As most nations watch tourism nosedive, the Maldives has held onto its designer flip-flop travellers despite losing its largest market, China, when that country closed its external border.
The Ministry of Tourism says it welcomed 550,000 visitors from Europe, America and the Middle East for the nine months it was open last year. And in February, an average of 3460 guests arrived every day.
“The world’s super-rich basically have nowhere else to go,” shrugs Nihat Ercan, JLL’s head of investment sales Asia-Pacific. “The Maldives continues to be pretty much the sole international beneficiary of that.”
In one of the strangest travel groupings of all time, the Maldives, Albania, Serbia and Tanzania made headlines last July for opening their borders to inbound travellers with no restrictions. By contrast, many European countries welcoming tourists banned the British when the UK’s rates spiked.
As Shivdasani points out, given that the Maldives’ economy depends on tourism and GDP was plummeting – but infection rates had stabilised – it seemed foolish not to try. Around this time, the World Bank was predicting the Maldives would be one of the hardest-hit Asian nations in terms of economic destruction.
“We knew we had the infrastructure and the skills to handle the situation,” Shivdasani says. “When the pandemic hit, I had 70 guests across our three properties, and none of them wanted to return to their homes in Europe or wherever. They said right away that the Maldives was the safest place, and so they stayed from March until July.”
Shivdasani pulled all-nighters to get his resorts COVID-ready, including flying in a fully kitted-out laboratory from Roche in Switzerland for fast-turnaround testing. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. “We just had our busiest December-January period ever, far busier than 2019,” he says.
All travellers to the Maldives are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before their flight. On arrival in Malé, they’re flown by seaplane to their resort with minimal contact.
“Once our guests arrive, we perform a test right away; they’re confined to their villa for six hours or so, then free to enjoy the whole island after the test comes back negative,” Shivdasani says.
As for Ercan, he’s glad the early reopening has been successful and hopes more people will consider the Maldives – only four hours from Singapore or Bangkok – as a family destination.
“There are some very reasonable entry-level hotels like Mercure, Novotel and Holiday Inn, plus the Hard Rock Hotel, priced from $US250-$US350 a night,” he points out.
Ask Ercan if those properties come close to the $5000-a-night joints, and he’s nicely philosophical: “Once you get there, the crystal-clear water is all the same.”
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