$50k ‘safe tourism licence’, $100 visa fee, virus testing: Maldives invites comments on tourism reopening proposals

Tourism authorities in Maldives have invited comments from industry stakeholders on draft guidelines, which — if finalised — will see the introduction of a $100 visa fee and mandatory on-arrival testing for coronavirus for all tourists when the island nation reopens its borders to visitors.

Draft guidelines published Tuesday by the archipelago’s tourism ministry say entry visa will be charged at $100 “until further notice” and will be issued only to tourists that have confirmed a minimum of 14 days’ stay at a single tourist facility with a “safe tourism licence”.

Before the Maldives closed its borders to visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic, it issued a 30-day free visa on arrival to tourists of all nationalities.

Meanwhile, tourists arriving in the Maldives will be required to present a medical certificate not older than seven days for antigen PCR test or 14 days for antibody test which confirms negative Covid-19 test findings.

But all tourists will still have to undergo PCR testing on arrival. The PCR test will cost $100 per person.

Vacant middle seat

Speedboats as well as aircraft carrying tourists to resorts and liveaboards from the airport will have to keep every alternate seat vacant.

On arrival at the resort, guests will be escorted directly to their rooms without waiting for check-in at the reception. Guests will be provided with an online check-in form to be completed in their rooms.

Guests will not be able to leave their rooms until they get the result of the coronavirus test done at the airport. It is hoped that the results will be provided within a maximum of 48 hours.

During the “quarantine period”, meals will be served directly to guest rooms.

After test results are received, guests can go out and enjoy all the facilities available at the resort, but they have to practise social distancing whilst interacting with other guests or employees. Tables at restaurants will also be set at a distance of at least two metres and buffet meals will not be served.

Mandatory protective gear

Airports are required to have disinfection procedures in place for body, luggage and travel documents of visitors.

All staff, including airport employees, resort representatives and luggage handlers, will be required to wear face masks and gloves at all times. Luggage trolleys will be disinfected after every use and kept separately.

Tourists will be required to wear face masks on arrival, at the airport and during the domestic transfer to the resort.

Just like at the airport, staff will be required to wear whilst welcoming guests to the resort. Employees will also have to keep a minimum distance of one metre when communicating with guests.

Similar requirements will apply to tourists that have booked stays with liveaboard vessels.

What is the ‘safe tourism licence’?

The draft guidelines restrict tourism activity to tourist establishments with a so-called safe tourism licence.

This licence will only be issued to resorts and liveaboards that pay $50,000.

The conditions that have to be met by the resorts and liveaboards to get the licence include:

  • Allocate 10 per cent of registered guest rooms for isolation purposes.
  • Allocate facilities for quarantining staff, equivalent to 10 per cent of total workforce
  • Train guest service staff in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Train staff in social distancing and disinfection procedures
  • Emergency procedures in place to deal with suspected cases
  • Adequate stock of medically certified PPE
  • A resident doctor and nurse

Phased reopening

According to the guidelines, only resorts and liveaboard vessels that have the safe tourism licence will be permitted to open at first.

Guests can come to these tourist establishments either by private jet or superyacht from June 1, followed by charter and commercial flights a month later.

Charter flights and private jets will be charged a landing fee of $50,000. Superyachts will also have pay an entry fee fo $10,000.

Meanwhile, guesthouses and hotels will only be allowed to open from August.

There are no plans yet to allow cruise ships.

The tourism ministry expects the restrictions to be in effect until September “unless extended by the government”.

The ministry says the guidelines will only be finalised based on industry feedback.

“Ministry of tourism wishes to emphasise that this document is an initial draft and the government’s official policy will only be finalised and published after incorporating comments and suggestions from all industry stakeholders,” a statement read.

“We invite all concerned parties to highlight any concerns and to share their suggestions in relation to the procedures set forth by this document by emailing bureau@tourism.gov.mv before 25th May 2020.”

Maldivian officials have been bullish on their ability to contain the coronavirus outbreak and reopen the country in the third quarter of the year.

The government earlier formulated five scenarios with possible timelines for reopening borders and the tourism sector.

The best case scenario sees the country reopen borders by May, but the most likely scenario projects a July date for reopening the borders and restarting tourism in October. In the worst case, borders may only open by January 2021.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.

However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.

All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.

Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.

Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.

However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,106.

Four deaths have been reported and 80 have made full recoveries.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.

Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

Note: This article was updated at 9.42pm local time Tuesday to better reflect the draft nature of the proposals and to include comments made by the tourism ministry in its statement.

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