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Int’l airlines brace for annual travel rush

  • International airlines are booked over 80 percent from September 13, which increases to 90 percent from the third week of September
- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Sep 1, 2017-Nepal is bracing for its annual festival rush when people return home in the hundreds of thousands to party with their families. This coincides with the peak tourism season and sends transportation systems haywire.

The three-month-long tourism season and week-long holiday which starts in two weeks normally sees an influx of 500,000 travellers on different international airlines. On average, the Nepali skies will see 8,000 international flight movements during this three-month period, straining the country’s sole international airport to the limit. 

The September-November period is Nepal’s peak tourist season and accounts for 35 percent of the year’s tourist arrivals. In addition, autumn is Nepal’s main festival season when thousands of migrant workers and other Nepalis living abroad return home to celebrate Dashain and Tihar with their families.

Travel agencies said that autumn flight bookings to Nepal had soared to ‘unprecedented’ levels, beginning from the second week of September from major gateways like Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuala Lumpur and China.

International booking trends compiled by the Post from travel agencies show that international airlines are booked over 80 percent from September 13, which increases to 90 percent from the third week of September. October bookings look more encouraging with airlines reporting fully booked flights on most of the days. Carriers have laid on extra flights to handle the rush.

According to Osho World Travel Nepal, Chinese airlines, including China Southern, China Eastern, Air China, Sichuan Airlines and Tibet Airlines, have observed more than 80 percent advance bookings for September. 

China Southern has observed more than 80 percent bookings for September 19 and the trend continues until October 7. The carrier operates double daily flights between Guangzhou and Kathmandu. 

Likewise, China Eastern, which connects Kathmandu with Kunming, has observed more than 80 percent bookings from September 19 to the third week of October. Air China which operates five direct weekly flights on the Chengdu-Kathmandu sector and six weekly flights on the Chengdu-Lhasa-Kathmandu route has recorded over 80 percent bookings for September 22 to October 4.

Two other Chinese carriers-Sichuan Airlines that operates on the Chengdu-Lhasa-Kathmandu route and the newly entrant Tibet Airlines that operates Chengdu-Kathmandu flights have also similar trend. 

Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon that operates five weekly flights has more than 80 percent bookings for two weeks starting September 15. From October 1-5, its flights are sold out. 

“The current bookings trend reflects that there will be a big jump in Chinese tourists to Nepal this year,” said Deepak Basnet, ticketing executive of Osho World Travel Nepal. “The booking trend is as of August 31 and it’s growing,” he said, adding that travellers making last-minute plans for an international holiday will face difficulties.  

The strongest bookings have been observed on airlines connecting Nepal from New Delhi, India. Economy class tickets on Air India, the national flag carrier of India, are sold out from September 14 to October 9, according to Osho Travel. The carrier operates 10 weekly flights on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector. 

Likewise, Jet Airways that operates three flights daily on the Kathmandu-Delhi route is 80 percent booked from September 15 to October 6. Likewise, Indigo has 70 percent advance reservations on the Delhi-Kathmandu sector from September 15. From October 1-15, its bookings have crossed 90 percent.

Doha-based Qatar Airways has announced it will be operating an additional daily flight on its Doha-Kathmandu route from Friday to meet the surge in demand during Nepal’s festival season. With the extra daily flight, Qatar Airways will be operating four daily flights. Three of Qatar’s flights are 80 percent booked from September 15 to October 20. Etihad Airways that operates double daily flights is also more than 80 percent booked from September 15 to October 10. Similarly, Oman Air flights from Muscat to Kathmandu are 80 percent booked from September 10. The carrier operates 15 weekly flights. Tickets are sold out for September 14, while bookings from September 16-30 have crossed 90 percent. 

Dubai-based low-cost carrier Fly Dubai said tickets were sold out from September 14-28. It plans to operate three daily flights from October from the current double daily flights. Bangkok-based Thai Airways has recorded the strongest bookings for this autumn season. According to travel agencies, its flights are 90 percent booked from September 19-25. Flights from September 26 to October 10 are sold out. 

Turkish Airlines, the only European airline flying to Nepal, has observed 80 percent bookings for September 14 to October 7. It currently flies four weekly flights to Nepal and has announced operating an extra flight from September 15. Nearly 95 percent of the travellers flying to and from Kathmandu on Turkish Airlines are transit passengers. 

“The scenario of Nepal’s tourism this autumn is not bad. Tourism in Nepal is picking up for the high season,” said Abdullah Tuncer Kececi, the general manager of Turkish Airlines in Nepal. Turkish Airlines started Istanbul-Kathmandu flights linking Nepal with Europe in September 2013. It is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its Nepal’s operation by offering a 15 percent discount on tickets for a few weeks, he said. 

Airlines from Kuala Lumpur have also observed 80 percent advance bookings. Singapore-based Silk Air that operates 5 weekly flights has observed more than 80 percent bookings from September 13. Flights of Silk Air to Nepal are sold out from September 19 to October 7, according to Osho Travel. 

Meanwhile, air traffic controllers and pilots have warned that the traffic situation is expected to be especially busy this autumn as fight movements, including domestic flights, are likely to swell to more than 500 daily. Tourist arrivals to Nepal jumped 41.50 percent to 460,237 individuals in the first half of 2017, raising expectations that the total figure will hit the 1-million mark by the end of the year.

Published: 01-09-2017 08:43

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