to mitigate the impact of the crisis, particularly on employment, and to support the wider recovery efforts through providing jobs and driving economic welfare worldwide,” UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili was quoted in a statement, as saying.
Pololikashvili added that, while it is too early to make a full assessment of the likely impact of Covid-19 on tourism, it is clear that millions of jobs within the sector are at risk of being lost.
Around 80 per cent of all tourism businesses are small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the sector has been leading the way in providing employment and other opportunities for women, youth and rural communities.
However, UNWTO underlines tourism’s historic resilience and capacity to create jobs after crisis situations.
UNWTO has been working closely with the wider UN system, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) to guide the sector, issuing key recommendations for high-level leaders and individual tourists.
A week ago, it established a global tourism crisis committee, bringing together key UN agencies, the chairs of its executive council and regional commissions, and private sector leaders.
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 March. 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.
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.
Sixteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except three Maldivians who had returned from the United Kingdom — were later identified.
However, 13 out of the 16 have made full recoveries. The remaining three patients are being treated at designated quarantine facilities, whilst the other two had been repatriated to their home country of Italy.
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 partial curfew in capital Male and its suburbs, and a nationwide closing of schools, colleges and universities. Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.
The Maldives on Friday enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before the visa suspension, 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.