Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beach

Here are the reasons why everyone, from honeymooners to those looking for a wedding destination, from families to those looking for a workation, and from celebs to the average Jane is flocking to the tropical island

Published: Feb 27, 2021 08:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Mar 17, 2021 04:42:08 PM IST

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: Ozen Reserve Bolifushi

In 2020, the Maldives welcomed 5,55,399 tourists from around the world. Out of these 62,905 were from India, emerging as the top source market for the tropical island, tweeted the India High Commission in Maldives in January. The Maldives has been a preferred holiday destination ever since direct flights from India to the island nation started in October 2018, and with its no visa requirement, one-island-one-resort set-up, proximity (approximately a three-hour flight) and India’s air bubble with them, the popularity seems set to rise. “We believe the trend is set now with a strong demand from all cities in India, including many renowned celebrities visiting the Maldives for holidays,” says Stephane Laguette, chief commercial officer, Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts. “This, in many ways, has been a torch bearer and accelerated what was already happening in the market – the Indian traveller was seeking a new destination beyond the ones already visited and explored such as Thailand and Singapore. We are also seeing a certain shift towards wellness and relaxation amongst Indian travellers, which destinations such as the Maldives offer,” he adds.

While airlines have started increasing the number of flights, resorts are pulling out the stops to welcome travellers. Air Vistara has now started operating three direct flights from Mumbai to Male every week, becoming the first luxury carrier to fly this route. GoAir started flights from Hyderabad to Male from February 11, and Indigo, instead of thrice a week, has started operating daily flights from Bengaluru to Male from February 4. 

And with redefined experiences, Indian food and office set-ups, luxury resorts in Maldives have something for everyone from honeymooners to those looking for a wedding destination, and from families to those looking for a workation. 

Food is an extremely important part of an Indian traveller’s experience. Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts’ uber-luxury resort Ozen Reserve Bolifushi, a 90-villa property, inaugurated in December 2020, opened a new Indian restaurant Tradition Saffron in January. “The India market, which was our seventh or eighth most important market before the Covid-19 pandemic has become the number two market post the lockdown,” says Laguette. People from different cultures in India have different food requirements and many prefer Indian meals. The Tradition Saffron restaurant is the result of this need and demand of Indian guests. Marriott International’s five luxury resorts in the Maldives, W Maldives, Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort and JW Marriot Maldives Resort & Spa, too have hired Indian chefs that specialise in Indian cuisines. 

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: Soneva Jani

Meanwhile, as more and more people are prioritising wellness and farm-to-fork, in October last year, Soneva Jani, a barefoot luxury resort, launched Soneva Jani Chapter Two, offering a host of new attractions, including a new restaurant, Overseas by Mathias Dahlgren. Dahlgren, a renowned, Michelin-star Swedish chef, has designed a special menu that focuses on pescatarian, vegetarian and plant-based dishes. The organic vegetables, herbs and fruit are freshly picked from the resort’s organic gardens. Another new project here is So Wild by Diana von Cranach, a fully plant-based restaurant in the midst of the organic garden. The renowned raw food chef’s menu draws inspiration from ayurveda. The dishes are prepared using techniques like steaming, flash-frying, and dehydrating when they aren’t presented raw.  

Kandima Maldives, a 264-key resort, spread across a 3-kilometre-long island, too started growing its vegetables and fruits on its farm post the lockdown, and serve food made of these fresh ingredients, says Neeraj Seth, director of marketing communication & public relations. While The Nautilus Maldives, a 26-villa resort where guests can eat anytime, anywhere and for unlimited number of times and get whatever food item they ask for, has launched a new gourmet package. The Nautilus Connoisseur package includes a seven-course degustation menu at their signature restaurant, Zeytoun, a bespoke Teppanyaki dining experience by the beach at Ocaso with dishes that are rich in local flavours and spices along with a Maldivian cooking class.

