Today (June 19, 2020): The Maldives reopens to tourists in July.
The Maldives – known as the world’s most exclusive travel destination – is reopening to visitors of all nationalities in July with no restrictions (after being closed to tourists since March). While a previous draft proposal indicated travelers would need to present a medical certificate confirming proof of a negative COVID-19 test, the island nation is instead opting to allow tourists in without prior testing or a mandatory quarantine period. The government will, however, require resorts to allocate 10 percent of their rooms for guests who choose to self-quarantine.
The Indian Ocean country is probably one of the world’s safest travel destination right now as its 1,200 islands provide a natural defense against the spread of COVID-19. The government’s policy of “One Island One Resort” offers a geographic advantage that makes it much easier to prevent and contain a coronavirus outbreak, because each resort can strictly control who steps onto their island. Due to swift and effective action from the government, the Maldives has recorded “only” 2000 confirmed cases and eight deaths from COVID-19 so far. This is mainly because of extensive testing and a significant increase in the capacity of their hospitals. Around 30 resorts have stayed open during the outbreak for guests who chose to remain and self-isolate rather than return to their home countries.
Obviously, it’s still a difficult time to start planning a trip since there are still a lot of travel restrictions in place around the globe, though, personally, I’m eager to visit the Maldives soon again, to enjoy its phenomenal resorts, pristine white-sand beaches, and spectacular underwater world. I’m not sure whether the Maldives’ open border policy (no testing is required prior to arrival) is the best approach, but some resorts have implemented additional measures to ensure the highest standards of safety and wellness for guests. Take the example of Soneva, the ultraluxe hotel groups who manages my two favorite resorts in the Maldives (Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi). Soneva is setting the new standard in hotel policies worldwide when it comes to a safe and enjoyable hotel stay in times of COVID-19, following best practices recommended by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) as well as numerous consultations with leading experts in both virology and infectious diseases in the United States, Singapore, India and the United Kingdom. Below is described how the ‘new normal’ of a stay at a Soneva resort will look like (and frankly, Soneva is taking it to the next level with incredible T&Cs to ease the travel minds and rigorous standards to reassure a safe and unforgettable holiday).
All guests will be greeted by one of Soneva’s airport hosts and escorted to the Soneva airport lounge where they will be asked to undergo a COVID-19 test using a PCR machine. The Soneva hosts will all be wearing masks, and all guests will be requested to wear a face mask until their test results are received. The windows will be kept down in Soneva’s Tesla during the transfer from the airport to the seaplane terminal and the car will be thoroughly cleaned between guests. Recent research from the United States Bio Defence and Countermeasures Center in Maryland discovered that in normal conditions, the half life of a virus is 18 hours, whilst in the Maldives’ climatic conditions, it is reduced to 1 hour, and, when exposed to UVA, there is a further reduction to as little as 2 minutes. The private Soneva seaplane and transfer boats will also be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between each transfer, and Soneva hosts will be wearing masks and gloves all the time.
AT THE RESORT
Once the test has been completed and results sent for processing, guests will be transferred to Soneva Fushi or Soneva Jani. On arrival, you will be greeted at the arrival jetty by a Mr/Ms Friday who will be handling all arrivals for that particular day and who will take you to the private island. You will receive the usual Soneva welcome including the bag for you to put your shoes in. Next, you will be escorted to your villa and be requested to remain there until the test results are received and are negative. Soneva does not expect it to take more than 6 hours, and at the most 24. As a result of this inconvenience, Soneva will only charge 50% of the villa rate for the first night and the balance will be issued as resort credit that you can use for F&B or experiences. Once the results of the test are known and if they are negative, the Soneva hosts will come to your villa to extend a warm welcome.
In case the test results come back positive, you will be asked to isolate in their villa, and Soneva will immediately waive the daily rate of the villa for the next 14 days. The only charges will be meals and other incidentals. Soneva’s nurses have been trained to look after COVID-19 positive guests and observe them. If there are no serious complications, guests will be allowed to circulate in the resort 14 days after a negative test or 10 days after the onset of the first symptoms, following the recommended guidelines by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Should any guest develop severe symptoms and have to be hospitalized, the Maldives has built up sufficient hospital and medical capacity to treat COVID-19. In fact, the hospital on Eydhafushi (Soneva Fushi’s neighboring island) has a new ICU Unit with 20 beds. If guests who test positive are traveling with other guests, it will be requested that all guests isolate together in the same villa until all are COVID free.
