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How Maldivian tourism can survive Covid-19

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By Sonu Shivdasani

The Maldives appears to have dodged a bullet. With just 19 cases of the novel coronavirus at the time of writing (with 13 people having already made a full recovery), the country is in an enviable position. As the United States and Europe groan under the strain of major outbreaks, with tens of thousands of deaths, the Maldives looks forward to completely eradicating the virus within a few weeks.

In some respects, the Maldives is lucky. The archipelago straddles the equator, where temperatures rarely dip below the high 20s. We know the virus doesn’t like heat, and it’s notable that the only major contagions have occurred in cold countries, during winter. The Maldives’ unique geography also lends itself towards containment: The government can, and has, rapidly shut down islands and resorts when a suspected case has emerged. If people test negative, the island is immediately reopened. If someone tests positive, the entire island is placed under quarantine to prevent a spread across the country.

But luck has only been the half of it. When other world leaders wasted precious weeks dithering, questioning the science, or dismissing the coronavirus as a hoax, the Solih administration got to work to protect the country: suspending flight routes, conducting widespread testing (the highest per capita testing in South Asia), and eventually closing the border completely. In a country wholly dependent on foreign tourism, the Government’s willingness to act decisively, in spite of the huge economic cost, almost certainly saved lives.

During the pandemic, the government also found its voice. The daily televised briefings by Mabrook Azeez, an undersecretary at the President’s Office, have been clear, consistent and comforting. The contrast with President Trump’s erratic and misleading press conferences couldn’t be starker.

But the question remains: if the Maldives is soon to be virus free, and contemplating reopening its borders, how best to do it? The last thing the country needs is a flood of infected tourists descending upon Hulhulé, forcing another costly shut down.

A good place to start might be with the super-rich. Beginning the process of opening up by allowing private jets to land has a number of advantages: there are few passengers onboard, who can be immediately isolated in the airport’s VIP lounge and tested for the virus upon arrival. If they test negative, they can go on their way. If they test positive, they can proceed to one of the resorts that have been converted into (arguably the world’s nicest) quarantine and isolation centres. Key to this will be rapid testing kits, that can deliver a result in minutes rather than days.

High end clients spend large sums of money compared to other tourists, so even allowing in a few private jets generates considerable revenues. Soneva has received around 20 enquiries from people who would like to travel to the Maldives by private jet. They intend to stay in our resorts for upwards of a month, to escape lockdowns back home. Although they amount to less than a couple of hundred people, these guests will likely spend around $5 million in total, generating some $600,000 in GST for the government.

Looking further ahead, the Maldives will need to start reopening commercial air routes. But testing a handful of private jet passengers at the airport is one thing, testing hundreds of people descending an A350 is quite another. The Maldives will probably begin opening direct flights to other coronavirus-free countries. China looks like a good bet, having all but wiped out the virus. It also has the advantage of being the Maldives’ biggest tourism market, with a number of existing direct flight routes, operated by Maldivian or Chinese carriers, between the two countries. At the moment, however, all Chinese tourists returning from abroad have to spend 14 days in quarantine in China – not a particularly attractive prospect for would-be tourists. The Maldivian government will have to work with its Chinese counterpart on a bilateral agreement, that allows Chinese tourists returning home from the Maldives to avoid quarantine.

Similar arrangements will have to be made with other countries. It might help to categorise them: “A” group countries could be those, like the Maldives, that have completely eradicated the virus. There is no reason not to operate direct, commercial flights between such destinations. “B” group countries might be those with very few remaining active cases — the Maldives might allow flights to and from such countries, but with added precautions. Then there are the “C” group countries with high numbers of cases — where the Maldives should keep in place travel restrictions.

The Maldives has avoided a coronavirus outbreak, although the economic price has been severe. In order to avoid the collapse of its tourism industry, however, the country must now plan to re-open. If the government approaches this challenge with the maturity and competence with which it has handled the crisis thus far, the Maldives may be spared much of the economic, as well as the human, pain of this pandemic.

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally published on Linkedin by Sonu Shivdasani. Sonu is the founder and CEO of Soneva, which owns luxury resorts Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives, and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.

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Prime Surf Season in Maldives: Niyama Welcomes Back Surf Pro Brad Gerlach and Surf Photographer Junior Gracia

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At Niyama Private Islands Maldives, surfing is a way of life. And with peak surf season fast approaching, two renowned surfies – Wave-Ki founder and instructor Brad Gerlach and whiz-behind-the-lens Junior Garcia – are set to take up residence.

Niyama Private Islands Maldives is the ultimate surf destination. Guests can jet in with their boards or get fully outfitted at the Rip Curl boutique, set up camp in one the specially outfitted surf villas, then hit the waves – including Vodi, a powerful and sometimes hollow wave that breaks right on shore. Afterwards, chill time awaits at the Surf Shack with rum and reggae, or at Drift Spa with a recovery back massage and sunburn-soothing aloe vera wrap.

In residence 10 March – 20 April to offer his revolutionary method of coaching is Brad Gerlach, the world’s #2 in 1991 after dominating the leader board for the majority of the year. He is the founder of Wave-Ki, a land-based method to perfect surf skills favoured by pros like Parker Coffin, with a martial art-like focus on slow, precise movements which create kinaesthetic motor memory for improved surfing once in the water.

There to capture guests mid-wave will be photographer Junior Garcia, at the resort 8 March 8 – September 30. Originally from Brazil, and now based in Bali, Junior has spent his life chasing the ultimate wave and the ultimate shot.

