Smiles will return to all Maldivians, pioneer Afeef says in solidarity call for tourism recovery
Global and local tourism will come out of the slump caused by the coronavirus pandemic but only if all stakeholders pulled together as an industry, a pioneer of tourism in Maldives said Monday.
Hussain ‘Champa’ Afeef, who was involved in building the Maldives first resort 47 years ago and whose companies own several resorts in the archipelago, said the Maldives had gone through many crises in the past but had always come out stronger.
“We are dependant on tourism. Construction, transportation, communication — everything is linked to tourism,” he said, during a Facebook live event hosted by the country’s official tourism promotion body.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic being “nothing like what we have seen before”, the Maldives will pull through it too, Afeef said. He stressed that it could only be achieved by working together as a destination.
“Covid-19 will shape and write the untold story of the world,” he said.
“I have no doubt the sun will shine again soon and smiles will return to all Maldivians.”
The Maldives is preparing to reopen its borders to visitors in July.
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.
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.
Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.
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.
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 1,916
Eight deaths have been reported and 925 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.