Maldives tests waters by opening resorts to COVID-weary tourists
The Maldives is wading into unchartered waters as it restarts efforts to lure visitors to its necklace of remote, luxury island resorts, highlighting the idyllic isolation of the Indian Ocean and fewer entry restrictions in a novel approach to promote travel to virus-weary tourists.
At least 10 international airlines have reportedly lined up to resume flights to Velana International Airport, the country’s international gateway, when the South Asian archipelago reopens for foreign holidaymakers on July 15. These include Asian carriers SriLankan Airlines and Singapore Airlines along with Middle Eastern carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways, according to travel industry sources.
Holidaymakers will be offered a number of surprising welcome perks: no quarantine and a free 30-day, on-arrival visa. The only paperwork needed to disembark will be a health declaration card.
But the government is treading with caution as it sets the tone for its “new normal,” looking to assure high-spending tourists a healthy holiday in the country of 1,190 islands. “This includes health screening on arrival [and] physical distancing at ports, vessels and tourist facilities,” a senior official from the president’s office told the Nikkei Asian Review. “Visitors will be asked to report any symptoms while they are in the Maldives.”
Resorts need to meet new health standards set by the Health Protection Agency before being permitted to open, the official said. The regimen includes designated rooms for “isolation and quarantining of both staff and guests if required,” appropriate use of personal protective equipment, access to medical facilities, and the appointment of a COVID-19 safety manager in every resort.
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“The Maldivian tourism industry is naturally set up for this global new normal,” the official added. “Today’s social distancing requirements are enhanced by our ‘one island, one resort’ concept.”
Resort owners have taken heed by rolling out new welcome measures for resuming tourism.
“Guests will check-in at their villas, minimizing the time spent in communal areas,” said Manih Ahmed, managing director of Kaimoo Travels and Hotels Services. Ahmed was referring to measures that will be taken by Summer Island Maldives, a four-star resort on an uninhabited island that is popular with European and Asian holidaymakers.
“[We’ll be] using technology to reduce the need for direct interaction with staff, increasing the frequency of cleaning, and disinfecting using electrostatic sprays in restaurants, bars and other high-contact areas,” he said.
South Asia’s smallest country, with a population of 400,000, has recorded 2,502 cases of COVID-19, with 2,180 recoveries and 13 deaths. Most of the cases have been in the densely populated capital of Male.
The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the economy after the country shut air and sea borders to tourists in late March. The closure drained the life of the largest foreign exchange earner in the $5 billion dollar economy, which enjoyed a healthy growth of 6.7% in 2018. At that time, tourism generated about 60% of foreign income.