The Maldives Emerges as a COVID-Safe Haven for Style and Design Lovers

With overwater villas surrounded by turquoise lagoons, pristine beaches, and ultra-luxurious resorts that let you live out fantasies of being a castaway on a deserted island, the Maldives is a dream destination by any standards, but since the country reopened to international tourism last July, it has emerged as one of the biggest success stories in the COVID-19 era. Though the number of visitors declined from a yearly average of 1.7 million to 555,494 in 2020, according to CNN, a few of the top resorts saw their occupancy rates and revenue increase. In fact, while hotels and resorts around the world have shut down due to border closures and plummeting demand, Soneva Jani not only remained open, but recently debuted 27 luxurious new overwater villas and an all-inclusive pricing model dubbed Soneva Unlimited.

“It is the goal of Eva and I to make sure that all our private islands are COVID-free environments so that our guests can truly relax and engage with our hosts and fellow guests, whether it is on the sandbank, the Den, or anywhere else,” Sonu Shivdasani, who founded Soneva Resorts with his wife, Eva, said in a video detailing the resorts’ new COVID-19 protocols. Though travelers arriving in the Maldives must present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of departure to enter the country, Soneva takes extra precautions, testing guests immediately upon check-in and again on the sixth day of their stay, and requiring daily temperature checks. The upside: As long as guests receive negative test results and remain symptom-free, they can roam the island without a mask, just as they would in the pre-pandemic days.

And Soneva is not the only brand taking this approach. “We were shocked when we got off the seaplane and we were welcomed by the team there and the first thing they said was, ‘You can take your mask off,’” Jonas Rask Eilersen, founder of the London-based Maldives specialist agency RASK Travel, said, referring to his recent arrival at JOALI. “We had been advising all of our clients that they had to be ready to adhere to all rules and regulations and they were being strictly enforced, so I couldn’t believe that we were taking off our masks.”

Over the course of two extended trips to the Maldives in December and January, Eilersen visited 20 resorts and never felt unsafe. He has been organizing trips to the Maldives for the better part of 10 years and reports that it’s currently the most in-demand destination among his clients by far. “Everything you want, particularly at a time like this, is there: seclusion, exclusivity, fresh air, sun—and you feel so safe you forget everything about COVID when you’re there.”

Design lovers who go to the Maldives will be spoiled for choice, as the destination has seen a spate of openings over the last few years, with more coming up. Aside from JOALI, Eilersen recommends the Nautilus, which opened in 2019 as the Maldives’ only member of Relais & Châteaux. The award-winning resort has just 26 beach or ocean houses with boho-chic interiors, an overwater spa, a fleet of yachts, and four restaurants and bars. Other recent openings include the fully sustainable Kudadoo, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, the Raffles Maldives Meradhoo, the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Cheval Blanc Randheli, and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, which boasts an undersea restaurant and the Muraka underwater villa. And of course, there are established favorites like One&Only Reethi Rah, Six Senses Laamu, COMO Maalifushi, and Gili Lankanfushi, which was one of the first eco-chic properties in the country.

This year will see the debut of the Fari Islands archipelago in the North Malé Atoll, home to the Fari Marina Village, Fari Beach Club, a James Turrell Skyspace, and three resorts. The first to open will be Patina Maldives, Fari Islands, the inaugural resort in the Patina brand developed by Capella Hotel Group. Designed by renowned Brazilian designer Marcio Kogan of Studio MK27, the resort boasts a biophilic design with low-slung buildings that respect the horizon, earthy color palettes, and natural materials. It will open in May as a member of Design Hotels with starting rates from $1,950 per night. Next up, the Ritz Carlton, Fari Islands designed by Kerry Hill Architects, will open on June 1 with a collection of villas, seven restaurants and bars, a tranquil spa, and an array of locally immersive cultural experiences. Capella will also debut a resort in the Fari Islands designed by Kengo Kuma and André Fu in 2023.

“I can’t really think of a better-suited destination for now and for the foreseeable future,” Eilersen said. “This is really the place you want to go if you’re in any way concerned about COVID.”

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