As Maldives reached the long awaited target of one million tourists in a calendar year in 2013, one man behind the influx of arrivals has already set sights on even a bigger and better vision.
Mohamed Visham, Palau, Haveeru Online
Dec 21, 2013 - 10:02 1 comment
When Mega Maldives airlines was founded four years ago, there were about 550,000 annual tourist arrivals to the Maldives. The airline opened the Maldives to the wealthy Chinese market, with the country's first direct flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
"We go back four years, the China market was much smaller. It was much less than England and and it was about the size of the French market. When we came in we opened the first direct flights into Beijing, Shanghai. and Hong Kong which never existed before," CEO of Mega Maldives airlines George Weinmann said outlining the company's inception which he co-founded.
The vision of Weinmann proved hugely successful for the airline as it built the market up from six times a month to five times a week starting next January.
"Even if you have an opportunity it doesn't mean that its the best use of your resources. Market timing is everything."
Spreading across Asia
With time, the airline, in the mind of Weinmann, had now become too big for the Maldives as he now looks to develop other destinations, riding on the success he achieved in the country.
"When we chose the Maldives as way back four years ago to make this investment, we knew that Maldives would eventually get a little crowded. And we said we want to be able to keep expanding. We built something really good and we want to be able to serve all across Asia and not just purely Maldives."
"One of the things that attracted us to Maldives in the first place was that it had a very open skies traffic rights. So as a Maldivian airline we could fly to many many places in the world."
A year and half ago, his first attempt for expansion was to connect China with Japan. But the initiative did not go so well for the airline.
"What we hoped that we would be able to do was to take Japanese passengers via China to Maldives. But unfortunately that route didn't work out because of the dispute between Japan and China. So we had to stop that."
Undeterred by the failure, Mega Maldives on Monday made its first inaugural flight to the relatively unknown Republic of Palau via Hong Kong.
"We had the aircraft capacity available and there was a travel agency in Hong Kong and from Taiwan also that had a lot of experience with Palau and had previously run flights between Palau and Hong Kong but that was on a very temporary aircraft arrangement and when that aircraft became unavailable last March then they couldn't fly anymore so there was nobody flying. They had a successful business and they were looking for somebody else to fly. We had capacity and we did a deal."
Weinmann hopes to utilise the experience of dealing with Chinese customers and understanding of what an island destination needs, to market Palau.
"We think it enhances our reputation as an Asian based company. We're in Maldives but people in China know us as a tourism airline that does Maldives. Not just as a Maldivian airline. As we get bigger, if we can do more of these kinds of destinations it enhances our brand, our reputation."
"When you fly Emirates, you don't fly Emirates just because you want to go to Dubai. You fly Emirates because its a really great airline and serves many destinations. And we think that we can and we want to develop that kind of reputation as a Maldives headquartered airline but that can also serve other destinations equally well."
With growth comes efficiency of scale
Adding more destinations serves another purpose for Weinmann as with the limitations of the infrastructure available in the Maldives, expansion and profitability of the airline industry are at risk.
"Until we get up to a certain size its difficult to be profitable. So with just one or two planes its hard to be profitable. But if we can get up to six airplanes or even 10 airplanes. Now we can become much more successful. And if something happens with one plane you still got nine others to cover the fleet."
Mega Maldives with only three airplanes is hoping to add another to its fleet in January, to achieve a bigger scale in order to be more safer and more reliable.
"With every dollar of profit we make we can reinvest it to growing our home base. So by expanding outside of Maldives we're strategically helping overall airline to develop and we're building our reputation."
The limitations of the Male airport is another factor which prompted Weinmann to look outside the Maldives to accommodate his desire for expansion.
"I think Maldives has lot of room to grow. But given some of our infrastructure limitations, its helpful if we can also grow elsewhere. The airport is really crowded now. I don't mean the terminal. I mean the ramp where the planes park and the runway. There are certain times a day when its just so crowded that you can't fly."
In light of the limitations, Weinmann has come up with a way to serve Maldives with more frequencies but keep planes outside the Maldives as much as possible.
"We have three planes now. If we had a fourth airplane, we would have no place to park it. So we're taking a fourth plane in January, but the plane is going to spend most of its time in Hong Kong."
"We want to continue building the Maldives market but we know its going to take time to build the physical infrastructure."
Growing beyond oneself
Weinmann is aiming to build on the success he was able to achieve in the Maldives and expanding it all across Asia.
"When somebody says gosh you're a Maldivian airline, its like yeah we're a Maldivian airline that successfully developed the Chinese market. Look at what we did for Maldives here is what we can do for you. And I think that's a great proposition to bring."
"This year we're surpassing a million tourists. And whether you're somebody sitting in Seychelles, or Mauritius, or even in Indonesia, or here in Palau, you look at what Maldives has done, and you're like wow, they are really doing it, making something happen."
"And I think if Maldives can continue to grow from a million passengers to two million, I can guarantee you that the next million is going to come much faster than the first million."
"Then that really shows Maldives as a leader in high-end island destination, development. I think Maldives can really develop this expertise that we have so that while we can be successful and profitable based on the Maldives product, we can also take that and start doing it elsewhere in Asia."
"Then Maldives effectively becomes, the headquarters or a headquarters for multinational companies around Asia."