Plane as day: Mega takes off on back of Chinese tourism boom

The Maldives’ newest international airline, Mega Global Maldives, has just completed its maiden international flight between Hong Kong and Gan, delivering over 230 passengers to resorts in the southern atolls.

The charter flight was the first of what Mega intends to become a weekly service, delivering thousands of tourists a month under an arrangement between the airline, participating resorts, and Chinese tour operators.

Minivan News spoke to Mega’s CEO George Weinmann, a former rocket and satellite engineer with aerospace giant Boeing, as he stood on the beach of Herathera resort surrounded by “235 very happy guests about to go sailing – they are already talking about when they’re coming back.”

Weinmann has lived in China for seven years and believes that the potential of the Chinese market in the Maldives is being underestimated by an industry focused on its traditional, European-centric market.

“My first experience of the Maldives was on honeymoon with my wife, who is Chinese,” he said. “At the time I was looking for an investment opportunity and saw a big market that was developing fast – it has since exceeded our expectations.

“The Chinese market is deep and very rich. We believe there are further improvements to how the market is targeted and served.”

In 2010 the number of arrivals from China eclipsed arrivals from all other destinations, for the first time in the Maldives’ history. The influx of Chinese guests at resorts has been credited with partially cushioning the industry from the economic crisis in Europe, particularly during the warmer off-season when many sun-seeking Europeans have the option of travelling to closer countries such as Greece and Spain.

Weinmann believes that many resorts haven’t given the Chinese market the attention it requires to develop, in the mistaken belief that the boom in Chinese visitors is a temporary anomaly – a belief perhaps stemming from the trend among many Chinese guests to stay 2-3 days, while their European counterparts log an average of 10-14 days per visit.

“I don’t agree with that idea at all,” says Weinmann. “It’s a little like going back to the 1950s and saying that while the US is making a resurgence, Europe is still the place to be.”

The Chinese, he said, had become one of the biggest-spending tourism demographics in destinations such as France, with a per-person spend “substantially higher that most other [nationalities] visiting the EU. That was not a fluke – it was developed over five years.”

He noted that a colleague in China “has booked 60,000 airline seats to the EU on the basis of that demand from tour operators, and is booking more because of the demand.”

In the Maldives, Weinmann predicts eventual demand for an additional 20 resorts catering to the Chinese market, open all year round. Unlike the European sector, he explains, the Chinese market “doesn’t drop in volume. The weakest months for China are March and April, but that’s the start of the honeymoon season in Korea.”

Mega was unlikely to see competition from the much larger Chinese and Hong Kong carriers, Weinmann suggests, because they still regarded the Maldives as a niche market.

“There currently no flights from Asia that arrive in the Maldives in day time, which is not convenient for either the resorts or the seaplane operators,” he said. “We are seeing travel agents who are not satisfied with the schedules.”

Mega’s initial focus on charter flights in conjunction with tour operators and resorts not only ensures an early steady steam of income for the fledgling airline, but allows development of the product for Chinese visitors. Weinmann explains: “The benefit for us is that as a Maldivian airline we can start the whole resort experience with clients the moment they step on the plane. Tour operators like that.”

The collaboration with resorts and the early focus on the south of the Maldives, had meant a great deal of early support for the airline from resorts such as Shangri La and Herathera, Weinmann says.

“The southern resorts are very keen to have us, and have put together a very attractive package [for us]. We flew some Chinese guest relations officers with us to Herathera, several of our senior management speak Chinese, and the resorts are hiring some people from Thailand who have experience with the language.”

Eventually the airline hopes to operate a scheduled service, and potentially a domestic connection between Male’ and Gan to connect the Gan-Hong Kong route to more of the Maldives “as the market develops.”

The potential for opening other domestic routes was limited by the 264 seats on the company’s 767, but Weinmann says he sees potential to develop routes between the Maldives, Korea, Thailand and India, the latter for business travel as well as tourism – “the Indian [tourism] market is about two years behind China”, he suggests.

Weinmann says Mega has learned from the experiences of Air Maldives, the national flag carrier that declared bankruptcy in 2000 after ambitious over-expansion into international routes.

“I’m very aware of Air Maldives, and although didn’t experience it myself I have from the point of view of some of our staff who did,” he says. “A new airline has to be careful of its own success – if you get the market right it can be tempting to expand quickly. But each plane is a huge one-time cost, and several planes in a row can quickly deplete your financial resources. Then if you realise you haven’t got the market quite right, your expenses are very high and you have to hope you have very deep pockets. We have been very careful about how quickly we have developed.”

