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The Maldivian ‘new normal’



By Sonu Shivdasani

It has been a torrid few days in the Maldives’ battle against Covid-19: we’ve seen spikes in new cases and, unfortunately, the country’s first victim. In much of the rest of the world, though, the news has been more positive. Many countries, which are also big tourism markets to the Maldives, have flattened the curve and slowly started opening back up.

Life is starting to resemble a sort-of-normal in places such as Austria, Switzerland and Germany (although there is still no date for when international borders will reopen). Hopefully, the Maldives will flatten its curve over the next couple of weeks and bring the virus outbreak under control. This begs the question: what might the ‘new normal’ look like here?

There are many unique aspects to the virus. One of the most unexpected relates not to epidemiology, but to politics. In every global crisis since the Second World War, the United States led the global recovery effort. But under President Trump, America has turned its back to the world, and shunned international co-operation. Under Obama or Bush, the world could have sat back and allowed the superpower to lead efforts to combat the virus, and set international protocols about air travel and reopening borders. In the absence of US leadership, the Maldives, alongside everyone else, will have to figure this out on their own.

With travel and tourism accounting for a huge slice of the Maldivian economy and generating most jobs, clearly a ‘new normal’ has to include the re-opening of the country to tourists. But how can this be done safely?

We will have to work closely with other countries and organisations. This means striking bilateral agreements with our major tourism markets in Western Europe, India, and China, as well as working with international tourism bodies such as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to establish a way forward. One of the tricky issues will be establishing new protocols on how people can travel, how they are screened upon arrival, and how they can avoid the requirement to quarantine for two weeks when they return home.

For the Maldives, testing and screening passengers upon arrival and departure will have to become part of our new normal; it is difficult to see how we can reopen safely without it. This will pose challenges and require strict new protocols at the airports, but testing will become progressively easier as test kits become quicker, cheaper, and more reliable.

Hygiene will become a major consideration, or ‘qualifier’, for holidaymakers. Nobody wants to stay in a dirty hotel room, but in the Covid-19 era, hygiene will take on a whole new meaning. Travel and tour operators will compete fiercely on providing a safe, hygienic holiday, where social distancing can be maintained. Last week brought news of a partnership between Bureau Veritas, a testing, inspection and certification company, and Accor, a major hotel chain, which will establish standards for hygiene in hotel operations.

Other hotel companies are bound to follow suit, tying up with inspection agencies in order to reassure would-be travellers that their hotel rooms, restaurants and communal areas are properly sanitised, and the property isn’t overcrowded.

In an era where guests are as preoccupied about safety and hygiene as they are about the quality of the food, Maldivian resorts are well placed. The country is one of the few to operate a policy of ‘one island one resort’ – a geographic advantage that makes it much easier to prevent and contain a coronavirus outbreak, because each resort can strictly control who steps onto their island. In fact, the English word ‘isolation’ and the Italian ‘isola’ both derive from the Latin ‘insula’, which means island. Island = isolation. Perhaps the country’s tourism strapline, “The Sunny Side of Life” needs to change to reflect the safe, isolated nature of its resorts.

At Soneva, we’ve been thinking through our own ‘new normal’. We believe that customers’ fears over safety will be allayed by a rigorous new testing regime. Soneva plans to give everyone who arrives at our resorts a quick coronavirus test. After completing the test, guests will be escorted straight to their villa, or staff to their host accommodation, until the result comes through. If the test is negative, the guest or host can carry on as normal. If the test is positive, we will follow government rules, which likely means moving people to an isolation facility – which are fortunately some of the world’s most luxurious, located in resorts.

If such a testing policy was introduced across the Maldives, it will reassure tourists that the country is safe to visit, and also reduce the likelihood of future virus outbreaks. Robust testing also provides the Maldives with the opportunity of creating something truly unique: virus free resorts.

By testing everyone who comes onto an island, we can ensure that everybody on it is clear of the virus. This would render social distancing, and no-touching rules, unnecessary within that particular island. Maldivian resorts could thus transport guests back to the heyday of 2019, without constant coronavirus reminders spoiling their holiday. This could be a major ‘differentiator’ for Maldivian tourism compared to other holiday destinations.

For the rest of the world, largely made up of bigger countries adjoined to each other by land borders, it is almost impossible to create virus-free havens. The threat of infection will always lurk in the building across the street, the hotel staff who travel to work each morning on crowded public transport, or from the neighbouring country with a porous border.

