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The Maldives reopens on July 15, but can it tempt travellers back?


The coronavirus pandemic has given us much to consider ” about humanity’s impact on the natural world, how we connect in a physically distanced digital-led landscape, and whether wearing a face mask is an expression of civic responsibility. It has also led to a new lexicon, some of which is decidedly cringey. Enter the “safecation”.

According to United States-based online travel agency Travelocity, a safecation is “a mini getaway to destinations that are cleared for safe travel during this time”. In the running for Asia’s most accessible safe-cation destination is the Maldives. While not exactly a “mini getaway” spot, it is forging ahead with a July 15 reopening, having reported eight deaths from Covid-19.

On that date, travel restrictions will be lifted and tourists entering the island nation will be given a 30-day visa on arrival. Resorts, liveaboard vessels and hotels on otherwise uninhabited islands will start welcoming guests, with establishments on inhabited islands opening from August 1.

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No proof of having tested negative for the virus or any other medical records are expected on arrival, but anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 will be asked to take ” and pay for ” a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Perhaps most enticingly, there will be no quarantine period once in the country. However, visitors will be required to spend the duration of their stay at the same property, which, for those accustomed to itinerant adventures, could sound like quarantine, albeit one spent in superlative comfort.

The good, bad and ugly sides of the Maldives

Regardless, the Maldives’ “new normal” entry requirements (aka, none really) are some of the easiest to understand and will require minimum effort. The simplicity smacks somewhat of desperation, which makes sense, given that tourism is the nation’s largest industry, directly and indirectly accounting for two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

And as happy as the Maldives will be to welcome travellers from anywhere in the world after almost four months of closure, the ones they want back most are the Chinese. Last year, a record 1.7 million tourists visited the archipelagic state, of whom 16.7 per cent were from China.

Although visitors will not be asked to isolate on arrival in the Maldives, it is likely they will have to do so on their return home. Hongkongers certainly will. Mainland Chinese, though, will benefit from a “fast lane” arrangement allowing them to bypass home quarantine. On June 23, the Maldives Insider website reported: “The Chinese government is setting up a testing facility at the Maldives main Velana International Airport with the capacity of 1,000 tests per day.” Travellers returning to mainland cities will have to take a Covid-19 swab test 48 hours before leaving the country, presumably at their resort, and then another back on home ground.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said the “fast lane” would come into effect on July 15 and added that similar arrangements were being explored with other countries. It seems clear, though, that tempting back the nation’s largest source market is a priority.

Whether those punters will return is another matter. Airlines are far from operating at a pre-pandemic frequency ” a quick search for flights between Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou and the Maldivian capital, Male, for July 15 results in no direct flights, with many journeys taking more than 24 hours.

Maldives incident shows bikini is not always appropriate holiday attire

Arrivals could also be put off by the relative ease of entry. According to Travelocity, 72 per cent of potential travellers said health and safety were their top priorities when considering when and where to go. An apparent lack of requirements might do more harm than good when it comes to attracting anxious tourists or convincing them the risk of coronavirus is being taken seriously.

Working in the Maldives’ favour is a reputation as a destination where the luxury lies in doing very little beyond relaxing in an overwater villa and watching the sun sink into the Indian Ocean, cocktail in hand. There are no crowded markets or thronged beaches. Resorts are also establishing their own pandemic protocols. At Soneva Fushi, this includes a PCR machine for testing guests on arrival before they are allocated an “isolation villa”, complete with private pool, at a reduced rate. Another test on day five will ensure the resort can operate mostly mask free.

Travel agent Kuoni recently reported that bookings for holidays in the Maldives are outperforming every other destination ” for 2021. Despite its best efforts, the Maldives may yet have to write off 2020, like the rest of the world.

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