The travel and tourism industry has become a global industry, which is widely considered one of the fastest-growing industries globally.
There are various purposes for one to be a tourist and to travel. Some of the reasons people travel could be for fun, experience, or increase their knowledge and learning, or for work purpose. People generally came to Mauritius for the 3s (Sun, Sea, Sand). However, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world as it has somehow stopped the world for a while. This current disaster has forced people to stay home, and in a certain way, they are imprisoned for their security. The coronavirus has massively affected all the industries around the world but mainly the travel and tourism industry. COVID-19 has caused several negative impacts such as travel restriction and closed borders by many countries internationally.
Mauritius is considered an island that survives through the travel and tourism sector because this industry is the primary industry that brings maximum revenue to the island. Therefore, Mauritius mostly suffered from this situation.
The first significant impact that COVID-19 has on the travel and tourism sector in Mauritius and internationally is the closing of borders. Airport closure means that every industry, such as hotels, restaurants, airlines, travel agent and tour operators, and attractions, is impacted because there is no tourist arrival. Due to lockdown, people are forced to stay at home, and borders are closed, which means no flight. However, 100% of worldwide destinations have introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic. 45% of destinations have totally or partially closed their borders for tourists, whereas 30% have suspended totally or partially international flights. The other 18% of destinations are implementing the closing of borders differently by banning the entry for passengers from specific countries of origin. The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport is closed since the first case of COVID-19 was detected on the island in March 2020. Tourism is the primary revenue for our country, so as the airport is closed, the country suffered, and as a result, economic growth is suspended. The airport started to partially operate when Mauritius was considered a COVID-free island for the year 2020. By the end of the first wave of COVID-19, the government has implemented new rules within the airport to avoid expanding the virus. Unfortunately, the second wave of COVID-19, started in March 2021, has again hit the operation of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. Closure of the airport means no tourists, which leads to low income for the country.
While Mauritius Island was in lockdown, hotels were closed, airports, attractions, even supermarket was closed for a moment. Everything was inaccessible during lockdown which as a result, there is no revenue for the country and families. Some tourism companies were paying their employers and some not; many families suffered due to lack of income. The Budget forecasts revenue for the year 2019 and 2020 was MUR 121.7 billion. This revenue was expected to be collected through taxes, but unfortunately, this forecast has not been achieved due to the pandemic. Another impact that lockdown has on Mauritius was the crisis of Air Mauritius company caused by the pandemic. It may not recover from this, and such a crisis can even lead to the end of the airline. Therefore Air Mauritius airline was placed under creditor protection, and the airline also has put up five aircraft for sale on the 7th of July 2020.
The airline is trying to get out of this crisis. Additionally, Air Mauritius was running weekly flights to some destinations like Paris last year. Still, with the second wave and the second lockdown on the Island, Mauritius airlines do not have the right to operate except for repatriation flight or very urgent cases.
According to the UNWTO, the sudden decline in tourists arrivals will result in a loss of 300 to 450 billion US$ in the international tourism exports. The global travel and tourism industry works and relies on each tourist’s movement, but unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has hung this industry. Mauritius is a country where the national economy relies heavily on the tourism industry. The government is facing an economic crisis due to COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented situation in the tourism economy, given an immense shock to the sector. It is important to note that the tourism sector, considering the hotel industry and all the ancillary businesses that make up the tourism industry, account for approximately 25% of GDP. The Ministry of Finance forecasts Gross Domestic Product to shrink by between 7 and 11% this year and estimates that the economy will contract by around 10% due to COVID-19. However, to overcome the economic crisis that the island is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government came up with new strategies in the budgets speech for 2020-2021. It stated that the “New Normal” of Mauritius would be the economy of life, and this is the reason why the budget is focusing on the Rolling out of the “Plan de Reliance de l’investissement et de l’économie”, engaging in Major Structural Reforms and Securing Sustainable and Inclusive Development.
Another impact that COVID-19 has on the tourism sector in Mauritius is the decline in tourist arrivals. In the first quarter of 2020, international tourist arrivals have decreased by 22%. Since the lockdown in many countries, travel restrictions and shutdown of airports and national borders arrivals have lowered by 57% in March. This has led to a loss of 67 million international arrivals, only in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of last year where the number of tourist arrivals was 352,305 during the first quarter of 2019. Therefore, the number of tourist arrivals in Mauritius for the year 2019 January to September was 1,364,533; however, in the absence of visibility on the potential impact of coronavirus, a forecast on tourist arrivals for the year 2020 was around 1,385,000. Indeed the COVID-19 has influenced the Travel & Tourism industry, which as a result, instead of receiving 1,435,000 tourists, we have received 482,305 tourists from January till September 2020. Mauritius’s total tourist arrivals decreased by 68.6%, where arrivals from air came from 973,642 before the pandemic to 305,617 during the pandemic period. While arrivals by sea have increased by 16.2% during the year 2020, it went from 25,381 arrivals to 29,482. Therefore, Mauritius has received 311 tourists for 2021 until March, before the 2nd wave of COVID-19 on the island. Since March 2021, Mauritius stay inaccessible for international tourists. Thus, we can see the significant loss through those statistics.
The UNWTO scenarios demonstrate that about 100 to 120 million tourism jobs are at risk due to the COVID-19 and the lockdown. Not only tourism jobs but most of the industry is impacted, several people find themselves unemployed. In Mauritius, in the absence of further government welfare and stimulus measures, the unemployment rate is expected to more than double from 6.9 % to 17.5%, an increase of around 60,000 people. Some people working at airports lose their job and people working around the hundred different hotels on our island, followed by certain people working on tourism attractions like “Terres des Sept Couleurs”, or “Casela”. People working at different restaurants, especially those restaurants near the sea in tourist areas. Note that tourist areas have been the direct prey of COVID-19. Due to the absence of international tourists, their business and their employees are in danger even though local people can benefit from it.
Furthermore, Mauritius is considered a tourism-dependent country. The country is bearing the negative impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and has to live through the deterioration of the tourism sector on the island. Despite that impacts and damages are the same worldwide, tourism-dependent countries like Mauritius much more feel it. On the other hand, Mauritius is severely touched because we form part of the best tourism destination and the most visited country. Based on the new budget for 2020 and 2021, the government has come up with a different proposed budget to support and help to relaunch the Travel and Tourism Industry around the island, as this industry is mainly affected, and it is the leading industry that brings the maximum of revenue to the country. Therefore, the industry is not expected to recover and restart before 2023. In fact, during the year 2020, Mauritius formed part of the first country to be considered a COVID-free island and has even obtained the label of Safe Destination by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Nella Lai Kim, YUVA Intern