As the world at large navigates the tricky waters of an unprecedented pandemic that continues to have resounding repercussions on economies at every level - from the self-employed individual and small business to the booming company and government - all are now faced with the critical challenge of finding ways to safely and effectively restart their livelihoods.
For the Maldives, a tiny archipelago that won its far-reaching international reputation as the ultimate vacation hotspot, this means the resumption of tourism, the backbone of the national economy, at a time when the threat of COVID-19 has almost killed the international travel industry.
As local companies and agencies look to boost bookings and regain the “big numbers” once more, what is the best bet to restore client trust and lure them back?
“Vaccinate your organisation”, is what Charles M. Giacoma, the Director General of the European Institute for Export Compliance (EIFEC), has to say.
EIFEC is the International Standards Organization for compliance in areas that pose threats to international security and stability, such as nuclear, biological and chemical warfare proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, and sanctions or export compliance.
Tasked with developing standards, guidelines and frameworks for emergency and critical situations that could compromise global security, the Institute rose to the occasion to develop a set of new Emergency International Standards series specifically to address COVID-19, which has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a public health emergency of international concern.
The Director General of EIFEC sat down with The Edition to shed light on the Institute’s new initiatives to “vaccinate businesses” and what that means, particularly in the context of the Maldivian economy.
“Everywhere, everyone has been hit. From individual human lives to communities, organisations, businesses and even schools”, began Giacoma.
“A pandemic of virus has become a pandemic of fear”.
Giacoma described the cultural and social transformation being brought about by nations everywhere as they, unprepared for the domino effect of COVID-19, implement emergency policies and procedures on the heels of the evolving health and economic landscapes. However, instead of self-standardised regulations, he stressed the importance of adopting international-level compliance certified by accredited qualified third parties.
Compliance is defined as “the expertise in dealing with difficult questions or situations and adaptation to complex requirements, thus preventing or at least minimising any potential negative outcome” by EIFEC.
“Compliance means the way we comply with voluntary and mandatory laws or regulations or guidelines”, said Giacoma. “EIFEC writes the rules on how to work with these regulations”.
In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, EIFEC utilised its multidisciplinary knowledge and capability to put together several working groups that have developed the new Emergency International Standards series:
- Health Emergency Risk Compliance Management System (HER-CMS)
- Compliance Management Systems for Sanitization Service Providers (SSP-CMS)
Designed to help organisations combat COVID-19 and ensure public health safety, the HER-CMS is a standard that can be adopted by any and all entities, while the SSP-CMS is specifically for sanitisation service providers.
“We were told that there were a lot of people [during the pandemic] just cleaning the stairs and claiming that they can do sanitisation”, explained Giacoma, “which is a threat to the security of businesses and organisations, and this needed to be addressed”.
Hence, EIFEC rolled out the SSP-CMS, which sets the standard for sanitisation providers.
“[The SSP-CMS] guarantees that their quality and service are according to a certain set of [internationally certified] standards”, he said. “Because people and businesses rely on certifications to build trust [with their clientele]”.
Meanwhile, the HER-CMS is a standard of compliance that can be implemented by anyone and everyone, from the shop around the corner to a major tourist resort.
“It is for everyone, even the smallest, even the lesser known, even the less sophisticated - because we are not to leave behind anybody”, declared Giacoma.
Highlighting the Maldives’ heavy dependency on the hospitality industry and the overwhelming blow of COVID-19 on the sector on both a local and global scale, Giacoma explained how the pandemic has created a fear of travel. A lacking confidence that their safety from COVID-19 would be guaranteed discourages thousands from travelling even with the easing of border restrictions.
However, a business or organisation - whether it is a guesthouse, resort or company - that adopts EIFEC’s compliance management systems and attains the certification to prove it, is sure to earn the trust and confidence of thousands of travellers from Europe and other countries around the world that recognise and implement EIFEC regulations, Giacoma declared.
Any business or organisation that complies with these standards has been “vaccinated”, and thus tourists would opt for an EIFEC-certified establishment where their safety is assured - over one that does not have the certification to prove the veracity of their safety procedures.
Winning visitors’ trust through third-party accredited certification means a sure boost in bookings and the return to big numbers, he said.
Further expounding on the pros of complying with EIFEC standards, Giacomo noted that compliance has historically yielded two main effects:
“It reduces negative consequences, and protects or restores your business’ reputation, because [with the certification] you can claim you’re doing the right things in the right way”, he said, adding that entities that follow a programme of compliance are facilitated, fast tracked and privileged on the international arena.
In addition to individual businesses and agencies, Giacoma stated that should the government implement a full compliance programme, “you have vaccinated your country” - which would incentivise other countries, particularly major tourism markets such as Europe, to exempt Maldives from their global travel advisory, thus winning the island nation a placement on the list of countries safe for travelling.
“Maldives has the unique possibility to outshine all others”, Giacoma added, referring to the country’s dispersed geography that minimises infection spread between islands separated by the ocean.
“Maldives has a unique opportunity to reshape and let people know that here, things are different”.
On October 7, EIFEC and the University of Turin, Italy, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Maldives National University (MNU) to implement a programme for EIFEC’s Health Emergency Risk Management Compliance in an epidemic context. EIFEC noted that MNU is their official partner in Maldives, and will be conducting all the relevant trainings, research and statistics.
Open for “whoever is interested in doing better and being certified by EIFEC”, the programme also seeks to raise awareness on the importance of compliance to adapt to the ongoing changes brought about by the pandemic, as well as train 830 Compliance Officers around the country.
On October 11, the Ministry of Tourism announced the commencement of the ‘Compliance Officer Training Programme’, to train Compliance Officers from 630 guesthouses and 200 local councils around the country, on the implementation of EIFEC’s compliance standards in the tourism industry.
As EIFEC, in collaboration with MNU and the tourism ministry, gears up to commence the training sessions from October 21, Charles Giacomo again advised local businesses and organisations to “Get vaccinated”.
“You can confidently claim that if you are compliance certified, you are vaccinated as an organisation. And a place that is vaccinated is the place where people go.