By Guest Writer Andrew Ashmore
So we all know the CV19 situation and I will not discuss the medical sides of this (as I am not an expert), but focus on the travel industry issues.
As Europe starts to emerge, slowly and cautiously, out of this pandemic, then travel has started up again as there is clearly a pent up demand. Countries are now being selected if there is a need for quarantine or not and this is where the confusion is, as we have seen with the recent mixed messages on Spain; especially with regards to the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands……as one person describes it as being managed ‘cack-handedly’, and they are not wrong……and then we have the Sri Lanka official advise from the British government has been lifted, BUT Sri Lanka is NOT allowing any tourists in!! Whereas we see the advice for the Maldives still on the non-essential travel list which means ALL tourists have to self- isolate for 2 weeks on their return to the UK….sadly the Maldives is still lumped into the Mexico, USA, Russia, India category, which actually makes no sense.
BUT no matter, as we are where we are….yes, airlines are struggling, and we see many redundancies and many travel agencies are struggling and have folded; but in the main, from a financial package point of view, the government here at least has managed this as well as can be expected, and let’s be as far as we can here, we are all in totally uncharted territory.
So the Maldives opened up on the 16th July, as predicted actually by yours truly to be frank, but how many resorts really opened? One or two even stayed open throughout, but the majority will start opening in August and September…..who are the people travelling? Primarily expats returning, as now Emirates, Qatar and TK are now flying in, and we have seen a few wealthy Europeans and Americans arrive for their holidays, as they can afford to self-isolate on their return and also take insurance out from other suppliers. (Please note that if there is a government advice against all but essential travel, then normal travel insurance will NOT be acceptable, and other insurance has to be taken out, which does NOT include COVID-19 related issues; although now I understand that Emirates is including COVID-19 travel insurance for anyone who flies on Emirates).
Asians and the Middle East/GCC are not travelling at all. The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians are unable to do so, and are unlikely to do so till the end of the year, although we are hearing that safe ‘travel corridors’ are being discussed between the Maldives and India.
So where are we now?
From the UK it is currently domestic staycation and it was Europe, mainly Spain and Greece and France etc.; long-haul is another issue as the enquiries are very low and definitely less committed for the remainder of the year, although enquiries are up for 2021. We are seeing, or we were till last week around 15% growth week on week for last minute holidays for August and September, which are 80% of the enquiries with large family bookings on the rise but for EUROPE only……a lot of exceptional European offers of over 50% off and a lot of browsing and less committing. Maldives very quiet for the remainder of the year, although some interest for Christmas and the New Year.
As some have mentioned from the UK for the Maldives specifically as follows:
– At the moment, for now it really is not looking great, and this seem to be the common theme from most operators and agents
– There are actually many who used to go in October and November to the Maldives, now very nervous about travelling anywhere
– Next year looks positive only because everyone that had booked from March onwards this year have moved all their bookings for 2021
– But in fairness for new bookings, they are literally just a trickle at the moment and there is no momentum or traction
– Many operators are concerned if the current government policies remain as they are, shambolic in some cases as there is no clear rational and there seems to be no coordination between their own non-essential travel ban and quarantine lists, as I showed above re the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Online enquiries we are seeing movement for Dubai as massive growth, as their CV19 marketing is actually superb and prices are incredibly good.
After speaking with several Maldives hotels and resorts, numbers for September are actually incredibly poor and one has to question the speed of which the resorts were all desperate to open, thinking (in some cases) there will be a flood of bookings and a rush for people to travel to the Maldives….this has not materialized and is unlikely to happen. Resorts like Soneva have effectively done their own thing and created their own ‘hospital/testing facility’, so they will be successful, as they have gone on their own and worked with officials. Has this been to the success of the destination, or detrimental to the destination? Well, not for me to officially comment.
We have to remember that whatever we read in the media, the main cities in the UK remain very quiet whilst some are trying to get back into the office, depends on space and what they can do for social distancing and also we have to remember that furlough ends at the end of August, effectively. We believe that people will stay away from offices. The problem also is the media keep pushing scare stories like what I have mentioned, and as long as these stories remain, then nobody will return to work.
Some key articles:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-53543086#:~:text=The%20UK’s%20biggest%20tour%20operator,travel%20as%20planned%20from%20Monday. (Please note that the Balearics and the Canaries may be ok re a 2 week quarantine but still not sure)
An interesting piece summing up travel in the New Covid era.
There are now serious issues also now happening within Europe as we see Belgium worried about the whole country going back into a possible second lock down, and France, Germany and Spain are seeing major spikes. To be honest, anyone booking with a tour operator now, would actually be crazy to do so, as we are just at the beginning of any potential recovery, and this will take time before we see less spikes and less cases; just look at the caution that Asia has shown, and Hong Kong locking down again. I really believe the only people who really will come to the Maldives in the short term, now through September maybe October also will be:
– OTA bookings with separate flights
– Separate travel insurance which is around GBP 140 per person and excludes CV19 insurance, although Emirates airlines includes it
– The wealthier guests will come, as they don’t matter if they have to quarantine for 2 weeks when they return home, and places like Soneva have their own testing sites
– Mainly Europeans and the USA will come
BUT is it really wise to be opening so soon and allowing Americans in? I mean we have already seen tourists with CV19 and we even saw 10 returned back from the UK from Spain who contracted it and 1 arriving in the Maldives….so how secure can we all be? And more importantly do we forego health for the sake of economics? All of these questions are way above my pay grade!
The good thing is that everyone is taking every precaution possible, although the main worry is about a second wave in Europe, any day now, and also the forthcoming winter season.
People need to play safe; yes we need revenues, we get this, we all do, but for goodness sake do we need to have a second shut down? No.
Let’s focus on 2021, as I think the world has woken up to the fact that we need to get this right and we have a chance to do so now, so let’s not blow it…….for those hotels open for July, barely made more than 2 or 3%, and August perhaps 5 or 6% in terms of occupancy, or so we believe.
On a more serious note……customers and customer behavior has and will be changing, and they will book at resorts who have taken care of their staff; can all the resorts say they have done so? I am not so sure, but undoubtedly many have. Also, those resorts that were looking tired and needed a facelift? Well they had a chance, a good chance, as for 4 months the resorts lay idle…..we are seeing places like Fushifaru, Finolhu, Lux, Lily Beach, Sheraton Full Moon, Komandoo, Maafushivaru reopening and renovated, and many others have taken the time to not only renovate, but also revamp and have a new look and feel.
The Maldives will come back, bigger and better, let’s not rush it.
About the writer: Andrew Ashmore is a passionate and experienced Hotelier, specializing in Sales and Marketing with extensive global experience. He is an accomplished and high achieving professional, with compelling success working at senior level in the hotel and hospitality sector. Andrew has a proven track record of successfully managing business operations, managing budgets, nurturing agile team members, financial reporting and maintaining commercial performance of luxury hotels and private islands.