Ready for a rebound

Tourism-dependent Maldives is among the first Asian destinations to reopen to international tourists

Spaced out resort islands across the Maldives help facilitate safe distancing

The Maldives is among the first countries in Asia-Pacific to resume tourism. It reopened its borders to international visitors on July 15.

However, the pick-up in arrivals has been slow due to various reasons, including continued travel restrictions elsewhere. The general expectation among tourism players is that tourist numbers will only begin to rise from end October or early November.

Spaced out resort islands across the Maldives help facilitate safe distancing

As at July 31, the destination welcomed 1,769 visitors while 60 resort islands out of over 160 have reopened for business with stringent health and safety measures in place.

Thoyyib Mohamed, managing director of the state-owned Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation (MMPRC), emphasised that it was more important that the destination was able to sustain the momentum of returning tourists, and acknowledged that departure restrictions imposed by some governments could make it difficult for some travellers to leave for the Maldives.

With these challenges in mind, this year’s arrivals target has been lowered to 800,000, compared to 1.7 million arrivals in 2019.

However, that has not discouraged the destination of more than 1,000 islands from pulling out all the stops to attract visitors. Tourism authorities have also been promoting the Maldives as the safest place on earth to visit during the pandemic, as island resorts are located far apart which allows for natural safe distancing.

Furthermore, the destination has one of the most flexible Covid-19 prevention regimes. Visitors are given a 30-day free visa-on-arrival and are not subject to any testing on arrival. They are also allowed to be whisked to their resort straight from the airport.

Swab tests will be conducted at the airport only if a visitor shows some symptoms of an infection.

Mohamed said that the most important message to the world is that the country is open.

“We are doing a lot of online marketing particularly in Europe, the Middle East, China and India, and constantly engaging with tour operators,” he said, adding that nationals from the UK, Germany, the US and the Middle East were among the first people to set foot on the Maldives since reopening.

And as the destination restarts her tourism activities, a wave of wellness features have swept through the resorts to feed a growing desire for healthy living.

Suresh Dissanayake, assistant vice president for sales and marketing at Heritance Aarah & Adaaran Resorts – Maldives, noted that some resorts are offering vegan food in addition to wellness offerings like yoga and meditation.

Some resorts are also answering the growing call for seclusion, offering travelling groups the opportunity to rent the entire island for themselves.

W Maldives, for instance, is offering its 77 private suites from US$199,000 a night, with access to the entire island and all its amenities.

At press time, Milaidhoo Island Maldives and The Nautilus Maldives were due to exclusively charter a private jet to run a one-off flight from London to the Maldives this summer. The A340 aircraft, featuring 100 flatbed business-class seats, was due to depart from one of Stansted’s private terminals on August 16, flying direct to Male, and return to the UK on August 31.

Many resorts expect business to pick up next year, with Dissanayake saying that 70 per cent of his bookings are for 2021 arrivals.

Most of the main carriers to the Maldives, such as Emirates, Qatar and Etihad, have resumed flights.

To speed up tourism recovery, authorities are discussing a fast lane with China, the country’s biggest tourism source market. The plan is to enable Chinese visitors to avoid any quarantine on their return from the Maldives.

Also in discussion is an air bridge with India and a travel bubble with the UK – both key tourism markets as well.

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