The ‘new normal’ in the Maldives will be different to the normal life we enjoyed before Covid-19. But the country remains extremely lucky because of its unique geography. If the right testing protocols are established, the Maldives will enjoy a significant competitive advantage – something that could underpin its future prosperity, even during these troubled and turbulent times.

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.

An Insider

Abdulla Wisam: A journey of excellence and growth in the Maldivian hospitality industry



In the heart of the stunning Maldives, where luxury resorts and crystal-clear waters come together to create a paradise on Earth, there are individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional. One such individual is Abdulla Wisam, whose remarkable journey in the hospitality industry is a testament to his dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to providing the best possible service to guests.

Abdulla Wisam’s journey in the hospitality industry began right after completing his schooling. In 2003, he embarked on his professional career by joining Dhoveli Beach Resort & Spa, where he gained his first taste of the world of hospitality. It was here that he discovered his passion for creating memorable guest experiences and building relationships with visitors from around the world.

After his initial foray into the industry, Wisam’s career path continued to evolve. His dedication and hard work caught the attention of industry leaders, leading him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. His time at Meeru Island Resort saw him as an Outlet Cashier and Night Auditor, roles that allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of a resort.

Wisam’s determination and eagerness to learn led him to the iconic Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where he started as a Recreation Attendant. Over time, he showcased his exceptional skills in guest relations and management, and he was promoted to the position of Front Office Supervisor. His journey with Four Seasons served as a stepping stone for what was to come next.

In 2014, Wisam joined the W Maldives, a resort known for its luxurious offerings and unparalleled guest experiences. Starting as a Welcome Team Leader, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his impeccable guest service skills and innate leadership abilities. His promotion to Guest Experience Manager was a testament to his ability to not only meet but exceed guest expectations. He was then transferred to The St. Regis Maldives as the Assistant Front Office Manager with the pre-opening team.

As his career trajectory continued its upward trajectory, Wisam took on the role of Front Office Manager at prestigious resorts such as Milaidhoo Island, Raffles Maldives, and The Standard Maldives. These roles allowed him to refine his management style, hone his problem-solving skills, and contribute to the overall success of each resort.

Wisam’s journey eventually led him to COMO Cocoa Island, a resort renowned for its unparalleled luxury and exquisite attention to detail. Joining as the Front Office Manager, he embraced the challenges and responsibilities that came with the position. His dedication, combined with his innate ability to create genuine connections with guests, led to his promotion as the Director of Rooms.

Wisam’s journey in the Maldivian hospitality industry is a remarkable tale of perseverance, growth, and a genuine passion for creating exceptional guest experiences. His diverse roles, spanning from recreation to guest experience management, have equipped him with a holistic understanding of the industry. His commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to delivering top-tier service have not only benefited the resorts he’s been a part of but have also contributed to elevating the reputation of Maldives as a premier luxury travel destination.

As Wisam continues to shape the guest experience landscape at COMO Cocoa Island, one can only imagine the heights he will reach and the impact he will make on the ever-evolving hospitality industry of the Maldives. His journey stands as an inspiration to aspiring hoteliers and a testament to the boundless opportunities that await those who are truly passionate about their craft.

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Fan Club

A remarkable tale of wanderlust: Naito Takashi’s 103rd journey to the Maldives



The azure waters of the Maldives have long been a magnet for travelers seeking paradise on Earth. Among these wanderers, one name stands out – Naito Takashi, a Japanese tourist whose boundless enthusiasm for the Maldives has led him to visit this tropical haven a staggering 103 times. His unwavering love for this island nation, coupled with its mesmerizing beauty, has turned his visits into a remarkable testament to the allure of the Maldives.

For the past 24 years, Naito Takashi has visited Maldives between three to five times annually, embarking on a journey that has spanned more than two decades. His tale is one of dedication, passion, and a deep-rooted connection with the captivating landscapes that the Maldives offers. Each visit is not just a vacation; it’s a renewal of his profound relationship with the natural wonders that have captured his heart.

Naito Takashi’s 103rd arrival to the Maldives was met with a warm and heartfelt welcome from none other than the Tourism Minister himself, Dr. Abdulla Mausoom. This gesture symbolizes the deep appreciation the Maldivian people have for their loyal and devoted visitors. The ceremony held aboard the M/V Blue of the Fun Azul Fleet was a fitting tribute to a traveler who has become an honorary ambassador of the Maldives.

