DestinationsSigns of travel recovery stronger as domestic flights in India back to 84% of 2019 levels.

Asia's other giant stirs to life

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India has secured non-leisure travel bubbles with 27 countries so far, with US leading the way at 60% for the next six months. Pictured: Amber Fort, Jaipur
India has secured non-leisure travel bubbles with 27 countries so far, with US leading the way at 60% for the next six months. Pictured: Amber Fort, Jaipur Photo Credit: Getty Images/guillermo1956

China's swift recovery in domestic tourism in the wake of Covid-19 is well reported, and now Asia's other giant is also making major progress on the domestic front.

Domestic air travel in India is back to 84% of 2019 levels, some 10 months after the Indian government reopened domestic flight operations through a calibrated approach since May 2020.

According to ForwardKeys’ air ticketing data, the upward trajectory was disrupted from mid-June to mid-July but quickly regained steam thereafter. In the first week of March 2021, domestic passengers had bounced back to 84% of 2019 levels. Back in the lowest month of April 2020, domestic passengers were at 14% of 2019 levels.

From Q3 last year, India shifted focus to setting up air bubble arrangements, where it started welcoming international non-leisure inbound visitors since 22 October, on all visas.

Key source markets outlook until September 2021, based on tickets issued as of 16 March.
Key source markets outlook until September 2021, based on tickets issued as of 16 March.

With these encouraging numbers, airlines have cautiously upped international air travel seat capacity into India, from 10% of pre-pandemic levels in June 2020 (versus June 2019) to 34% in February 2021 (versus February 2020) — all hopeful for a lead start in leisure travel comeback in one of the world's biggest inbound tourism destinations.

Still, with leisure visas suspended like the rest of the world, there remains a disparity between international seat capacity (33% of 2019 levels) and actual visitor arrivals for the first two months of 2021 (26% of 2019 levels).

The US has overtaken the UK in terms of traveller interest into India.
The US has overtaken the UK in terms of traveller interest into India.

The data also found that the pandemic has caused a noticeable shift in source markets ever since the pandemic closed India's borders since 23 March 2020.

Comparing April to September 2021 against the same six months in 2019, the UK, which traditionally used to make up a sizeable 13% has shrunk to 6%. Europe, including the UK, has dropped from 16% to 12%. Australia and New Zealand combined now constitutes just 1% (from 6% previously).

Instead, North American travellers are showing most interest into India.

"The US, which used to account for 31% of actual air tickets into India pre-Covid from April to September 2019, has doubled, up by 60% for the next six months. Canada, which used to account for 6%, now has grown to 10%. Is India ready to welcome North American travellers?” asks Jameson Wong, APAC director at ForwardKeys.

According to ForwardKeys, while these numbers do not yet reflect the true estimate of leisure travel rebound with leisure visas still under suspension, these are early signs that call for agents and governments alike to tweak their plans, and prepare for new business opportunities to "recover your Covid-19 related losses," said Ram Badrinathan, South Asia market expert.

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