Stories from GM: Amilla Maldives’ journey amid Covid-19
By Jason Kruse
Lots of people have been asking me about how we came up with some of the most robust Covid-prevention protocols in the Maldives. Well, I’d like to start by saying there was no playbook for any of this.
Covid-19 caught the world by surprise. We went into a temporary hiatus back in March, but a few guests decided to stay with us in our island quarantine bubble for the next few months. That’s the great thing about having a resort on a private island of its own – we can carefully monitor absolutely everyone who comes in and out, thereby massively reducing risk of transmission. The only people arriving are a controlled number of guests and staff.
Some of our team members went home when the borders reopened in July but myself and many other Islanders have remained on our island this entire time. You might have read about all the things we got up to during lockdown on the Amilla blog, but we decided we had two choices – to sit back and do nothing or to stand up and fight. So, we decided to come up with as many ingenious and inventive ways as possible of enhancing our island with the focus on improving our guest experience, and being more sustainable in our approach.
Everybody got stuck in, it was amazing to see so much spirit! We had spa therapists working in the gardens, butlers building a hen house, we all switched jobs to build and create new things in order to help put us in as strong a position as possible for when we reopened, from creating an organic garden and banana plantation to artwork made from driftwood and aquaponics projects! And during this whole time right up to today, we didn’t even visit any local islands, to avoid any chance of community spread.
When we made the decision to reopen, we carefully considered the government of the Maldives’ guidelines as well as the latest advice from the WHO. We decided we wanted to take our precautions to the next level so that we could assure our guests, our team and our owners that Amilla Maldives will remain Covid-free to the very best of our abilities. But we also needed to ensure we delivered guests that sense of escapism and luxury they so dearly needed (in 2020 more than ever). Not the easiest things to juggle.
We formed a Covid Taskforce with members of the management team who were left on the island, liaised with medical professionals and government officials, recruited a Safety Manager and appointed NSURE to provide hygiene training for all our team members and help establish best practices. Being a Maldivian-owned and managed island, we don’t have the resources of a glitzy global head office. So, we also looked to learn from other resorts and hotels which were developing some good practices and managing risks while reducing the impact on their guests’ experiences.
Armed with all this information and recommendations, we set forth to welcome our guests, offering complimentary PCR tests on arrival for everyone aged over 12 months old, including all team members returning to the island. That’s right, we decided the best form of Covid prevention is testing, testing, testing (at our own cost). This is before the Maldives started requiring all arrivals to the country to have taken a PCR test at home.
Our guests and staff would keep their masks the whole time on whenever they were in communal areas like our restaurants. We took away cutlery and had contactless menus too.
But after a short time, we realised that guests perceived our ‘compromised’ hospitality as compromised service. Obviously, we didn’t want that because everyone comes here for an unparalleled sense of getting away from it all.
We knew during the process we’d have to be adaptable to our guests’ needs (and the constant updates on safety and hygiene requirements), so when the government switched to asking all guests to present a PCR test on arrival in the Maldives we realised if we then also did a complimentary second test on arrival on our island, we could be confident they are very, very unlikely to have Covid-19. That means we could do away with masks once they got the all-clear, because our island is kind of its own quarantine bubble, with everyone coming in and out being tested. We added some extra precautions too, but not many that are visible to guests.
So now, guests arriving at Amilla Maldives are welcomed to their Villa or Residence, then our trained team member or Resort Doctor does a quick PCR test. The samples are packed in special transport containers and sent by seaplane to Male (our capital) to be processed.
While awaiting the test results, guests are free to use most the resort facilities with some basic social distancing protocols in place. Until we receive the results, our guests and the restaurant staff wear masks, they use just one of our restaurants and we give them a separate team of housekeepers and ‘katheebs’ (butlers) who live and work in a ‘quarantine bubble’, separate from the other team members.
That’s just to make sure that if in the worst-case scenario a guest tests positive, it can be contained quickly as they are in a separate ‘bubble’ to the majority of people on the island. We also use enhanced disinfecting protocols.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that since transmission is much worse in high population density areas, a lot of people are reassured by the fact Amilla is one of the country’s largest islands with 23.5 hectares of space (most of it is undeveloped beautiful jungle) and only a selected number of Villas and Residences (which have a great deal of space between them and extensive private indoor and outdoor facilities – in fact, they amongst the largest Villas in the Maldives). So, these factors also help a lot with risk reduction and reassurance.
The PCR results come back fast and as soon as our guests receive their negative results, they are no longer required to wear masks and can roam the entire island. (Bear in mind this is their second PCR test as the Maldives government requires everyone flying to the Maldives to present a negative PCR test on arrival, taken a maximum of 72 hours before flying).
This facilitates a rare situation whereby our guests can holiday with a sense of pre-Covid ‘normality’, while being reassured by the knowledge everyone on the island has been tested twice. Plus, the abundance of space and fresh air combined with our robust hygiene protocols help make Amilla Maldives even safer.
We are proud to have a thought out Covid-prevention protocol that does not compromise on our guest experience, and so far, remain extremely successful in keeping Covid-19 from coming ashore to Our Island Home, Amilla Fushi.
Note: Jason Kruse is the General Manager at Amilla Maldives Resort and Residences.