The Maldives closed its doors for tourists on March 27, 2020, as a measure to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the country has been on lockdown, the government’s decisive measures have proven effective compared to most Asian countries and is expected to be one of the first countries to curb the virus. Considering the process of re-opening the borders for tourism, is it a wise decision to only allow entry for tourists from the high-end market?

PUBLISHED May 10, 2020

Mohamed Ali Janah
Maldives National Association of Construction Industry (MNACI) & International Federation of Asian and Western Pacific Contractors Association (IFAWPCA)
I am not sure how we could open our borders anytime soon. The health and safety of the people of the Maldives should be the number one priority and what the government is doing now on these aspects so far is absolutely right. This is a global pandemic and in order to protect our people, we have to sacrifice our economy. There are very few countries like us where an entire economy is dependent on mainly one industry. So, we can’t do this alone anymore. I believe that we should be prepared to be in this crisis for a considerable amount of time, unless a vaccine is found or a reliable medication is found, people won’t be at ease to travel like pre pandemic. So, instead of half-hearted or piecemeal decisions, we have to get ready to take the big hit for about 18 months. I believe because of this we as an individual nation can’t manage the economy alone like many other countries similar to us. An international collective effort should be made to help countries like us. The international financial agencies must come to inject monies to our economies. It’s only a collective international effort that can take most countries out of this crisis. A few private jets will not save our economy, but may help some resorts and a small amount of money to the government, but with a lot of risk again. Opening the borders again must be a well-calculated decision. Europe, the Middle East, USA and Far East are still very bad. The earliest signs of any reasonable recovery for these countries will take many more months if not a year. China is still struggling four months into this. So, we have to be prepared to be in this situation for the long haul. The reason I mentioned 18 months is that scientists are saying a reliable vaccine will take another six to 18 months to be approved and available for mass production. So, any hope of having a normal situation is still very far away. We have to now find ways how we could all manoeuvre and manage these turbulent months that are ahead of us. Crisis management experts from various fields should be brought in. Opening our borders will also depend on many factors and that also should now be a collective decision made regionally and in consultation with the wider international community. Advise from WHO is very important before taking such a decision now.
Well, I personally think without a vaccine for this virus people will be reluctant to travel freely. It is risky as well. Take Singapore for example; they are trying hard to live with this, but with enormous resources they are unable to do this. So, we still need time to decide. A rapid test might work and help the cashflow. For the smart and wealthy, the value is often more meaningful than a discount, so I think an offer such as book now & stay within 6 months & enjoy 3 nights free in the next booking subject to stay within a year should represent great value. There is no way to rebound without serious value. We cannot open all at once too. The quarantine resorts will be continued for months. Guesthouses and liveaboards will take more than a year even if private islands are opened. And of course, in the very worst-case scenario, if the virus prolongs for more than a year, you always have the option to market Maldives as an “Isolation Destination”, one month minimum stay at reasonable prices. These are all options for policy makers to decide. I can’t imagine budget travellers rebounding – having lost jobs & with family and friends in financial difficulty, I really can’t imagine the ‘buffet all-inclusive crowd’ is going to show up any time soon in Maldives. Having said all these, I think the resorts with ADR below $300 will find it difficult to rebound compared to upmarket resorts. My estimate is it will take full 3 years for us to enjoy our good old rates.
Indeed! It is a good idea. The government needs a source of income, so that it could support SME, stimulus and other relief programs. This will also reduce the burden on the government. But before they permit as such, they have to ensure that the airport is fully prepared with the necessary hygiene, safety and health related standards and measures. I don’t think the government has the capacity to support all the businesses across the Maldives in the long run if our borders are closed. Then again, this will also attract the wealthy to the Maldives and that would generate a significant amount of income. We need to sell them long-stay, and let them fly in their own jets. If our airport is well equipped with safety measures, this is very possible. This will also help to spread the news that Maldives is a safe and well managed heaven for travellers.
For many countries, the pressure on governments to reopen their borders, societies and economies is intense: many are desperate to get back to work and re-establish some normality in their lives. The main pre-requisite for opening the border will be that the government should have a credible strategy in place to screen properly at the airports and how to deal with positive cases when they encounter one, because they surely will. Putting entire islands under quarantine for weeks and trapping guests there will not be a solution. There has to be a strategy which builds confidence amongst the guests that Maldives is a safe destination and that if something does happen they will be looked after well. Just opening a small airport in an adhoc way for the sake of a few billionaires is not the solution and the government should focus on finding a solution quickly for the entire industry. We cannot afford to turn tourism off for them next 12 months. The biggest driver will be the willingness of the source countries to allow their citizens to travel and return without having to go into quarantine back home. Hence giving confidence to those countries that Maldives has the situation under control is key. A proper dialogue between Government to Government with the key source market is a pre-requisite. When tourism returns people choice of destination will be driven by safety and hygiene rather than who has the cheapest price. The industry must coordinate to avoid a race to bottom and we should stagger the openings so that the full inventory doesn’t come to the market at the same time. For this to happen the government needs to find a solution for those resorts and their staff who would delay their reopening.
No! It’s not important only for the rich, because many of our clients are waiting too, and they are not high-end clients.
Well unfortunately I am not sure what the “high- end” market means. Being rich doesn’t make someone immune. Many celebrities and even the Prime Minister of the fifth largest economy of the world have been extremely sick. Why take the risk to allow tourists to potentially harm the people of Maldives until this virus is controlled with either a Vaccine or medication?