What's new in the Indian Ocean
By Tamara Hinson
The Indian Ocean is back open for business and is predicted to be a hotspot for 2022, here's what's new in the region
It’s official - four of the most popular Indian Ocean destinations (the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Mauritius) are back open for business. Whether clients are looking to cover as much ground with an island-hopping adventure in the Seychelles, or wildlife-rich safari in Sri Lanka, or just enjoy some of the world-class beaches and luxury resorts that Mauritius and the Maldives are famous for, this region ticks all the boxes.
Kuoni, which has added 13 new resorts to its collection throughout the Indian Ocean, admits that the region remains the favourite honeymoon choice for couples, many of whom have re-booked following postposed plans resulting from the pandemic. Claire Ross, Product Director, said: “The Maldives, followed by Mauritius, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles already top Kuoni’s list of bestselling destinations for 2022 based on forward sales, making up more than half of the company’s advance bookings.”
She adds: “Demand for child-free resorts, special interest trips, such as diving, and ultra-luxury is also on the rise, with the average spend for 2022 Indian Ocean holidays up by 15%.”
Not only are the individual destinations accessible (the Seychelles alone is served by 13 different airlines) but the islands still have plenty of space - something which has never been more important - and the warm welcome the Indian Ocean is famous for will be hugely appreciated by clients who’ve missed their favourite sun spots. The best bit? Never have there been so many shiny new developments to get excited about.
One of the most exciting new properties is LXR Hotels & Resorts’ Mango House Seychelles, which opened in July 2021 on Mahé island’s Anse Aux Poules Bleues bay. This boutique property has 41 beachfront suites and villas, and five F&B venues.
Over at the Hilton Seychelles, capacity has been increased with the addition of eight cliffside Signature Grand Ocean Pool Villas, all of which have personalised bedlinen, private plunge pools or unbeatable ocean views.
Speaking of islands, insiders predict that island-hopping will become increasingly popular for clients, who will be keener than ever to squeeze in multiple destinations. “With so many islands, all of which are easily accessible by flight, ferry or catamaran, it’s a shame to stay in one place,” says Nikki Hain, Premier Holidays’ Product Manager. As for an unexpected upside of the pandemic? There’s more wildlife to spot. “Reduced footfall has allowed wildlife to thrive,” says Vanessa Beldam, Audley Travel’s Senior Product Executive for Africa and the Indian Ocean. “For example, turtles are nesting more frequently on Denis Island.”
For cruising clients, Emerald Cruises’ second superyacht, Emerald Sakara, sets sail in 2023. Its inaugural round-trip cruise focusing on the Seychelles departs from Victoria, on Mahé Island.
Premier Holidays’ 10-night package includes return flights and half-board in a pool villa at the Raffles Seychelles. From £3,999pp, for travel between May 9 and June 15, 2022.
TOP TIP: Many clients are attracted to the Seychelles because of the seclusion. “People want quieter places and the Seychelles delivers, with several private island resorts such as Hilton Labriz and Fregate Island,” says Diane Prendergast, Gold Medal’s Destination Manager.
Pre-pandemic, Sri Lanka was on track to become the Indian Ocean’s most sought-after destination, and it’s bouncing back with speed. “Right before the pandemic, figures indicated that visitor numbers were growing by 18% year on year,” says Julie FitzGerald, G Adventures’ General Manager for Asia. “2019 was poised for even greater growth, with eastern and northern destinations opening to tourism.”
So what has Sri Lanka got in store? G Adventures offers a seven-day Sri Lanka - South Coast Sailing in search of blue whales, stopping along the way at the old trading fort of Galle and the fishing village of Kudawella.
Meanwhile new properties include the adults-only nine-villa Haritha Villas + Spa, which opened in December 2019 on a forested hilltop near southern Sri Lanka’s Hikkaduwa beach, while Kumbura, a four-bedroom heritage property in Habaraduwa, near Galle, has been added to Eden Villas’ portfolio.
There are also several new packages, including Intrepid Travel’s 14-day Premium Sri Lanka package, which launches in January 2022. The growing popularity of active holidays is perfect for clients craving a different perspective. “We’re revamping our Active Sri Lanka tour,” says Hannah Methven, Explore’s Discovery Programme Manager. “It will have paddleboarding, yoga, cycling and rafting and will be about nature, rather than ticking off landmarks. We’re definitely noticing more demand for active holidays – people are fitter, and have walked and cycled more during the lockdown.”
