Tourists on the first Mega Maldives flight arriving in Male’ direct from Seoul in South Korea this morning were greeted by bodu beru dancers and airport staff handing out coconuts.
As the plane taxied off the runway, two of the airport’s fire engines shot water cannon in an arc over the plane. The 158 bemused passengers were greeted at the top of the stairs by CEO of Mega Maldives George Weinmann, and accompanied through immigration by pilots and flight crew.
Speaking at a press conference of local and South Korean journalists later this morning, Weinmann observed that while the flight was not the first direct flight from Seoul, it was the first such scheduled service and the first for a Maldivian carrier.
All four of the airline’s routes launched this year, he observed, were to cities not previously served by direct flights including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and now Seoul.
“We believe this will increase the total demand for the Maldivian [tourism] product, and also create new opportunities for trade such as exports to Korea,” said Weinmann, a former rocket and satellite engineer with aerospace giant Boeing.
Weinmann said the decision to fly to Korea was influenced by the discovery that South Korea was operating five flights daily to Hawaii, such was the appeal of the iconic tropical destination to the Korean market.
“The flight time to Hawaii from Seoul is nine hours, similar to the flight time to Male’, and the total price of hotels is also similar,” he noted. “This will allow for the development of a lot of new business and trade.”
Korean arrivals to the Maldives increased 54 percent in 2010 compared to the previous year, from 16,000 to 24,000, suggesting that the country was a rapidly growing market for the Maldives. Weinmann has previously told Minivan News that Mega’s niche is to have flights from Asia that arrive during the day, thus avoiding the need for Asian visitors to overnight in Male’ or Hulhule’ while waiting for daytime transfers.
MD of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), Simon Hawkins, acknowledged that the South Korean market had been neglected as far as tourism promotion was concerned, in favour of traditional markets such as Europe.
“We aim to remedy that, now that we have identified South Korea as an emerging market. We want to appeal not just to honeymooners, but also families and organisers of meetings, conferences and exhibitions,” he said.
Chief Commercial Officer of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Prasad Gopalan, meanwhile cited a report stating that South Korea was ranked third in rising numbers of millionaires, after India and China.
“We have done our research – South Korea is an emerging market for the Maldives,” he said.