Why all Indian flights seem to be leading to Maldives

The winter of 2018 was a strong one for Indian airlines. SpiceJet was outgrowing its shadow of the near death experience of 2014, IndiGo had inducted its 1st A321neo and 50th A320neo and Go Air had started international services, much later than what an airline in India would have typically done. As airlines scanned for new destinations – where the growing middle class would travel, it zeroed in on Maldives. Go Air and IndiGo announced flights to Male in quick succession, adding to the miniscule number of flights that existed between the two countries. IndiGo, as always, far outnumbered the flights which Go Air announced.

The second boom to Maldives is starting this winter with the first set of flights being announced by Vistara and again outnumbered by IndiGo in due course of time.(REUTERS)
The second boom to Maldives is starting this winter with the first set of flights being announced by Vistara and again outnumbered by IndiGo in due course of time.(REUTERS)

People flocked Maldives in droves and Instagram was full of Maldives holiday pictures and videos. The connectivity until then comprised that of Air India’s flight from Bengaluru and SpiceJet’s from Trivandrum while Maldivian also operated to India. Suddenly, tourists landed from Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and more. The low cost of travel, relatively shorter flight and the costs saved on these being invested on fancy resorts worked well, making one wonder what was stopping airlines from doing this in the past!

Maldives became so popular that it was one of the first “revenge tourism” destinations for India’s even as the consequences of testing COVID positive and being forced to spend on extending stay started coming out. The attractiveness of a beach holiday with ample sun and Fear of Missing Out in the instagram days has got everyone hooked to Maldives.

The second boom to Maldives is starting this winter with the first set of flights being announced by Vistara and again outnumbered by IndiGo in due course of time.

Who is flying and from where?

IndiGo will operate flights to Male from Delhi (four times a week), Hyderabad (thrice a week), Bengaluru (Daily), Kochi (Daily) and Mumbai (Daily).The announcement for flights from Delhi comes within days of Vistara announcing a Daily departure to Male from Delhi, this winter schedule which beings October 31, 2023.

A few weeks ago, Air India updated its booking engine with flights from Bengaluru and Mumbai to Male, which will operate four times a week each. Maldivian will operate to Bengaluru, Trivandrum and Kochi. There will be an addition of approximately 500 seats per day each way between India and Maldives which will be welcomed by the tourism industry in Maldives.

What do the numbers say?

In the October-December quarter of 2018 when the first phase of expansion to Maldives began, 51,000 passengers travelled between India and Maldives on direct flights. These went up to 60,000 passengers in the same quarter in 2019. This translates to nearly 700 passengers a day each way between India and Maldives!

Even as COVID played spoilsport, the October to December quarter of 2020 saw 32,000 passengers each way. Come 2021, the numbers broke all records as India was past the deadly second wave and Maldives had started welcoming tourists with restrictions while most of the world was still out of bounds. A bumper 1.15 lakh passengers flew to Maldives from India in Q4 of CY 2021, which averages at 1250 passengers per day, on direct flights. This dropped in 2022 as the world opened up and Indian’s flew to destinations all across.

Chasing routes, one route at a time

IndiGo does not take its competition lightly and neither treats it kindly. If there is an opportunity to push the competition, IndiGo has always jumped on to it. IndiGo has around 40 planes grounded due to engine issues with Pratt & Whitney.It has had to reinduct some of its aircraft which were being returned due to end of lease tenure, it also added a 15+ year old A320ceo to its fleet. In such dire times, it continues to expand and its choice of destinations remains a mix of blue oceans strategy like those to Central Asia without batting an eyelid on chasing competition like the case with Maldives, where both Air India and Vistara are expanding.

The low cost carrier market on the international side has far outgrown the initial thought of catering to blue collared workers of the gulf. The burgeoning middle class has latched on to the idea of travelling to new destinations in the region, some of which are cheaper than domestic holiday destinations. Maldives, on the other hand, is expensive and a cheaper flight option balances the high costs of hotels.

As the Tata group of airlines consolidate, they always have an option of shifting routes from the full service carriers to low cost carriers. Will IndiGo expand on the premium side needs to be seen in years to come. The latest tangle in the whole puzzle could be the change in regime in Maldives. How the relations with India span out and if they impact the visa rules will decide the future course of action for airlines.

Ameya Joshi is an aviation analyst.

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