A family enjoying the natural isolation of the Maldives.
The Maldives plans to offer 'vaccination vacations' in a bid to meet its tourism target of 1.5 million visitors this year. So far, around 350,000 holidaymakers have visited the sun-drenched nation. Pre-pandemic, the nation welcomed around 1.7 million visitors each year.
The country says it aims to launch a so-called '3V' programme, meaning 'visit, vaccinate, vacation'. However, the scheme will not begin until the Maldives' population is fully inoculated. There are just under 550,000 residents of the Indian Ocean archipelago and, according to Dr Abdulla Mausoom, the minister for tourism, around 53% of the population has received a first dose, including 90% of front-line tourism workers. Just under five per cent is fully vaccinated. The vaccines have come from China, India, Singapore and the World Health Organisation's Covax programme.
Visitors would be offered a first jab on arrival and would then need to remain in the Maldives for several weeks in order to receive the second shot.
The Maldives relies heavily on tourism (it contributes more than 25% of the country's GDP) and it was the first nation to reopen quarantine-free last July. Visitors are required to arrive with a negative PCR test taken within four days of departure. Despite the subsequent influx of visitors, cases have remained relatively low and the nation has reported 67 Covid deaths in total.
The country benefits from its geography; holidaymakers can disperse across many tiny, one-resort islands, and properties have also added their own layers of health security. According to resort owner Sonu Shivdasani, the last quarter of 2020 saw a complete rebound in bookings. Shivdasani's three resorts began welcoming back guests in the second half of last year, Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi from July and Soneva Kiri from October. Guests are met at the airport and escorted to their resort where they are tested and asked to remain in their villa until a negative result is returned, usually around 24 hours. They are offered food and beverage credits for in-room dining during this time. Shivdasani has succeeded in keeping his islands Covid-free and anticipates 2021 seeing a 38% increase on 2019s visitor numbers.
The tourism board indeed promoted the country as being a safe haven and it appears to have paid off.
"The main idea of tourism being open is to provide a reasonably safe tourism with minimum inconvenience," said Dr Mausoom. "So once the country gets vaccinated, then we will move on to '3V' tourism."