The best bit? Getting around will become easier. “The new Central Expressway highway, currently under construction, will eventually connect the east to the west, transforming the tourism landscape,” says Anu Karunatilaka, Intrepid’s Regional General Manager in Sri Lanka. “We have beautiful beaches and fantastic wildlife in the east, but few people visit due to the time it takes to get there.”
Intrepid’s 14-day Premium Sri Lanka tours launch on January 2, 2022. From £2,086pp, excluding flights. intrepidtravel.com
TOP TIP: Tempt clients with holidays away from the main hotspots. “More clients are seeking unusual experiences and destinations,” says Audley Travel’s Vanessa Beldam. “They want to see beyond the usual sights, and to explore lesser-known parts.”
In Mauritius, there’s a huge number of openings and refurbishments for agents to keep track of.
It’s all change at the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, which reopened in October 2021 after a four-month refurbishment which transformed the Bambou restaurant and bar and added a new lobby bar, while a makeover of LUX* Le Morne has created a lighter, brighter look and added new areas, including the sundowner-friendly Tree House.
Adults-only boutique hotel SALT of Palmar, on Quatre Coco beach, has introduced several new guest experiences, including forest bathing at Bras D’eau and a history-themed excursion to Mahebourg and as of August the St. Regis Mauritius was rebranded as the JW Marriott Mauritius, the colonial-style resort offers 171 rooms on the shores of Le Morne Beach.
But it’s the opening of LUX* Grand Baie Resort & Residences, in December 2021, which is generating the biggest buzz. “Located in the popular Grand Baie neighbourhood in Mauritius’s north - known for its beaches – it will become LUX’s flagship property,” says Hain. “Regulars will know it as the old Merville Beach hotel. We’re hoping for more direct flights, too!”
British Airways offers a six-night stay at the five-star Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa on the west coast of Mauritius from £1,786pp. Price includes return flights from London, accommodation on a half board basis in a superior room, departing February 10, 2022.
TOP TIP: Match the setting with the client. “There are over 100 beaches on Mauritius’s coastline, each with its own character,” says Prendergast. “And with beautiful beaches comes incredible diving. There are around 50 diving and snorkelling sites, all with varying levels of difficulty.”
The Maldives gets the gold medal for the sheer number of new openings, although there are plenty of other developments, whether it’s the news that the Hard Rock Hotel Maldives now accepts cryptocurrency, or the unveiling, in November 2021, of the Fairmont Maldives’ Sustainability Lab, where guests can recycle rubbish into souvenirs.
New openings include Patina the Fari Islands, on the edge of the North Malé Atoll, a 45-minute boat ride from Velana International Airport. Then there’s the family-friendly Siyam World Maldives, which opened in October 2021 and has the world’s largest floating water park as well as a staggering 21 room categories.
With a nod to its eco-conscious location, Lhaviyani Atoll’s Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa, which opened in September 2021, features a Marine Hub at the resort which offers a range of conservation programmes including mangrove and seagrass protection, and turtle identification and snorkeling with the marine biologist, with the opportunity for guests to name a turtle for themselves. It is the second Marriott International property to open in the Maldives this year, offering guests 141 villas with views across the pristine beaches, the Indian Ocean or turquoise lagoon.
Other openings include the family-friendly Cora Cora Maldives, which opened in October on the Raa Atoll and has 100 villas and suites and South Malé Atoll’s Ozen Reserve Bolifushi, which opened in late 2020 and is just a 20-minute catamaran ride from the international airport. Finally, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas has launched new family-style villas, consisting of four two bedroom beach pool Villas and eight one bedroom beach pool villas.
EXPERIENCE TRAVEL GROUP
Catering to clients keen to explore beyond the glitzy resorts? Consider the Experience Travel Group’s Hidden Magic in the Maldives package, which includes international flights and 11 nights split between two inhabited islands. From £2,985pp.
TOP TIP: Brush up on how resorts fare in the sustainability stakes. “Clients are increasingly concerned with environmental issues and want to know that their Maldivian resort is up to scratch from a sustainable point of view,” says Sam Clark, CEO of Experience Travel Group.