Qatar Airways to rebuild network, Maldives flights to resume by June
Qatar Airways has chalked out a mega plan of a phased rebuilding of its network starting May, with flights to the Maldives set to begin by the end of June.
The Persian Gulf carrier, which continues to operate flights to more than 30 destinations around the world, said Wednesday that it aims to put 52 destinations back on the map by the end of May and increase the number to 80 by the end of June.
“Throughout this crisis, our passengers have been at the centre of our focus. Our airline has implemented industry-leading hygiene practices and commercial policies enabling our passengers to book and travel with confidence,” chief executive Akbar Al Baker was quoted in a statement, as saying.
“We have maintained a flexible and agile network to help take over 1 million people home through our state of the art hub in Doha and to transport more than 100,000 tonnes of essential medical and aid supplies to where they are needed.”
Qatar Airways said the gradual expansion will focus initially on strengthening connections between the airline’s hub in Doha with the global hubs of its partner airlines around the world including London, Chicago, Dallas and Hong Kong along with reopening many major business and leisure destinations such as Madrid and Mumbai.
Qatar Airways says it expects short-range travel will rebound first, while business between large global cities will pick up more gradually, with “a move towards visiting family and friends following months of lockdowns”.
However, travellers can expect some changes to the aircraft they’d usually see, due to a decision to use “the right aircraft size to ensure the best fit for expected demand on each planned route.”
“As we follow the indicators of the global travel market on a daily basis, we continue to focus on our mission — how we can enable mobility for our customers and provide them with seamless connectivity to their final destination,” Akbar Al Baker said.
“We have built a strong level of trust with passengers, governments, trade and airports as a reliable partner during this crisis and we intend to continue delivering on this mission as we gradually expand our network.”
Maldives is included amongst the destinations the Qatari flag carrier plans to restart operations to by the end of June.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Qatar Airways was operating 21 flights per week between Doha and Male. It was the last international airline to operate scheduled flights to the Maldives before the country closed its borders in late March.
Maldivian officials have been bullish on their ability to contain the coronavirus outbreak and reopen the country in the third quarter of the year.
The government has formulated five scenarios with possible timelines for reopening borders and the tourism sector.
The best case scenario sees the country reopen borders by May, but the most likely scenario projects a July date for reopening the borders and restarting tourism in October. In the worst case, borders may only open by January 2021.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.
All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.
All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.
Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.
With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.
A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 734.
Three deaths have been reported and 20 have made full recoveries.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.
Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.