The island nation of Maldives is one of the most sought tourist destinations in the world. Thus, back in July, it was one of the first countries in the world to open up boundaries for tourists with a negative COVID-19 test result. Currently, this nation plans to offer visitors vaccination on arrival as a part of its three-pronged initiative that focuses to revive the country’s travel sector that has been badly impacted by the pandemic.
Speaking to CNBC on Wednesday, the tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom said, “3V” strategy, which encourages tourists to “visit, vaccinate, and vacation,” will provide a “more convenient” way to visit the country.
Thus, this proposed vaccination offer is an attempt to revive the economy, where Tourism, directly and indirectly, contributes 67% of its gross domestic product. This archipelago state in South Asia is renowned for its luxury resorts, oceans, and vistas the nation hosted 1.7 million tourists in 2019 before the pandemic emerged, but it had just over 500,000 visitors in 2020.
At present, visitors to the Maldives must enter with a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and proof of hotel booking to gain entry. Mausoom mentioned that the country’s Health Protection Agency is planning to declare an announcement on restriction-free entry to vaccinated arrivals “very soon — maybe even this week.”
However, the tourism minister did not mention any particular timeline about the process of visitor vaccinations. He noted that once the entire resident population is vaccinated with both shots, this service will be extended to visitors on arrival. He further has not mentioned whether the visitors would be expected to pay for their vaccine shots or the nation would offer doses for free with hotel bookings.
According to Reuters’ vaccination tracker, to date, around 53% of the Maldives’ population which is approximately 530,000 residents have received their first dose. Mausoom further mentioned that around 90% of front-line tourism staff have received their first dose, said.
The country has received vaccine donations from India and China and is also incorporated in the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, which aims to ensure equitable vaccine access to countries that can’t secure their own. Furthermore, the Maldives is also waiting to receive an additional amount of dosages from Singapore.
Talking about supply, Mausoom said, “I don’t think supply’s a problem in the Maldives because our population is relatively small.” “The quota we get from the various organizations and friendly nations also will help”, he added.
Mausoom also stated that the tourism drive was an essential strategy to help the country reach its target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals and 10 million bed nights this year.
“When we reach this year’s target, still we will have a shortfall of what the country needs,” he said. “But still, that is much better than we anticipated in late 2020.”
In 2021, so far Maldives has already received 350,000 arrivals, as holidaymakers who are mainly from nearby India to take all advantage of the country’s limited entry requirements. Guests are also booking longer stays and utilizing the island destination for “workations”, or a working vacation. Mausoom was hopeful for this to continue as tourists who stay for longer durations will receive both their first and second doses.
“Workation — working from the Maldives is now becoming very trendy,” he said. “You see very rich executives, company executives, come here and they are based here,” he said.
However, it is important to note that with a situation of global “imbalance” of vaccine availability, the WHO recently declared that it did not support programs that provided crucial vaccine doses for leisure travel. Further, Associated Press reported that under the Covax scheme, the vaccine delivery has been delayed until June implying that the number of vaccine dosages required by the Maldives could be affected.
As a way of preventing the virus spread, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the island nation has a “very high” level of COVID-19. The Maldives has seen more than 26,000 coronavirus cases and 70 deaths since the pandemic began, the organization has urged tourists to avoid traveling to the country, or in simpler terms avoid traveling in general amidst the rising cases in the pandemic.