Luxury tour operators have welcomed the addition of the Maldives to the UK’s “travel corridor” and the lifting of the return quarantine ruling.
The decision was announced last week and operators rushed to let agents and clients know offers and options were available for winter getaways.
“It’s fantastic news – we sent mail-outs to clients and agents straightaway with an update on the Maldives and the offers we have, and saw a huge increase in demand, with quotes up 50% following the news,” said Jessica Harris, product manager at Elegant Resorts.
She added that the Maldives was “the perfect set up for social distancing, with most villas having private pools and the islands all being so separate” but that despite all that, the operator hadn’t seen much interest for 2020, because of the lack of an air corridor. “The destination itself has a lot of pent-up demand, it will be one of the places to recover the fastest potentially,” she said.
The Maldives has always been a huge hit for Kuoni, and was already accounting for almost half of the operator’s bookings for 2021, but the news could accelerate some 2020 business and overall confidence. “This is a very welcome development and we’re anticipating a surge in demand,” said Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni.
“The Maldives is already outperforming every other destination we sell for next year, and this news means that an even quicker getaway is now possible. We moved immediately to promote interest, with a link to some inspiration articles online and our latest offers page, including more offers for 2020 on direct British Airways flights as well as for 2021.”
It was a similar picture over at sister company, Carrier. “We have seen a significant natural increase in calls and bookings since last Thursday,” said Simon Jeffries, head of product and commercial, Carrier. “Our activity has been centred around reminding our valued agent partners of our expertise in the area, via social media channels and by making personal calls to them. We have also contacted our existing clients who may have had bookings cancelled or amended previously.
“It gives us hope to enable people to go on holiday in Q4. Our teams are ready and primed to respond to the pent-up demand. Maldives is one of our top selling destinations, with a large number of bookings for travel over the festive period,” said Jeffries.
“This is exactly what the travel industry has been crying out for; a positive step in the right direction and making travel possible again,” said Kerry Golds, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent. “Given that outbound travel is worth £10 billon, this will be welcome news for the entire industry.”
“We acted quickly and got the message out to our clients with an email and social posts and we made calls to those clients who we know have been dying to get away and who love the Maldives,” Golds added. “Thankfully we were already into our Winter Sun campaign, so had great offers available – one of our favourite resorts, Milaidhoo has up to 50% off, for example.”
An entry requirement to provide proof of a negative PCR test for Covid-19 remains in place, but operators said this procedure does not necessarily put people off any more.
“This is becoming the new norm,” said Dan Acarnley, chief marketing and technology officer for ITC Travel Group. “Our teams maintain a list of PCR test centres throughout the UK, which has proven helpful for a number of customers.”
“There are some very determined customers for whom having a test will not put them off,” agreed Kuoni’s Jones.
“The Maldives is an excellent choice for travellers right now. Peace of mind is critical. Travellers will be more conscious of the steps needed to insure their health and safety throughout the duration of their holiday and the Maldives seems to have thought about the best way to open their borders to international travellers,” said Golds.
Tourism officials in the Maldives also welcomed the news that one of the country’s most popular source markets was now freer to travel; the UK usually ranks around fifth in terms of arrivals to the island nation, sending 125,199 guests in 2019.
“We are excited that the UK removed the Maldives from the global travel advisory listing,” Thoyyib Mohamed, managing director of Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation told TTG Luxury after the announcement. “We now look forward to welcoming back UK people to our beautiful country.”
But Acarnley added that the market was still likely to be a cautious one for the time being.
“Sales into 2021 remain buoyant, however we need to be realistic that until there is a wider programme of testing and stability in quarantine rules, the market will take longer to recover,” he said. “We’ll be continuing to promote the Maldives with our trade partners, ensuring that they have the right tools and material to engage customers. Our emphasis is on providing clarity and guidance around travel, testing and quarantine requirements – whilst wowing customers with the beautiful range of resorts and destinations that are waiting for them.”
Meanwhile, resorts in the Maldives have been rushing to upgrade their offerings, with a range of new experiences as they all reopen.
The trio of Anantara Dhigu, Anantara Veli Maldives Resort and Naladhu Private Island reopened with the chance to buy out a private island for a day, Gulhifushi, including picnic breakfast, snorkel tour with a marine biologist, afternoon massage and sunset cocktails.
Baros now boasts the Residence, a 270sqm palatial pad with garden, pool, sun deck, private in-villa breakfast, canapes at sunset, return private speedboat transfers from Male, as well as a champagne and welcome hamper on arrival.
And Vakkaru Maldives is even now suggesting an extended “workcation” via the Work Well Package – guests can combine remote working with a holiday, staying 21 days and making use of the “beach boardroom”, “vacay PA”, a health and wellbeing goal plan and Brain and Body Fuel dietary inclusions, from £13,959.
• See the November issue of TTG for more on the Maldives.