Islands eye the GCC pie

OZEN By Atmosphere at Maadhoo Island in the Maldives

The oceanfront destinations, with their relatively lower Covid-19 cases, low population density and naturally in-built social distancing, are safe choices in the current scenario


From Indian Ocean Islands such as the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles to Malta, a Southern European island country in the Mediterranean Sea, islands present the perfect hideaways for lockdown-trapped travellers. While these oceanfront destinations have always been popular, their relatively lower cases of Covid-19, low population density and naturally inbuilt social distancing make them safe choices in the current scenario. 

With tourism being the most important revenue stream for most of these countries and while Europe remains hard to reach for citizens from the Gulf or impractical with its quarantine requirements, island destinations are swooping in to get the lion’s share of the Middle East tourism pie.

The Maldives is an island nation made up of 1,190 islands geographically dispersed across the ocean. Renowned for the “one-island-one-resort” concept, tourists from all over the world visit to enjoy the pristine natural environment, world class services, privacy and seclusion. With the Covid-19 tourism regulations in place, and naturally distanced islands allowing for more privacy, Maldives is believed to be one of the safest holiday destinations.

On July 15, the Maldives opened its borders to international visitors, 110 days after closing the borders as a precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19. Special facilities with testing, isolation, and hospitalisation capabilities have been established in six regions across the Maldives. Response measures, guidelines and protocols have been prepared and put in place, on par with international standards and requirements. According to the last report, out of the 188 inhabited islands, just 9 islands have active cases, with an average of one case in each of those islands.

Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) hosted for the very first time a 3D Virtual Tourism Exhibition last month. The event was held online specifically for the Saudi Arabian and Middle East market, in what is considered a tourism industry first within the Middle East. 

The objective of the exhibition was to position Mauritius as the optimum travel destination for rejuvenation, excitement and luxury lifestyle experiences for travellers from the Middle East, once travel to Mauritius is again permitted. A total of 18 exhibitors attended the fair as part of the Mauritius delegation, which included representatives of MTPA as host. A total of 182 Middle East travel industry professionals joined the exhibition, with 71 per cent of whom were from Saudi Arabia.

As an island nation in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius was quick to respond with strict measures to contain any outbreak of Covid-19 in the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic to date, a total of 344 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Mauritius resulting in 10 deaths. Today, there are currently zero active cases on the island.

Glenn Johnston, Representative of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority office in Saudi Arabia, said: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the Saudi market was one of our fastest growing markets. Launching our first-ever 3D Virtual Exhibition in the kingdom allowed us to not only re-connect with our esteemed travel partners there, but also demonstrate the innovation and ability of MTPA to provide quality and safe experiences that effectively promote and position Mauritius internationally in a Covid-19 pandemic world.”

He added, “Through this platform we have been able to showcase the great beauty and luxury lifestyle and family experiences that Mauritius has to offer, so that once travel from Saudi Arabia and the region is permitted again, travellers can be confident that not only will their travels be exciting and memorable, but they will also be able to travel with peace-of-mind knowing that every health and safety precaution has been taken care of.”

Seychelles, with a population of less than 100,000 inhabitants, opened its borders to commercial flights on August 1. Visitors coming from low and medium risk countries must have a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate from an authorised laboratory dating no more than 72 hours from the date of travel. Visitors coming from medium risk countries, will require a negative PCR certificate no more than 72 hours from the date of travel. Visitors coming from high-risk countries will not be authorized to enter Seychelles.

Visitors must ensure that accommodation bookings are made only at licensed accommodation establishments or liveaboards that have been certified by the Public Health Authority. All booking vouchers reflecting the entire duration of their stay in Seychelles must be presented at the immigration counter for verification. If upon arrival visitors have not booked in a licensed and certified accommodation establishment, they will be directed to another establishment that has been certified.

Visitors must ensure that they have a valid travel insurance with full medical coverage for the duration of their entire stay in Seychelles.

Meanwhile, Malta, the beautiful Mediterranean island archipelago has also reopened its borders for visitors of selected countries. Malta International Airport officially re-opened for commercial flights in the beginning of July to a select list of countries that are considered safe, which states that passengers coming from those countries can enter Malta without quarantine or any special permits.

The list of safe-corridor countries was further extended on July 15, and the UAE has been included in the list alongside other safe countries alongside other Mena countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia.

With the annulment of travel restrictions, Malta is back as a prime destination for Middle Eastern tourists with its fair weather, crystalline beaches, and Mediterranean flair.

Families of the region can escape the summer heat and the post-lockdown anxiety to enjoy sightseeing in one of Europe’s most intriguing islands. The Maltese islands are home to beautiful beaches, diverse archaeological sites, world-famous diving spots, one-of-a-kind natural phenomena, delicious food, and much more.