Comprising nearly 1,200 idyllic islands grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls, the Maldives was one of the first destinations to reopen its borders in July last year. François Oosthuizen makes a case for visiting this Indian Ocean hideaway where you can easily have a whole island – or at least a big chunk of it – all to yourself.
Isolated, far-flung locations where it’s possible to easily socially distance from others, multi-generational trips to reconnect with loved ones after more than a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions, and a surge in wellness-focused itineraries are some of the biggest travel trends predicted for 2021 – all of which make the Maldives a rosy proposition. Factor in the close-to-nature experience with lots of sunshine, fresh air, and the luxury island resorts with over-water-villas in spectacular settings – not to mention some of the most stringent health and safety protocols in place – and there seems to be no better time to start packing.
There was never any doubt that the luxury travel landscape would look very different in the months (and even years) to come, with island destinations generally predicted to return to the market first. In the Maldives, resorts were quick to gear themselves with whatever measures were needed to reassure guests of their utmost safety, including onsite COVID-19 testing facilities and in-house doctors.
“We are blessed at Soneva because all three of our resorts are remote but accessible,” says Sonu Shivdasani, CEO and Joint Creative Director. “Our one-island-one-resort concept, where our hosts live with us for two to three months before returning home, has allowed us to test all staff extensively. We also test our guests on arrival, and we ask them to isolate until we receive the test results from our own test laboratory where we have installed the latest real-time PCR technology from Swiss company Roche. The result of this is that we are not just ‘no news and no shoes’, but now also, no masks! This has been very well received by our guests.”
He goes on to explain that the ability to walk around without a mask and greet and embrace other people without any fear of catching a disease, is a novel experience for those arriving from urban centres. “In fact, the COVID-free environment that we have created at our resorts as a result of our extensive testing has become the greatest luxury of all for our guests.
“COVID-19 has shown all of us at Soneva and around the world that even in the most unprecedented of times, our unwavering spirit and belief allows us to make the best of a challenging situation. We’ve come out stronger, more resilient, leaner, and more confident in our goals to continue to create experiences that make lasting memories, all the while taking even better care of our planet.”
According to Sonu, Soneva has done its utmost to create a COVID-free environment. “This type of environment is, and will continue to be, an important preference for travellers this year.”
Similar sentiments are echoed by Giles Selves, Cluster General Manager of Anantara Dhigu, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas, and Anantara Veli & Naladhu Private Island. “Our ‘Stay with Peace of Mind’ programme serves to ensure a safe environment for our guests and team members. Apart from retaining guests’ confidence when it comes to picking their resort of choice, it helps to build on the assurance that every possible measure is taken to create the safest possible environment for their stay,” he explains.
In compliance with local regulations by the Maldivian Health Protection Authority (HPA), some of these measures include deploying the latest sterilisation, disinfection and cleaning technologies. Public areas, as well as the back-of-house, guest rooms and all guest facilities, are regularly and thoroughly cleaned to the highest standards, paying special attention to high-touch areas such as door handles.
Resort medical services are available, with a doctor and nurse on call 24 hours, as well as a daily PCR testing service. Testing is conducted in the privacy of your villa, and samples are sent to partnering laboratories and hospitals in Male for analysis – with test results provided within 48 hours.
With the pandemic highlighting a renewed focus on wellness and wellbeing, Anantara has prepared for this by hiring a resident Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist. Guests are provided with the opportunity to focus on their nutrition to help overcome stress, sleep issues and unhealthy eating patterns – including those which may have built up over the past year – as well as helping with immunity, digestion, weight management, hormones, skin and blood sugar balance. Dining menus have been re-engineered with more nutritious options, including new wellness breakfast and beverage menus.
