Don’t ask me what inspires someone to start a new airline. The prospects of money, power, fame, glory or financial stability are all legitimate reasons. Men are complex and simple at the same time. In my forty years in the business I have heard all the reasonable explanations. Virgin Atlantic was started because Richard Branson was tired of flying on airlines that did not care about their clients. Chief Arumemi-Ikhide started Airk Air of Nigeria because he did not trust the safety of the local airlines. Sonu Shivdasani convinced his brother Azad to buy out the financially unstable Hummingbird Helicopters so that he would have reliable air transportation to his newly built luxury resort in the Maldives.
Then we had the opportunity to lease this island, which had been abandoned since 1979, when the previous resort had closed. In those days, the boats weren’t very sophisticated, so it would take some guests three days to transfer the last 60 miles across the channel. The resort failed because of the “lack of safe and comfortable” transfers.
The older brother reluctantly agreed to support his younger brother and eventually changed the helicopter operation over to a seaplane operation that has now become the largest seaplane operator in the world – Trans Maldivian Airways. Azad has long since sold his shares of the company but his airline helped his brother build one of the most successful luxury hotel chains in the world – the Six Senses Resorts.
In this case the direct door-to-door seaplane service was the sole reason for the continuing success of SonEva Resort but it also became the primary reason that the Maldives were able to expand the number of resorts to the outer atolls that were simply not realistically accessible by boat.
The few adventurous travelers who came to the Maldives in the “early” years were limited to exploring the pristine islands close to Male. The natural and untouched beauty of the islands started to appeal an increasing number of inquisitive travelers, and the first resorts opened in 1972, all within reach of boat from Male.
Almost ten years later, with infrastructure problems relating to the established helicopter air service, and the many resorts still only reachable by boat, the idea of faster and more convenient travel was about to be floated. Traveling to Kuredu in 1991, Lars Erik Nielsen recalls ‘The passengers were so sick on the voyage, I had to find a better way to travel!’ And he did. With his love of seaplanes and the much-needed Scandinavian entrepreneurship, he started Maldivian Air Taxi.
Within 10 years of the start of the seaplane operations in the Maldives the number of resorts grew from about 40, that were serviced by boat, to over 100 with nearly all the new resorts being serviced by seaplane. Trans Maldivian Airlines now conducts over 120,000 flights a year and carries over 960,000 thousand passengers.
The seaplane also set the pace for luxury branding where resorts that could only attract the most resolute backpackers willing make the long tiring and often rough boat journey could now attract the rich and famous who were willing to pay double the normal rates as long as it was easy to get to the resort. These travellers were also willing and able to pay for the extra cost for flights that offered door-to-door (or airport-to-beach) air services. Because of the seaplane the backpacker islands were now being refurbished into high-end luxury resorts that helped revenues soar beyond all expectations.
This was a time when luxury was just beginning to take off. Amanpuri had opened in Phuket to great acclaim and had demonstrated that there was room for hotels that charged very high prices.
via A rich man’s world.
I was in on the ground floor during the phenomenal growth period of the Maldives and I am here now in the Philippines. I see a lot of comparisons but I am aware that history does not repeat itself. We can’t simply recreate what happened in the Maldives and transplant it here to the Philippines in order to be successful. We have to be creative and innovative and it will take the courage and determination of the owner and managers to weather a long re-education process for both the resort owners and the passengers. The resorts that do not come along for the ride will be left behind. This is the beginning of a new era enabling travellers to easily explore the 7,107 beautifully breathtaking islands of the Philippines leading to economic growth for the outer islands and it’s inhabitants.
One of the most important benefits to the Filipinos living on or near these islands, along with the obvious economic gain, will be the heightened awareness of their surround environment leading to better protection of the reefs and fishes of the island ecology. Eco tourism has proven, to a degree, to do more good for the environment than harm.
More tourists and recreational divers expecting pristine waters and healthy reefs will put pressure on those who use dynamite and poison to catch fish in an unsustainable way. Like in the Maldives the seaplane will be leading the way by providing an ecologically friendly means of getting to these dream destinations.
Captain John S Goulet
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