Guesthouses across Maldives reopened doors for tourists on Thursday, after a long period of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister of Tourism Dr Abdulla Mauoom welcomed the first guesthouse tourists at a ceremony held in Maafushi, Kaafu Atoll.
Kaani Palm Beach in Maafushi was the first guesthouse in the country to reopen with two Slovakian tourists and two Egyptian tourists.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Mausoom expressed optimism that the resumption of local tourism would boost dollar inflows into the country and bolster Maldives' economic recovery efforts.
According to the tourism ministry, a total of 22 guesthouses in 12 islands recommenced operations on the scheduled date of October 15. In addition to Maafushi, these islands are Hanimaadhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll, Narudhoo and Fohdhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, Huraa and Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll, Mathiveri and Ukulhas in Alif Alif Atoll, Thinadhoo, Fulidhoo and Keyodhoo in Vaau Atoll, and Gaadhifushi in Thaa Atoll.
After a long period of closure as a preventive measure amidst the ongoing pandemic, the state moved towards restarting the guesthouse industry after assessing the present-day situation of the archipelago.
The tourism ministry has repeatedly asserted that guesthouse operations must be conducted in accordance with a set of strict regulations.
Establishments are required to seek authorisation from respective local councils prior to submitting an application to the tourism ministry with a detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), in line with the Health Protection Agency (HPA)'s guidelines, on how safety measures will be implemented.
The guidelines stipulate that each guesthouse must have a separate isolation area based on bed capacity, for positive cases and close contacts, while flu clinics and designated vehicles for transportation must be present on every island where local tourism resumes.
Similar to tourists with reservations on resorts and liveaboards, visitors with bookings at guesthouses are also required to present a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 96 hours prior to their arrival in Maldives. Additionally, tourists holidaying at inhabited islands are mandated to undergo departure testing as a measure to facilitate more convenient contact tracing in case of outbreaks.
According to HPA, wearing masks in public will be mandatory for both locals and tourists in islands where guesthouses resume operations.
As with numerous countries around the world, in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maldives closed its air and sea borders to tourist arrivals from March 27 to July 15.
The restrictions on international travel left Maldives' heavily tourism reliant economy in an extremely vulnerable state. In mid-April, the World Bank projected that Maldives would be the worst-hit economy in the South Asian region due to the pandemic.
However, the Minister of Tourism earlier expressed hopes for the industry's recovery, estimating that 100,000 tourists would visit Maldives before the end of 2020.