Maldives tourist arrivals may see 74 per cent drop in 2020, take two years to recover: study

Tourist arrivals to the Maldives may fall as much as 74 per cent this year, with arrival numbers from many major source markets taking at least two years to recover, a study presented to the country’s lawmakers showed Monday.

In its study that surveyed 64 tourist establishments across the country, The Maldives National University presented two scenarios for tourism recovery after the reopening of borders on July 15.

The best case scenario puts the number of arrivals at 98,169 in July, 103,513 in August, 87,378 in September, 105,437 in October, 102,461 in November and 127,293 in December, with arrivals totalling 1.007 million this year. It will still be a 41 per cent year-over-year decline.

In the worst case — and the most likely — scenario, Maldives is expected to welcome only 10,595 tourists in July, 11,172 in August, 9,430 in September, 11,379 in October, 11,058 in November and 13,738 in December. Arrivals will likely total 450,134 — a 74 per cent decline from a year ago.

The most optimistic predictions for next year show arrival numbers reaching 1.2 million, but the most likely scenario sees arrivals topping at just 641,921.

The study, commissioned by the parliament, looked at top seven pre-pandemic source markets: China, India, Italy, Germany, the UK and France. China and Britain may be the slowest markets to recover, the study said, citing the sudden and deeper shock to their economies.

But the study stressed that demand in almost all major source markets will likely see a sharp uptick after the border reopening, with a positive growth outlook for the coming two years.

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, only 382,760 tourists visited the Maldives before the country closed its borders on March 27. It was a 40.8 per cent decline over the 646,092 that visited the Maldives from January to March last year.

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 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 2,491.

Twelve deaths have been reported and 2,113 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 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 were also shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital were 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 was also ordered.

These measures allowed authorities to contain the outbreak.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the third phase measures now active.

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