India-Maldives air bubble, first in South Asia, likely to be operational next week – Economic Times

By on August 23, 2020
New Delhi: An air travel bubble, first such arrangement in South Asia, has been established between India and the Maldives and this is expected to be operational from next week. This was announced by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a virtual meeting between him and the Foreign Minister of Maldives Abdulla Shahid on August 13.

Regular air services between India and the Maldives were suspended during the previous months due to COVID-19. While there are more than 2400 active cases of COVID-19 in the Maldives, an overwhelming majority of them are in the capital city of Male. The inhabited islands and resort islands of the Maldives have been largely unaffected, according to an official statement.

The Government of Maldives has opened its borders to international tourists since July 15. There are no quarantine restrictions for tourists. Tourists can travel straight from the airport to their respective resorts without entering Male, thereby providing a safe corridor, according to the statement.

“The air travel bubble between India and the Maldives announced by External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar at his meeting with Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid on Aug 13 is the first one in South Asia.

It will go a long way in bringing indian tourists back to the Maldives at a time when the Maldivian economy suffers from a crisis induced by the pandemic. To recall, India is a the second largest and fastest growing tourism market for the Maldives. The air travel bubble will also help regularise the flow of Maldivians seeking medical treatment to India,” Indian High Commissioner to Maldives Sanjay Sudhir told ET.

Thayyib Mohamed, MD, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC) which promoted Maldives a s tourism destination worldwide, told ET, “I am very happy with this development. India is one of the most important markets for Maldives tourism, and the industry eagerly looks forward to welcoming Indian holidaymakers to the Maldives once again. I want to assure travelers that we have taken steps to ensure the safety of visitors. I am sure that we can sustain this very important travel bubble between the two countries, with the measures taken in both the countries.”

Nearly half the country’s 160 plus resorts have also started functioning. The guesthouse industry comprising more than 800 guest houses in inhabited islands for budget-travelers are expected to commence soon, the statement informed.

The Maldives is known for its white sand beaches, turquoise blue lagoons and rich marine life. The disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the Maldivian economy since 80% of the economy depends on tourism.

Since the Government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took charge in Nov 2018, ties between India and the Maldives have greatly improved. Since then, India has extended nearly $ .2 billion in lines of credit, concessional loans, and grants for large infrastructure projects, community-level island projects, training programmes and capacity building of Maldivian officials.

India also rose to 2nd position (from the earlier 5th) as a tourism market. Nearly 167,000 Indians visited the Maldives in 2019, a rise of more than 100% over the figures for 2018. Improved flight connectivity from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka, and, a visa free regime were the main reasons for an increase in Indian tourists.

Nearly 26,000 Indians live in Maldives – in Male and across 190 inhabited islands in the archipelago. This includes approx. 7000 Malayalis and an equal number of Tamilians, along with Indians from other states. A sizeable number of Indians work as nurses, teachers, and resort workers in the Maldives.

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