Global tourism industry lost $320 bn to pandemic, UN body says

The coronavirus pandemic cost $320 billion to the global tourism industry in lost revenue between January and May, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In a report, the organisation said this loss was three times greater than that of the global financial crisis of 2009.

Tourist numbers also fell by 300 million during the period — a 56 per cent drop from the same time last year — as lockdown measures brought a stop to international travel.

“This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so,” UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

“The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk, including in developing countries. Governments in every world region have a dual responsibility: to prioritise public health while also protecting jobs and businesses.”

Restart underway but confidence low

UNWTO also notes signs of a gradual and cautious change in trend, most notably in the Northern Hemisphere and particularly following the opening of borders across the Schengen zone of the European Union on July 1.

While tourism is slowly returning in some destinations, the UNWTO Confidence Index has dropped to record lows, both for the evaluation of the period January-April 2020, and the prospects for May-August.

Most members of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts expect international tourism to recover by the second half of 2021, followed by those who expect a rebound in the first part of next year.

The group of global experts points to a series of downside risks such as travel restrictions and border shutdowns still in place in most destinations, major outbound markets such as the United States and China being at standstill, safety concerns associated with travel, the resurgence of the virus and risks of new lockdowns or curfews.

Concerns over a lack of reliable information and a deteriorating economic environment are also indicated as factors weighing on consumer confidence.

“… [Governments] need to maintain the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that has defined our response to this shared challenge and refrain from making unilateral decisions that may undermine the trust and confidence we have been working so hard to build,” Pololikashvili said.

Slow restart in Maldives

The Maldives reopened its borders to visitors on July 15.

With the border reopening, 30-day free on-arrival visa is issued to all tourists who has a confirmed booking for a stay at any registered tourist facility in the country. The entire holiday has to be booked at a single facility except for transit arrangements.

There is no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival. Tourists have to complete a health declaration form only.

But visitors with symptoms of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus or those travelling with someone who has similar symptoms are tested at their own expense.

Brits lead the arrival numbers for the first 10 days since the border reopening, with 117 holidaymakers from the UK arriving in the Maldives for a much needed tropical getaway after crushing lockdowns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel firm Kuoni has revealed that travellers in the UK were planning to splash out on luxury Christmas overseas trips after settling for summer staycations, with demand for year-end getaways in Maldives on the arise.

Bookings for 2021 trips to the Maldives are also on the rise.

Recent Google search data has also shown the Maldives as the top holiday destination among Europeans for next year.

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.

Meanwhile, the government’s best case scenario now puts total tourist arrivals for 2020 just above 800,000. 

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 3,506.

Fifteen deaths have been reported, while 2,547 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.

Photo: Sun Online

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