Seven months have passed since reopening tourism in the Maldives.
So, how has this stunning archipelago nation readjusted to inbound travel? And what valuable lessons have been learned since 15 July 2020?
Here’s a 5-point, speed-read summary of the interview:
1) Tourism in the Maldives: Fast Facts
Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives comprises 1,192 islands across a total area of 90,000 sqkm. However, only 298 sqkm is dry land. The islands form a double chain of 26 atolls, and they span the equator.
Reopening tourism in the Maldives helped it to attract a creditable 555,494 arrivals across the 2020 calendar year. In 2021, it has set a target of 1.5 million visitors – not far short of the 1.7 million arrivals in 2019.
2) Local Island Experiences
Many travellers were previously unaware that there was an alternative style of Maldives holiday, says Ruth Franklin.
“Whilst that awareness has certainly grown over the last 10 years, there’s still a wide number of people that don’t appreciate that there’s an option to stay on a locally inhabited island in a guesthouse and experience everything that the Maldives has to offer, but perhaps at a more affordable price.”
When Secret Paradise Maldives started, there were only 23 registered guest houses in the Maldives. Now there are 349 approved properties across 52 islands. Prior to COVID-19, there were over 500 registered properties, accounting for 20% of the country’s bed capacity.
“Initially, properties were small, 6 to 8 bedrooms, probably converted from local homes into a bed and breakfast-style property, but now guest houses are purpose built and they include boutique style properties.”
3) Sustainability Really Matters
“Sustainability is really important to us,” says Ruth Franklin. “When we started, it was about employing local, staying local and using local services. As we have grown, that has developed into education of our team, our guests and our local communities.”
While the pandemic and a greater focus on the climate crisis will make many people stop and think about their travel choices, there is still an educational requirement, she says.
“People may consider how they travel in relation to protecting the environment, but not everyone actually understands the wider meaning of sustainability, where actually, sustainable tourism is driven by the stakeholders of the destination. And the Maldives really does have to rely on sustainability, or actions of sustainability, to ensure that it has a future.”
“The Maldives really does have to rely on sustainability, or actions of sustainability, to ensure that it has a future.”
The company works with local NGOs to protect the environment and support local initiatives.
“This has given us the opportunity to ensure our guests have the opportunity to give back, which may be getting involved in a beach clean. It may be about working on a coral nursery, or even planting coral. It could be about understanding why seagrass and mangroves are important to island nations such as the Maldives.”
4) Testing, Testing, Testing
When the Maldives reopened in July, there was no requirement for a negative RT-PCR test. This decision was changed in August.
“It was definitely the right decision to make. It was probably a hard decision. Any decisions that any government or tourism body are having to make are difficult decisions at this moment in time. But it needed to happen… I think there was a turning point of it being an acceptance as opposed to it being detrimental to people arriving into the Maldives.”
For tourists staying on a resort, some resorts have implemented their own PCR testing scheme. From a mandatory point of view, guests that stay on local islands are required to have a PCR test prior to departure, and that’s about protecting the local communities.
“For tourists staying on a resort, some resorts have implemented their own PCR testing scheme.”
“In terms of testing, it’s definitely key to minimising the risk and having an awareness that if there’s a positive case, it can be reacted to and the appropriate actions can be taken in order to limit the risk of everybody else on that particular island or in that particular hotel.”
5) Vaccinations & Vaccine Tourism
COVID-19 inoculations began on 1 February. The initial focus was on frontline workers and high-risk categories, but tourism is being prioritised among the ‘frontline workers’ category.
“On 4 February, the Tourism Employee Programme was launched with an aim of vaccinating 10,000 tourism employees. Just over 50,000 individuals had been vaccinated by 16 February, of which 78% were people living in the capital Male.”
So, could Vaccine Tourism be on the horizon?
“The tourism minister has highlighted that vaccine tourism would be explored, but for the moment the priority is getting 100% of the population vaccinated so you know, potentially, for the future it could be in an avenue.”
Ruth Franklin is Co-founder of Secret Paradise Maldives, which helps guests explore off-the-beaten-path locations and connect with local communities, beyond the beaches, white sands and luxury resorts.