Some of India’s neighbours rely hugely on tourist income and, for those nations, the disruption caused by coronavirus has been enormous.
We take a look at the prospects for a return to travel, and how four countries in the region have been faring since tourism crashed.
All the signs are that India will be a key market for the Maldives, once travel resumes.
Taking part in a COVID-19 Crisis and Maldives Tourism webinar, Sarah Mathews, a head of marketing at TripAdvisor, said there would be plenty of pent-up demand as people get fed up with being trapped at home.
Giving hope to premium destinations like the Maldives, she said that travellers will book their next trip “based on quality (value for money) and not cheap offers”.
Damian Cook, CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers, feels the lack of a domestic tourist market means that the Maldives will have to look at attracting travellers taking short-haul flights from the surrounding region.
With tourism contributing as much as two thirds of the Maldives’ GDP, the government will be doing everything it can to encourage tourists from India – the second biggest source of tourists after China.
Tourism is a major source of revenue for Sri Lanka, which attracted more than 1.9 million visitors in 2019.
One hotel industry expert expects some form of recovery fairly quickly, pointing out that in June 2009, the first month after the end of the civil war, hotel occupancies in Sri Lanka showed dramatic increases.
Srilal Miththapala is of the opinion that smaller, mom-and-pop guesthouses and the larger chains are best placed to weather the storm.
Post lockdown, he expects the first travellers to be “risk-taking, younger people” who are “by nature looking for cheaper offerings, but at the same time are more adventurous and prefer authentic ‘back-to-basic’ experiences”.
Sri Lankan Tourism chairperson Kimarli Fernando suggests the coronavirus disruption may provide an opportunity for the country to re-profile itself in the international market. “We can realign our focus towards higher-yielding tourists and a unique Sri Lanka experience,” she said.
Coronavirus has already hit the planned opening of the new 320-room Sheraton Colombo, originally scheduled for June.
That plan has now been put on hold, though Sheraton’s local promoter Lanka Hotels and Residencies Ltd says it is committed to the “flagship project”.
Lanka Hotels chairman Don Gamini Gunaratne comments: “Although our plans were to soft launch this property from June 2020 onwards, we have been compelled to pause these plans as a direct response to the emergency prevalent across the country and globally.
“We have absolute faith we shall overcome this challenge and come out stronger together in the true Sri Lankan spirit.”
Things look pretty bleak in Nepal, where tourism is the country’s second-largest earner of foreign exchange.
Besides the loss of tourism revenues, Nepal is especially worried about what happens if large number of the country’s many migrant workers are forced to return home, overwhelming local services and pushing up the price of food.
Coronavirus has already prompted the Nepalese government to cancel its ambitious ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ campaign, which had hoped to attract two million foreign tourists and create thousands of new jobs.
While it waits for some kind of tourist recovery, the Nepal Tourism Board has launched a photography competition called Nepal From Your Window, with Rs 10,000 prizes for the five best entries.
Organisers are looking for photographs that “showcase the beauty of Nepal”.
And once Nepal opens up again, mountaineers can look forward to streaming movies and uploading Instagram pics at the summit of Mount Everest.
Chinese telecoms giants Huawei and China Mobile have installed the globe’s highest 5G base station at an altitude of 6,500 metres on the world’s highest mountain, allowing super-fast surfing at the top of the peak.
Tiny Bhutan is much more upbeat about the future of its tourism industry, even going as far to talk of a “silver lining” from coronavirus.
Dr Tandi Dorji, the chairman of the country’s tourism council, said Bhutan would use this downtime to improve the visitor booking process, upgrade tourist sites and reconsider waste management processes.
“With high value, low volume in mind, this is the time we can develop a stronger policy,” Lyonpo said. “We can do so many things right now since there are no tourists in the country.”
Bhutan – which famously promotes the Gross National Happiness of its citizens – has recorded just seven cases of coronavirus, and no deaths.
A holiday to Bhutan – which charges visitors around USD 250 per day for accommodation, tours, guides and meals – has never been cheap, but it sounds as though the experience might be even better once travel resumes.
A land of mountains and monasteries awaits…
Where would you like to travel, once lockdown is lifted?