South African Airways to begin direct flights to Maldives south in November
South African Airways is set to begin direct flight operations to the Maldives in November.
Set to begin on November 24, the weekly charter will be operated by South Africa based Air Tour Operator (ATO). A 300-seater Airbus A340 jet will be used for the service from O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to the Gan International Airport in the southernmost Maldives atoll of Addu.
“This will be a major boost to tourism and related businesses in Addu. It’ll also encourage investors to develop more tourist beds,” tourism minister Moosa Zameer said, at a press conference held Thursday afternoon to make the announcement.
Hussain ‘Champa’ Afeef, whose Kasa Holdings has a sizeable stake in Gan International Airport, said the direct flight will reduce flight time for tourists from South Africa to seven hours from 12.
“Addu has 800 beds in operation at the moment. Even though we’re starting with just one flight per week, we’ll be able to develop more beds in the atoll,” he said.
Despite several new resort developments and a boom in guesthouse tourism in the Maldives, Addu as a whole has lagged behind for years in attracting tourism-related investments. The relatively large atoll, which has unique geographical features compared to other parts of the island nation, is home to only two of the some 120 tourist resorts in the Maldives; Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, and Canareef Resort Maldives.
A brand new resort being constructed on the uninhabited island of Ismehela Hera in Addu is expected to open in December.
However, tourism in the south has recently received a much needed boost from the launch of direct flights to Gan International Airport by SriLankan Airlines.
Neighbouring Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier, which is particularly popular amongst tourists who travel to the Maldives from Europe, currently operates six weekly flights to Gan from Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.
Gan International Airport recently underwent a major renovation project that saw the expansion of its runway and upgrading of its facilities.
South African Airways, which flies to 38 destinations in 26 countries in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australasia, will join SriLankan Airlines as the only international airlines to operate flights to the airport.
South Africa was once a major source market for the Maldives, but it has declined significantly over the years.
However, tourist arrivals from South Africa are gaining momentum once again, as the Maldives welcomed 7,050 South African tourists in 2017 — a 51.4 percent increase over the 4,656 in the same period of 2016. Arrivals from the country has also seen a 4.1 percent growth in the first six months of this year to reach 3,098 from the 2,975 in the same period last year.
Photo: Avas Online