SriLankan Airlines ups Maldives service, offers connections to major European cities
SriLankan Airlines is launching a daily passenger service between the Maldives and Sri Lanka, with onward connections to major cities in Europe.
Since the Maldives reopened its borders to visitors on July 15, the neighbouring Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier had been operating three weekly passenger services between Colombo and Male.
But from August 1, the airline will increase the frequency on the Colombo-Male-Colombo route to seven flights per week, with immediate connections to London, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.
“SriLankan Airlines wishes happy Independence Day to the resplendent islands of the Maldives,” the airline said, in a tweet marking the Maldives’ 55th Independence Day on Sunday.
“As the national carrier of Sri Lanka, our hope today is to embrace your spectacular beaches as many a times as possible in the coming years.”
SriLankan Airlines had in April suspended all of its passenger operations, as the spread of the novel coronavirus hammered global travel demand.
Before the pandemic, SriLankan Airlines was operating four daily flights from Bandaranaike International Airport to the Maldives main Velana International Airport, and six flights per week to Gan International Airport in the southernmost Maldives atoll of Addu.
The flagship carrier of neighbouring Sri Lanka was popular amongst tourists travelling to the Maldives from Europe.
The move by SriLankan Airlines will give a major boost to the Maldives efforts to restart its tourism-dependent economy after reopening the country’s borders on July 15.
Resorts and hotels on uninhabited islands as well as liveaboard vessels are now allowed to host tourists (please see a rolling list of resort reopenings here).
Guesthouses and hotels located on inhabited islands will be allowed to reopen later. Passengers on cruise ships and yachts will be barred from disembarking at inhabited islands until then.
Thirty-day free on-arrival visa is issued to all tourists with a confirmed booking for a stay at any registered tourist facility in the country. The entire holiday has to be booked at a single facility except for transit arrangements.
There is no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival. Tourists only have to complete an online health declaration form.
But visitors with symptoms of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus or those travelling with someone who has similar symptoms are tested at their own expense.
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, only 382,760 tourists visited the Maldives before the country closed its borders on March 27. It was a 40.8 per cent decline over the 646,092 that visited the Maldives from January to March last year.
With arrival numbers falling, several resorts across the Maldives were closed.
Meanwhile, the government’s best case scenario now puts total tourist arrivals for 2020 just above 800,000.
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 3,302
Fifteen deaths have been reported, while 2,534 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 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 were also shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital were 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 was also ordered.
These measures allowed authorities to contain the outbreak.