The arrival of a new year is also expected to see a new local airline called Mega Maldives take to the country’s skies in what it has said is an attempt to bring a greater share of the lucrative tourist transportation market into local hands, at least should everything go to plan during its launch.
After today obtaining an Airline Operating Certificate (AOC) from the government that will allow it to operate flights both inside and out of the country, the new company has claimed that it hopes to launch the first of a number of scheduled services between the destinations of Hong Kong, Male’ International Airport and Gan Airport from New Year’s Eve.
The new airline said that although most of the paper work required to begin flight operations alongside the AOC has been completed, it expected to receive confirmation that it can commence flights between the Maldives and Hong Kong during the next 10 days or so.
Having obtained permission to fly, Mega Maldives has become the latest in a growing number of flight operators announcing services to try and tap interest in travelling to the Maldives from destinations across Asia to airports both in Male’ and Gan during the last 12 months.
Package companies such as India-based MakeMyTrip said they have been operating scheduled flights to Gan since early October, while budget airlines such as AirAsia and SpiceJet have also announced plans to begin flying to the Maldives by the first quarter of 2011.
Tourism officials in the country have claimed that tourist interest within the Maldives has begun to strengthen again in 2010 after a difficult 12 months in 2009, with official figures showing a 21.8 per cent rise in visitor numbers up to October.
Mifzal Ahmed, a board director for the 55 per cent Maldivian-owned Mega Maldives joint venture, told Minivan News that the company aimed to follow in the footsteps of operators such as Hawaiian Airlines by attempting to tap into interest for authentic local experiences and services – even from within an aeroplane.
The Maldives already has a national airliner under the Maldivian brand, which is operated by Island Aviation Services and currently operates services to Trivandrum, India, alongside its domestic services.
Maldivian has itself expressed interest in possible plans to expand to more international destinations upon an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of its stock, expected around halfway through the next decade.
However, Ahmed claimed that Mega Maldives has been created in an attempt to offer international passengers from across Asia “something different” in terms of travelling to the Maldives, aside from being one of a few international airlines currently flying to Gan.
“First of all we have a crew that is more than 50 per cent Maldivian, which reflects our aim to try and bring a Maldives feel to our services,” he said.
Alongside having a cabin crew that the airline said would be dressed in uniform that reflects traditional Maldives’ style, the company is also considering looking at incorporating elements such as local music, crafts and even possibly food dishes into its services, according to Ahmed, a Maldivian himself.
“We will try this, it will depend on in-flight catering, but to us this will feel like a Maldivian service.”
Mega Maldives is a joint venture company with 55 per cent of its operations owned by Maldives-based ZM Holdings and the other 45 per cent belonging to US-based group, W-Cap.
It is this Maldivian element within the business that Ahmed said had helped encourage the group to begin flying to Gan, where he claimed foreign rivals may, by contrast, have worried about the possible financial “danger” in travelling to a destination that is not as well supported by international flight services.
“On one side there is a cost aspect in flying to Gan,” he said. “On the other hand, there is strong interest in creating more services to the destination, the government and airport are very keen to have us flying there.”
Ultimately, Ahmed said that the service would not been bound solely to Gan Airport and would initially aim to fly between the southerly Maldives’ island, Male’ and Hong Kong as part of a multi-destination flight service.
As an entirely new flight provider, Ahmed claimed Mega Maldives was not too concerned about potentially going up against established flight groups already flying to the Maldives, such as Emirates, Qatar and Singapore Airlines, as they were looking to operate a different kind of service. “We operate on a scheduled charter model by working with travel agents, which will allow us to provide more reasonable fares,” he said. “Much like all flight operators in the Maldives, most of our traffic will be through tourism, though we can develop special partnerships with travel agents to offer special and one- off routes to destinations like India.”
Ahmed claimed that this strategy could also allow Mega Maldives to put on occasional “one-off” services to allow Maldivians to travel to special sporting or religious events abroad in the future.
In the long-term though, Ahmed claimed that Mega Maldives does also have aspirations for regional expansion of its services.
“We have interest in other markets in Asia, though we know we have competition, so we are keeping our cards close to our chest at the moment,” he said.