“The return of Brad and Junior to Niyama is epically exciting,” says Nathan Kemp, Surf Development Director at the resort. “Their unrivalled talents, combined with the perfect surf conditions and absolutely incomparable backdrop that is the Maldives, guarantees an unforgettable experience for all who will be staying with us during this time”.

While surfing in the Maldives can be enjoyed year-round, peak season runs from March to November. Brad can be booked for private or family coaching, first on land (USD 249) then in the water (USD 447). There will also be regular group land sessions (USD 74). Packages include a year’s access to Wave-Ki online, with video lessons, live sessions and Q&As, plus the option of one-on-one virtual coaching. Sessions with Junior begin at USD 249 per hour, or USD 489 for a week.

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Bunny hop to an Easter playground at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives and SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton

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Easter is the calm before the storm, the perfect time to jet off for a memorable family holiday before the summer rush floods in. Balmy, warm beaches, long spells of sunshine, colourful reef and glimmering lagoons must be on the top of your agendas for this Easter especially with the incredible line up of festivities and events lined up at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives and SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Easter here is a very special holiday filled with energy and enthusiasm for adventure-making for the toddlers, teenagers, adults, or grandparents (or all of them). The secret ingredient to it all is embedded in the brand ethos itself.

Kid-Friendly, Teen Approved, Roxity Kids Club ™ & Teen Spirit ® Club for This Easter

Who says grown-ups get to have all the fun? Kids need a place where they can have an adventure that’s exclusively theirs. Hard Rock Hotel Maldives signature, kid-friendly hangouts are part of an adult-free zone, each with its line up of exciting Easter activities. Start your day with the Bunny Dance Fitness session at the Pool Deck, where you can groove to the rhythm and get energized for the day ahead. As the sun sets, join the Easter Sundown Ritual, a harmonious celebration of the holiday spirit against the perfect tropical sunset backdrop.

Indulge in a Mexican dinner at The Elephant and The Butterfly, accompanied by live band performances that will set the stage on fire. The family favourite Easter Pool Party, is a must try on the list where you can make a splash and enjoy the beats of the Bunny DJ I-MJAN. For the little ones, there is plenty of fun with Roxity Mini Fun Fair, Easter Bunny Cookie Making, and the Roxity Easter Egg Hunting. For the ultimate thrill-seekers, take on the Easter Limbo Challenge at the Pool Deck or try your hand at the Bunny Silk Climbing Aerial Class at The Stage. With live music, delicious dining experiences, and exciting activities for all ages, Easter at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives promises to be an unforgettable melody of fun and excitement.

Koimala & Maalimi’s Junior Beach Club and Camp’s SAiiSational Easter Line-Up

Celebrate Easter with a touch of heartfelt charm at SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton. Start your day with a snorkeling house reef tour, where you can explore the vibrant underwater world of the Maldives. Join Saii Lagoon for Aqua Zumba and Water Polo at the Beach Club Pool, perfect for guests of all ages to enjoy some fun in the sun. Unwind with a cocktail-making competition and pool volleyball, promising exciting prizes for those who participate. For aspiring chefs, the SAii Master Chef Competition sets the perfect stage, where they can showcase their culinary skills and win fantastic rewards.

As the day winds down, indulge in the Easter Dinner Buffet at Tera and Mray, offering a delightful dining experience with live music. With its relaxed atmosphere and genuine hospitality, Easter at SAii Lagoon Maldives promises to be a truly SAiiSational experience, where every moment is a chance to reach out to the blue and embrace the beauty of the island.

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Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) holds its 34th Annual General Meeting

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The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) held its 34th Annual General Meeting at Kurumba Maldives today, with a total of 100 members in attendance. 

The day’s events began with a welcome address from the Chairman of MATI, Mr. Mohamed Umar, who also presided over the session. The agenda included an address from the Secretary General, Mr. Ahmed Nazeer, the review and approval of the minutes of the 33rd AGM, the review and adoption of the Annual Report and Financial Reports for 2023, the approval of the 2024 budget, the appointment of auditors for 2024, the welcoming of new members and election of executive board members to the two vacant positions (by-election).

In the member discussion session, the following topics were covered: the Government’s aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2023 and renewable energy generation in the Tourism Industry, new terminal of Velana International Airport and developments, employment challenges, the Industrial Relations Act and trade unions, environmental conservation and the significance of creating and executing efficient management plans for protected areas like the South Ari Marine Protected Area (SAMPA).

Following the official proceedings, the Minister of Tourism Hon. Ibrahim Faisal and the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Hon. Mohamed Saeed joined the forum. The Ministers provided remarks and engaged in a Member Q&A session. This session provided members with the chance to directly engage with the Ministers and delve into crucial industry topics. The queries focused on the Economic Outlook, forthcoming development plans and  immediate challenges and issues affecting the Tourism Industry.

A video presentation was also showcased that delved into the extensive work undertaken by MATI in 2023. The video also touched upon the Tourism Industry’s performance over the past 5 years, as well as the current and projected human resource capacity of the sector.

In his closing remarks, the Secretary General highlighted the importance of collaborative efforts in addressing industry challenges and called for greater unison amongst industry stakeholders, ending with an acknowledgement of the promising start to the year in terms of arrivals.

Executive Board Members elected to the 2 vacant positions (by-election):

  1. Ibrahim Shareef, CEO and Managing Director of Maldives Airports Company Limited
  2. Renato De Olivera, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands and representative of Marriott International
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