‘Naturally Isolated,’ Maldives Reopens Borders
After almost four months since the suspension of on-arrival tourist visas, Maldives tourism industry has reopened with enhanced precautionary measures against COVID-19. The first tourists arrived Wednesday morning, 15th July 2020, onboard Qatar Airways that landed at the Velana International Airport (VIA).
Connecting from various countries, 107 foreigners and 24 Maldivians arrived on the first commercial flight to land in Maldives since borders closed for tourists on 27th March 2020. Government ministers Fayyaz Ismail and Aishath Nahula, as well as the Managing Director of Maldives Marketing Corporation Thoyyib Waheed and Acting Managing Director of Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) as well as other seniors government dignitaries and industry stakeholders were present at the airport to welcome the passengers on the first flight marking the reopening of Maldives for tourists.
While the flight was welcomed by a water salute organized by MACL, the disembarking tourists were warmly welcomed to the ‘new normal’ at VIA. Precautionary measures such as social distancing, minimal touch points, frequent sanitization and mask wearing were in place to ensure the safety of all visitors and staff at the airport.
The tourism sector is the worst hit of all major economic sectors with the outbreak of the COVID- 19 pandemic. This is especially true in the Maldives, where tourism accounts for the majority of foreign exchange earnings. Nevertheless, the government had insisted that the health and safety of tourists and residents in the Maldives have always been paramount and the resumption of the tourism industry was only given the go ahead following extensive consultations with health professionals and all stakeholders.
A COVID-19 safe tourism guideline has been issued by the Ministry of Tourism along with a certification program to ensure the safety and hygiene standards of all tourism facilities which include accommodation, transportation, airports and other related facilities.
Resorts, hotels and liveaboards located on uninhabited islands are allowed to resume operations from 15th July 2020 whereas hotels and guest houses located on inhabited islands will be allowed to open from 1st August 2020. A total of 40 resorts are in operation as borders were reopened yesterday.
With the gradual lifting of travel restrictions and the resumption of flights around the world, it is estimated that the Maldives may end up with a million visitors by end of year (compared to 1.7 million visitors in 2019), and is expected to affect a shortfall of USD 450 million in foregin currency revenues to the state and a state deficit of MVR 13 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the tourism industry.
While the pandemic plays out in different parts of the world and especially in Maldives’ source markets, it remains to be seen if the country is able to reach its goal of welcoming a million visitors by the end of 2020.
Many have been citing the unique geography of the Maldives’ archipelago and the unique ‘one island, one resort’ aspect of the tourism product as somewhat ideal conditions for travellers in a post COVID-19 world. The isolation and privacy offered by Maldives resorts have always been an aspect of the destination that visitors have sought out, and perhaps now the country can really turn this around to a remarkable USP that would differentiate Maldives from other destinations.