As a country that is highly dependent on tourism, Maldives is amongst the countries that have had to endure the devastating economical impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Last year, the Maldives closed its borders completely for three months until July, in an unprecedented move to quell an unprecedented outbreak.
The local containment measures, as well as the pandemic’s impact on global travel, resulted in a massive drop in tourist arrival but the country now appears to have bounced back from the stumble it took last year.
According to the latest statistics published by the Tourism Ministry, a total of 391,069 tourists had visited the Maldives up until August 25 of 2020.
Comparatively, by 8th September 2021, 788,846 tourists have visited the Maldives and this is a growth of 100 percent.
Also to be noted is that in the whole of 2020, 555,494 tourists visited the country and that the current arrival statistics for this year are well past these figures.
The runup to the country's golden year of Tourism
Considering how swiftly the country's tourism industry is recovering, it is perfectly reasonable that the authorities steering the industry are now looking at brighter days ahead.
In 2022, the Maldives will mark 50 years since the inception of the tourism industry in the Maldives. Several promotional and celebratory campaigns have launched with more to follow in the upcoming year. The Ministry of Tourism has unveiled the logo that will be used to celebrate and promote the country’s Golden Jubilee Year of Tourism 2022 during a virtual ceremony on 10th March 2021.
Speaking to “The Press” on the upcoming celebrations Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) Managing Director Thoyyib Mohamed that in the coming 50th Year of tourism they will be working on holding more roadshows, as well as attending travel fairs.
Thoyyib also said that MMPRC will be doing more marketing in the coming year such as using the Maldives brand in marketing abroad, PR trips, Joint Marketing with airlines.
He also said that in the past year due to Covid most of the advertising and attending fairs was done over webinars.
Tourism Minister Dr. Abdullah Mausoom said that the plan for Golden Year is to celebrate all over the Maldives including all citizens.
Minister Mausoom noted that the Ministry has exciting activities planned for the 50th Anniversary of Tourism in the Maldives.
Mausoom also said that there will be a tourism summit that would take place in July 2022 which will include Sub-themes, conferences as well as summits.
Among these summits, individuals can participate in Diving, Resort gardening, and IT technology in the resort as well.
Mausoom also said that “Anniversaries main event will begin on the world tourism day which is 27th September 2022 and will continue till 3rd of October which is Maldives Tourism Day.
Chaos at the country's main airport
While the tourism ministry and MMPRC are busy with promotions and advertising, they seem to have forgotten one of the most vital parts of the country's tourism industry. Its main international Airport, Velaanaa International airport.
The first point of service for the majority of the guests visiting the country and the last impression they leave with is currently under a haze of chaos and disorganization.
The Airport is congested with tourists and mismanagement can be observed from many areas of the airport; the whole place is a scene of intense disarray.
Speaking to “The Press” Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL)'s Medial Office Areef notes that this congestion was not anticipated beforehand.
He said that these days a large number of tourists have been transiting through Maldives airport as the Maldives is marked as a safe country to quarantine before transiting to Europe and the Middle East.
Many of those who are quarantining in the Maldives are from south Asian countries such as Pakistan and India.
Before tourists are allowed to enter the country, authorities conduct several health checks which take up a lot of time.
While testing every individual takes time leading to crowds inside the arrival lounge, the congestion outside the arrival lounge is mostly due to travel agents not picking their customers on time.
There have been complaints that agencies make their guests wait at the airport for hours end, simply to wait for more flights and take back as many customers as they can.
This in turn has lead to many guests sleeping and eating on airport floors and delayed service for both arrivals and departures.
The issues that have come up due to the congestion inside the airport have also lead to the congestion up above the airport.
As the Airport services are not up to standard as well as the newly built runway is not operational, many flights are choosing to divert to nearby countries like Lanka and others. These are businesses the country cannot afford to lose.
Solve the problems before the year ahead.
The current issues at VIA are caused by years of mismanagement and disorganization. But they can be improved and any improvement can do wonders to the country's most vital tool.
VIA management can work with relevant authorities to minimize the congestion in the Airport.
For example, authorities can exert strict rules on travel agencies who keep their customers waiting to be picked up and ensure that they are fined for such delays.
While it is understandable that authorities are prioritizing the need to promote the country and attract more visitors ahead of the golden year of tourism, some effort must be put to make the face of the country as hospitable and as welcoming as the rest of the country.