Of all the world’s luxury destinations, few seem to open resorts at a pace as fast as the Maldives. April Hutchinson reflects on a busy year for the country and sees what else is on the horizon.
When it comes to development in the Maldives, no sooner has one new hotspot become the darling of Instagram than another comes along to usurp it.
Recent openings that sent the social media platform into overdrive included St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, where the luxury starts as soon as you arrive at Velana International Airport in Male – well, for suite guests anyway, as they are collected by the only Bentley in the Maldives and taken from the airport to the seaplane terminal.
The other big Instagram headliner was Soneva Jani, where 25 villas exist in a mini archipelago of five islands, along with the Maldives’ first outdoor silent cinema. The villas even have slides running down from their upper deck straight into the sea and retractable roofs; with a simple flick of a switch, guests are lying beneath the stars.
Another popular newcomer with tour operators so far is Milaidhoo, which opened last November and – along with contemporary-styled 180-villa Dhigali that made its debut in June – now gives Universal Resorts eight properties in the country.
Returning this year is new-look Kanuhura, the established Sun Resorts favourite that reopened after 18 months with a “gypset” style, as designed by London-based interior designer Inge Moore of Muza Lab, in collaboration with Hirsch Bedner Associates. Another opening was Grand Park Kodhipparu, reached by a 20-minute speedboat from Male and also designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates. Part of the Park Hotel Group, which operates in Asia-Pacific, it opened in June with 120 villas, of which 65 feature pools; and there is also a beach club, kids’ club and three restaurants including Firedoor, which has an impressive Josper Grill. Plus, the seven-room spa features products and treatments with holistic spa brand Comfort Zone. Meanwhile, a fun addition this year was Kandima, in Dhaalu Atoll, which launched with a cheeky contemporary style that presented something a little different for the Maldives.
Looking forward, the luxury resort most likely to arrive next will be Fushifaru Resort, where 49 rooms have authentic local names such as “Maa-Kandu” (Vast Ocean), “Etherevari” (Bay) and “Kandu Oe” (Ocean Current), along with three restaurants and a spa.
Hot on its heels from Mauritian hotelier Lux Resorts & Hotels will be the 67-villa Lux North Male Atoll, which will open in the spring. Features of the resort will include its contemporary Art Deco, South Beach Miami style and a rooftop terrace on each “residence” – deemed to be a Maldivian first – giving them a five-metre vantage point over the lagoon.
Also close to being revealed is Kudadoo Private Island by Hurawalhi, designed by renowned architect Yuji Yamasaki, who also enjoys the distinction of being the architect of the world’s first 100% solar-powered luxury resort, Club Med Finolhu. Both Club Med and the existing Hurawalhi – home to 5.8 Undersea Restaurant, the world’s largest all-glass undersea restaurant – are owned by Crown & Champa Resorts, which promises Kudadoo Private Island will be “the most exciting opening in the Maldives”. Slated to open early next summer, this adults-only private island will house just 15 “super luxurious and expansive” overwater villas with one or two bedrooms, each with a butler. Guests will be able to use all the amenities at Hurawalhi too, a five-minute boat ride away.
Also coming soon is the Baglioni Resort Maldives, due to open in spring in Dhaalu Atoll with 96 villas in an elegant Italian design reflective of the brand. There will also be a three-bedroom presidential water villa. Meanwhile, Accor has secured management of the former Jumeirah Dhevanafushi and will be flagging that as a Raffles. Accor plans to renovate the resort – which has 21 island and 16 ocean villas – before rebranding it as the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort in “late 2018”.
Also new under the Accor umbrella will be a Fairmont hotel, being built in front of Jumeirah Vittaveli, which opened its Royal Residence this year. Designed with an eye to the Middle East market, the Royal Residence sleeps up to 14 people in five bedrooms, and from $35,000 per night, offers the ultimate in space and privacy.
Looking even further ahead, Waldorf Astoria has announced it will open a 130-room resort spanning three islands in South Male Atoll in the first quarter of 2019. With 10 dining outlets, it will be the brand’s first new-build in the country, having previously managed a resort a few years back.
Meanwhile, Dubai-based Emaar Hospitality Group is developing Address Madivaru Maldives Resort & Spa, its first project in South Asia – but not likely to be seen before 2020. Located 20 minutes by seaplane from the international airport, it spans a total area of 75,000 square metres and has 80 beach and overwater villas, while another island is dedicated just to spa and watersports.
There is no let-up in development either, as the Maldives government has set a target of reaching two million tourists a year and $3.5 billion in revenue during the next four years.
To do so, it needs to set in motion 50 more resorts (there are currently just over 100) before the end of 2018, with estimates that the country will have more than 50,000 beds available to tourists by 2020.
Some will be in the new “mega resort”, where Thai developer Singha broke ground this summer. Located in Emboodhoo Lagoon in South Male Atoll, the multi-island project is the biggest tourism project in the country’s history. Construction on the first phase – costing $311.5 million and due to be completed in the third quarter of 2018 – started in August. It will include a marina, Cafe del Mar beach club, restaurants and bars, Camper and Nicholsons marina, wedding venues and several hotels. The first hotel brand to confirm a property is Hard Rock International and the whole project will eventually feature 1,300 hotel rooms.
In tandem with all this comes the development of the international airport, where a new runway is under construction. Expected to be finished later in 2018, it will see capacity leap from 1.5 million to 7 million passengers, and for the first time Airbus A380s will be able to land.
And when it comes to hitting those targets, more direct flights from Europe started heading to Male as of last week, with Alitalia having launched on October 31, Air France on November 1 and Lufthansa on November 3.
Visit the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation on stand AS540