Setting up a new airline is not without obstacles, but Weinmann says Mega has been able to overcome those placed in its way so far. As a local carrier it was, he says, gratifying to see bodies such as the Civil Aviation Authority show “enthusiasm for us to succeed.”

Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said the resort industry was “on the right track” in adapting to rising demand from China, and noted that the Ministry had issued a circular to resorts requesting they provided safely regulations to Chinese guests in Mandarin – tourist fatalities last year were disproportionately Chinese nationals, mostly in snorkeling-related accidents.

There remained, Zulfa said, not enough mid-market beds, which was why the government was pushing for small-to-medium enterprise to develop 3-4 star hotels to compliment the luxury resorts that already existed in the country – a concept Weinmann agrees with: “the Maldives’ geography makes it unique, because the one-resort one-island concept means it can naturally segment the market based on demand.”


19 thoughts on “Plane as day: Mega takes off on back of Chinese tourism boom”

  1. I do hope that the new management of Herathere will realise that Herathere cannot be marketed as other Maldivian resorts.

    Herathere just doesn't have the natural beach or lagoon that's typical of other Maldivian resorts. This is largely due to the geography of the atoll. As far as I understand, the deep water lagoon in Addu Atoll is heavily sedimented. The result is that most of the islands of the atoll do not have a beautiful beach or lagoon. Just look around the vast perimeter of Hithadhoo for example; it's quite muddy in most places.

    Herathere needs to be marketed as a different type of resort. Perhaps it should re-brand itself more as a sports, gambling etc facility. It definitely won't work as a typical beach resort.

  2. Its full of coincidences.

    1. A senior figure at Invest Maldivese resigned and set up Mega Maldives.
    2. He turns out to be the nephew of a senior MDP person.
    3. Destination China's embassador is his father.

    Miracles do happen, indeed.

  3. I guess it is time for Maldivians to acknowledge that this airline is here to stay. I am glad the investors feel, the government is there to help and not bring them down. Similarly the most passionate supporters of Gayoom and DRP are clapping their hands in chorus, because of the way GMR is handling the airport.

  4. this was done in corrrrrrrppppppppttttttiiioooonnn, everyone knows. why minivan havent mention these things..aaaahhh..

  5. "The Maldives’ newest – and only – international airline"

    Could you clarify this? Maldivian operates internationally as well, although only to nearby regional destinations.

  6. The airport has been open about 4yrs,,how come no european airline could fly direct.Were they made to fly into Male??will european airlines now be allowed direct flights??...Prosperity could be on the horizon for Addu,but will the people of Addu get a fair share??Lots of questions,can anyone give the answers??.

  7. Corruption is the easiest and understandable allegation to level against this set-up.

    However, thanks to the MDP - we now have institutions in the country to check whether corruption has taken place and anyone (including any citizen) can write to the Anti-Corruption Commission and they will investigate if any wrong doing has been perpetrated.

    It would be a better use of their time than writing sarcastic comments on a website

  8. The only chance of Gan surviving as an International Airport lies in the development of regional tourism. So far, the pace of development has been extremely slow in the South.

    Gan International is not sustainable based on Herathere and Shangrila alone. A lot more tourist beds are needed to sustain that. And that lies in the development of all those beautiful islands around the 1.5 degree channel.

  9. Addu had a hiccup at start of tourism in Herethere because the then Govt. didn't listen to the people first. The people protested when the resort was first awarded to Yacht Tours because people knew the company. But as the chairman of Yacht Tours was then at DRP they just ignored the voices of everyone and made that mistake which cost them dearly. However there is no more a reason for Herethere failing this time.

  10. can mega make a stop over in Male and also allow Addu People to hop in as it can be cheaper than the Maldivian making flying simple but expensive.Inthis was they can also bring in tourists to resorts near Male.

  11. Coins-siding or what ever it may be;
    I wish what @ibrahim Mohamed wish too!

  12. Ibrahim,that suggestion is so simple and sensible,that it will probably never happen...I also think that trying to keep those "upmarket"hotels fully occupied may prove difficult,and those planes will not fly if only 30/50% full,which once again says--should they call at Male and bring locals down to Addu..I think you may have to wait and see...

  13. Fully support Grass's comment. Miracles indeed do happen, in broad daylight. Anything is possible (for some) in Aneh Dhivehi Raajje'

  14. Interesting in Deed! lets leave the history to judge and give a verdict on this case!


Comments are closed.