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Emergency state to cost Maldives tourism millions

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The ongoing state of emergency has the archipelago's tourism industry concerned as it could cost the linchpin of the economy millions in losses.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed as the apex court rejected the government's 'legal and judicial' concerns over the order.

Several countries including India, US, UK and China have issued varying degrees of travel advisories to their citizens following the turmoil in the luxury tropical island destination.

General managers of the island resorts in the Maldives told AVAS that the state of emergency has caused irrecoverable losses to the industry.

The general managers who refused to be named expressed grave concern by the quickly falling occupancy rates since the state of emergency was declared.

"We've really suffered. We began with 90 percent occupancy this year. But it has dropped to 70 percent. At the present rate of cancellations, it will be a huge loss for us," one general manager bemoaned.

Villa Hotels and Resorts' general manager Gaisar Naseem which operates as many as five resorts in the Maldives echoed similar concerns, warning that the situation could destroy the country's tourism industry.

"The whole industry needs to do something about this. This is our livelihood. We're not politicians. But the whole world knows what's happening in the Maldives. We need to sort these things out if we expect tourists to come here," Gaisar said.

Owner of Capital Travels - one of the premier travel companies in the Maldives Yoosuf Riffath also said tourists have been cancelling their bookings at an alarming rate.

"Occupancy at Medhufushi resort was at 90 percent at the beginning of February. But now it is at just 60 percent. We've managed to destroy the whole country. Was there really a need to declare a state of emergency. This will cause a huge impact," Riffath pointed out.

Chinese market suffers

China remains the largest market for the Maldives. Official statistics showed China had a total of 306,530 holidaymakers visiting the country last year. The timing of the state of emergency could not have been worse for the tropical island destination. The Chinese new year is in February and millions from the global superpower go away on holiday. But this time, China has asked the country's tourists against visiting the Maldives until the political situation in the tropical island destination stabilizes. The Chinese government has set up billboards at its local airports asking its citizens to avoid Maldives.

Despite the rather stark travel advisory, the main airlines flying between the two countries are yet to cancel any scheduled flights.

A senior official of one of the biggest travel companies in China, Ctrip.com international was recently quoted as having said Chinese tourists were cancelling their planned visits to the Maldives at an alarming rate.

Riffath said though resorts have been largely unaffected by the ongoing political turmoil, efforts to assure tourists have thus far been unsuccessful, laid bare by the plummeting arrival numbers.

"They [Chinese tourists] say they won't believe what we are saying. They are saying that they would only believe what their government is saying," Riffath added.

The concern by the tourism industry comes after an analysis by Moody's warned that the state of emergency would hinder tourist arrivals, a key driver of the economy and a prolonged crisis would inhibit investment inflow,

"If tourists are deterred from travelling to Maldives for a prolonged period, the crisis will reduce growth and prompt us to revise down our current forecasts of 4.5 per cent real GDP growth in 2018. Tourism accounts for one-third of economic output," the report said.

The report said an immediate effect of political developments would be on tourist arrivals.

"Some countries, notably India, China, Singapore and the UK, already have issued travel advisories recommending avoidance of all but essential travel to Maldives. The US since January has had Maldives on a Level 2 travel advisory, which recommends that tourists exercise caution owing to terrorism risks," it said.

In 2017, tourist arrivals increased 8 per cent. More than 44 per cent of total tourist arrivals in 2017 were from Asia, with Chinese tourists accounting for 22 per cent of the total.