Maldives will reopen her borders come July 15, welcoming travellers with neither compulsory quarantines nor swab tests upon arrival.
The announcement came on Tuesday from the country’s president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who also said that prayers in congregation are expected to resume, students will return to classrooms, and restaurants and cafes will reopen for dine-in service.
According to guidelines issued by the Ministry of Tourism on Tuesday, visitors will be given a free 30-day visa-on-arrival document, and will not be needed to undergo Covid-19 test and compulsory quarantine.
However, travellers displaying Covid-19 symptoms will need to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on arrival.
To enter the Maldives, travellers will need a confirmed booking in a registered tourist establishment, and must book their entire stay with only one resort or hotel. Exemptions will be made for transit arrangements.
While hotels and resorts on uninhabited islands will reopen on July 15, guesthouses and hotels on inhabited islands will only resume business in August when the country moves into her second phase of reopening.
According to local media reports, seven resorts in the destination will reopen in July while others will have staggered openings between August and October.
Meanwhile, airlines including SriLankan Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates, IndiGo, Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Turkish Airlines have agreed to resume flights starting from July, paving the way for a return to tourism.
The president’s announcement was a relief for the local tourism industry, which is heavily dependent on foreign arrivals. As a result of the pandemic and near global lockdown of international borders, arrivals to the Maldives this year are projected to drop to 98,000, down by from the earlier target of two million and a record 1.7 million in 2019.
Soneva’s founder Sonu Shivdasani and Heritance Aarah & Adaaran Resorts – Maldives’ assistant vice president – sales and marketing, Suresh Dissanayake, have expressed delight at the progress.
While Dissanayake acknowledged that the tourist pick-up would not be immediate, the news positioned the Maldives as being back to “welcoming visitors”.
So far, Heritance has bookings for its Maldives properties from this September into 2021, with 60 per cent of them coming from the UK.
In a further demonstration of the Maldives’ determination to return to tourism normalcy, the government will launch a fast lane for Chinese travellers from July 15. China is the country’s biggest tourism source market.
President Solih explained that the fast lane would allow Chinese travellers to fly home from the Maldives without having to serve quarantine back in China. They will, however, need to take a swab test 48 hours before departing from the Maldives and when they land in China.
To support the relaxed border restrictions, all resorts in the Maldives will abide by the government’s guidelines for their guests. Compulsory measures include standard health and safety checks, designated isolation rooms for suspect Covid-19 cases, and a certified doctor onsite.
In an exception to the official rule, Soneva will conduct its own rapid swab test for all guests upon arrival at the airport. Thereafter, guests of Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani will be escorted to their villa and asked to remain there until the test results are out – between six and 24 hours – and found to be negative.