Maldives sees Italy as first source market in post-coronavirus tourism plans

Italians are keen to visit the Maldives as soon as the travel restrictions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, Italian travel agents said Thursday.

These comments were made during an interactive webinar conducted by Easy Market Travel Solutions for their agents.

Easy Market Travel Solutions is one of the biggest online travel agents in Italy. Established in 1999, it is the first wholesale distributor of holiday packages for Italian travel agents.

About a hundred travel agents participated in the session on Maldives hosted by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), the official tourism promotion body of the Maldives.

During the session, which was conducted in Italian, the participating agents were briefed on the latest updates related to the Maldives tourism industry. Beauty and uniqueness of the destination were portrayed during the presentation.

The crucial message that the Maldives was getting ready to welcome back tourists was also conveyed during the webinar.

“Enormous interest for the destination Maldives was shown by the participants, a positive indication that Maldives continues to be a holiday destination much loved by the Italians,” a statement issued by MMPRC read.

“Online travel agent trainings are a part of the marketing tactics which are being implemented by MMPRC in key tourism markets across the globe. While the Covid-19 pandemic has put markets under lockdown, bringing a standstill to the tourism industry, MMPRC has gone for a complete re-strategising of the marketing activities greatly adapting to the digital platforms.”

Italy is the oldest and is one of the most important source markets to Maldives tourism.

“According to Easy Market Travel Solutions, it is expected to be one of the first markets to recover and commence flights once the situation eases,” MMPRC said.

Maldivian officials have been bullish on their ability to contain the coronavirus outbreak and reopen the country in the third quarter of the year.

The government has formulated five scenarios with possible timelines for reopening borders and the tourism sector.

The best case scenario sees the country reopen borders by May, but the most likely scenario projects a July date for reopening the borders and restarting tourism in October. In the worst case, borders may only open by January 2021.

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 648.

Two deaths have been reported and 20 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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