By Samridhi Bhardwaj
After a long hiatus, when Maldives decided to open its border on July 15, 2020, the island country became a favourite holiday destination for Bollywood celebrities, as well as for travel enthusiasts from around the world.
Comprising a total of 1,196 islands, of which only 200 are inhabited, the country offers unique geography, pristine white beaches, turquoise water, exotic resorts and immense scope for adventure activities. Thanks to the air travel bubble agreement now, Maldives presents the perfect destination for a travel-deprived soul.
Gaurav Chawla, the director of Swan Tours, New Delhi, tells indianexpress.com: “Indians contributed to approximately 20-30 per cent of the tourists prior to the pandemic, but ever since the island country opened its borders, their numbers have gone up to around 60-65 per cent. India has emerged as the third largest market to Maldives.” The reason, says Chawla, is that there are restrictions on other travel destinations.
Impact of the pandemic on Maldives’ tourism sector
Being a tourism-dependent archipelago, Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector was hit hard during the lockdown.
Where around 1.7 million tourists visited the picturesque destination in 2019, only 4,40,197 tourists have visited the country between January 1 and November 16, 2020, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The expected number of tourists in 2020 was around 2 million.
In a statement, Ali Waheed, the country’s minister for tourism, described the pandemic as “more devastating than the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 global financial crisis”.
To revive the dying tourism sector, the country promised facilities like on-arrival visas, easy access to shores, and no-quarantine policy for tourists.
“The Maldives needs tourism,” Abdulla Mausoom, an industry veteran who was appointed Maldives’ tourism minister in mid-August, told Al Jazeera. “When tourism stops, everything stops.”
What also attracts tourists from all over the world and makes them feel safe, is the islands’ strict adherence to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, with some extra precautions.
“We are confident we can ensure the safety of our guests – because our geography enables us to do it,” Abdulla Mausoom said. “There’s no place safer.”
Guidelines and procedures currently in place
All tourists are required to hold a negative nucleic acid test (PCR test) report for COVID-19 prior to entry. The PCR test must be taken no more than 72 hours prior to the scheduled time of departure, as per Thomas Cook. Infants are exempted.
Also, travellers who are travelling to and from the Maldives, should submit a self-health declaration, 24 hours prior to their travel. This health declaration must be filled and submitted electronically via the online portal of Maldives Immigration.
If anyone tests positive upon entry to the Maldives, they must follow the Health Protection Agency (HPA) measures. They will be restricted from an inter-island transfer.
All tourists are recommended to install the contact tracing app ‘TraceEkee’.
Maldives has been declared a “safe destination” by the World Travel and Tourism Council, with under 14,000 cases and 48 total deaths since the pandemic began.
How to reach there?
Thanks to its close proximity to the equator, the Maldives has a tropical monsoon climate with year-round warm weather. Temperatures average between 26°C and 29°C throughout the year, with the warmest temperatures occurring between March and April.
Being a winter destination, the best time to visit the breathtaking island country is between November and March.
Maldives is well-connected with the rest of the world. The airlines frequently flying from India and back are IndiGo, GoAir and SpiceJet, according to Honey Singh, Head Sales and Operations, Flip Trip Holidays.
The average round trip tickets for a couple should cost around INR 27,000-37,000 ($366- $502), which earlier stood around INR 40,000 ($543).
Depending on the distance of your destination island from the capital Male, you will either be taking the speed boat, sea plane or a domestic flight. It is advisable to reach Male before sunset, since the runway is not well-lit during nights and, therefore, sea planes are not operational.
Where to stay?
Maldives offers exquisite villas and resorts with personal pools and butlers. A luxurious villa for two, with meals and liquor included, will cost you around INR 20,000-30,000 ($271- $407) a day.
If you’re on a budget trip or are keen on experiencing the local life, feel free to explore guesthouses on public islands, which have been made open for tourists since 2009. Being one of the only two countries India has an air bubble agreement with — the other being Dubai — Maldives has been witnessing a surge in demand even during COVID-19.
According to Swan Travel Agency, the rooms for January and February 2021, mostly comprising honeymooners, are already 90 per cent booked.
Though prices have not plummeted tremendously and you may not get the discount you were looking for, if lucky, you might get loads of freebies, complimentary massages, spa treatments, free scuba diving sessions and even an upgrade to a premium villa!
Things to do
The beauty of the Maldives lies not only above the water but also under it, and that’s exactly the reason why the country has bagged the fourth place in a list of places that will enhance the worldwide travel scene in 2021, compiled by Lonely Planet.
The country offers water sports like parasailing, surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and kite surfing, to name a few.
Glowing beach on Vaadhoo Island, romantic candlelight dinner at Soneva Fushi, water bungalow like Cheval Blanc Randheli, white sand beach at Hulhumale Beach, helicopter ride over islands of Maldives, scuba diving at Maafushi, and underwater snorkelling in Hanifaru Bay — Maldives has a plethora of activities in store for you!
You can also head to the local markets for shopping handicrafts, souvenirs, sarongs, clothing, etc.
If you are an architecture enthusiast, you can visit sites like the President Palace, the National Museum and the Utheemu Ganduvaru.
Maldives has also won the World’s Leading Destination Award, granted by World Travel Awards 2020, a true testament to continuous efforts to ensure it remains one of the safest tourist destinations in the world.
Dos and don’ts
* Since Maldives is majorly a Muslim country, ensure you dress modestly, if you plan to stay on a public island or visit local places.
* Maldives prohibits alcohol, pork and religious materials for distribution.
* Although you’ll find a store for your basic needs on a private island, it’s advisable that you carry your own essentials.
* Being closer to the equator, Maldives gets plenty of sunshine. There is a risk of sun damage to your skin. Carry sunscreen.
* Don’t forget to pack your swimsuits and loads of cotton tees along with an umbrella.
(The writer is an intern at indianexpress.com)
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