Positive Tailwinds: Covid retreat, vax drive provide upward thrust to air traffic

Lower Covid transmission rates, along with the accelerated vaccination drive and the easing of restrictions, have lifted air passenger traffic.

The industry, as a result, reported a healthy growth in domestic passenger numbers during August-September 2021, supported by higher demand coming from Tier-I and II cities.

“Demand has become more sustainable We are bullish about the upcoming festive season,” Ronojoy Dutta, Wholetime Director and CEO of IndiGo, the country’s largest airline in terms of market share, told IANS.

On average, bookings during this period rose by 20 per cent year-on-year in the domestic sector and 25 per cent for international flights. At present, international travel to and from India are allowed only with the 28 countries with whom India has a ‘Bubble Agreement’ in place.

“Looking at the strong vaccination drive and decline in active cases, ‘revenge travel’ has significantly picked up and the pent-up demand is manifesting the same sentiments,” said Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of the online travel company, EaseMyTrip.

“We have seen a significant growth in international and domestic bookings over the past few months, and we believe revenge travel is one of the key factors contributing to this demand,” he Pitti added.

Observers expect the uptrend to continue during the festive season. “The reason for the growth in recent travel bookings is a mix of visiting friends and family (VFF) as well as leisure travel,” said Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and Group CEO, ixigo, the AI-based online travel portal.

“Growing travel confidence has also resulted in a shift in advance purchase pattern trends,” Bajpai said, adding that “Ladakh, Kashmir, Goa and Jaipur are some of the popular leisure destinations” being booked for festive travel this year.

“For international leisure travel, we have seen a 15-20 per cent increase in search queries for destinations such as Dubai, Maldives and Russia for the festive season,” Bajpai continued, pointing out that attractive rates are encouraging travellers to make advance bookings.

At present, on average, a Delhi-Goa one-way ticket is priced at Rs 4,400 for travel in the first week of October, if booked 30 days in advance.

The same ticket, if booked seven days before departure, will cost Rs 7,600.

Additionally, the ongoing vaccination drive has been cited as the key propellant of this growth. “As more and more Indians continue to get vaccinated, leisure travel is seeing a strong uptick, which will provide a much-needed boost to the industry,” a Yatra.com spokesperson told IANS.

“Several initiatives introduced by the government and key stakeholders have boosted the confidence of travellers and they are making informed decisions. This has led to the rise in travel demand in the past several weeks,” the spokesperson added.

In addition, Suprio Banerjee, Vice President and Sector Head at the rating agency ICRA, said: “With the easing of Covid-19 infections and local restrictions, and the growing pace of vaccination, leisure travel picked up swiftly after the second wave of the pandemic.”

“The same trend is visible in a healthy ramp-up in domestic air travel (which inched up to 6.8-6.9 million passengers in September 2021) and a pick-up in the occupancy levels and ARRs (average room rent) in hotels. In select markets, the ARRs are now above pre-Covid levels,” Banerjee pointed out.

He added: “In H1 FY2022, domestic air passenger traffic stood at 29.5 million, compared with 11.1 million in H1 FY2021. But it is still 58 per cent lower vis-a-vis H1 FY2020.”

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)