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European airlines face longer haul to recovery



PARIS (Reuters) – A patchwork of national restrictions and a reluctance among travellers to cross borders mean European airlines face a bumpier return to the skies from coronavirus lockdowns than U.S. and Asian rivals.

After almost three months of bleeding cash as air travel was brought to a virtual halt, airlines are returning to service or announcing more flights.

But while U.S. and Chinese domestic markets are starting to recover, the prospects in Europe look shakier.

“In comparison to every other part of the world, it’s lagging,” aviation analyst John Grant said of Europe during a recent presentation by industry data and analytics firm OAG.

Wariness of foreign travel weighs more heavily on European airlines, whose domestic markets are smaller and less profitable than U.S. and Asian rivals’, and more exposed to rail and road competition.

They must also contend with a variety of European restrictions, including Britain’s 14-day quarantine, which has prolonged the slump on contested health grounds.

That contrasts with larger unified markets in Asia and the Americas. In Brazil and India, domestic operations are picking up despite COVID-19 rates still growing faster than Europe’s.

Even shorter European trips put you in “a different country, with a different language and where you don’t know how the health system works,” said Joao Pita, head of airline business at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos airport. “That’s different from domestic Brazil or domestic China.”

EasyJet (EZJ.L) and Lufthansa-owned (LHAG.DE) Brussels Airlines restarted operations this week as European internal borders reopened. Others including Air France (AIRF.PA), British Airways (ICAG.L) and Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) are increasing frequencies.

“We’re focusing on the performance of the flights and to make sure that we have flights where the Belgians want to fly,” Brussels Airlines CEO Dieter Vranckx said.

The problem is, many Belgians don’t want to fly anywhere much.

Among the 63% of Belgians still planning a 2020 holiday, the new top destination is Belgium, according to a survey reported by travel newsletter Pagtour. Runners-up France and the Netherlands are accessible by road or rail.

Cancelled flights

Despite the pared-down food service and mandatory masks on board, avoiding planes may not be the main concern.

Consumers in France are more interested in flying nine hours to the country’s Caribbean territory of Martinique than in a short hop to Spain or Italy, according to Google search data described to Reuters by an airline sales manager.

“Their thinking goes, ‘At least if I’m in a French overseas territory the government will have some obligation to look after me. I can turn up to a hospital and be served as if I’m in Paris,’” the manager said.

That spells bad news for all but a handful of European departures operated by the likes of Air Caraibes or Air France.

For European carriers forecast to lose $21.5 billion this year, a return to service promises no swift return to profit, with many flights expected to run below two-thirds full. The hope is to burn less cash in the air than on the ground.

The European sector is on course for a negative 14.3% return on invested capital this year, compared with projected deficits of 12.7% for Asia and 10.5% for North America, according to global airline body IATA.

Behind the relaunch publicity, airlines are still making schedule cuts that go deeper in Europe, experts say. Undersold flights are cancelled at least two weeks before departure, when passengers gain compensation rights.

Global schedules for this week have been reduced by 28.5 million seats to 40 million since late May, according to OAG. Western European capacity was slashed from 17.8 million seats to 3.9 million as rebound hopes receded.

“We’re keen to publish capacity because our messaging to the market is that none of us are blinking,” said one executive at a major European airline.

“We don’t want rivals to think they can add more capacity in our key markets,” he added. “Everyone’s playing that game at the moment – then we cancel if we see very poor bookings.”

Competitive pressure on fares may bring more pain as pent-up demand for travel thwarted by lockdowns is exhausted. Ryanair (RYA.I) CEO Michael O’Leary expects a price war, and many analysts agree.

Fares for July-September are down 7% year-on-year from Britain, 8% from France, 10% from Italy and 12% from Germany, according to Airbus-owned (AIR.PA) Skytra, which offers pricing data and risk management to airlines.

