“I was shocked when I started hearing about other Maldives companies and people losing their jobs, so I feel quite lucky,” says Hussain, who resumed his role at Soneva Jani.
For those who retained their jobs, returning to work involved a steep learning curve. “The resort had a very short period of time to set everything up for reopening, with lots of training and changes,” says Nazeer, the Four Seasons manager. “For example, we are not allowed to shake hands with or have physical contact with guests, but I think these are good changes.”
Hussain’s experience has been similar. “We went through a great amount of training, so we know what we have to do and which precautions to take from day one until guests’ departure,” he says. On arrival day, he says, barefoot butlers are masked and have very little contact with guests until their PCR test results arrive on day two. If the results are negative, interaction becomes pre-pandemic normal.
All three workers, who live at the resorts part-time, undergo COVID tests about every week, and must test and quarantine in their respective resorts whenever they return from another Maldivian island or destination. This rule also applies to Nazeer, though his home island is within walking distance from his job.
The summer and fall saw a gradual trickling in of tourists, allowing some time to adjust to these new protocols, though things have become more complicated since then. By winter, many Maldives resorts had returned to peak, pre-pandemic levels of demand, say staffers—though the infrastructure to support those guests is not what it used to be.
“Currently, the occupancy at Four Seasons is quite high, and our employee count is fewer now,” says Nazeer. (None of the three resorts currently have a capacity limit.) “So the workload is much higher, especially with new safety and hygiene procedures like doing a rigorous three-step disinfecting process with the dive and snorkel equipment. But I enjoy it.” Likewise, Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa’s 120 villas have seen fully booked days, and at Soneva Jani, says Hussain, this past December proved busier than in 2019.
And though 72-hour COVID test results and timely health declaration forms are enforced upon entry to the Maldives, some employees still naturally worry about their safety,
“The Maldives is still getting a lot of positive cases in different areas,” says Nazeer. “If someone was COVID-positive in Kuda Huraa—I have to be honest—I’d likely be the first one getting it, because I have to go dive with the guests and we can’t wear face masks.” In most resorts in the Maldives, mandatory testing is only for employees, not guests.
It’s a stark difference from Hussain’s outlook—Soneva Jani is one of very few Maldives resorts to require in-villa testing and quarantine all arriving guests. “Sometimes I don’t feel that I’m living in a pandemic when at work, because when Soneva guests and staff receive their test results, they release the masks and live normally,” Hussain says. “I think guests are very happy and feel safe when they’re around the island because of it.”
Worries and workload aside, these front-line employees maintain an upbeat outlook. “I feel lucky to be at work,” says Nazeer, a husband and father of two young children. “That’s something I don’t take for granted.”
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