Indians are jetting off to the Maldives in ever greater numbers to escape the coronavirus pandemic.
Visitors from the South Asian nation to the sandy paradise known for its clear water and white beaches jumped 50 per cent to just over 44,000 in the first two months of the year versus 2020, figures from the island nation's ministry of tourism show. Tourists from India also made up 23.3 per cent of the total in the two months, the most from any single country.
Arrivals from China, Japan and South Korea were down around 98 per cent.
India reached a grim milestone on April 5 when the government reported over 100,000 new cases on a single day for the first time. The second wave has closed businesses once again and sent some cities back into lockdown, triggering a desire to holiday in far-flung destinations. The country's vaccine roll out has also been slow - at this rate, it will take 2.4 years to cover 75 per cent of the population with a two-dose jab.
"The Maldives remains the top pick for Indians," said Pradeep Sharma, owner of Kolkata-based Agwani Travels.
"It used to be a high-end destination but now the Maldives is offering good deals on hotels and people have limited options. Thailand hasn't opened up, Southeast Asia hasn't opened up. All the Bollywood film stars are doing promotions."
Local airlines are sensing opportunity, too. Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, started non-stop Mumbai to Male flights under a travel bubble agreement between India and Maldives last month, becoming the only airline to offer premium economy class on the route.
"Maldives is one of the most popular holiday destinations among travelers, not just in India, but from around the world," Vistara's CEO Leslie Thng said.
The ease of entry is also a big sell. The Maldives has exempted all tourists from mandatory quarantine if passengers test negative for the coronavirus 96 hours before their departure. That is in contrast to other countries such as the UK where overseas trips are effectively banned and any incoming travellers must take multiple Covid-19 tests and undergo quarantine.
"One thing that's panned out very well for the Maldives is that Dubai has imposed restrictions where you have to get the Covid test done before you arrive," Pitti said.
"Because of this, Dubai numbers dramatically decreased in March and this is why we've seen a very good increase in Maldives vacation numbers from April onward. Dubai isn't a great place to travel in the hot time anyway, and pretty much these are the only two direct flight locations available," he said.
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