President Mohamed Waheed has opened the Maldives’ first Burger King, one of four international restaurant chains in Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA)’s new food court.
Besides Burger King’s there are two restaurants on either side of the departure gates. The new restaurants include ‘casual’ Thai eatery Thai Express, a Australian cafe chain selling mixed drinks and snacks called Coffee Club, and Swensen’s ice creamery, which has already been operating in the airport for several months.
The chains were introduced by the Minor Food Group, a Thai-based subsidiary of the Minor International hospitality and restaurant brands conglomerate that also operates six resort properties in the Maldives, including Anantara, Naladhu and the Per Aquum brands.
The new food court was originally planned as part of the temporary refurbishment of INIA during the construction of a new terminal by Indian infrastructure giant GMR, prior to the government’s controversial eviction of the firm in December 2012. The company recently claimed it is seeking compensation in a Singapore court of US$1.4 billion, an amount four times the size of the Maldives’ state reserves.
The official opening of Burger King and the other restaurants began this morning with the recitation of the Holy Quran, followed by speeches, ribbon cutting, and the serving of food to the many assembled government dignitaries and school students brought across from Male’ for the event.
A company spokesperson told Minivan News that the reception and performance of the burger chain in its first two days of operation had surpassed expectation, perhaps unsurprising given the anecdotal practice by some Male’ families of bringing McDonalds and KFC takeaway back with them on weekend flights from Colombo. Certainly Burger King was extremely popular with the assembled school students, who steadily worked their way through mountains of whopper burgers.
Minor International Chairman and CEO William Heinecke meanwhile noted that the food court improved the quality of the airport by providing a variety of international food demanded by tourists.
“President Waheed told me earlier that this airport is very special to him because as a student he helped carry the stones to make the runway,” Heinecke said.
President Waheed expressed confidence that food court was a sign the airport was developing into a “world class facility”, “and all this under the leadership of our Maldivian colleagues”.
“This is the first big project since the new management took over the airport,” the president said. “Inshallah soon we shall see major investment such as a new runway, which we are currently seeking financing for.”
The manager of one outlet meanwhile identified “consistency of supply” as a key operational challenge in the Maldives for strict branded outlets, noting that chains such as Burger King in particular had extremely high standards of brand consistency.
Several speakers predicted that the introduction of the Maldives’ first major multinational fast food chain could usher in the concept of part-time employment to the Maldives, particularly for students, and help combat widespread youth unemployment.
Of the food court’s initial 53 employees eight were Maldivians who had been sent to Thailand for training, Heinecke said, stating that one of the company’s goals would be to increase the extent of Maldivian employment, particularly part-time students.
Minor Food Group CEO Paul Kenny observed that the firm had success introducing the concept 20 years ago in Thailand. Part-time work, he said, could contribute greatly to an individual’s development.
President Waheed urged young Maldivians to seek work in the fast food outlets, noting that during his tenure as a student he had worked as a tutor “as my parents could not afford to pay me an allowance.”
He also expressed hope that an outlet would open in Male’, and that the price of burgers would eventually come down (regular value meals were around the US$10-12 mark at time of press).