Vinith G, Manager, India and South Asian subcontinent, Air Mauritius
March - April 2017
From the Cockpit
Striving to make Mauritius the preferred destination
With greater connectivity and adding direct routes on the anvil, Air Mauritius is working diligently to contribute to India’s surging outbound tourist numbers to Mauritius. With more and more secondary locations showing potential, the Indian subcontinent holds an important key to Mauritius’ tourism ambitions.
Air Mauritius has been operational in India for quite some time now. What is the latest situation in terms of air traffic from India to Mauritius?
Air Mauritius is operating from India for more than 35 years and, given the ties between India and Mauritius, till Air Mauritius flies, it will fly to India. We are one of the very few international airlines who have shown interest in India by having an office in India. Most airlines don’t do that because they are not sure whether they will get that kind of traffic. So, they don’t want to create assets. We are extremely serious about India and are very much aware of our market here. We are here to stay. All these years, we were operating one flight each from Bangalore and Chennai, three flights from Mumbai and one from New Delhi. Now, we have two flights from New Delhi and in season we may have the third flight. From Mumbai, we have four flights; during peak season, we have five or even six flights. From January, we are having five flights on a permanent basis. From Chennai and Bangalore, we now have two flights. This demonstrates our seriousness in this market. Indian travellers to Mauritius are growing from 15 to 18 pc on a year-on-year basis and we are very confident that this upswing will continue. The response from the market and the agents also show that this trend will carry on.
Beyond the four cities you mentioned, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) and Air Mauritius are strongly promoting in other metros and Tier II cities as well, for example in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chandigarh etc. How do you plan to take people from these cities in a more seamless way?
Outbound operators of these cities also have this particular criterion to fulfil. Everyone wants a direct flight. If you look at Chandigarh or Kolkata, you need to fly eight hours and need big aircrafts with 300 seats. These cities are not yet ready to fill the flight even on a weekly basis. According to the bilateral agreement we have, even if we want we cannot operate beyond these four cities at the moment. But, talks are going on and in future, we will surely be able to add more cities with the growing demand. But, to cover the entire Indian market, we have tie-ups with Air India and Jet Airways, whereby passengers can travel on our documents and connect out of Mumbai or New Delhi. The advantage is that they have daily flights to Mumbai and New Delhi from almost all cities. It is easy to connect through Air India or Jet Airways to Mumbai or New Delhi on the days we fly to Mauritius. Besides, we also have a code-share with Emirates. From Kolkata, you can go to Mauritius via Mumbai and come back via Dubai through Emirates. Hence, connectivity is not a major issue and that is why the numbers are growing.
What is the trend of traffic generation from the four ports at the moment?
Flights are going full almost all the time. Chennai and Bangalore, or nearby places like Coimbatore, Madurai or Trichi, have more passengers; whereby Mumbai or New Delhi not only have their own passengers, but also connecting flight catchers from other parts of India. These two cities have 50 pc of their own and 50 pc from connecting cities.
What about immediate South Asian countries connecting via India travelling to Mauritius?
Yes, I look after South Asian subcontinent as well – Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. From Nepal, people travel via New Delhi; from Bangladesh, they travel via Mumbai and also via Kuala Lumpur. Sri Lanka is more of an online case for us as we have code-share with Emirates. Passengers travel Colombo-Dubai-Port Louis on a MK document.
Other than Mauritius, there are couple of countries which prefer Air Mauritius to connect with India to tap the huge pool of outbound travellers. What’s your take on it?
You are absolutely right. Specifically, they are Madagascar, Reunion Island and Rodrigues. Reunion Island is very active in the Indian market. Between Mauritius and Reunion Island, we have three flights a day. Normally, if you go to Reunion, you need a French visa. However, if you go through Mauritius, with an Indian passport, you will not need that. Madagascar hasn’t picked that much yet, but we have five flights from Mauritius to Madagascar, which connect to our India flights. We haven’t tapped Madagascar tourism wise yet. Madagascar National Tourism Board has to be more proactive regarding tapping the Indian market, but yes, we do look at Madagascar and stress that we have flights connecting to Madagascar and we can play an important role in generating traffic there. Indians need to know about Madagascar as a potential tourism destination. It is a beautiful country.
How else could Air Mauritius contribute in promoting Mauritius as a destination?
We work very closely with MTPA. Our aim is to promote Mauritius, and not only Air Mauritius. When anyone decides to go to Mauritius, Air Mauritius should be the first choice. More than an airline, we sell a destination. We don’t sell tickets directly. We deal with agents and develop packages to promote the country as a whole.
What are the future plans of Air Mauritius in terms of adding more Indian cities connecting via direct flight?
Though not that serious, but talks are going on for some time. The top cities on our agenda are Kolkata and Hyderabad. Kolkata not only has the demand but also is most well-connected with east and northeast India as well as many South East Asian countries, including Thailand. Hyderabad is also showing growing demand. But, both the cities are not yet ready to fill the fight. Hence, we are waiting for the right time to come. For quite some time, we were stuck with one flight, but, now with the growth happening, we are increasing the number of flights. India and China are the two countries where growth is happening rapidly. We are fully geared to tap that potential. Whenever there is an additional need, for example a wedding party to be flown to Mauritius, we have the capacity to do so. From June onwards, we have three weddings lined up and when you talk of Indian weddings, the minimum heads you are expected to handle is between 450 and 600. Among one of the three weddings I mentioned, one of the groom is from Kolkata. We are specially working to take the flight from Kolkata directly to Mauritius.
What is the challenge you see that needs immediate attention?
The nearby cheap destinations of India are the immediate threat and people have a perception that Mauritius is expensive. More awareness among the outbound target audience through agents and operators is required so that when you actually compare the cost, there is hardly any difference. If you consider all aspects, you will understand why Mauritius should be your preferred destination at the same cost.