By Pallavi Pasricha
India emerged as the third largest market to Maldives since it reopened. Since India and the Maldives set up South Asia’s first air bubble in August, many Indians have made the picturesque islands nestled in the Indian ocean their favourite holiday spot. In fact, India has become the third biggest market for the tiny tourism-dependant country as it leaves no stone unturned to make visitors feel safe during the pandemic. I travelled here last month and not only did I fall in love with this island country, but also felt totally secure.
Formalities before flying
One of the key factors prompting Indians to pack their bags for an exotic resort in the Maldives is the relatively short flight duration, no visa hassles and no quarantine. Air India, Go Air and IndiGo have flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Male.
Of course, there are pandemic-related procedures and protocols in place – when I travelled from Delhi, I flew on Air India via Trivandrum where I had to show a Covid negative report at immigration. I also had to fill up an online health declaration form where I had to upload my photo and the negative PCR report which should not be older than 96 hours. They give a QR code which should be kept because they can ask for it at the airport. I also needed to register and fill up a form https://haalubelun.hpa.gov.mv/ stating how you I was feeling, 24-hours before arriving.
Airport and flight experience
It’s the new normal for air travel and the web check in is now mandatory. The airline handed out a kit with a face shield, mask and hand sanitizer before boarding the flight. Unfortunately there was no alcohol or hot beverages served on the flight and Air India gave us a box with a juice, sandwich and some sweets. Once you land at Male, you go through the immigration procedure where they stamp the passport.
I was in this gorgeous country for a week and stayed at two resorts – Kandima Maldives and Heritance Aarah. Maldives is dotted with 1190 islands with more than 130 resorts and to reach the resort you need to take either a speed boat or a seaplane. I took a seaplane to Kandima since it was far but it’s a memorable 40-minute journey as you feast your eyes on the emerald blue ocean dotted with islands.
“From arrival to departure, the procedures set in place, all resorts and guest houses were situated in the local islands are required to take protective measures, ensuring the safety of tourists and staff working in the industry,” says, Thoyyib Mohamed, MD, Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC). How the resorts are prepared for Covid-19
My first resort was Kandima Maldives located on one of the largest islands in Maldives at the Dhaalu atoll. With more than 250 rooms and villas stretching along the sandy beaches of the Indian ocean, it was quite stylish. As soon as we reached, we let out a huge sigh of relief on being told that we no longer need to wear masks. This resort is one of the few in Maldives that has a full-fledged medical clinic.
“We’ve got the K’OnGuard Program – we have 24-hour round the clock doctors, nurses, isolation units, contagious disease units, a dental clinic, ultra sound machines, first level of cardiac arrest machines so people feel safe when they come here,” says Neeraj Seth, Marketing Communications & Public Relations Director.
When it comes to Covid-19, they have all checks and systems in place. The big hospital is a 20-minute boat ride away, so Kandima is able to do the Covid-19 testing quite easily with in-house doctors at the resort collecting samples from the guests in their room.
If someone is found Covid positive, they can choose to isolate in their room if the infection is mild, but if the situation gets more serious, they are moved to isolation units. There are water ambulances on call and facilities to be airlifted to government hospitals.
Besides a number of restaurants and bars where you can eat gourmet food and have exotic cocktails, in Kandima, the stress is also on activities and water sports. When you have had enough of the latter, they even a football field and tennis court for those who wanting to kick a ball or field a racket.
My next resort, Heriance Aarah on Raa atoll, made me feel equally pampered, safe and secure. It stands out because it’s the first one in the country to get a?LEED Gold-certificate and is a sustainable resort. I could have spent hours at my ocean villa, staring at the manta rays from the glass bottom floor patch next to my bed. Water villas are very popular – built on stilts they are on the ocean and the deck gives you direct access to the lagoon and ocean.
With six restaurants and five bars, the food here is exceptionally good. My temperature was checked each time I entered a restaurant for a meal. I had to get a PCR test done before my departure flight and everything was smooth as the technician came to my room and did that. It costs about US$150 for the test. Before I got back to Delhi yet again I had to fill up a number of forms online – the online heath declaration form on the Maldives government portal, the Air Suvidha self reporting form where I had to upload my Covid Negative report. I also needed to apply for exemption to avoid institutional quarantine and then got an e-mail confirmation saying exemption approved.
Celebrities holidaying in Maldives
Since this country opened up, a lot of hotels and resorts have hosted rich and famous Indians, including Bollywood celebrities like Tiger Shroff, Tapsee Pannu, Varun Dhawan, Neha Dhupia, Disha Patani, Eli Avram and Mouni Roy. Some of their posts on social media have given their followers a glimpse of this island country where you can truly sit back, relax and forget the pandemic.
It has helped boost business. “We have had several top celebrities from India holidaying in the Maldives which assured others who are planning a visit of the stringent safety measures we have taken,” adds Mohamed.
Indian market is growing
Even before the pandemic, Maldives had begun emerging as a favourite destination for Indians. “The Indian market has shown significant growth over recent years and by the end of 2019 the growth was +83.5% with a market share of 9.7 % and ranked second biggest source market in terms of arrivals,” says Mohamed.
Hotels saw a significant boost in the number of Indians coming in 2019 – Kandima’s Indian visitors for example increased by 15 to 30% . But of course, Indians usually stay for a shorter duration compared to visitors from other countries who can spend upto a fortnight in Maldives.
The honeymoon market is especially big in the Maldives. “Our natural beauty, rich marine life and excellent hospitality makes us a hot spot for honeymooners. India is the world’s second largest wedding market globally, and many Indian tourists visit Maldives for their honeymoon,” adds Mohamed.
I really enjoyed this week in Maldives and cannot wait to go back to this stunning country and the blue ocean.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. Views expressed are personal.)