In a season of lockdown, the Georgia Steel Jet was the setting.
A digital influencer and reality television star, Ms. Steele departed from England to Dubai in late December, where she promoted a lounger on Instagram from a luxury hotel. Until January, she was at a resort in the Maldives, where spa treatments include body covering with sweet basil and coconut powder.
“We can be drippin”, Ms. Steele, 22, Told A post featuring her 1.6 million Instagram followers who showed her wading through tropical waters in a bikini. Never mind that the Kovid-19 Kasolades were advancing in Britain and the Maldives, or that England had just announced it Third lock.
The Maldives is an island nation off the coast of India, which is not only tolerating tourists like Ms. Steele, but is also urging them to visit. Since the country reopened its borders last summer, more than 300,000, including several dozen, have arrived. Influential people, Social media’s big-ticket star who is often paid for hawker products. Many of the affected have been honored by the government and traveled to the special resort on paid trash.
The government says its open-door strategy is ideal for a tourism-dependent country, whose decentralized geography – around 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean – helps with social distance. Since the boundaries have reopened, as well as 1 percent of incoming visitors have tested positive for coronavirus, official data show.
“You never know what will happen tomorrow,” said Thoyib Mohammed, managing director of the country’s official public relations agency. “But for the time being, I must say: this is a very good case for the whole world, especially tropical destinations.”
The Maldives strategy comes with epidemiological risks and underscores how far they holiday and the people affected have become flash points for controversy.
As people around the world are in place, some of the affected have Posted about running to small towns Or encouraging foreign countries and their followers to do the same, potentially endangered locals and others with whom they come in contact on their travels.
“So we’re not just in an epidemic?” Beverly cowlAn administrator in England commented on Ms. Steele’s Instagram post, voicing several travelers who see such passengers breaking the rules.
To invite those affected during the risk of an epidemic damaging the image of a destination, said Francisco Femania-Serra, a tourism specialist at the University of Nebrija, Madrid, who studies influential marketing.
“What is wrong with the Maldives campaign is the time,” he said, adding that it began before travelers were vaccinated. “It’s closed. This is not the moment to do it.”
When maldives Close its boundaries According to Neshia Saeed, an advisor to the Maldives, last March to protect against the virus, it did not take the decision lightly: tourism employs more than 60,000 of the country’s 540,000 people. Wrote a government study on the economic impact of the epidemic.
“When tourism stopped, there was no revenue in the country,” Ms Saeed said. He said that many activists living in the capital, who live in Male, were forced to go back to their home islands because they could no longer afford it.
As health officials worked to prevent local outbreaks, President Ibrahim Mohammed SolihThe consultants developed a strategy to resume tourism as soon as possible. One advantage was that most of the country’s luxury resorts are on their islands, making isolation and contact much easier.
“We were really planning it, we knew what our benefits were and we played with them,” said Mr. Solih’s spokesman, Mohammed Mabrok Aziz.
When the Maldives reopened in July, health officials required PCR tests, among other security protocols, but did not subject tourists to mandatory quarantine. Around the same time, the country’s public relations agency changed its international marketing campaign and urged travelers to “revisit” the Maldives.
The government and local businesses also invited influencers to stay at the resorts and provide information about them on social media. Which they did.
“Clouds when it’s sunny!” Ana cherryAn American influencer with more than 12 million followers wrote from a Maldives resort in November, just weeks before his home state of California. Put far-reaching lockdown. “Splash and swinging over the weekend!”
Ms. Cherry initially did not respond to multiple emails after agreeing to comment. A star on the reality show, a publicist for Ms. SteeleLove island, “Did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Even before the epidemic, the affected suffered backlash during their journey Crime occurred. Some people posting about the trip in Saudi Arabia were criticized, for example, because of the role in the state Journalist Jamal Khashogi murdered.
England’s influencers have particularly encountered Criticism In recent weeks to disregard the lockdown rules that ban all but necessary travel. some Defended his visits, Stating that the visit was essential to his work, while others apologized under public pressure.
“I was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is legal so that’s fine,” the influential Ken Franklin said Sorry about that in the video Trip to maldives. “But it is not right. It is truly irresponsible and careless and tone deaf. “
In late January, the UK banned direct flights from Dubai to the United Arab Emirates and both to Kovid-19 Casiolad. The emirate’s sluggish immigration rules and continued sunshine had made it a popular location for social media sets. But as case numbers grew, authorities closed bars and pubs for a month, and restricted hotels, malls and beach clubs to 70 percent.
Maldives officials, who have welcomed around 150,000 tourists so far this year, said they have no plans to implement similar restrictions.
The country has reported a total of 20,000 coronovirus infections, equivalent to about 4 percent of its population and 60 deaths. But none of the resort clusters have had extensive community broadcasts, and officials say the risk is low because some resort crews are required to travel between the islands.
“For everyone, I think we have managed to do it well,” even though some tourists have tested positive before leaving the country, the head of Communicable Disease Control at the government’s Health Protection Agency, Dr. Najla Rafig said. “Our guidelines have stood up for actual implementation.”
Many influential and famous celebrities have faced the opprobrium of other social media users who are stranded at home. The Instagram account has cropped up names appearing and shaming the rules of social distancing and wearing masks abroad.
Some influential people have consequently avoided posting travel material during the epidemic – or at least incompetent comments on their posts – because they do not want a dispute in court.
Radek Shaz Waleed said the blowout against the travel influencers is minimal, with his company traveling to the Maldives through a campaign called Project FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, for Project Steele, Ms. Cherry and more than 30 others affected. Arranged. None of the invited visitors, he said, tested positive for coronavirus.
“If you’re thoughtful about safety guidelines, if you’re a social mess, you can still have fun,” he said.
Not everyone shares his optimism.
Ms Covell, an England administrator commenting on Ms Steele’s “We Drippin” post from the Maldives, said in an email that promoting such a trip during England’s third lockdown was irresponsible.
The position was particularly difficult to take, she said, because it appeared the day she learned that her grandmother, who lives in a nursing home, contracted the virus.
“It is not about canceling them or creating a negative environment online,” Ms. Cowell, 22, said of the affected people who have been stripped of the lockout rules, but to ensure that we get celebrities in a place Do not keep where they feel invincible. Do what they like. “
Taylor Lorenz contributed reporting.