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NEW DELHI : With concerns being raised over the new covid variant by the medical fraternity globally, travel companies that witnessed strong growth during the month November from international outbound travel, are getting jittery. Their major worry is corporate travel segment that had only recently started to crawl back to normal.   

Last week, the Indian government proposed a resumption of international flights starting December 15 but has now issued fresh guidelines on mandatory RT-PCR tests for all international travellers and a 7-day home quarantine rule for those coming from South Africa where the Omicron variant of the covid-19 virus has spread.   

Head of an offline travel firm that focuses on corporate travel said the fears of a mutated virus have definitely increased nervousness. “I am getting messages from Indian CEOs about them wanting to put their plans on hold. There is a little friction in the travel experience too. Many had gotten used to travel being smoother and not being tested," said the person declining to be named. 

For Kanika Tekriwal, founder, Jetsetgo Aviation Services Pvt Ltd that organises private charters, Africa had picked up as a leisure destination. But the new Omicron variant may have put a spanner in her works. “Suddenly, all our Africa queries have gone down completely. Africa was becoming a big sector for us with places like Botswana, Zimbabwe and other African Safari locations. At least 12 of our customers have called to ask for cancellations," she said. 

Yet others are in a wait and watch mode. 

FCM Travel Solutions has a delegation of 12 corporate employees leaving for Dubai for the Expo2020 in the next few days. Up until Monday, they hadn’t cancelled their plan. But that could change quickly based on developments.  

Rakshit Desai, managing director for India for Flight Centre Travel Group that runs FCM Travel Solutions said the company will wait to see the impact between today and tomorrow in order to assess this situation in a more informed manner. For FCM, business from outbound, meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions (MICE) travel came back in November in a significant way. “It is still early to comment on changes in travel bookings since the news only broke on Friday, and over the weekend the business has not seen any meaningful statistical changes. We do see a little hesitancy as many people are worried about being stuck on the wrong side of a lockdown situation in a foreign country. But as long as there will be no hard border closures, there will be no panic," he added.   

November was good for the firm. “It almost took us by surprise how much some of these sectors had picked up," said Desai. It saw big corporate business coming between India and the UK, Switzerland, France, Spain, Dubai and the US. This includes both inbound and outbound traffic. A lot of India’s outbound MICE business comes from South East Asia too, since the unit economics out of India are very advantageous to nearby places.  

Thomas Cook India & SOTC similarly has seen strong pent-up demand for business travel and the company, so far, has not received cancellations from corporates and business travellers. Since domestic aviation is back to 100% capacity and with the announcement of a phased reopening of commercial international flights in December, the recovery continues to look robust, said Indiver Rastogi, president and group head of global business travel at Thomas Cook India & SOTC.  

The company said it is still awaiting details on the new variant from the health authorities.  

Prashant Pitti, co-founder at travel portal EaseMyTrip.com agreed it was too early to notice any potential impact. "At a company level, we have seen two waves and if at all there is a third wave, it will be a cyclical process for us and we are prepared already," he said.  
 
The new variant Omicron has sparked genuine concerns amongst health authorities. India and many countries accordingly have announced precautionary measures as they open up international travel especially from South Africa and some other ‘at risk’ countries.  
 
Rajesh Magow, co-founder and group CEO of travel firm MakeMyTrip said it is too early to assess and quantify the potential impact on international travel from India. The company will keep a close watch on the evolving travel guidelines. “Our teams are also working closely with airline partners to ensure that guidelines for domestic and international travel are updated real-time on the website and the app," he said. 

So far, Mumbai-based business coach and consultant Ramas Krishnan, founder and MD at Aspire Infinite and The Alternative Board, India, has not postponed his business cum leisure trip to New York and Illinois. "We will be gone for four weeks and will take a week off around Christmas to be with the family. For the flight, though, we did insist on a cancellation / refund clause because we had booked a trip last year which we had to cancel and lost some money on that," he said. 

The couple will travel via Dubai and will get tested in the Dubai airport as well.  Krishnan said he works with managing directors across the pharma sector, many of whom are travelling around the world.

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