Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) welcomed the maiden flights of Etihad Airways and Hainan Airlines yesterday, making Male’ Etihad’s 67th destination.
Etihad flight EY278 from Abu Dhabi touched down at approximately 2:17 pm and was welcomed with a water cannon salute, bodu-beru dancers, coconuts and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Hainan flight from Beijing that touched down approximately 20 minutes later was similarly received.
Passengers who disembarked from both flights appeared curious, surprised, exhausted and delighted at the festivities. Etihad Executive Vice President Halid Al Marhedi was invited to cut a golden ribbon with GMR CEO Andrew Harrison and Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) Managing Director, Simon Hawkins.
The new partnerships reflect the travel and tourism industry’s changing patterns.
While Etihad, the official airline of the United Arab Emirates, is projected to expand arrivals to the Maldives significantly, Hainan signifies China’s growing demand.
“It’s a good sign that these two airlines are having their maiden voyages today,” said Mahika Chandrasena, GMR Head of Corporate Communications. “Etihad shows that we are interested in expanding and working with these larger, well-known airlines. Hainan shows that we are interested in working with the Chinese market, which is growing dramatically.”
Hainan is the third Chinese airline to open operations in the Maldives.
Etihad is making the rounds in the region: today, it makes its maiden voyage to the Republic of Seychelles. Although Etihad will celebrate its 8th anniversary in the next few days, as one of the youngest premier airlines it has seen astonishing growth.
“Forward booking indicates that the Maldives has become one of the most popular destinations for leisure travelers and honeymooners,” said al Marhedi at a reception held at Naladhu resort last evening. Al Marhedi said Etihad was “very pleased to invest in the Maldives and support its economic growth.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Hawkins said the Maldives tourism industry could only benefit from the higher connectivity offered by Etihad. “It’s interesting to learn why people don’t come to the Maldives,” he said. “The number one reason is, people simply don’t know where we are. So when a major airline like Etihad opens services here, we know we can expect better connectivity to new markets and a fundamental boost to the country’s economy.”
Hawkins concluded that team work between airlines, travel agents, resorts and other sectors were essential to the growth and maintenance of the national economy.
Etihad has taken steps to offer customers a complete travel experience. Special travel packages are tailored to a range of budgets and travel purposes; airline guest members who book early and fly in the next 30 days will have their mileage points doubled.
INIA currently receives approximately two million arrivals each year from 29 different airlines. GMR aims to raise that to three million in the next year, and to 5.2 million by 2014, Chandrasena said.
“Alitalia will be joining us in December, bringing our airline numbers to 30,” she added. “We don’t want to say ‘no’ to anyone.”