Soneva also requires all guests have their temperature taken daily. Your Mr/Ms Friday will provide you with the thermometer each morning and will be in touch later to ask for the results. After the first four days of stay, Soneva will ask guests to take one more real-time PCR test. The company have purchased one of the best real-time PCR test machines – the Life Cycler 96 from Roche and the samples will be sent to Malé for testing at the ADK hospital. The tests are awkward and slightly uncomfortable, but they only last a few seconds. Although this could be considered as being slightly excessive or over-cautious, at Soneva, all islands are One Island One Resort and it is the company’s goal to make their private island homes COVID-19 free environments, so that guests can truly relax and engage with Soneva Hosts and fellow guests and not feel any concern about being infected. Guests will not need to isolate in their villa while waiting for the results of the second PCR test.
Soneva also has enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols in collaboration with hygiene certification organizations, and there will be plenty of hand sanitizers available for guest usage. Frequent and regular cleaning and disinfecting will ensure optimum hygiene is maintained and Soneva will pay special attention to frequently touched surfaces. Soneva Hosts are also required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing, while all materials brought onto our islands will be properly cleaned and sanitized prior to being brought onsite.
All of the resort restaurants, facilities and experiences remain open and operational, with some small modifications. The famous Chocolate Rooms will now be manned. Soneva has moved the Pastry Chefs there who will serve you and you can watch them as they make the chocolate. The famous breakfast and lunch buffets will remain. However, Soneva Hosts will now be there to serve you. In the spas, even though the therapists will have been tested three times in the first eight days of returning to the islands, you will still have a choice on whether they wear a face mask or gloves.
Wellness has always been at the core of Soneva. This is now even more important. From a holistic wellness perspective, clean sea air and daily sunshine to generate Vitamin D is just what the doctor ordered. Soneva will encourage our guests to enjoy the healthy foods they serve, whether it is the Ayurvedic Elixirs at breakfast, the Andrographis Paniculata that is a known Ayurvedic immune booster that is offered on a complimentary basis, or all the other healthy antiviral ingredients that are regularly in Soneva’s food such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, red onions, cinnamon and cardamom.
Furthermore, Soneva’s menus are mostly seasonal, fresh, and straight from the organic gardens or waters surrounding our resorts. Soneva’s chefs limit the amount of sugar, dairy, white flour and beef and instead opt for high protein white meat and vegetable alternatives. Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi both offer a regular program of yoga and meditation, as well as other visiting wellness practitioners.
While there will be small changes to what would normally happen during your stay with us, on the most part things will remain the same. Which is exactly how we want it to be. Your health and wellness is our priority and we hope that our rigorous standards will reassure you that you will have a safe and unforgettable holiday with your loved ones during your stay with us.
HOW TO BOOK YOUR STAY AT SONEVA
As most of my readers know, I am able to offer the readers of my blog complimentary VIP perks at any Soneva resort (for new bookings made before August 2020). These benefits are listed below and come in addition to valuable offers & savings which are found on the official Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani, and Soneva Kiri website:
- A resort credit valued at 10% of the total room revenue of the booking (when booking a Best Available Rate) or 5% of the total package revenue when booking one of the Soneva special packages. For example, if you book 7 nights at Soneva Kiri at a best available rate of $1300 USD per night, you will get a resort credit of 7 x $130 USD = $910 USD, which you can use on food, spa, and activities.
- Two personalised Soneva experiences per stay (complimentary). You have the opportunity to select premium activities such as Sonu’s picnic which is approximately $750 USD per person. For example, at Soneva Jani, these experiences may also include:
- Private Cinema Paradiso experience with dinner
- Father & son picnic and mother & daughter spa
- Private Dinner at the Starlight Table and a session at the observatory
- Cooking class for children and family
- Sunrise breakfast
- Gourmet dining experience which includes chocolate and wine tasting
This is how it works:
- Step 1: contact me by email before confirming a booking (with mention of you preferred travel dates, the number of people in your travel party, and age of kids if any). I will then introduce you per email to my Soneva contact.
- Step 2: after the introduction, Soneva will offer you the best rates or package for your preferred travel dates, and the Soneva ambassador benefits will be added to your reservation upon confirmation of the booking.
Below you find some extra information about the history of Soneva and the details (+ my reviews) of the group’s stunningly beautiful resorts.
Soneva Jani is the ultimate Maldives’ luxury resort (and simply outclasses all of its competitors in the archipelago). It comprises 24 water villas and one island villa, with additional island villas planned at a later stage. Inspired by a word that means wisdom in Sanskrit, Soneva Jani is located on the island of Medhufaru, which is part of an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll. The highlight of the resort is its location within a 5.6 kilometer lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. The main island is fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed with lush tropical greenery. Every water villa has a private pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. The highlight of the villas is the retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so that guests can lie in bed and stargaze.
Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway, is located in the stunnnig Baa Atoll island archipelago, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Massive, Robinson Crusoe-style, multi-bedroom luxury villas and private residences are hidden among dense tropical foliage. In keeping with the castaway theme, many are built to resemble tree houses. All open to their own private stretch of sugar white sands, and most boast their own private seawater swimming pools. Intuitive service is provided by Mr./Ms. Friday butlers who know what you want before you want it.
- Hotel website: Soneva Fushi
- Top 10 accolades: Soneva Fushi features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury resorts in the Maldives, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, the best family hotels in the world, the world’s most insanely beautiful hotel beaches, and the best resorts in the Maldives for snorkeling.
- Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, welcome Champagne with Maldivian tapas on arrival, one lunch for two, original handcrafted arrival and departure mementos, shoreline beach dinner, private sunset sailing by Dhoni at Baa Atoll, and a cooking class for two).
- Review: read my review of Soneva Fushi here.
Remote yet accessible by a 70 minute flight from Bangkok on the resort’s private plane, Soneva Kiri sits on Thailand’s 4th largest but least populated island, Koh Kood, in the Gulf of Siam. One of the most exclusive beach resorts in the world, Soneva Kiri offers an unrivalled combination of luxury, environmentally friendly design and unforgettable, authentic Thai experiences. The 35 resort villas (including 11 private residences) are amongst the largest in the world. Located on the idyllic beach or sunny slopes in the rainforest, all have stunning infinity pools, impossibly chic furnishings, personal electric buggies, and impeccable service courtesy of private butlers. Highlights include the open air cinema Paradiso, Benz’ mangrove restaurant, the chocolate & ice cream parlour, the children’s den, and the spectacular Treetop dining pod.
- Hotel website: Soneva Kiri
- Top 10 accolades: Soneva Kiri features in my top 10 lists of the most insanely beautiful hotels in Thailand, the world’s most amazing beach resorts, the world’s most outrageous hotel experiences, the best private plunge pools in the world, the world’s most beautiful hotel beaches, the world’s best luxury hotels, the world’s best family hotels, the world’s most remote hotels, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and luxury hotels with private airports.
- Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, welcome Champagne with Thai tapas on arrival, and a 30 minute spa treatment for two).
- Review: read my review of Soneva Kiri here.
Soneva in Aqua is the first floating villa in the Maldives and every honeymooner’s dream. The pioneering new boat villa concept of the ultra luxe Soneva hotel group combines all the benefits of the group’s iconic resort’s services and amenities with the freedom and exclusivity associated with a private boat charter. The two-cabin boat features a spacious main cabin with a glass bottom spa and shower facilities, as well as a second room with a king-sized bed and en-suite facilities. Other features include an external raised sun and dining deck, a lower level bar and dining area plus daybeds, lounge seating and a jacuzzi.
HISTORY OF THE SONEVA HOTEL GROUP
In 1995, Sonu Shivdasani, an Indian-British hotelier, launched the now world-famous Soneva Fushi resort on the deserted Maldivian island of Kunfunadhoo. He also built his house there, together with his wife Eva Malmstrom, a Swedish fashion model, who developed the design and furnishing of the unique resort.
They had no idea that their intensely personal vision of a locally crafted villa and environmentally responsible lifestyle would form the basis of a successful collection of world-class hotels, resorts and spas. But that’s exactly what happened. Soneva Fushi was the first ‘castaway’ resort in the Maldives, pioneering a trend for back-to-nature luxury holidays. And it still tops my list of the top 10 best luxury resorts in the Maldives. In 2009, the Soneva Hotel group built a second, even more spectacular hotel – Soneva Kiri – on the unspoilt Thai island of Koh. Last year, the group launched the first floating villa in the Maldives, SonevaIn Aqua. And this autumn, it opens Soneva Jani, a spectacular resort that will set new standards in this destination that is already known for its world-class hotel standards.
The success of the Soneva brand also paved the way for Sonu and Eva’s other hotel group, the Six Senses Resorts & Spas, across South East Asia and Europe. In 2006, Soneva Fushi made a revenue of approximately US$ 20 million and by 2011, Six Senses was a $150–175 million international luxury spa and resort chain with 26 resorts and 41 spas. Under Eva’s and Sonu’s direction the Six Senses brand gained global fame before being sold in 2012.
Today, Sonu and Eva focus on their Soneva resorts with private residences, as part of the “One Owner, One Operator, One Philosophy, One Brand” strategy. And while the Sonevas may have many imitators, they have no equals. Both Soneva Resorts impress on a wide range of levels. Breathtaking ‘remote but accessible’ natural locations, effortlessly chic accommodation, incredible food, truly memorable activities, an inspiring ethos of sustainability and service that is uncannily intuitive.