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International airline bookings surge as peak season nears

International airlines serving Nepal are seeing a surge in inbound bookings with the tourist and festival seasons approaching.

According to travel agencies, almost every flight into Kathmandu is 96 percent booked for October while 85 percent of the seats have been booked for November. They said that air ticket reservations from Sept 20-30 have crossed 90 percent on average at almost all the international carriers.

The period September-November is Nepal’s peak tourist season which accounts for as much as 40 percent of the year’s international tourist arrivals. In addition, autumn is Nepal’s main festival season when thousands of migrant workers and other Nepalese living abroad return home to celebrate Dashain and Tihar with their families.

According to travel trade entrepreneurs, the September-November period is the high season for airlines with tourist occupancy reaching 70 percent. They said that bookings, however, started late this year.

According to travel agencies, carriers from the Middle East, China and India are 100 percent booked for October while reservations are picking up at carriers from other bases.

“Some airlines have added flights to cater to growing passenger demand for this season,” said Deepak Basnet, senior ticketing executive of Osho World Travel Nepal.

Travel agents said that Qatar Airways was 90 percent booked from Sept 24-30 and 99 percent booked from October to Nov 6. The carrier flies 28 weekly flights to Nepal. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways is 80 percent booked from Sept 20-27 and has 100 percent reservations until Oct 27.

Etihad has announced doubling its daily Abu Dhabi-Kathmandu service to twice daily from Nov 1. Oman Air is more than 95 percent booked after Sept 27 while it has 96 percent bookings for October. Two no-frills airlines —Fly Dubai and Air Arabia—are 90 percent reserved for the September-October season.

Tickets of the new entrant Turkish Airlines are sold out from mid-September to November. Thai Airways is 80 percent booked from Sept 20-28 while reservations have crossed 95 percent until Oct 19 and 100 percent until early November.

Meanwhile, inbound from China too has been good. Three Chinese carriers—Air China, China Southern and China Eastern—have 95 percent bookings for Sept 26 and are sold out for October. “Even business class seats are not available on Chinese carriers in October,” Basnet said.

Indian carriers Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo and Spice Jet are 95 percent reserved after Sept 25 and sold out for October. According to agencies, Jet Airways is fully booked until Nov 15 due to its large connectivity.

Travel trade entrepreneurs expect more tourists from the Asian region to come to Nepal this season due to a stronger US dollar. The continuous devaluation of the Nepali rupee against the US dollar has brought cheer to the travel trade sector. A stronger dollar has not only increased tourism earnings but also made Nepal a cheaper destination for foreign travellers.

They said that more foreigners may be tempted to visit the country as they will be getting more for their dollars in Nepal. “With overwhelming airline bookings, we have expected a good tourism season this year,” said Bishwesh Shrestha, executive director of C & K Nepal Travel & Tours.

“We have estimated a growth in Indian arrivals this autumn as they are now looking for shorter trips which they can afford.”

Meanwhile, Shrestha said a strong dollar has also encouraged carriers to hike fares. As aviation fuel has become 12-14 percent dearer this season, the extra cost has been passed on to flyers in the name of fuel surcharge.

Hong Kong-based Dragon Air is 100 percent booked from Sept 30 to Oct 22. Its bookings until Sept 25 stand at 80 percent. Silk Air flights are fully booked from mid-September to mid-October while Malaysia-based budget carrier Air Asia X is 70 percent booked for September and fully booked for October.

Malaysia Airlines bookings have crossed 80 percent for Sept 16-23 and is fully booked until Oct 27. The carrier has announced twice daily flights from Oct 26.

source: ekantipur, 11 Sept 2013

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