Domestic airlines face missing Dashain travel bonanza over lockdown fearsDomestic carriers have been attempting to entice wary travellers with discounts but bookings have remained sluggish.
Domestic airlines face missing this year's Dashain travel bonanza as holidaymakers are holding back from making advance bookings over fears that the government may impose another lockdown.
Carriers fighting for life after being grounded for months had expected the festival to provide them a shot in the arm; but the outlook for Dashain, when Nepalis rush home in the hundreds of thousands to celebrate the holidays, is pessimistic, airline executives said.
Ghatasthapana, the first day of the festival, falls on October 17 this year.
Two weeks ago, the Health Ministry said that the lockdown should be reimposed if coronavirus infections go over the 25,000-mark.
Nepal on Friday reported a record 2,722 new Covid-19 cases as the national tally reached 82,450. So far, 60,696 individuals have made a successful recovery—3,307 of them in the past 24 hours. There were 21,234 active cases as of Friday, according to the Ministry of Health.
“The statement, in fact, has worried many travellers,” said Anil Manandhar, corporate manager for Shree Airlines. “With less than three weeks to go before the Dashain travel rush begins, bookings are below 10 percent.”
Shree is operating 15 flights daily. Manandhar said that people fear they won’t be able to enter the Kathmandu Valley if the stay-home order is brought back.
On September 15, the government had announced that domestic airlines would be allowed to resume services from September 17, but only if they fly with half the seats empty.
Carriers were quick to oppose the restriction, saying they could not fly the planes half-empty. The government relented and said they could carry a full load of passengers, but they would be allowed to operate only 25 percent of their flights.
The airlines re-started services on September 21.
On Thursday, the government permitted carriers to increase their flight frequency to handle the anticipated festival rush, but travel has been the other way.
“We have more people travelling to Kathmandu than leaving the city,” said Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesperson for Yeti Airlines.
“Most of our incoming flights have 90 percent occupancy,” he said, adding that the number of flyers coming to the Kathmandu Valley had surprised them.
“We don’t see people making reservations for Dashain flights. Bookings are below 5 percent,” Bartaula told the Post. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has permitted Yeti Airlines to conduct 19 flights daily from Thursday onwards, up from 11 flights previously.
Carriers have been attempting to entice wary travellers with discounts. The airfare on the Kathmandu-Pokhara sector is Rs1,800. A ticket on the Kathmandu-Dhangadhi sector, the longest route, costs Rs4,700. The airfare on the Kathmandu-Biratnagar flight is Rs2,500.
“We think travellers are waiting to see if airlines will launch a Dashain scheme,” said Bartaula.
Airline officials said that if they can’t fill their flights, they may resort to cutting ticket prices. “The exact scenario of Dashain flights will be known next week,” said Rupesh Joshi, marketing director at Buddha Air.
“Only 5-10 percent of the seats for Dashain had been booked till Friday,” he said. Buddha Air is flying 29 flights daily. “We expect Dashain bookings to pick up by next week.”
This kind of sluggish bookings for Dashain is the biggest challenge in a generation, airline officials said. Carriers are earning very little these days whether carrying domestic travellers or foreign tourists who pay the dollar fare.
Domestic airlines normally see an extremely high traffic load during the festive season as a large number of people working or studying in the Kathmandu Valley return home to celebrate Dashain with their families.
The Dashain travel rush, a long-held tradition, is considered to be the largest annual migration in Nepal.
For the past several years, airlines have been witnessing full passenger loads during the one-and-a-half-months-long Dashain rush, and the revenue generated during this time gets them through the lean winter months. Travel demand picks up again in the spring when the tourists return to Nepal.
According to Tribhuvan International Airport, the Dashain and Tihar festival season accounts for 20 percent of the 3.18 million annual domestic traveller movement.
This year, says Bartaula, airlines are thinking of survival. “We don’t see much demand immediately, but we are optimistic that passenger numbers will rise.”