The destinations attempting to lure back tourists with fresh incentives

Emma Featherstone
·7-min read
How about a free Covid jab to go with your holiday? - Getty
How about a free Covid jab to go with your holiday? - Getty

2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. Around the world, international arrivals plummeted by 74 per cent. The start of 2021 proved similarly dire: in January, tourist numbers were 87 per cent down on the same month in 2020.

Shuttered borders, no-go lists and grounded planes have not simply put our holidays on hold: they have, at least temporarily, destroyed the livelihoods of many visitor-dependent communities. Some 100-120 million tourism jobs have been put at risk. To ease this strain, many destinations have sought novel ways to win back visitors – from Covid immunisations with a side of luxury, to long-stay schemes, complete with a personal tour guide.

The Maldives – where the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was 66 per cent in 2019 – is among those planning to offer foreign visitors a vaccine. The scheme has been dubbed “3V tourism”: Visit, Vaccinate, Vacation.

Dr. Abdulla Mausoom, the Maldives minister of tourism, told Telegraph Travel: “We hope to offer vaccinations to tourists arriving in the Maldives from the third quarter onward this year. [The] 3V program is offered in appreciation of the trust and confidence tourists have in Maldives tourism.”

Thus far, the country has administered enough doses to have vaccinated around 31.6 per cent of the population. With around 540,500 people it’s a less daunting feat than that of the UK’s: the archipelago nation is also, for tourism purposes, ideal for a socially distanced holiday. Private islands and overwater villas tempted back Britons last year while the Maldives had a stint on England’s travel corridor list. And it could be set for the “green list” this year: it meets the criteria of a strong vaccine roll-out and should be under consideration for the islands policy that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he wants to integrate into the holiday traffic light system.

The country reopened to tourists back in July 2020, and has attracted those trying to escape lockdowns (particularly the wealthy), ever since. Dr Mausoon said of the decision to open up last year: “We had little choice because tourism is everything; when tourism stops, everything stops.” Still, numbers have remained low: in 2020, the Maldives didn’t welcome its 500,000th visitor until December (in 2019 it received some 1.7 million travellers). It is little wonder then, that the country is using everything at its disposal to kick start this vital income stream.

Yet it’s not the only destination openly hoping to attract vaccine tourists. Among the others proffering the offer of a free jab is the state of Alaska. From June, domestic or foreign visitors landing at its airports will be offered a complimentary dose. A trial kicks off at the end of this month at Anchorage International Airport. It is “another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer,” governor Mike Dunleavy told a press conference this week. The state has the highest vaccination rate in the US, but has fared worse in other aspects of post-Covid recovery. Cruise ships are a major driver of tourism to the state and the restart of that income stream is still looking shaky: Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s Senator, is among those seeking to override the current halt on cruise sailings in the US.

Without a glut of vaccines, other states hit by the tourism downturn are pursuing a more straightforward tactic: paying people to visit. For Redwood, Washington, the small town where Microsoft began, the biggest loss in 2020 has been business travellers. As such, it is casting its net wider, offering any visitor a $100 (£72) bonus for meals, spa visits, clothes or other purchases made at local businesses – the only catch is it requires you to book a couple of nights at a participating hotel.

“The pandemic has definitely affected business and we’ve had a few businesses close, and we’ve certainly had a lot of businesses that are way down in their numbers,” Peter Klauser, tourism manager for Experience Redmond, told The Seattle Times. “We’re trying to do everything we can to support the small-business community here.”

Other communities in the US have launched similar schemes, including Santa Maria Valley in California (a $100 certificate for those who booked a hotel room) and Glenwood Springs in Colorado (a $100 gift card for the first 500 to book a two-night hotel stay).

American tourists, like Britons, may well seek to make the most of domestic holidays this year. However, lockdown-weariness has left many keen for a more remote escape. A financial incentive to attract tourists to the Italian hilltop hamlet San Giovanni in Galdo was evidence of this. In 2020, the village fielded thousands of applications from around the world when it promised travellers a one-week stay “without financial contribution”.

A village in Italy's Molise region - Getty
A village in Italy's Molise region - Getty

Now, other European destinations are following similar tactics in 2021. Malta’s tourism minister, Clayton Bartolo announced that it would pay foreign tourists up to €200 (£173) if they stayed more than two nights. Travellers who book into four-star hotels will receive €150, those who reserve a room in a three-star property will receive €100. Anyone who ventures to Gozo, the island next to Malta, will receive 10 per cent extra. Mr Bartolo said that “the scheme is aimed at putting Malta’s hotels in a very competitive position as international tourism restarts.”

The Mediterranean island is one of the most likely contenders for the UK’s green list this summer, having vaccinated 44.18 per cent of its adult population. Under the pay-to-visit initiative, to which the tourism authority has allocated €3.5 million, travellers will be rewarded for reserving directly through the island’s hotels. This will help to reduce any commission money local businesses might lose to through third-party booking sites.

Investment in local tourism jobs is also evident in Saint Lucia’s recently launched Live It scheme, that aims to encourage visitors to extend their stay for six weeks. This would allow Britons to experience a proper holiday on the island, given that current protocols would require them to spend the first 14 days within the confines of a Covid-certified hotel or resort.

“In a shorter visit, visitors are limited to a few activities but if they stay longer, they get to roam locally, decompress from a year of lockdowns and also work remotely,” said Dominic Fedee, Minister of Tourism. “With so many things to explore safely in Saint Lucia paired with the demand for extended holidays, we created this immersive programme so visitors can live like a local while feeling like a member of the family.”

Fancy spending six weeks in St Lucia? - Getty
Fancy spending six weeks in St Lucia? - Getty

Travellers will be paired up with a personal guide for the final four weeks of their stay, and follow set itineraries to suit their interests, which might include learning how to cook traditional St Lucian dishes. The country has found a fresh take on the long-stay schemes that a number of Caribbean nations have launched in the last year. The Barbados Welcome Stamp Scheme, for example, invites applicants to stay for 12 months (within eight months of launch it has already attracted over 1,6000 successful applicants).

St Lucia’s offer could entice those less sure of a year-long commitment. After four weeks (following their hotel stint) of immersing themselves in the local culture, and landscape – from the Unesco-listed Pitons to the islands many waterfalls – visitors may well sign up for a longer stint. Here’s hoping it makes the green list at some point this year (who wouldn’t prefer winter in the Caribbean?).