Travelers who feel like a change of scenery amid months of closures and stay-at-home orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic now have a new option. The Maldives reopened to international visitors this week, having been closed to visitors since March 27.
While much of the world has closed its borders or adopted strict measures against inbound travelers, the Maldives will not require new arrivals to be quarantined or tested, except for ‘a simple temperature control at the airport. There is another rule: Visitors should book their entire stay at the same resort while visiting the South Asian country.
Tourism Minister Ali Waheed described the impact of the pandemic as “more devastating than the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 global financial crisis”.
With a population of half a million, the Maldives has recorded more than 2,700 cases of Covid-19.
His government had initially announced that it would require visitors to pay a new visa fee of $ 100 and $ 100 for a Covid-19 test at the airport, as well as a stay of at least 14 nights. He has since abandoned these requirements.
Airlines, including Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, are resuming services to the island nation.
Although the country is open for business, hotels are only reopening gradually, with Conrad Maldives Rangali Island planning to reopen in late September, and St. Regis and all other Marriott International hotels in the Maldives do not plan to reopen until October.
On-site testing in hotels relieves anxieties – for some
One resort, however, reopened immediately with new measures designed to stay away from the virus. Soneva Fushi customers will receive a mask upon arrival and be tested for Covid-19. Guests are then required to stay in their room or villa until their test results come back, which can take between six and 24 hours.
If they receive negative test results, guests can roam freely, but still must perform daily temperature checks. On the fourth day of their trip, an additional test will be performed.
“You might consider that this is overkill and that we are being overly cautious,” said Sonu Shivdasani, CEO of Soneva, in a company video explaining the process. Still, its goal is to “make all of our private islands Covid-free environments so that guests can truly relax and interact with our hosts (and) our other guests.”
A socially distant guest experience just didn’t appeal to Shivdasani.
“Life is about relationships, you know the secret of life is the friendships you make,” Shivdasani told CNBC. “This idea of our guests being away from each other, we thought it would be a real challenge and we didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable engaging with each other.”
Indeed, 55% of his income is generated by loyal customers, who according to him often mingle with each other.
One factor that might draw tourists to the Maldives is its desolate nature, especially compared to a beach club in Mykonos. Additionally, many health experts have said that being outdoors has a lower risk of contracting Covid-19 than being indoors.
“The urban rich have all the famous designer restaurants in their towns, the famous branded chefs in air-conditioned environments,” Shivdasani said. “For the urban rich, the luxury is to sit outside in the open air.”
Soneva believes her strict sanitary measures could pay off. The hotel said bookings for August are higher than last year. Yet not everyone was willing to endure his new policies.
“We had one or two who felt it was unnecessary and didn’t want to put their kids in this trouble,” he said, “but most said it actually reassured them, and I got a lot of emails saying, ‘Fantastic, well done. I was thinking where to go, but I’m coming now to stay with you.’ ”
Hotels are increasing the number of cleaning services
Hilton, meanwhile, which has three resorts operating under its brands in the Maldives, will gradually open its doors with new measures in place, including staff temperature controls and increased cleaning procedures.
Nils-Arne Schroeder, vice president of luxury and lifestyle for Hilton hotels in Asia-Pacific, described the company’s new measures to CNBC: “You didn’t want to see people cleaning your public spaces in the lobby; it was always cleaned at night. These days you really want to see them during the day so you know the hotel is doing the cleaning. “
Last month, Hilton rolled out new guidelines for its properties around the world. Called Hilton CleanStay, one measure involves sealing doors after cleaning a room to visibly show guests that no one has entered since.
A dinner on a socially distanced sandbank at Soneva Fushi’s.
Courtesy of Soneva Fushi
Guests staying at Hilton properties will have their temperature checked, but will not be required to take Covid-19 tests.
“You can make decisions if you want to be away from everyone because you can be in your villa, you can dine in the villa all day, you can jump in your ocean… but if you want to be part of the community islander, of course, we’re ready for you, to make sure self-distancing is available, ”said Schroeder.
Will tourists be ready to travel if they have to quarantine afterwards?
Marriott International plans to reopen its resorts in the Maldives in October and is implementing new policies, such as requiring guests to sit at the same table each day for breakfast.
But it remains to be seen whether travelers feel safe enough to travel or leave their hometowns and be subject to restrictions. For example, Hong Kong residents who leave the city are required to take a Covid-19 test upon their return and are required to self-quarantine for 14 days while wearing a tracking bracelet.
Some resorts in the Maldives require guests to undergo Covid-19 testing, while others are not.
“It’s wonderful that the Maldives are open,” Vincent Pauchon, general manager of the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, a Marriott property, told CNBC. “We don’t see the demand because of so many international restrictions… So you can imagine, someone coming for six nights to enjoy the Maldives and then leaving for 14 days in quarantine, it doesn’t make sense.”
However, he said the station could be ready to open within a week if demand changes.
Chinese travelers have traditionally been the biggest source of visitors to the Maldives. New measures will allow Chinese nationals to return from the Maldives without having to self-quarantine as long as they take a Covid-19 test shortly before their flight and again upon their return.
Pauchon said he is seeing an increase in demand with bookings ranging from 40% to 60% for the last quarter of this year, and inquiries and bookings for 2021 are already arriving.
St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort is now redesigning much of its group activities in anticipation of its reopening, such as yoga classes, gym and boat trips. Amid plans for physical distancing, Pauchon is also looking at new ways to entice guests.
“Unfortunately, over the next year, there will be fewer travelers coming to the Maldives, so fewer travelers but the same number of hotels, so it’s going to be a very, very competitive market,” he said.
“We have to innovate with new activities and experiences for our customers to enjoy something special. We cannot just sell the beach and our villas, it will not work anymore,” he said.