New Delhi: Airlines in India are gearing up to meet the demands of the summer traveller by introducing new flights and adding destinations to a growing network. Offbeat destinations such as Leh and perennial favourite Goa will see more flights added as carriers ready for the summer rush.
Peak summer season starts now and runs through mid-June, as vacationers head for the hills to beat the heat, families make travel plans during school holidays, college students return home from hostels and the pious make pilgrimages.
Experts estimate a 20% rise in domestic tourists this year especially with India exiting the cricket World Cup earlier than expected. While the April-June quarter in 2006 flew about 7.5 million, it is likely to add another 1.5 million this time, predicted Kapil Kaul, an analyst with Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa).
Air Deccan, India’s biggest low-cost carrier, which recently added Buddhist hill town Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh to its list of destinations, will start a new Airbus flight to Leh from New Delhi mid-May for the summer tourist. Kingfisher will start an additional flight to Goa from Mumbai around the same time.
“Booking has been very strong and Goa continues to be a strong contender for the top tourist spot in the country,” said Manoj Chacko, head of sales for Kingfisher Airlines.
Delhi-headquartered low-cost carrier SpiceJet will add a new flight from Mumbai to Raipur, Chhattisgarh, which has been advertising itself as a tourist destination. It will also increase the number of flights from New Delhi to Srinagar, Varanasi and Goa.
“We are expanding, but not in terms of new destinations. We’re consolidating our existing sectors,” Ajay Jasra, the airline’s spokesman, said.
Other airlines—India has nine commercial carriers—will finalize their summer schedules in the coming weeks after getting regulatory approval. The civil aviation ministry is not allowing new flights to and from Delhi and Mumbai for most of the summer to cut down on congestion at the airports but carriers are free to ply other routes. Permission for the new flights of Air Deccan, Kingfisher Airlines and SpiceJet was granted earlier.
Capa’s Kaul said airlines were just beginning to unlock the potential on routes frequented by tourists. “In summers there is more of leisure and less of business travel. So there is a tremendous potential to connect the 35 new airports in the country, which are being developed,” he said.
For a majority of travellers from Mumbai, the tourist season is already rolling. “It’s going to be hotter than the usual summer and people will head for the hills. Also, pilgrimage, which is a large part of domestic tourism in summers, is picking up big this year,” Ashwin Damera, CEO of Mumbai-headquartered travel portal TravelGuru, said.