Maldives hosts expert-led webinar on post-coronavirus tourism recovery

Tourism promotion officials in Maldives joined international experts and marketing professionals from the industry Monday to explore ways to restart the island nation’s tourism industry after the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 300 marketing professionals from the Maldives tourism industry attended the “React, Rethink, Recover: Solutions to the Covid-19 crisis for Maldives tourism industry” webinar, hosted by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) in association with Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and TripAdvisor.

“The disruption it has caused to all of us in all aspects of life as we know it is incomparable. No industry has been hit as hard as the global travel industry which has come to an absolute standstill,” Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director of MMPRC, said in his opening remarks.

Leading the 90-minute session, Damian Cook, the CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers, gave valuable insights on practical strategies that could be implemented during the crisis and how destinations could navigate through the pandemic.

Cook, who has managed global tourism crises during the previous SARS and Ebola outbreaks, highlighted the three phases crisis management: reacting to the situation, rethinking the existing strategies, and implementing the recovery process.

“Businesses and travellers themselves are going to make choices on where they are going to travel. They will prioritise destinations that have a plan in place and those that have clearly showed a clear path to recovery,” Cook said.

In addition to Mohamed and Cook, the panel featured Dr Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA; Sarah Mathews, Head of Destination Marketing at TripAdvisor; and Leon Chan, Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific at TripAdvisor.

They shared examples on how they have reacted in terms of adapting their strategies and marketing activities to the current crisis.

“If your stories are not online at this particular point, you might miss out on a lot going down the line,” Mathews said, highlighting the importance of digital marketing at this time.

Following the panel discussion, Paul Pruangkarn, Communications and External Affairs Director at PATA, facilitated a Q&A session, where participants were given the opportunity to ask questions to the key speakers.

MMPRC says it has changed and adapted its destination marketing strategies in order to increase the presence of Maldives on digital platforms.

The coronavirus 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. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March 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.

With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, 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 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 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.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 226.

No deaths have been reported and 17 have made full recoveries.

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 stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, 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.

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