Going by Instagram, the Maldives seemingly had Bollywood to thank for keeping its tourism afloat in a pandemic-wracked 2020. After being holed up in their houses for months, many film celebrities made a beeline for this nation of 130 island resorts. Actor Mouni Roy, who visited Soneva Fushi for a photo shoot in September, helped start the trend. Known for its luxurious villas and a technology-free zone called The Den, Soneva Fushi also saw Mandira Bedi check in around the same time. “I travelled 15 hours to get here! but oh my… how it was worth it,” said Bedi on Instagram. Many emojis followed.
The question is obvious-why Maldives, though? Actor Hina Khan, who visited in November, said in an interview to INDIA TODAY the month after, “Where else can one go?” The remoteness of Maldives’ resorts guarantees privacy and isolation, especially valued in these times of Covid-19. The enviable views are an added incentive. Maldives’ entry rules for Indian tourists are simple: carry a negative Covid test conducted 96 hours prior to arrival from an ICMR-approved laboratory and download the TraceEkee app (Maldives’ Aarogya Setu). Hotels then provide their guests the facility of Covid tests before checkout. Travellers thus save themselves the trouble of a long wait at airports and quarantine upon return.
A host of tour operators are offering lucrative packages which the actors have been happy to endorse through their social media feeds. One Above Holidays, which has an office in Mumbai, promotes the Maldives as a destination where “each island has its own ‘house reef’ which serves as a coral garden and natural aquarium for scuba divers and snorkelers”. Make Plans Holidays says it “fell in love with Maldives in 1984” and touts itself as a specialist in “curating bespoke luxury travel experiences”.
Meanwhile, Maldivian operators like Trans Maldivian Airways and Manta Air, which run a fleet of seaplanes that transport tourists from the airport in Malé to the island resorts, find mention in the Instagram posts of celebrities like Tiger Shroff, who visited the country with his rumoured girlfriend Disha Patani. Like Hina Khan, some travelled with their families (Rakul Preet Singh, Vivek Oberoi), a few for work (Katrina Kaif shot for a magazine) and one actor even went there to honeymoon (Kajal Aggarwal).
Environmentalists have warned that the archipelago, which is made up of 1,200 small coral islands, will be one of the first casualties of climate change as sea levels rise across the globe. But life, as Shah Rukh Khan once famously sang in Kal Ho Naa Ho, is all about living in the moment. Bollywood’s infatuation with the Maldives shows no signs of abating, and, so, the deluge of sun-kissed photos by pristine blue waters continues. Stars, after all, are just like us. The one difference is that they take breaks on coral islands.