The Maldives is set to reopen to travellers on Wednesday, July 15, according to the country's Ministry of Tourism.
The Indian Ocean archipelago will welcome international visitors from next month, after being closed to outsiders since March. Emirates will resume flights from Dubai to Male from July 16.
Initially, hotels located on uninhabited islands and liveaboard boats will open. Guesthouses and hotels on inhabited islands will open from Saturday, August 1, unless for transit purposes.
All travellers will be given a 30-day tourist visa free of charge upon arrival and there will be no minimum stay required, but tourists must have a confirmed accommodation booking before travelling to the archipelago. Multiple resort stays are not allowed at this time and travellers can only use another hotel or guesthouse if it is for transit purposes when arriving or departing the island.
Rules upon arrival
When it comes to containing Covid-19, all travellers must fill in a health declaration card and wear face masks on flights. Hand sanitisation centres have been set up at Velana International Airport where travellers will undergo thermal screening.
No quarantine measures are in place, but some resorts may ask travellers to self-isolate when they arrive at their destination island. Travellers do not need to show a negative Covid-19 test upon arriving into the Maldives, but anyone with symptoms may be tested at the airport, at their own expense.
Local health authorities may also conduct random Covid-19 tests, but this will be at no cost to travellers.
Travellers should download the contact tracing app TraceEkee to allow authorities to trace any possible spread of the virus.
An earlier draft proposal of the country's new tourism regulations reportedly detailed that the Maldives would only open for tourists staying a minimum of 14 nights, with expensive visas and Covid-19 tests to be carried out upon arrival.
No 14-day minimum stay
Velaa Private Island, a luxury resort in Noonu Atoll, confirmed that previous reports of a minimum stay was false.
Elsewhere, at Soneva resorts, founder Sonu Shivdasani said his team were creating covid-free islands.
"We want to create Covid-free environments. We have a real-time PCR machine and we expect we will keep covid out of our island and that will allow our guests to interact, if they want to," explained the hotelier on a video call from Soneva Fushi in the Maldives' Baa Atoll.
Luxury resorts across the Maldives are set to set up their own coronavirus testing procedures.
At Soneva, guests checking in will undergo a test for Covid-19 then check-in to a designated isolation villa complete with a private pool where they will only be charged a half rate.
When test results come back, guests can move to their chosen accommodation. All guests will be retested on day 5 and staff will also be tested before entering service to allow the resorts to be a "mostly mask-free environment," said Shivdasani. Any guest that tests positive for the virus will be moved back to the isolation villa, but no additional charges will be levied. The resort also has Covid-19 trained nurses on standby to monitor guests who have symptoms.
Known for its high-end luxury resorts and overwater villas, the Maldives relies on tourism for 40 per cent of its GDP, so authorities have been focused on getting the return of tourism right.
The country emerged from strict lockdown measures on Monday, June 15 when locals were allowed to venture out of their homes without a permit for the first time since March. Schools, mosques and offices across the island are closed, but will reopen in July.
Travellers remain keen to visit
According to information from Kuoni, a UK-based travel agency, bookings for the Maldives for 2021 are outperforming every other destination that they sell.
Interest at Soneva reflects this with Shivdasani revealing that both resorts have more summer bookings this year, than the same time last year. "At Soneva Fushi, we have had 135 per cent more enquiries in the first two weeks of June this year than we did last year," added the hotelier.
The paradise nation's seclusion and its reputation being somewhere truly unique could be helping to drive bookings, as people who have missed out on holidays this year look to go somewhere special next year.
Earlier this month, the Maldives announced it was gearing up to reopen. In a paradigmatic Maldivian video (think luxury yachts, swaying palm trees and pristine beaches) Ali Waheed, Minister of Tourism, walked barefoot along a beach.
Stopping to retrieve a coconut, he sits down to work at what is very likely the most beautiful socially distanced workspace in the world.
“It all started in 1972,” says the video voice-over. “It will hopefully start again in July 2020.”
While Europe remains the largest inbound tourism market, the country is also a favourite with travellers from the Middle East. In 2019, the Maldives' Ministry of Tourism said 60,003 tourists from this region visited the archipelago.