1,376 booking cancellations per day, tourism growth projected to drop by 29.5 percent

A tourist walks along a street in suburban Hulhumale' wearing a face mask. (Sun Photo/Mohamed Muzain Nazim)

Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has warned the global COVID-19 outbreak had the potential to lead to an economic recession if Maldives failed to take timely and calculated measures to manage the crisis.

MATATO, in a statement urging the government to take stronger measures to combat a possible economic downturn in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak, said the tourism industry, which had finished off strong in 2019, now faced a 29.5 percent negative growth.

It said the 29.5 percent negative growth was an optimistic projection, and the reality could be far worse, given the hundreds of booking cancellations and a severe drop in new bookings, not just from the main source markets such as China, Italy, South Korea and Japan which are experiencing severe outbreaks of COVID-19, but other source markets as well.

“In this scenario that's 41,289 less tourists per month and 1,376 less tourists per day,” said MATATO.

The Maldivian government, in an earlier statement, said Maldives had been hit with over 100,000 booking cancellations in connection to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Maldives now has a travel ban on China, the biggest source market for Maldives with 284,029 tourist arrivals recorded in 2019. It has also since been forced to impose travel bans on other top source markets Italy, which contributed to 136,343 tourist arrivals in 2019, some regions of South Korea, and Iran.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which had projected a positive growth of 3 – 4 percent for 2020 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, has now revised its 2020 prospects for international tourist arrivals to a negative growth of 1 – 3 percent, translating into an estimated loss of USD 30 – 50 billion in international tourism revenue.

Stressing the Maldives’ high dependency on its tourism industry, MATATO has called on all government authorities and all stakeholders – both big and small - to put a united front and work together to overcome the crisis.

It has warned that Maldives, given its limited natural resources and dependency on imports and tourism, could afford to go long periods without reviving the tourism industry.