Overseas arrivals are expected to be a slow trickle only when the Maldives reopens its borders to international tourists this month, but local hoteliers are cautiously optimistic that the destination’s tourism recovery will gain momentum when more air connections resume and travel restrictions ease from source markets.
From July 15, international visitors of any nationality will be able to enter the country without needing to pay visa fees or provide a negative Covid-19 testing. They will need to fill out a health declaration form and undergo thermal screening upon landing in the Maldives, and are encouraged to download the TraceEkee app for contact tracing.
Visitors who show symptoms at arrival will be required to pay for a coronavirus test and quarantine at either a designated facility or their pre-booked resort; they will be allowed to leave if the test results are negative.
In addition, the Ministry of Tourism has issued a 28-page guideline for restarting tourism in the Maldives, outlining “the minimum standards upon which each individual property has to formulate a tailored plan before commencement of operations”.
Private island resorts and liveaboards are open to bookings starting from July 15, while guesthouses and hotels located on inhabited islands are permitted to reopen from August 1.
The clearly outlined process sends a “positive message to the market that the Maldives is reopening with minimal restrictions but strict guidelines”, said Alexandre Glauser, general manager of Amari Havodda Maldives.
Who’s actually coming
The Maldives may be welcoming foreign visitors back with open arms, but hoteliers are all too aware that two other factors – air connectivity and removal of quarantines from visitor source markets – are critical to restart tourism in the country.
International air capacity is already building up again for the Maldives, with Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Sri Lankan Airlines among carriers resuming flights to the destination this month while Singapore Airlines will reinstate flights to Male in August.
Bigger challenges still remain. The fact that many country borders remain closed and that a two-week quarantine period is imposed on returning travellers are still major impediments to outbound travel. As reported by Travel Weekly Asia earlier, Maldives’ reopening news has incited booking inquiries from the UK, but if the destination’s openness is not reciprocated in the source country the bookings will not be actualised.
Conversely, the absence of travel bans from countries with borders already opened up are clearly propping up demand for the Maldives.
For Grand Park Kodhipparu Maldives, which is reopening this month to welcome its first guest on July 16, General Manager Raffaele Solferino revealed that the 120-villa resort is currently seeing “good response from the United Arab Emirates” as the Middle Eastern nation currently imposes no outbound travel restrictions on its citizens and residents.
Adaaran Resorts will first reopen Adaaran Prestige Vadoo on July 27 to target the GCC market in time for the Eid Al Adha holidays, while its other properties will only resume operations in September as EU countries are expected to open their borders by then, the boutique chain's assistant vice president - sales & marketing Suresh Dissanayake told Travel Weekly Asia.
Latest insights from Sojern indicate that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia show consistently increasing flight searches to the Maldives in recent weeks. “Most searches are for departure date not further than three months away, with a good chunk of searches now targeting departure in 2021,” according to the travel digital marketing firm.
Ramping up for recovery
While summer may be off to a tepid start for the Maldives, hoteliers are hopeful that international travellers will start making a comeback in Q4.
“We expect occupancy of 3-4% over the next two weeks and 7-10% moving into August,” said Solferino. “For December and early next year, we still have business on the books from earlier. Summer is still uncertain, but we expect recovery by Q4… If we can reach 20-30 percent occupancy [by year-end] we will be very lucky.”
Glauser is also expecting “decent occupancy only from October-November onwards”, a key reason why the 120-villa Amari Havodda Maldives is only resuming operations in September. “We see more booking trends towards Christmas and early next year, and therefore expect demand to become stronger when partners see actual flights taking off,” he added.
Looking ahead, the trade is confident that the Maldives will remain a sought-after destination when travel restrictions ease, especially with its ‘one island, one resort’ positioning which already allow for social distancing measures to be naturally in place.
In particular, “revenge travel” is expected to drive the return of the Europeans to Maldivian shores, as they want to celebrate the end of lockdown and see something different, said Glauser. “The Europeans are also more likely to stick to travel decisions, and they usually book ahead for once-in-a-lifetime destinations like the Maldives.”
Adaaran Resorts' Dissanyake shares similar observations. "The UK market is very resilient and most of our bookings are from UK market, with most bookings being seven nights and above," he noted.
After hitting a record low in April 2020, Sojern revealed that flight searches for the Maldives from Europe are showing upward trends again, with two prominent periods – July-August 2020 and December 2020 – surfacing over the past two month.
Meanwhile, Solferino is appealing to savvy travellers to visit the Maldives, as the higher staff to guest ratio will pave for even more creative and intimate guest experiences during this period. “It’s the new normal but we are creating something beyond normal. Guests can expect even more personalised and high engagement service,” he said.