Sun, sea and a Covid shot
The Maldives lures tourists by offering vaccinations on arrival23rd Apr 2021
The Maldives has recently announced plans to kickstart their 3V programme, allowing foreigners to visit, vaccinate and vacation on the small archipelago. Despite having a relatively firm grip on the spread of COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic (they boast a recovery rate of more than 90% and a mortality rate of 0.3%), the local economy has taken a battering, and the unemployment rate is the highest on record.
The new programme is designed to bring 1.5 million tourists to the Maldives in 2021 alone, an ambitious goal set out by the local tourism board to help jumpstart the economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism.
So how does the 3V programme work and when should South Africans book their flight?
Under the new programme, travellers of any nationality will be able to get a two-dose Covid vaccination. In between the two shots, they’ll be required to book a minimum two-week vacation in one of the islands’ 124 isolated and luxurious retreats – where social distancing has always been part of the package.
A concrete timeline for when the new vaccination on arrival programme will launch hasn’t yet been revealed, as the priority for the Maldives is to ensure that their half a million citizens are vaccinated first. Almost 90% of their frontline tourism workers have already had their first jab though, alongside around 53% of the entire population, so it shouldn’t be too long.
The islands’ tourism minister suggests tourist facilities could potentially open up as early as July. The plan is to use surplus vaccines donated to them from India and China, through the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme, plus additional doses from Singapore, to start jabbing tourists.
For South Africans keen to take part, Air Seychelles is probably your best option, with a direct flight from Johannesburg to the Maldives taking just nine hours and costing about R15,000 for an economy ticket. The magnificent island archipelago is one of 101 countries that offers visa-free travel, and there is no need to quarantine on arrival either.
Desperate times calls for desperate measures
This is not the first attempt by the Maldives to lure back holidaymakers since they reopened their borders to the world in July 2020. In the height of the pandemic, they were one of the first to introduce a special COVID-19 insurance that travellers could buy before their arrival, covering medical expenses, as well as isolation and transportation costs which would be incurred in the event of them getting infected with COVID-19 while on the island.
Then, in September 2020, they launched a new loyalty programme – the world’s first for a country. Dubbed the Maldives Border Miles, the scheme came into effect in December, aiming to reward frequent travellers by letting them earn points depending on the frequency and duration of their visits, and even earn extra credit if they come to the islands for a special occasion like a wedding, for example.
There are three tiers on the reward system, each with its own set of privileges – Aida (bronze), Antara (silver) and Abaarana (gold) – and tourists can move up the tiers after earning a specific number of points.
Uptake for that scheme and the insurance policy has been slow, with holidaymakers either wary to travel or unable to do so due to slow vaccination programmes in their home country. The tourism authority hopes that, by setting themselves up as a vaccination destination, the Maldives will create greater convenience for vacation-starved travellers desperate both for a holiday, and more importantly, a vaccine.