Preparations are underway for the Maldives to resume tourism by July after a prolonged shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, government and industry officials said.
Tourism minister Ali Wahed and finance minister Ibrahim Ameer have both said the most likely scenario is that the borders would be re-opened by July for tourist arrivals.
However, Abdulla Ghiyas, former President of the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators, said that the reopening of borders in July would also depend on the containment of Covid-19 cases.
Maldives has recorded 785 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as at May 6, including 528 foreigners, with a death toll of three, according to the country’s Health Protection Agency.
The infection of foreigners are mostly among Bangladeshi nationals who work in the capital Male as construction workers and in other unskilled jobs. The infection rate in resorts have been much less.
A government relief package has been offered as loans and debt moratorium to the private sector, which is largely made up of tourism businesses. Discussions about a second relief package are ongoing, according to Ghiyas.
Tourism represents more than 70 per cent of the business in the Maldives, with the government relying on tourism taxes and lease rentals of tourism islands to sustain the economy.
According to Suresh Dissanayake, assistant vice president – sales marketing at Heritance Aarah & Adaaran Resorts – Maldives, the government has plans to re-open its borders first to regional tourism traffic from India, China, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries by 3Q2020, followed by Europe in October or November.
China is the Maldives’ single largest tourism source market, but as a region, nearly 50 per cent of arrivals come from Europe.
Dissanayake said that both Emirates and Qatar are expected to resume flights from June, with the Maldives set to be among the first destinations to be served by the Middle Eastern carriers.
While most resorts in the Maldives are closed, about 10 to 12 resorts have been transformed into quarantine or isolation facilities. There are also another 10 resorts housing a combined 500 foreign guests, some who deem it safer to remain in the island-country than return to their own hometowns.
Repatriation flights have been operating intermittently to ferry foreign workers to their homeland.
The Maldives, which is home to some 200 resort islands, closed its air and sea borders to tourist arrivals on March 27.
Earlier in the year, the government was positive on tourism prospects, targeting two million arrivals this year after last year’s record 1.7 million. However, in light of the pandemic-induced shutdown, the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives this year could drop by half of 2019.