“Countries that are further along with the lifting of restrictions actually have the cheaper pricing,” the firm’s strategy chief Matthew Tringham said. “Probably because they’re trying to stimulate demand.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters


Maldives celebrates arrival of 2024’s 1 millionth tourist



Maldives on Thursday welcomed the one millionth tourist to visit this year.

The one millionth tourist is a Thai named Sutapa Amonwivat, who arrived from Singapore with her husband and two children. This is her second visit to Maldives.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and the Ministry of Tourism gave a warm welcome to Sutapa at the Velana International Airport (VIA) Thursday afternoon. She was welcomed at the VIA by tourism minister Ibrahim Faisal, MMPRC Managing Director Ibrahim Shiury and senior officials of various relevant agencies.

After welcoming her with traditional offerings, she was presented with various gifts by the ministry, MMPRC, customs, immigration, Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA).

Maldives reached one million tourists in June, three weeks earlier than last year. The number of tourists reached one million on July 16, 2023.

Maldives expects to reach 2 million tourists this year.

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New air route connects Chongqing to Maldives



Chongqing Airlines on Monday began its inaugural flights to Maldives.

The Chongqing-Male route, scheduled three times a week, is expected to strengthen the bonds between China and the Maldives, opening up exciting new opportunities for tourism and cultural exchange.

The inaugural flight was welcomed upon its arrival at Velana International Airport (VIA) in Maldives, where local officials and tourism representatives expressed their enthusiasm for this new development.

“We warmly welcome our friends from China to our beautiful islands. This new connection strengthens our bonds and opens up new opportunities for tourism,” the tourism ministry said on X.

Maldives currently welcomes four airlines from China, including China Eastern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Xiamen Airlines.

In January, Maldives government urged tourism stakeholders in both Maldives and China to ramp up efforts to restore China’s position as the primary source market for Maldives tourism, a status held before the onset of Covid-19.

China, being the largest source market for Maldives tourism before the pandemic, saw a resumption of tourist arrivals from January 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In 2023, the Maldives welcomed 187,118 Chinese tourists, marking a significant recovery in numbers. This year, the Maldives has welcomed the most number of tourists from China, with over 107,940 or 11.5 percent of total arrivals by June 12. 

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CROSSROADS Maldives Introduces Weixin Pay at resorts for seamless guest experience



CROSSROADS Maldives has introduced WeChat Pay, widely known as Weixin Pay in China, across its world-class resorts, SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives. This payment option is made available to enhance the convenience and overall experience for guests from China, making their stay in the Maldives more enjoyable and hassle-free.

Understanding the needs of the diverse guests, CROSSROADS Maldives has integrated WeChat Pay into operations, allowing guests from China to easily and securely conduct transactions using a payment method familiar to them. The introduction of WeChat Pay is a testament to CROSSROADS Maldives’ dedication to enhancing guest satisfaction by offering exceptional experiences at every turn. What is also expected through this initiative is that the guests could benefit from better foreign exchange rates, translating to better savings on their expenditures during their stay.

The option is available for guests in-house conveniently at both resorts as well as across the Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives where a wider variety of unparalleled dining and retail experiences are available for all guests. The day visitors from China will also therefore equally benefit from this new introduction at the Maldives’ premier multi-island integrated leisure destination.

SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a vibrant tropical escape that offers unique and locally inspired experiences. The resort features spacious rooms and villas, a variety of dining options, and an array of recreational activities designed to cater to the desires of modern travellers. Guests can escape to the island’s SAiisational natural beauty, enjoy water sports, and indulge in spa treatments, all while relishing the personalised service that defines Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Hard Rock Hotel Maldives brings the iconic Hard Rock spirit to the tranquil shores of the Maldives. This family-friendly resort offers a perfect blend of relaxation and entertainment, featuring music-inspired experiences, live performances, and the brand’s signature amenities. With luxurious accommodations, diverse dining options, and a plethora of activities for all ages, Hard Rock Hotel Maldives ensures an unforgettable holiday experience for every guest.

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