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What pandemic? Colombians shop during VAT-free day amid coronavirus quarantine



BOGOTA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Colombians braved lengthy lines on Friday to take advantage of a one-day lifting of sales tax, even amid a coronavirus quarantine and nearly 10,000 new confirmed infections in just five days.

The Andean country has been in lockdown since late March. While certain restrictions have lifted, quarantine is set to last until July 1.

The three value added tax-free days planned for this year were announced in late 2019 by President Ivan Duque, before the economy was battered by the twin ills of slumping oil prices and quarantine.

Duque has hailed the initiative as a means to jump-start consumption amid soaring unemployment and monthly economic contraction in the double digits, even as some cities enforced lockdown rules which allowed only certain people out.

Colombia has more than 60,200 confirmed cases of coronavirus and over 1,900 deaths, but people hit the shops despite fears of infection.

“My siblings and I want to buy a television for my dad for fathers’ day,” said Nancy Osorio, 43, who waited outside hypermarket Alkosto in the capital Bogota for more than two hours.

The government has encouraged people to use e-commerce to avoid crowds but Osorio said she did not know how to shop online.

Sales rose at least five times compared with a regular day during the quarantine and were up 30% on levels seen before the lockdown started, the government said in a statement.

Pablo Ballen, 22, got a 70-inch television for around $130 less than when he purchased one on Black Friday.

“I came in person because the website had already crashed,” Ballen said. “There’s a considerable discount.”

Though the hundreds of people waiting at the store mostly used masks, many were unable to observe social distancing. A different Alkosto in Bogota was shut by officials for not conducting crowd control.

“One of the conditions for this to turn out as hoped is that people implement their own measures of self-care and protection,” Andres Barreto, Colombia’s superintendent of industry and commerce, told Reuters.

“Look, your life isn’t worth 500,000 pesos ($133),” shopper Franklin Lopez, 45, said. “But there isn’t enough money to not take advantage of today.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters


Maldives celebrates arrival of 2024’s 1 millionth tourist



Maldives on Thursday welcomed the one millionth tourist to visit this year.

The one millionth tourist is a Thai named Sutapa Amonwivat, who arrived from Singapore with her husband and two children. This is her second visit to Maldives.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and the Ministry of Tourism gave a warm welcome to Sutapa at the Velana International Airport (VIA) Thursday afternoon. She was welcomed at the VIA by tourism minister Ibrahim Faisal, MMPRC Managing Director Ibrahim Shiury and senior officials of various relevant agencies.

After welcoming her with traditional offerings, she was presented with various gifts by the ministry, MMPRC, customs, immigration, Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA).

Maldives reached one million tourists in June, three weeks earlier than last year. The number of tourists reached one million on July 16, 2023.

Maldives expects to reach 2 million tourists this year.

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New air route connects Chongqing to Maldives



Chongqing Airlines on Monday began its inaugural flights to Maldives.

The Chongqing-Male route, scheduled three times a week, is expected to strengthen the bonds between China and the Maldives, opening up exciting new opportunities for tourism and cultural exchange.

The inaugural flight was welcomed upon its arrival at Velana International Airport (VIA) in Maldives, where local officials and tourism representatives expressed their enthusiasm for this new development.

“We warmly welcome our friends from China to our beautiful islands. This new connection strengthens our bonds and opens up new opportunities for tourism,” the tourism ministry said on X.

Maldives currently welcomes four airlines from China, including China Eastern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Xiamen Airlines.

In January, Maldives government urged tourism stakeholders in both Maldives and China to ramp up efforts to restore China’s position as the primary source market for Maldives tourism, a status held before the onset of Covid-19.

China, being the largest source market for Maldives tourism before the pandemic, saw a resumption of tourist arrivals from January 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In 2023, the Maldives welcomed 187,118 Chinese tourists, marking a significant recovery in numbers. This year, the Maldives has welcomed the most number of tourists from China, with over 107,940 or 11.5 percent of total arrivals by June 12. 

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CROSSROADS Maldives Introduces Weixin Pay at resorts for seamless guest experience



CROSSROADS Maldives has introduced WeChat Pay, widely known as Weixin Pay in China, across its world-class resorts, SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives. This payment option is made available to enhance the convenience and overall experience for guests from China, making their stay in the Maldives more enjoyable and hassle-free.

Understanding the needs of the diverse guests, CROSSROADS Maldives has integrated WeChat Pay into operations, allowing guests from China to easily and securely conduct transactions using a payment method familiar to them. The introduction of WeChat Pay is a testament to CROSSROADS Maldives’ dedication to enhancing guest satisfaction by offering exceptional experiences at every turn. What is also expected through this initiative is that the guests could benefit from better foreign exchange rates, translating to better savings on their expenditures during their stay.

The option is available for guests in-house conveniently at both resorts as well as across the Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives where a wider variety of unparalleled dining and retail experiences are available for all guests. The day visitors from China will also therefore equally benefit from this new introduction at the Maldives’ premier multi-island integrated leisure destination.

SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a vibrant tropical escape that offers unique and locally inspired experiences. The resort features spacious rooms and villas, a variety of dining options, and an array of recreational activities designed to cater to the desires of modern travellers. Guests can escape to the island’s SAiisational natural beauty, enjoy water sports, and indulge in spa treatments, all while relishing the personalised service that defines Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Hard Rock Hotel Maldives brings the iconic Hard Rock spirit to the tranquil shores of the Maldives. This family-friendly resort offers a perfect blend of relaxation and entertainment, featuring music-inspired experiences, live performances, and the brand’s signature amenities. With luxurious accommodations, diverse dining options, and a plethora of activities for all ages, Hard Rock Hotel Maldives ensures an unforgettable holiday experience for every guest.

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