Maldives tops Indian luxury travellers wish list for post-coronavirus travel

Luxury travellers in India are already dreaming about a getaway to the Maldives, a survey by Condé Nast Traveller India has found.

According to ‘The Indian Luxury Traveller Report: Covid Edition’ survey, a whopping 70 per cent of the 3,500 Indian luxury travellers polled remain open to travelling abroad on vacation this year.

The Maldives emerges as the destination they are most likely to choose, presumably for its natural beauty and luxurious resorts with a wide range of in-house activities for families to enjoy.

This is followed by Central Europe (includes Switzerland, Croatia, Germany), Southern Europe (includes Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal), both of which see high summer traffic from India. Australia and New Zealand, followed by Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

The findings are the outcome of an online survey of 3,500 Indian luxury travellers, conducted in May.

More than 70 per cent of the respondents polled were from the big metros of India: Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad.

Seventy-three per cent were in the 25-55 age bracket; 45 per cent were salaried employees, 24 per cent were self-employed/consultants, whilst 14 per cent were entrepreneurs, and three per cent were retired.

India was the fastest growing source market for Maldives tourism in 2019, as arrivals recorded year-over-year growth of 83.5 per cent to reach 166,015 from 90,474 in 2018.

A decade ago, fewer than 16,000 Indian tourists visited the Maldives.

The popularity of the Maldives as a holiday destination has been increasing in India thanks to a boost in air connectivity between the two nations. In addition to the flagship carriers of the two countries, several Indian budget carriers such as GoAir, Spice Jet and Indigo have launched direct connections between Male and important Indian cities such as New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.

High profile trips of Bollywood celebrities that draw media attention have also helped boost the Maldives’ popularity amongst Indian holidaymakers. Most recently, several Indian film stars, including Bipasha Basu, Sarah Ali Khan and others have celebrated the New Year in the Maldives.

The findings of the survey bode well for the Maldives as the Indian Ocean tourist paradise prepares to reopen its borders to visitors in July.

The country’s tourism ministry has drafted and invited comments from industry stakeholders on its own guidelines on reopening the borders.

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.

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.

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.

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 1,841.

Seven deaths have been reported and 608 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.

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