Sluggish airline bookings hint at poor peak season

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu
Sluggish airline bookings hint at poor peak season

Mar 20, 2015-

Tourist arrivals are expected to drop sharply in the midst of the peak season due to fears of political unrest, tourism entrepreneurs said basing their observation on sluggish airline bookings.

Travel traders predict a bleak season as potential visitors could change their travel plans due to the strike announced by the 30-party alliance over differences with the ruling coalition regarding provisions in the new constitution.

The group of 30 parties has declared that they will be holding an indefinite general shutdown from April 17 to press their demands.

The proposed strike could deal another blow to Nepal’s tourism sector which is still reeling from the closure of the sole international airport for four days after a Turkish Airlines plane crash-landed on the runway on March 4.

The country was effectively isolated as the runway remained blocked, prompting a flurry of ticket cancellations, particularly from the European segment, right at the start of the peak season. The periods March-May and September-November are the main tourist seasons in the Himalayan republic. The spring season mostly attracts adventure and leisure tourists.

As of March 20, average inbound bookings on most international carriers have been reported to be only 40 percent for the period March-end to April-end. During the same period last year, airlines had reported more than 80 percent inbound bookings.

Airline booking statistics from the major gateways connecting Nepal, namely Delhi, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Bahrain, show slowed inbound bookings from mid-March to April-end.

According to Osho World Nepal, one of the leading travel agencies and tour operators in Kathmandu, travel bookings on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector, the major tourist gateway, have been dismal.

“Delhi-based airlines have 40 percent bookings until April-end on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector,” said Deepak Basnet, ticketing executive of Osho World Nepal. “As air seat demand has dropped, the one-way airfare on the sector is currently Rs7,000 to Rs8,500.”

However, inbound bookings from Chengdu and Lhasa in China have been good. More than 70 percent of the seats have been booked on these sectors. Bookings on the Kunming and Guangzhou sectors amount to 40 percent. China is the second largest source market for Nepal’s tourism.

Agencies said that advance reservation on Dragon Air of Hong Kong, Silk Air of Singapore, Thai Air of and Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia of Malaysia had dipped below 50 percent.

Silk Air has cut its frequency to four weekly flights from April due to the slack travel movement to Nepal. During the same period last year, inbound bookings of more than 70 percent were observed from East Asian destinations.

Hari Man Lama of Incentive Tours and Travels, the general sales agent of Air Asia, said that airline bookings had slowed this season due to the closure of the airport as many travellers had promptly cancelled their Nepal trips.

At the same time, political uncertainty created by the dispute between the ruling and opposition parties is likely to take a big toll on the country’s tourism, he said. “This chain of negative events will not only affect airlines but also the trekking and hotel industries.”  

Similarly, Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, said that the situation had started going downhill since the airport closure on March 4.

“As we were not effortful enough to ensure traveller safety and security during the four-day closure, it has affected arrivals during the peak season.” However, he said that past and future scenarios would not deter travellers seeking adventure in Nepal.  

Inbound bookings on airlines based in the Gulf, namely Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Fly Dubai, have been over 50 percent until April-end while Oman Air and Air Arabia have recorded 40 percent bookings as of mid-March.

Likewise, bookings on Turkish Airlines, the only airline connecting Nepal and Europe directly, have reached more than 60 percent. However, travel trade entrepreneurs expect the Everest climbing season which just started to boost airline occupancy.

Published: 21-03-2015 07:12

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