The crushing blow hitting global tourism confirms itself. International tourist arrivals from January to May 2020 recorded a 56% drop compared to the same period in 2019, according to figures published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in August 2020. This represents US$ 320 billion in tourism earnings globally (3 times what was lost in the 2009 economic crisis).
A worldwide situation that is translated by a decrease of 53.1% in the number of tourist arrivals in Mauritius for the first semester of 2020 to attain 304,881 compared to 650,082 for the first semester of 2019.
It can be expected that the numbers would look at least as bad, if not worse, if June and July figures were included for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which are most at risk and where the share of exports from international tourism in total exports of goods and services and the share of international tourism revenues of total exports are quite significant, respectively 39% and 34% for Mauritius (UNWTO, July 2020).
The recent uptick in new coronavirus infections across Europe where the major tourism markets for Mauritius are found (France, UK, Germany, Italy, etc.) as well as the ongoing infection trends in the African region (South Africa and Reunion island) are proving to be a major issue to invigorate the ailing Mauritian tourism sector.
In the current situation concerning the coronavirus and international travel worldwide, the delaying of the reopening of borders can’t be held responsible for any worsening of the downfall in the tourism sector. The current situation prevailing in our main tourism markets would have been disastrous to the public health situation in Mauritius.
Mauritius was already suffering from a decline in tourist arrivals from its major markets, which accounted for 68% of total tourist arrivals for the year 2019. Excepted France (+5.8%) Mauritius recorded a reduction in tourist arrivals from United Kingdom (- 6.8%), Reunion Island (- 0.6%), Germany (- 2.8%), South Africa (- 7.4%), India (- 11.8%) and China (- 35.0%). This totalled to a 4.1% decrease for its major tourism markets.
Thousands of people depending on the tourism sector are, indeed, fearing for their livelihood, especially after the ecological disaster of the MV Wakashio followed by the Mauritian spring happening amid the current triple crisis (sanitary, economic and social crisis) in the country.
Some questions, however, come to the mind. What is the relevance of the tourism industry model in Mauritius? Is the current model sustainable? Are there still reasons for a european tourist to travel 10000 km, amid an ongoing climate crisis? Is the Mauritian destination still worth a visit due to loss of authenticity, loss of fauna and flora? Is it worth welcoming over 1 million tourists considering the heavy environmental impacts?