Booking cancellations amid deadly virus outbreak rises above 13,000

Tourists pictured wearing surgical masks at Velana International Airport (VIA). (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, on Monday, said that the cancellation of tourist bookings in Maldives, sparked by the global outbreak of the deadly new coronavirus, had risen above 13,000, underscoring the need to reinforce promotional activities to mitigate the loss to the local economy.

He made the remark in his annual address to the Parliament.

He said that the virus outbreak had cast a gloomy shadow over the outlook for the tourism sector – the driving force of the Maldivian economy.

“13,287 tourist bookings have been cancelled from the day the threat of this deadly virus became global to up until yesterday,” said the President.

He stressed on the need to reinforce tourism promotional activities to mitigate the losses.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih delivers his annual address to the Parliament on February 3, 2020. (Photo/People's Majlis)

The government, last week, had announced an indefinite travel ban on direct flights from China – the top source of tourist arrivals to Maldives. The ban applied to national airlines Maldivian, and three Chinese airlines – China East Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines.

It expanded the travel ban to encompass all incoming passengers from China, on both transit and direct flights, and irrespective of nationality, on Sunday, the same day Philippines reported the first virus fatality from outside China.

Tourism Minister Ali Waheed, who had announced the decision in a press conference on Sunday evening, said that the government now found it necessary to close down all incoming air travel routes from China and strengthen border security to prevent a potential outbreak in Maldives, despite the clear detrimental effect it would have on the Maldivian economy.

The protection of the local population and tourists remains the government’s top priority, he said.

The Maldives, late last week, placed seven locals, one under quarantine and six under medical surveillance for suspected contraction of the deadly virus.

The President announced during his annual address on Monday that they had all tested negative.

He also looked back on the success in achieving the 1.5 million tourist arrival target last year. 1.7 million tourists visited Maldives last year, well above the target.

“The government’s current target is to boost arrivals to 2.15 million by the end of 2021, and to boost the annual arrivals to 2.5 million before the end of this administration,” said the President.