With travellers increasingly also looking for workation options, the Nautilus has introduced a special package of seven days. It includes a desk with a view of the Indian Ocean, a work chair, a dedicated high speed internet connection, a personal assistant, an IDD (International Direct Dialing) phone, a fax machine, scanner, wireless printer, computer setup, portable projector and screen, personalised office stationery as well as refreshments throughout the day. To add some fun to your work, the resort will also set up a charming little office for you for a few hours on a sand back, in the middle of the ocean. Nobody will disturb you here. 

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: The Nautilus

…and play
When not working, there is enough and more to keep one occupied. The Kandima Maldives started sky diving for its guests in February. “Our sunset and dolphin cruises and a visit to a nearby island are very popular among Indian travellers so we offer packages especially catered to them, which includes these activities,” says Seth. Kandima also offers painting lessons with professional local artists in the resort’s art studio facing a natural lake. The proceeds of the programme go to the schools in the island country to promote art education. 

 Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: Kandima Maldives

Making memories is part of a vacation. The Residence Maldives has introduced a photography service and package. All in-house guests can avail a complimentary 30-minute photo shoot at different locations of the resort. Guests can review the pictures and print the ones they like. You can also rent a photographer for a longer duration for all those Instagram clicks.

While the Soneva Fushi invites you to a 3D astronomy experience. Resident astronomers at the resort explain things using 3D technology and a Meade telescope at the resort’s observatory. A night-time star cruise is another splendid way of spending some quiet time under the stars. 

Yacht it, jet it
While Soneva Fushi escorts its guests from Male International airport to the sea plane terminal in Tesla, The Nautilus Maldives, a 26-villa property in Baa Atoll, in the middle of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and Hanifaru Bay, a hub for manta rays and whale sharks, flies its guests in a private, luxury sea plane with just eight comfortable, leather seats. The resort has also collaborated with London-based Dominvs Aviation private jet service post the lockdown. Guests are ferried in a Bombardier 6000 plane from London directly to Noonu Atoll’s Maafaru International Airport, from where the guests are taken to the resort in a private yacht. The service can also be availed on other routes. Recently, a Mumbai couple availed the jet service to fly back to India, informs the resort. 

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: St. Regis Maldives Vommuli

The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli has an Azimut Flybridge 66 yacht, named Norma, in which it takes the resort’s guests on diving expeditions or overnight trips. It has four luxurious cabins where the Home Automation System stores up to three different lighting environments.

Family time
Before the lockdown, the Maldives was perceived as a honeymoon destination. Today, it attracts multi-generation families, groups of friends and wedding parties. The two Ozen resorts have hosted five huge groups, including a wedding party after the lockdown.

Maldives retreat: From private jet pick-ups to office set-ups on the beachImage Credit: The Residence Maldives

The Nautilus Maldives too has been hosting many Indian groups at its property. “We offer an island-buyout option, which is highly suitable for ultra-wealthy Indian guests who would prefer to celebrate with their entire family or friends with absolute privacy and in true style,” says Mohamed Ashraf, general manager, The Nautilus Maldives. The W Maldives too offers an island buyout option to large groups.  

The Nautilus also has a family package that includes a family cooking class, a programme that lets one adopt and name a coral frame, and a spa session for children along with baby-sitting services. While the St. Regis Vommuli and Kandima have large kid zones and clubs complete with water slides, wall climbing set-ups and baby-sitting facilities. The club also conducts art, craft, and education workshops to keep the kids busy. 

Inspired by an underwater world, the Family by JW Kid’s Club called Little Griffin’s features has a 13-metre-long pirate ship and a kids’ sleeping area. Led by qualified multi-lingual instructors, children can learn about oceans and marine life. The club also hosts Quidditch and Gaga Ball tournaments, the former a team sport inspired by Harry Potter that includes dodging, striking, running, and jumping.

With wellness being a priority, resorts have also been adding to their regular offerings. Post the lockdown, Kandima introduced walking meditations and Reiki to its wellness offerings, focussing not just on physical but also mental wellbeing. Soneva Jani Chapter Two plans to open a 1,742 sqm new Wellness Centre in Q2 this year. It will have an Ayurveda clinic, a cross-functional fitness area and an open-air yoga pavilion including facilities for aerial yoga. While The Spa by JW not only offers facial and head massages but also mini manicures and pedicures and beach yoga for children.