The South Asian island nation of Maldives will soon offer vaccine vacations to all its tourists. Dr. Abdulla Mausoom, the country’s tourism minister, announced last week that the country was initiating a “3V” strategy to encourage holiday-goers to “visit, vaccinate and vacation.”
The country is offering tourists both doses of the vaccine. Those signing up will have to stay in the island nation for several weeks. “The main idea of tourism being open is to provide reasonably safe tourism with minimum inconvenience,” Mausoom told CNBC International.
The minister said that the archipelago nation would only roll out its “vaxication” package once its own citizens have received the jab.
The vaccination offer is an attempt to revive Maldives’ economy, which has taken a hit during the pandemic. Tourism contributes to 28 percent of Maldives’ GDP, making it one of the most tourism-dependent countries in the world. The island nation, known for its luxury resorts, crystal blue ocean and breathtaking vistas, received 1.7 million tourists in 2019, before the pandemic emerged, but it had just over 500,000 visitors in 2020.
In July, the country was one of the first in the world to open its borders to tourists with a negative COVID-19 test result. To bolster its tourism economy, Maldives promoted the idea of “workacation” packages that would allow tourists to work from any of its 1,200 islands. Many luxury resorts also launched influencer-driven campaigns to encourage tourists to visit the Maldives, although the push was criticized for encouraging unnecessary travel.
According to the government, about 53 percent of the Maldivian population has already received their first dose of the vaccine, including 90 percent of front-line tourism workers.
Maldives has received vaccine donations from India and China, and is also part of the World Health Organization’s Covax scheme, which aims to ensure equitable vaccine access to countries that can’t secure their own. The country is currently waiting for an additional order from Singapore.
“I don’t think supply’s a problem in Maldives because our population is relatively small,” Mausoom said. “The quota we get from the various organizations and friendly nations also will help.” The minister did not clarify whether the country would charge visitors for the vaccine or offer doses for free with hotel bookings.
In light of the global “imbalance” of vaccine availability, the WHO recently declared that it did not support programs that offered crucial vaccine doses for leisure travel. And according to the Associated Press, vaccine delivery under the Covax scheme has been delayed until June, which could impact the amount required by the Maldives.
The Maldives has seen more than 26,000 coronavirus cases and 70 deaths since the pandemic began. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the island nation has a “very high” level of COVID-19 and urges travelers to avoid all travel to the country.