Top News First signs of travel recovery in India emerges By TTG Asia / Posted on 25 March, 2021 8:07 Domestic air travel in India has bounced back to 84 per cent of 2019 levels, while air bubble pacts have spurred the restoration of international seat capacity into the South Asian country, according to a ForwardKeys study. Domestic air travel recovery in India has been bumpy, since domestic flights resumed in May 2020; passengers at departure terminal of Delhi Airport in New Delhi, India pictured Following the Indian government’s announcement that domestic flight operations could resume from May 25, 2020 through a calibrated approach, ForwardKeys’ air ticketing data reveals that domestic air travel has started, although the path to recovery has been bumpy. 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 per cent of 2019 levels. Back in the lowest month of April 2020, domestic passengers were at 14 per cent of 2019 levels. International commercial passenger flights have been suspended for over a year now – since March 23, 2020 when the national lockdown restrictions were imposed. From Q3 last year, India began setting up air bubble agreements with various countries. Since October 22, 2020, it started permitting foreigners to enter India on all visas, except for tourist visas. As of March, India has formed travel bubble arrangements with 27 countries. Spurred by India’s incremental expansion of air bubbles over the past eight months, international air travel seat capacity into India has clawed back steadily, from 10 per cent of the pre-pandemic level in June 2020 (June 2020 vs June 2019) to 34 per cent in February 2021 (February 2021 vs February 2020). However, with leisure visas still under suspension and Covid-19 uncertainties looming like many other parts of the world, visitor arrivals into India remain expectedly low, with visitor arrivals recording 14 per cent of the pre-pandemic level in June 2020 (June 2020 vs June 2019) and 28 per cent in February 2021 (February 2021 vs February 2020). Since June 2020, taking the lead from India’s air bubble developments and eyeing the leisure travel comeback in one of the biggest inbound tourism countries, airlines have been cautiously restoring international seat capacity into India and repositioning themselves to secure a head-start. The upward trajectory in seat capacity has been sharper than the clawback in visitor arrivals. In the first two months of 2021, international seat capacity into India recorded 33 per cent of 2019 levels, while visitor arrivals lagged at just 26 per cent of 2019 levels. The source markets mix has shifted for Destination India due to the pandemic. “Leading the preliminary recovery is the US (76 per cent of 2019 levels), followed by Canada (47 per cent), the UK (17 per cent), Europe excluding the UK (11 per cent), Australia and New Zealand (two per cent),” said Jameson Wong, APAC director at ForwardKeys. Comparing April to September 2021 against the same six months in 2019, a significant shift in source markets is evident. “The US, which used to account for 31 per cent of actual air tickets into India pre-Covid from April to September 2019, has doubled, up by 60 per cent for the next six months. Canada, which used to account for six per cent, now has grown to 10 per cent. Is India ready to welcome North American travellers?” asked Wong. The UK, a traditional source market which used to constitute a sizeable 13 per cent, has shrunk by more than half to only six per cent. Europe, excluding the UK, has slid from 16 per cent to 12 per cent. Australia and New Zealand, combined, has dropped drastically from six per cent to one per cent. Though not yet reflective of the true estimate of the leisure travel rebound as India still has leisure visas under suspension, such early signs of pandemic shifts in the traveller source markets to Destination India indicates the need for a change in planning and, exciting, new business opportunities, top-down. From government level to operator level.