Tourism continues to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the outlook remains highly uncertain. In Mauritius, the tourism sector accounts for around 25% of our GDP. The Mauritian government has taken unprecedented financial measures such as the Government Wage Assistance Scheme to mitigate the social impact of the financial shortfall sparked by the pandemic but are these enough to rekindle this vital sector of our economy and what are the risks associated thereto?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) expects international tourism to fall by around 60% in 2021. Destinations like Mauritius that rely heavily on international, business and events tourism are particularly struggling. Encouraging news on vaccines has boosted hopes for recovery but challenges remain, with the sector expected to remain in survival mode until well into early 2022.
In Mauritius, domestic tourism has restarted and is helping to mitigate the impact on jobs and businesses. However, real recovery will only be possible when international tourism returns. Right now, the survival of businesses throughout the tourism ecosystem is at risk without continued government financial support and although government has taken impressive action to cushion the blow to our tourism industry, to minimise job losses and to build recovery in 2021 and beyond, more needs to be done, and in a more co-ordinated way. Key policy priorities include:
- Restoring traveller confidence
- Supporting tourism businesses to adapt and survive
- Promoting domestic tourism and supporting safe return of international tourism
- Providing clear information to travellers and businesses, and limiting uncertainty (to the extent possible)
- Evolving response measures to maintain capacity in the sector and address gaps in supports
- Strengthening co-operation within and between countries
- Building more resilient, sustainable tourism
While flexible policy solutions are needed to enable the tourism economy to live alongside the virus in the short to medium term, it is important to look beyond this and take steps to learn from the crisis, which has revealed gaps in government and industry preparedness and response capacity. Co-ordinated action across government at all levels and the private sector is essential.
The crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism for the future. The Mauritian tourism sector is at a crossroads and the measures put in place today will shape the tourism of tomorrow. Government needs to consider the longer-term implications of the crisis, while capitalising on digitalisation, supporting the low carbon transition, and promoting the structural transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.
Tourism was one of the first sectors to be deeply impacted by the pandemic and is among the last to recover. This has consequences beyond the tourism economy, with the many other sectors that support, and are supported by, tourism also significantly impacted. While positive news on vaccines has boosted the hopes of tourism businesses and travellers alike, challenges remain. Vaccine roll out will take some time, and the sector is potentially facing stop/start cycles for some time. Even though the rate of vaccination of the population is high in Mauritius, the vaccination rate in many other countries is still low, meaning accepting tourists from these countries as of October 1st, when borders reopen, constitute a level of risk which cannot be undermined. This will further damage business and traveller confidence, and business survival prospects. Despite the proven resilience of the tourism economy to previous shocks, the sheer scale and combined economic and health nature of this crisis means that the road to recovery is still uncertain. While there has been some resumption of international tourism activity, this remains limited still. Domestic tourism has restarted in Mauritius, but can only partially compensate for the loss of inbound tourism.
The covid shock is having very tangible economic and social consequences for many people, places and businesses, and the wider economy. Tourism generates foreign exchange, supports jobs and businesses, drives regional development and underpins local communities. Before the pandemic, the sector directly contributed up to 25% of the GDP of the Republic of Mauritius. The halt in tourism is having a knock-on impact on the wider economy, given the interlinked nature of the sector. The OECD estimates that more than a third of the tourism value added generated in the domestic economy comes from indirect impacts, reflecting the breadth and depth to linkages between tourism and other sectors (e.g. food production, agriculture, transport, business services).
The crisis is putting millions of jobs in the tourism sector at risk worldwide. Tourism is highly labour intensive and provides a high volume of jobs for low skilled workers, together with higher skilled jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the accommodation and food services subsectors alone globally provides employment for 144 million workers, about 30% of whom are employed in small tourism businesses with 2–9 employees.6 Many of these jobs are customer-facing, exposing workers also to the health risks from the virus (e.g. waiters, air stewards, hotel receptionists). In Mauritius, the full effect of the pandemic on the industry has been shielded by the financial support schemes put in place by government. However, the real impact might be felt on the labour force of the Mauritian tourism in early 2022, when all measures of government financial support are scheduled to end.
Key factors which will drive or derail the tourism industry are:
Sustainability may become more prominent in tourism choices, due to greater awareness of climate change and adverse impacts of tourism. Natural areas, regional and local destinations are expected to drive the recovery, and shorter travel distances may result in a lower environmental impact of tourism.
Domestic tourism is expected to benefit, as people prefer to stay local and visit destinations within their own country. Domestic tourists are often more price-sensitive and tend to have lower spending patterns.
Traveller confidence has been hit hard by the crisis, and the ongoing uncertainty. This may lead to a decline in demand and tourism consumption that continues well long after the initial shock.
Traveller behaviour will be influenced by the evolution of the crisis, as well as longer term consumer trends that are reshaping in the way people travel. This may include the emergence of new niches and market segments, and a greater focus on safety protocols and contactless tourism experiences.
Safety and hygiene have become key factors to select destinations and tourism activities. People are likely to prefer ‘private solutions’ when travelling, avoiding big gatherings, and prioritising private means of transport, which may have an adverse impact on the environment.
Structural change in tourism supply is expected across the ecosystem. Not all businesses will survive the crisis and capacity in the sector is likely to be reduced for a period, limiting the recovery.
Skills shortages in the tourism sector may be exacerbated, as many jobs are lost and workers will redeploy to different sectors.
Reduced investment will call for active policies to incentivise and restore investment in the tourism sector to maintain the quality of the tourism offer and promote a sustainable recovery.
Digitalisation in tourism services is expected to continue to accelerate, including a higher use of automation, contact-less payments and services, virtual experiences, real-time information provision.
Tourism policy will need to be more reactive and in the long term it will move to more flexible systems, able to adapt faster to changes of policy focus. Crisis management will be a particular area of focus. Safety and health policy issues also.