Direct flights: a “must” to boost tourism arrivals for a destination?

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Direct flights: a “must” to boost tourism arrivals for a destination?

Direct flights:

a “must” to boost tourism arrivals for a destination?


This could be the song heard in the Maldives since November 1st, upon the arrival of the new direct flight operated by Air France.

A giant landed in Male: flight AF222 will bring to the Maldives 312 passengers, twice a week, until next April 29th 2018. Maximum total capacity generated: 16,224 seats!

A real breath of fresh air for this island destination in the Indian Ocean, for which air accessibility is a crucial issue.

But beyond the simple “technical” solution, the opening of this direct route is a great signal for the Maldives in many ways.

The only regular airline operating direct flights from Europe

With the interruption of Sri Lankan Airlines flights from Paris in 2016, the Maldives lost one of its best connections from the French market.

And even though the Gulf airlines were able to gain market shares (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Oman Air), there was still a card to play by operating a direct route: Air France decided to take up the challenge!

This winter, the French carrier is the only one in Europe to connect with the Maldives non-stop: neither the UK, nor Germany (2nd and 3rd outbound markets to the Maldives) benefit from such connections. Italy (4th outbound market) is a little better off, with a direct flight out of Milan, operated by the charter airline Neos, subsidiary of the tour-operator Alpitours.

This improved air access comes along with the booming of the tourism sector in the Maldives: by 2023, the destination intends to open 50 new resorts, greatly increasing its accommodation capacity.

These hotel projects have themselves been made possible by a Governmental policy that promotes air development in the archipelago: currently limited to a traffic capacity of 1.5 million passengers per year, the rehabilitation of Maldivian airports will allow in a few years to accommodate up to 7 million passengers.

This is probably enough to motivate other airlines to fly to the Maldives.

Inaugural flight – Picture Ministry of Economy and Trade of the Maldives

A great highlight for the destination’s image 

The reputation of Air France, and its brand image, undoubtedly gives credit to destinations it flies to, and the Maldives are no exception to the rule.

Air France brings a real added value to the destination, which counterbalances the negative image still conveyed by some media and opinion leaders.

By opening a direct Paris-Male route, Air France is sending a strong signal to the market, betting on Maldives’ tourism potential. An investment that we imagine was thought rationally by our national carrier, and whose economic effects on-site were measured even before the launch of the inaugural flight!

A sales argument for tourism professionals

At the end of last September, the name of Air France resonated in the aisles of IFTM Top Resa, near the Maldives stand.

This global euphoria, shared by all tour-operators selling the destination, started earlier, before the summer, with the official announcement of the future Air France flight.

Perfect “winter sun” destination for French travelers, none of our leading tour-operators would have missed the mark for the 2017/2018 season.

Many different sales activities were carried out several months ahead of the opening of the flight (by Kuoni, Jet Tours, Turquoise TO, Lux Resorts, Solea …). Among them, Maldives special brochure, promotional offers for customers and travel agents, sales challenge, airport advertising campaign, famtrips …

The destination is already feeling the positive effects, with a number of French visitors up + 25% in July (vs. July 2016) and + 16% in August (vs. August 2016).

To conclude: beyond direct flights…

Air services are therefore gaining more and more weight in tourism development strategies.

The “basic” transportation solution now leaves room for an experience in its own right, extremely strategic, being the starting point of any holidays.

And while we can see that direct flights can create much enthusiasm among tourism professionals, institutional leaders and travelers themselves, there are also many other fruitful strategies conducted by the airline and airport sector:

  • The frenzy of “stop-over programs” never ends: Qatar, Abu Dhabi or Singapore capitalize on their hub to capture and retain their transit passengers for 24h or more. Dubai is a successful example: a few days stop-over is now fully anchored in the minds of travelers, who spontaneously request it before continuing their holidays in Asia or the Indian Ocean.
  • Long-haul low-cost flights will go far: WOW Air is getting well-known in this area and multiplies the route openings in North America, extending not only their network, but also their notoriety! More recently, the news about French Blue opening a flight to Tahiti (next May 2018, via San Francisco) created great interest. With more competition on this route, airfares to this far-away French archipelago are expected to decrease.
  • Futuristic airports, a destination in the destination: Singapore and its Changi airport is the best example. In 2017, it was voted again “best airport in the world” for the 5th year in a row by the Skytrax World Airport Awards: open-air swimming pool, tropical and butterflies garden, hiking trails, 40m high indoor waterfalls, cinemas, free massages and city-tours…

Changi Airport Group

The longer the layover, the better the experience: a real dilemma for travelers who normally only consider direct flights or express connections!

Annabelle Michaux Account Director

Annabelle Michaux

Account Director

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