By Mahika Govil, Edited by Ritwika Chakravarty
It is no surprise that Maldives is the ideal tourist destination. From turquoise waters, to exciting snorkeling trips, and the exquisite island resorts. Maldives has quickly climbed to one of the favorite holiday getaways for Bollywood and Hollywood celebrities alike. Videos and pictures of popular movie stars from Ranveer Singh to Naomi Campbell have kindled a desire amongst major tourists to also experience the pristine waters and Holiday islands.
It is safe to say that Maldives' economy is fuelled by its tourism. Tourism takes up a substantial portion and is the largest sector, providing for more than 28% of GDP and 60% of foreign exchange. Pre-pandemic, tourism was among the fastest-growing sectors in Maldives with a growth rate that outpaces GDP growth rates. The pandemic and the ban of travel affected all South Asian countries which largely depended on tourism.
Maldives, however, demonstrates a highly resilient recovery model for its tourism sector. The Maldivian government recognised its high dependence on tourism and made steady efforts to reopen its border to tourists as early as July 2020 while also implementing strict hygiene protocols for tourists, including one of the fastest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the world. This improved the confidence of travelers and created high-value consumers. Their unique one island one resort system allowed them to closely monitor Covid-19 risks, making it compulsory for all tourists to get tested before and after leaving the secluded resorts. They banned tourists from going into the mainland city islands such as Male, where this measure was extremely important, being the most densely populated city in the entire world. In 2021, visitor arrivals reached more than 80 percent of pre-COVID levels, far outpacing other similar tourist destinations. (World Bank, 2022)
We can applaud their strategy of tapping into new markets and expanding their tourist base to countries such as India and Russia which compensated for the revenue loss from China, its top source market before the pandemic hit. According to Dr. Abdulla Mausoom, Maldives' Minister of Tourism, India has now replaced Russia as the top source market for Maldives, with the sheer number of Indian travelers surpassing that from all other countries. In fact, traveling to Maldives is now easier than ever with direct flights between Maldives and some of India's biggest metropolitans and Covid-safe 'bubble tours' issued by the government.
It is also important to give due credit to Maldives marketing campaigns that have ensured a constant flow of tourism even during the pandemic. For example, in 2020, Maldives launched a marketing campaign with the tagline “Isolation never looked this good” to emphasize its unique reputation of being a niche destination, while emphasizing environmentally sustainable tourism. Maldives had already announced plans to offer vaccines to tourists as another incentive to attract inflow of foreign travel. Abdulla Mausoom, in an interview with CNBC, had made the announcement of a ‘3V’ plan that stands for ‘Visit’, ‘Vaccinate’, ‘Vacation’,
“The main idea of tourism being open is to provide reasonably safe tourism with minimum inconvenience. So, once the country gets vaccinated, then we will move on to ‘3V’ tourism,” Mausoom had said.
Maldives had also further achieved the Safe Travel Stamp in September, 2020 by the World Travel and Tourism Council which is a global safety and hygiene campaign that seeks to assure tourists that their travel destination is safe for tourism. Data collected by Thrillophilia noted a rise in the spending habitsIt can be observed that upper class tourists are also more willing to spend on vacations after the covid-19 lockdown. Moreover, Maldives has a range of prices with travel packages to cater to a variety of socio-economic backgrounds.
According to a report by Mckinsey, the pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations. The concept of workations has seen an incredible jump after covid-19 with more and more professionals viewing this option as an attractive one. Maldives is smartly investing in enhancing its digital technology and investing in high speed internet for Maldives to attract working professionals as well.
For example, one of the luxury resorts in Maldives, has developed an app to facilitate contactless services including ordering food, virtual check-in and check-out, and other amenities to adapt to changing customer behaviors.
High priority on tourism with special emphasis on ensuring safety of travelers, vaccination of staff and campaigning strategies from the Ministry of Tourism of Maldives has ensured an upward trend and quick recovery of tourism in Maldives. Tapping into the market opportunities to maintain a steady flow of international travel has kept Maldives economy afloat during the pandemic.