The M/V Blue, Fun Azul Fleet, holds special significance for Naito Takashi. As an avid diver, he has found his perfect companion in this cruise boat specialized in diving charters. The vessel offers schedules tailored to explore the best dive spots around the Maldives’ islands, making it an ideal partner for a diving enthusiast like Naito Takashi. The crystal-clear waters of the Maldives have witnessed countless underwater escapades orchestrated by this intrepid traveler.

The Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism has lauded Naito Takashi’s enduring passion for the nation’s beauty. Their tweet acknowledging his multiple visits serves as a testament to his unique and cherished relationship with the country. He has witnessed the ever-changing landscape of the Maldives, from its pristine beaches to its vibrant marine life, and has undoubtedly contributed to the thriving tourism industry.

Naito Takashi’s story also reflects the profound impact that travel can have on an individual’s life. His unwavering commitment to exploring the Maldives has not only enriched his own experiences but has also brought attention to the natural wonders of Maldives. It stands as a reminder that the act of traveling is not just about ticking off destinations from a bucket list; it’s about forming connections, fostering appreciation, and creating lasting memories.

As Naito Takashi continues his journey through the Maldives, his story resonates as an inspiration to fellow travelers and a tribute to the unyielding allure of this island paradise. His 103rd visit is not just a numerical milestone; it’s a celebration of an extraordinary bond between a traveler and a destination, a bond that has grown stronger with each passing year and promises to endure for years to come.

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Amari Raaya Maldives opens its gates to paradise



In a grand celebration of luxury and nature’s wonders, Amari Raaya Maldives resort has officially opened its doors, welcoming its first guests to experience a slice of paradise in the Maldives. The exclusive event was attended by the resort’s management team, as well as Atul Chordia, Chairman of Panchshil Realty, the developer behind this magnificent project.

Nestled on a pristine natural island in the heart of the Maldives’ Raa Atoll, Amari Raaya promises to be a sanctuary for travelers seeking an unforgettable escape amidst the archipelago’s breathtaking beauty. From the moment guests arrived via Manta Air seaplane, they were greeted with warm hospitality and a taste of Maldivian culture, as they were presented with traditional cultural items and treated to mesmerizing Maldivian dances.

Atul Chordia, the visionary behind Panchshil Realty, and Yuthachai Charanachitta ONYX Hospitality Group’s CEO marked the official opening of the resort by cutting the ribbon, signifying the culmination of a labor of love and dedication to creating a unique haven for luxury travelers.

With 187 villas offering a variety of luxurious experiences, Amari Raaya ensures that every guest’s stay is truly exceptional. Visitors can choose from an array of accommodation options, including the Beach Villas, Beach Pool Villas, and interconnecting Family Beach Villas, perfect for creating cherished memories with loved ones.

For those seeking unparalleled luxury and seclusion, the Ocean Villas and Ocean Pool Villas provide panoramic views of the azure waters teeming with marine life. Sunset enthusiasts can revel in the breathtaking beauty of the Maldivian dusk from the privacy of their villas, opting for the Sunset Ocean Villas or Sunset Ocean Pool Villas, promising an unforgettable experience.

Amari Raaya Maldives goes beyond offering captivating villas; it has curated an extraordinary culinary journey for its guests. With eight distinct dining options, visitors can embark on a gastronomic adventure that caters to every palate. From the signature Amaya Food Gallery, serving famous street food and hawker delights, to the rooftop bar Ampers&nd, where guests can savor sunset snacks and cocktails, the resort promises to delight all epicureans. Poolside Italian favorites, freshly caught seafood infused with Maldivian and Asian flavors, and the fun and playful experience of enjoying mobile snacks and drinks served from a bus all add to the culinary magic of the resort.

In the evenings, guests can find a sense of community and immerse themselves in the local culture through live music, traditional Boduberu nights, and regular cultural events and festivities, making every moment at Amari Raaya Maldives an enriching and memorable one.

Amari Raaya Maldives is developed by Panchshil Realty, a name synonymous with excellence in luxury real estate in India. The resort is managed by Onyx Hospitality, renowned for its exceptional and personalized hospitality experiences.

With its official opening, Amari Raaya Maldives invites travelers from around the world to discover the allure of the Maldives in unparalleled comfort and style. As guests arrive at this oasis of luxury and natural splendor, they are sure to find themselves enchanted by the timeless beauty of the islands and immersed in an experience that will linger in their hearts forever.

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