Sunny, safe and sophisticated

The Maldives is well ahead of its path to rebuilding as a favourite holiday destination, finds Shilpa Chandran

Sunny beaches, clear blue skies and plenty of sea therapy has been the allure for the Maldives for tourists the world over.

It came as no surprise hence that it was one of the first countries to open borders to tourists post the Covid-19 outbreak that brought the world to its knees last year.

Given the fact that the Maldives literally offers secluded hideaways with the most appealing attractions under the sun, and sea, it has become a choice of destination for luxury travel.

The Maldives has been attracting droves of celebrity guests from neighbouring India, as well as high profile visitors from around the world. New and exclusive properties adding to the country’s famous ethos of ‘one island, one resort’ concept, spread across the length and breadth of the island nation have been catering to this growing demand.

Opened in November last year is one of the latest in the Crown & Champa Resorts (CCR) portfolio, Kagi Maldives Spa Island. Located in the North Malé Atoll, this one island resort is small but cosy. At the heart of the property is a rotund structure that houses an over-water spa. The resort has 10 beach pool villas spread across its beach line that covers around 700 sqm, as well as 19 lagoon villas and 21 ocean villas. Dining venues include all-day dining restaurant Noo Faru, Ufaa Bar, and Ke-Un that offers a Pacific Rim fusion cuisine, adding the flavours of Maldivian foods. The resort is also currently developing their own herbs garden. Needless to say, water sports activities are available aplenty here, allowing guests to explore the underwater fauna.

Hurawalhi, another chic island resort from the CCR portfolio, offers guests the chance to explore the underwater marine life in a unique and exclusive manner with their underwater dining option – 5.8 Undersea Restaurant. Considered to be the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant, guests enjoy the chance to dine in the company of colourful schools of fish swimming about. The restaurant is names after the depth at which the venue lies, 5.8 metres beneath the lagoon surface.

Accommodation at Hurawalhi island is spread across 90 villas, including ocean pool villas and beach pool villas, while Duniye Spa is the resort’s luxurious spa offering.

The resort offers private luxury sailing in addition to its many water sports and recreational activities, including guided diving and snorkelling trips. “Hurawalhi Island Resort, a naturally chic adult only environment, welcomes travellers from the GCC. Our personalised service, array of dining options and section of overwater and beach villas will ensure a memorable stay,” says Bradley Caesar, General Manager.

While traditionally considered to be a haven for honeymooners, the island nation is now opening up for a more diverse audience, including families.

“For destinations less than five hours away from GCC countries travel for leisure tourism has been growing consistently, particularly into Maldives, and we do hope to see continued interest from the market. Attracted by its coral reefs, pristine beaches and having one of the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world, Maldives has also shown itself to be one of the safest destinations to visit in present times. The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort is ideally positioned to cater for this interest. Located in Baa Atoll adjacent to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Hanifaru Bay, the resort also leverages its wellness DNA to allow guests to embrace a healthy lifestyle, stay in shape and disconnect from their daily routine, leaving them invigorated and refreshed,” says Brendan Corcoran, General Manager, The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort.

With a large outdoor recreation area, a tennis court and space for other sports as well as a beachside swimming pool, The Westin Kids Club is available for children guests aged four to 12, with special supervised activities and programmes every day. Babysitting services are also available upon request. While children keep occupied, parents have a series of wellness and relaxing options to explore such as the overwater Heavenly Spa by Westin, the WestinWorkout Fitness Studio or a sport of choice at the hotel’s multi-function recreation ground.

With a beachfront location, the resort’s 41 beach villas with private pools, look out onto the Indian Ocean. The private deck and plunge pool also offers added space for families with young children to relax and enjoy the outdoors. In addition, families can go handline fishing or even get up-close-and-personal with manta rays through guided tours.

The resort also offers a special Westin Eat Well Menu for Kids with healthy options across its outlets The Pearl, Island Kitchen, and Hawker.

Visitors also get the chance here to learn about reef manta rays. The Maldives has the world’s largest known population of reef manta rays, and resort guests can take part in workshops and trips to learn all about them.

Since it opened doors on July 15, 2020, after receiving the ‘Safe Travels Stamp’ from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the country has displayed impressive economic rebound, accelerated by a thriving tourism sector. According to the UN Development Programme, tourism directly contributes 26 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, and 70 percent indirectly.

The archipelago-nation recorded 555,000 visitors that same year, while already welcoming more than one million visitors this year, as of the end of October. The Velana International Airport welcomed its one millionth visitor of 2021 on October 29, who flew Emirates and arrived from France. The country recorded more than 140,000 tourists just in the month of October as well, clearly indicative of a nation that has shown impressive results in rebuilding tourism after a global pandemic.

The ministry of tourism has set a target of 1.5 million by the end of 2021, with the peak season to visit Maldives having begun, and expected to run until April next year. Most number of visitors that made up this number were those travelling from India and Russia.

Visitors from the UAE have not been far behind. Official figures have reported more than 11,000 tourists from the UAE visited the Maldives so far this year. Dr. Abdullah Maasoum, Minister of Tourism of the Maldives, reportedly said that the country aims to increase this figure to 30,000 next year. According to an interview with the Emirates News Agency (WAM), he spoke about tourism expansion plans that will be announced during the course of Expo 2020 Dubai, such as the development of new islands for tourism communities.

CEO  and  Managing  Director  of  Maldives Marketing  and Public  Relations Corporation (MMPRC), Mohamed Thoyyib, said: "We are very delighted to welcome travellers from the GCC region to the Maldives. The GCC region is historically an important market to the Maldives, and markets from the Middle East are on the top source markets to the Maldives. The Maldives offers unparalleled serenity and safety for all travellers from the Middle East." 

The Maldives is a key point in the Emirates’ network, and currently serves 28 weekly flights. Since the start of this year, more than 170,000 passengers from more than 100 countries have used Emirates to fly to the Maldives.

To support the government’s aggressive expansion plans within the tourism industry, the Velana Airport management is constructing a new 78,000 sqm international passenger terminal which will have the capacity to accommodate up to 7.5 million passengers a year upon its completion in 2022. The project worth $1 billion will include a new runway, cargo terminal complex, fuel farm, seaplane terminal, aero boarding bridges, baggage handling systems, retail spaces, food and beverage outlets, and lounges.

MACL awarded a design and build contract to Saudi Binladin Group for the new airport terminal, while China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group is carrying out the construction of the new runway at the airport.

In addition, the government has also been planning environmental preservation initiatives, in particular the protection of  its vibrant natural coral reefs. This was noted as a key priority during the COP26 meeting – the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference that recently concluded in Glasgow, Scotland. Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih expressed concerns of global warming and climate change on the islands, and reportedly said that if no action was taken to address this need of the hour, ‘Maldives would cease to exist by the end of this century’.

The Maldives is set to celebrate the 50th Golden Jubilee of tourism to the Maldives in 2022, with a year-round calendar of events.