Maldives records close to 400 intl flight movements in reopening month

Maldives main airport recorded 399 international flight movements in the first month since the island nation reopened its borders to visitors, the airport operator announced Tuesday.

Figures released by the Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) for the period from July 15 to August 15 showed that 7,607 passengers arrived in the Maldives via Velana International Airport, while 9,269 left the country.

Domestic air traffic movements stood at 365, with 3,480 passengers arriving at the Velana International Airport in the month ending August 15. Domestic departures from the airport numbered 4,323 during the period.

The Maldives welcomed 5,177 tourists in the first month since the border reopening.

Following the border closure in late March, air and passenger traffic at the Velana International Airport dropped to near zero levels.

A night time airport closure is still in effect at the airport due to the drop in demand.

Meanwhile, MACL is offering a range of incentives, including a full waiver of airport charges during the initial stages, to international airlines operating scheduled flights, in a bid to give a much-needed boost to the country’s hard-hit tourism industry.

Which airlines are flying?

Only Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, SriLankan Airlines and Turkish Airlines have resumed scheduled services to the Maldives.

Starting July 15, Qatar Airways is operating a daily flight from Doha to Male. The airline uses a 132-seater A320 jet for the direct service.

SriLankan Airlines resumed its scheduled flight operations to the Maldives on July 15, with three weekly services. The neighbouring Sri Lanka’s flag carrier has since increased frequency on the Colombo-Male-Colombo route, making it a daily service.

Emirates resumed scheduled operations to the Maldives on July 16, with a 360-seater B777 aircraft serving the Dubai-Male-Dubai route on five days a week. The airline has also increased its services to the Maldives to six times a week.

From July 18, Etihad has been operating a 136-seater A320 jet between Abu Dhabi and Male every Tuesday and Saturday.

Turkish Airlines resumed scheduled passenger service to the Maldives on July 25 with a weekly service.

‘New normal’ for airlines, airport

‘New normal’ measures have been introduced at the Velana International Airport.

Blue markers, spaced three feet apart, are in place in front of ticketing and check-in counters, and at the pre-flight inspection zone in the international terminal, as well as in front of the check-in counters in the domestic terminal.

Glass separators of four feet have also been installed in between all check-in counters.

The social distancing measures are complemented by added hygiene and safety measures, including daily disinfection of all seats, desks, lounge areas, ticketing and check-in counters, and flooring and airport tarmac area.

Meanwhile, airlines operating flights to the Maldives are told to ensure passengers wear face masks on-board at all times.

Exceptions can be made for passengers below six years of age and those who have a medical reason for not covering their face. Masks can be removed for eating and drinking, taking oral medication, or on the directions of a crew member.

Crew members must advise passengers to replace their mask when it becomes wet or soiled.

All passengers should complete an online health declaration form before arrival and departure.

Before departure, all passengers will have to fulfil the health requirements of their onward destination. This includes coronavirus tests, if required.

No quarantine, free on-arrival visa

The Maldives reopened its borders to visitors on July 15.

With the border reopening, 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 will be 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 will be no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival. Tourists will only have to complete a 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 will be tested at their 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.

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 6,079.

Twenty-four deaths have been reported, while 3,648 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.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the third phase measures now active.

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