Minister of Tourism Dr Abdulla Mausoom declared on Saturday that Maldives is expecting an additional 100,000 tourist arrivals before year end, but will mandate a negative COVID-19 test result for entering the country.
Speaking on the ‘Raajje Miadhu’ programme on local media PSM, he stated that although the borders were opened with a set of very lenient guidelines, the safety measures will be strengthened very soon.
At present, tourists are permitted to enter the country without observing quarantine, provided that they remain at the establishment where initial bookings were made, precluding any movement between islands or liveaboards throughout the duration of their stay.
They are only tested for the virus before departure from Maldives.
Mandating a negative COVID-19 test for entry is a step taken to ensure the safety of resort staff, Mausoom said.
“That will also guarantee safety and protection for tourists visiting Maldives, which will be important for increasing our numbers”, he added.
“In essence, Maldives is the best country to vacation safely from global destinations”, he stated, referring to Maldives’ unique geography and one-island-one-resort concept.
Dr Mausoom stated that the number of arrivals have been low so far because Maldives’ major source market has yet to receive the green-light for international travel.
According to the minister, many factors affected the numbers, such as the quarantine measures implemented in other countries, delays in border opening, and lack of permit for direct flights from countries with the highest number of visitors.
“Although we estimate 100,000 arrivals during the remaining portion of the year, that estimate is based on a lot of varying factors”, he said.
“[We] do not know how airlines will increase [their operations]. [We] do not know how the situation of COVID-19 will change in source markets”.
Dr Mausoom admitted that the current influx of tourists is too low to have a notable positive impact on the economy.
Only about 7,000 tourists visited the country during the month of August.
In the best case scenario, the minister speculated that Maldives may see 500,000 tourist arrivals this year. This would be a higher number than the amount of tourists that visited Maldives in 2005, following the damages sustained in the tsunami that swept through the island nation in December, 2004.
“At the time of the tsunami, Maldives only had a bed capacity of 18,000. Today, we have 51,000 tourist beds. Therefore, the number of tourists we must attract are much higher”, Mausoom, who was filling the same post at the time of the tsunami, said.
Despite the presently dire situation, the minister expressed strong beliefs that the tourism industry will thrive in the upcoming year.
As with numerous countries around the world, in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maldives closed its air and sea borders to tourist arrivals on March 27, halting the issuance of on-arrival visas until July 15.
The restrictions on international travel left Maldives' heavily tourism reliant economy in an extremely vulnerable state. In mid-April, the World Bank projected that Maldives would be the worst-hit economy in the South Asian region due to the pandemic.
Overall, Maldives estimates a shortfall of approximately USD 450 million (MVR 6.9 billion) in foreign currency and a state deficit of MVR 13 billion in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the tourism industry.