As Omicron hits global travel, domestic traffic weathers it for now

🔴 Information sourced point to a continuing uptick in domestic air travel demand going into 2022, but there’s perceptible dampening of international travel sentiment – to and from India.

A man looks at the departures board at Salt Lake City International Airport on Friday. At least three major airlines say they have canceled dozens of flights because of the outbreak of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. (Photo: AP)

In a departure from the manner in which the two Covid-19 waves in India impacted travel and flights — both domestic and international segments recorded a perceptible drying up of demand during the two waves — the spread of the Omicron variant is having a varied impact on travel patterns.

Information sourced from airlines and multiple online travel agencies point to a continuing uptick in domestic air travel demand going into 2022, but there’s perceptible dampening of international travel sentiment — to and from India.

One of the main reasons for the subdued expectation on international travel is the numerous restrictions being imposed by not only India but also other jurisdictions.

“We have seen a temporary dip of around 20% (compared with the company’s expectations) in international bookings for now. Countries like the UK, France, US, Singapore are getting impacted due to the restrictions and concerns related to the new variant,” Rikant Pittie, co-founder, Easy Trip Planners, told The Sunday Express, adding that most of these travellers were not cancelling but postponing their travel plans due to concerns around the new variant.

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A senior executive with a domestic low-cost airline said the reluctance was on account of experiences from previous travel bans.

“Thousands of people, especially NRIs, who came home last time around could not go back to the countries of their employment. They came to India and were stuck here because a country like Singapore or Saudi Arabia wouldn’t allow them to enter without rigorous quarantines. That is why international demand is running below what was originally expected for Christmas, New Year’s and so on,” the executive said.

Singapore, for example, announced freezing of ticket sales for flights under its programme for quarantine-free travel into the city-state from December 23 to January 20. Under this programme, Singapore allowed quarantine-free entry from some countries, including India, to fully vaccinated and tested passengers.

Domestic travel demand, though, continues to be robust despite a rise in Covid-19 numbers. Prahlad Krishnamurti, Chief Business Officer of Flipkart-owned online travel agency Cleartrip, said: “We are witnessing a minor increase in cancellation for international flights towards the end of the year amid conversations about the new variant. However, domestic flight bookings continue to be on a healthy growth trajectory. In 2022, the domestic flight trends are looking very strong compared to 2021. Metro destinations are on track to exceed 2021 numbers. Leisure destinations like Goa, Chandigarh, Jaipur are showing very strong uptick compared to 2021 numbers.”

The domestic travel demand, which started gaining momentum since the festival season in October-November, has continued till the year-end holidays season, and is expected to rise going ahead as reflected by the increase in search queries being made for leisure destinations.

Rajnish Kumar, Co-founder & Group CPTO, ixigo, said: “Domestic travel appetite is still strong for the holiday season. We have seen a 10-15% year-on-year surge in search queries for popular domestic leisure destinations for year-end travel including Goa, Jaipur, Srinagar and Udaipur. Wedding-related travel demand has also surged in November and December with people getting back to the trend of destination weddings. With air quality worsening in metro cities like Delhi, we are also witnessing a trend of ‘escape tourism’ where an increasing level of pollution has tourists flocking to destinations like Goa”.

In addition, a survey by LocalCircles flagged that despite the Omicron risk, 58% of the respondents in India still planned to travel in the next three months. But even though more than half of the respondents plan to travel up till March, only 18% have made their bookings to travel by either of the three means of transport — air, rail and road.

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