At Six Senses Laamu, extensive COVID measures are also in place, and guests are not required to wear masks for the majority of the time – the only exception being enclosed spaces such as the dive shop and boutique. Guests are met daily at breakfast by a GEM (Guest Experience Maker) to check their temperature with an infrared thermometer. They are also encouraged to practice social distancing with fun and quirky signs featuring the length of a tuna or baby manta (1.5 metres) in all communal spaces. Covid testing is available at the resort for any guests who desires/requires it for their departure, with results ready within 24 to 36 hours.
Constance Hotels, Resorts & Golf – currently preparing for the reopening of their hotels in the Indian Ocean – has developed a security protocol called ‘Constance Stay Safe’, covering all the services offered to customers during their stay. The measures, validated by SGS, an international inspection and certification company, are in compliance with the directives of the World Health Organization and local health authorities.
“For Constance, this protocol is an essential step towards resuming our activities,” says CEO Jean-Jacques Vallet. “It guides our teams with regard to the measures which will be implemented in order to create a framework which will allow our guests to enjoy their stay with the same peace of mind as before. These measures will not affect our approach to welcoming, and the authenticity of the experiences we offer to our guests in any way. Hospitality and generosity, which have always been the strength of our teams, are two important values which will continue to be at the forefront of everything we do.”
With the challenges faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, Velaa Private Island has managed to stay open and embrace the situation first-hand to ensure the safety and comfort of guests and team members alike. Velaa has also built its own laboratory to be able to conduct unlimited tests at ease, while simultaneously implementing strict safety measures for the island. Since the outbreak of the disease, Velaa also ensured minimal third-party access to the island, and no team members were allowed to return without negative PCR results and quarantine.
Upon arrival, all guests receive a quick doctor consultation in combination with a rapid Covid-19 test, getting the result within a couple of minutes (children below three years are exempted). Prior to departure, and if required, a PCR test is provided from Velaa’s own laboratory at Maafaru International Airport.
All three Maldivian properties in the stable of Accor – Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort and Pullman Maldives Maamutaa – are following the strict guidelines set by the group’s ALLSAFE programme. This includes some of the most stringent cleaning standards and operational procedures in the world of hospitality to ensure guest safety.
Fairmont is currently involved in the rollout of vaccines, with 210 team members already vaccinated. The resort’s in-house doctor is available 24/7 for any medical concerns requiring immediate medical attention, while guests also have access to AXA’s most recent advances in telemedicine through free access to medical teleconsultations. The same service is also available to guests at the Raffles and Pullman resorts, as well as an in-resort doctor.
At Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, guests can eat in a treetop, nest-like bamboo pod at a restaurant called Terra. Six of the “naturally distanced” nests seat for two people, while a seventh can accommodate four, and the menu includes ingredients, such as Alba white truffles and Wagyu beef. Ithaafushi, which comprises three interconnecting islands, has seen increased demand for Terra, as well as in-room dining, and guests can also have spa treatments and yoga classes in their villas.
Part of Crown & Champa Resorts, Kagi Maldives has introduced the “Safe Holiday Experience in Paradise”, an initiative to strengthen the trust and confidence in the brand as it follows international and local hygiene standards and enhanced protocols.
“All of our resorts are safe havens, offering peace of mind with ample space for you to explore the freedom of the island, no matter if that choice leads to a diving experience underwater or the enjoyment of our palm-lined beaches,” says CEO Martin Vossen.”
Travellers to the Maldives have to comply with several steps before they can begin their vacation, including securing a confirmed booking in a tourist establishment registered with the Ministry of Tourism (split-stays are permitted but travellers must make requests to the Ministry of Tourism at least 48 hours before travel) and submitting an online Health Declaration Form within 24 hours prior to departure.
Travellers are required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken within 96 hours of their scheduled departure time. These test results also need to be presented during the airline check-in process. Additionally, visitors should expect to undergo thermal screening upon arrival in the Maldives and are encouraged to download the “TraceEkee” contact tracing app.
This story first appeared on Prestige Thailand
(Hero image: Courtesy Velaa Private Island; Featured image: Courtesy Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi)