Air Mauritius: Where fortunes continue on the up

If proof were ever needed of the potential economic impact of the aerospace industry, then look no further than Mauritius. Air Mauritius is the national carrier and was formed in 1967; its growth has very much mirrored the economic growth of the beautiful island nation, set in the Indian Ocean.

Mauritius gained its independence a year after the airline was launched and has subsequently developed from a low-income, agriculture-based economy to a middle-income diversified economy. Whilst textiles, sugar and financial services have all boosted the economy, undoubtedly Mauritius has made its name through tourism – and that of course is where Air Mauritius has had its biggest influence.

In recent years, information and communication technology, seafood, hospitality and property development, healthcare, renewable energy, and education and training have emerged as important sectors, attracting substantial investment from both local and foreign investors, the latter point putting further emphasis on the importance of Air Mauritius.

Around the time it gained independence, Mauritius made the strategic decision to diversify its economy by encouraging the establishment of export-oriented companies within its Export Processing Zone (EPZ) and the development of the tourism industry.

The offshore and Freeport sectors also steadily developed, and new areas of growth emerged such as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), sea food processing, duty-free shopping and the Integrated Resorts Scheme which opened the door for foreigners to acquire property in Mauritius.

Today Mauritius is an emerging destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events. Again the emphasis is on Air Mauritius to transport delegates, which has facilitated the airline’s own growth.

With its sub-tropical climate and stunning beaches, Mauritius is considered one of the world’s top luxury tourism destinations. With an array of immaculate, high class hotels, restaurants and leisure activities, Mauritius received the World Leading Island Destination award for the third time and World’s Best Beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012.

According to Statistics Mauritius, total passenger arrivals to Mauritius in 2011 were 1,294,387 and tourist arrivals for the year attained 964,642. The majority of tourists hail from Western Europe but in 2012, emerging markets theRussian Federation and People’s Republic of China, registered positive growths of 58.9 per cent and 38.0 per cent respectively. The forecast number of tourist arrival for 2013 is 1 million – and carrying the great majority of these visitors is Air Mauritius.

Indeed the organisation fully recognises the key role it plays in the country’s development, stating on its website: “We are a strategic partner in the tourism industry and are investing to help achieve the industry’s growth objectives. With 36,000 tons of cargo carried annually, Air Mauritius also plays a key role in the economic development of Mauritius.

“More than just an airline, Air Mauritius acts as an ambassador for Mauritius. We bring the spirit of this country and its people on each of our flights with the special attention that our Mauritian crew provides, as well as a range of high-quality services. Air Mauritius has received several international awards recognizing the quality of its service on the ground and in flight. We are proud to have been voted the leading airline in the Indian Ocean at the World Travel Awards for the last seven years.”

The airline has its corporate headquarters at the island’s main Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, based in the capital city of Port Louis. The construction of a new passenger terminal able to cater for increasing arrivals at the airport is already well underway and the infrastructure is expected to be operational during 2013.

Air Mauritius currently operates a fleet of four A340-300, two A340-300E, two A330-200, two A319-100 and two ATR72-500 and flies to eighteen destinations in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the Indian Ocean.

With economic development continuing to forge business links with the rest of the world, Air Mauritius has already had an exceptionally busy 2013.

In March the company announced an agreement to explore further commercial avenues in collaboration with Emirates Airlines of Dubai. The two airlines already have a codeshare agreement on the Mauritius-Dubai route.

During a visit in connection with the first commercial flight of Emirates to Mauritius using an A380, discussions took place on 13th March 2013 between Air Mauritius top management, and an Emirates team led by Tim Clark, President of Emirates.

The initiative with Emirates is part of Air Mauritius’ review of its existing business model, which has been called the 7 Step Plan.

The airlines says that discussions for the extension of commercial cooperation with other airlines are part of the key factors for implementing Step 2 of the Plan, which is “Reinvigorating Commercial & Revenue Management”.

The first results of the 7 Step Plan as a whole have already started to be felt, with Air Mauritius getting back to profitability during Q2 and Q3 of financial year 2012-2013, as Andre Viljoen, CEO, commented:

“Our 7 Step Plan is a carefully designed plan to put Air Mauritius back on track and ensure profitability and sustainability of the company. In this respect we have to continue to optimise commercial opportunities, rebalance costs and increase revenue channels. Presently, we have existing fruitful cooperation with major airlines, including Emirates. Accordingly, Air Mauritius will work to improve commercial opportunities and review its network further by exploring the leveraging on Emirates’ expansive network and MK’s stronghold in its core markets. We look forward to develop synergies together for our mutual benefits.”

Hot on the heels of this commercial venture, in early April Air Mauritius announced plans to launch a new service to Beijing, China, from July 6th. This flight is being introduced following the successful launch of direct flights to Shanghai earlier this year.

The new service will increase flights between the two countries to 9 per week (including to Hong Kong) and will result in a 50 per cent increase in the number of weekly seats on these routes, to 894 one-way seats per week.

Reinforcing Air Mauritius’ role in bringing tourists and commercial ties to the island, Viljoen commented on the new Beijing link-up:

“Since we started operations to Shanghai in 2011, tourist arrivals have grown consistently to pass the 20,000 mark in 2012 which confirms the potential of China. Following the introduction of twice weekly direct flights to Shanghai earlier this year, the direct link to China’s capital, Beijing will be yet another catalyst for the development of the Chinese market. It opens new avenues for the consolidation of ties between our two countries and allows Mauritius to further tap into the opportunities offered by one of the world’s fastest growing economies.”

April also saw Air Mauritius announce plans to reintroduce 2 direct weekly flights to Durban, due to commence in early July, 2013. Each flight will be operated by the Airbus A319 and Air Mauritius may operate supplementary flights on Johannesburg and Durban to cater for additional demand during peak periods.

“Reinforced operations to African destinations fall under our 7-Step Plan. Durban is a fast growing port destination and commercial nerve centre for the region presenting growing opportunities for Mauritius. We have also enhanced connectivity to Africa by developing our hubs in Johannesburg and in Nairobi that are now served with reinforced airline partnerships. This puts Mauritius in a better position to fulfil its potential as a conduit for trade, travel, commerce and financial services between Africa and Asia,” Viljoen stated.

Such initiatives not only fall in line with Air Mauritius’ 7-Step Plan; they are reflecting the nation’s growing economic standing on the global stage. That can only be good for Air Mauritius, which continues on its upward trajectory with renewed optimism for the future.