Headaches over BOTTLENECKS

After a prolonged exposure to agent complaints in Bali over airline seat capacity, Luke Clark went in search of some answers. Capacity, it seems, is a many-headed beast.

9 February 2001

Next time you hear the age-old complaint that “there’s not enough capacity” into a destination, ask yourself, “not enough for whom”?

The capacity issue goes to the very heart of the travel equation, and shows the way hotels, agents and destinations tussle in an often fractious, but nonetheless productive way.

As a case study, I sought to investigate the case-in-point for Bali. A local operator estimates that on a day when flights into Bali are 100 percent full, the island’s accommodation is still only 60 percent full.

Goodness knows how the roads or water supply would cope if this was balanced, but to many suppliers, this represents a lack of air capacity.

And many say it is only getting worse.

Each August, Italian operator, Mappa Mondo’s Andrea Mele faces the task of trying to fit as many Italians into seats to Bali in a very short time. During this period, seat supply is well below demand.

“We have a serious problem of seat availability from Europe to Denpasar. Our high season concentration is two weeks, when we sell 1,200 to 1,300 seats. It’s almost impossible to do more.

“The problem is more the regional sectors. It’s a serious problem, and it has also created some bad service, as there’re a lot of forced itineraries.”

On the ground, hotels face similar problems trying to generate extra room business. Desmond James, director of sales and marketing at Le Meridien Beach Hotel and Spa, relies to a great extent on the meetings and incentive business to fill the hotel.

“Unless they can get more seats out of the airlines, I can’t do any more. Once the flights into Bali are full, that’s it. MICE is crucial for me, because I’m the last hotel to fill with leisure traffic, the last resort up in Tanah Lot.”

It’s not just during high season that capacity is a problem, he says. Low seasons are made lower by competing destinations. “In our quiet season, it’s Phuket’s high season – so the seats are taken by flights to Phuket.”

Like Mele, James sees a serious bottleneck of traffic from Singapore to Bali. “We’re finding that aircraft is constantly being downsized, if not the schedule itself.”

So apart from airing his views with trade reporters, why doesn’t he and the hotels chase airlines with their problems?

“I’ve never found anyone in an airline who says ‘the buck stops here’. Who do you speak to?” James says more direct flights into Bali is a key to the island’s success in future. Yet he is also aware of the risks in investing in Indonesia at the moment.

“The airlines are not going to change their routings and schedules for a destination as potentially volatile as Indonesia. It’s a big risk to put Denpasar on your schedule.”

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