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#Together: Velaa Private Island

World Travel Awards talks to Michal Smejc, General Manager, Velaa Private Island, Maldives about the island’s extensive health and safety programme, which has enabled it to continue operating since emerging from lockdown last July.

WTA: Maldives re-opened to tourism in July. What operational changes have you implemented at Velaa Private Island in order to continue receiving guests through the pandemic?

MS: We put took many precautions to keep our island safe, and I truly believe Velaa could be a role model for other resorts. First of all, we built our own PCR laboratory along with another resort on a local island. Here, we also leased three houses for the quarantine of our staff returning to the island. This means that all our staff would undergo a PCR test prior to arriving at quarantine, they would then quarantine at the local island before undergoing a second PCR test prior to arriving at Velaa. For guests, we are conducting rapid antibody tests on arrival (in addition to a PCR test before flight) and another one after five days. We have also increased hygiene and safety measures at Velaa. All of these measures have resulted in zero positive cases at Velaa so far.

WTA: What advice from Velaa’s experiences would you offer to other resorts yet to emerge from lockdown?

MS: To make sure that when boarding staff back to the island, strict safety measures are followed to avoid spread at the island. Also to rethink all safety measures and processes before reopening the resort. We were lucky enough to continue operating throughout the lockdown.

WTA: How have the global travel restrictions, in particular the constantly shifting travel corridors, impacted your operations?

MS: It is paradox, in that this crisis made our Q4 2020 and Q1 2021 the best in Velaa history. Maldives is one of few countries where it is possible to travel to and on top of that, it is vastly safer as you have one island and only one resort which creates natural social distancing.

What we can clearly see is that Europe and USA are not performing as well and Asia has also seen a significant decline, but the CIS is booming as the Maldives is one of very few permitted destinations. A clear trend at the moment is that people are coming for longer stays and booking higher categories to enjoy additional comfort. We’ve had some guests staying with us from July! Another new trend we’ve seen has allowed guests to work from the island with their families whilst their kids continue their education online.

WTA: Why is collaboration across the travel industry essential to navigating the post-virus landscape?

MS: Evidently the hit from the COVID crisis to the industry has been significant. It is only natural in a crisis that people need to help each other in order to survive. It is no different for the travel and hospitality industry. Building strong partnerships can help you survive and rise from crisis even stronger. I think many travel agents and hotels will have to rethink their strategic approach completely and move from being revenue focused to putting the guest experience first.

WTA: What trends in travel and tourism do you see emerging in the aftermath of the crisis?

MS: The industry will most certainly shake heavily for some time and market shares will be reallocated. For resorts, I believe safety will become a main topic for the next few years with people willing to pay more for value (safety, privacy, quality of service). There will also be a contest for guests with many resorts offering significant discounts to secure business. We on the other hand, chose to do the opposite and are instead focusing on customer experience which has resulted in a huge growth of both repeat guests and revenues.

WTA: Have you had any positive changes in your own outlook in reaction to the crisis?

MS: I think the word ‘positive’ will be absent for some time. As I said, we have had the best months in our history. The problem is that so much is changing every day, where one day you can be on a peak and the next day under lockdown. However, I do feel that the growing number of repeat guests will last into future indeed. I hope to see the world returning to a close normal by 2022 as vaccination development continues and new medicines become available.

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About #Together

The World Travel Awards #Together initiative aims to galvanise the recovery efforts of the global travel and tourism industry.

#Together serves an on-going resource of information, practical advice and insights from the travel industry’s thought-leaders and decision-makers to aid the collective recovery by bringing the industry together as a global unit, pooling collective knowledge and fostering cooperation.

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