Outbound tourism hamstrung by inadequate flights, high fares

Airlines reluctant to provide group bookings for package tours

Relaxation of COVID curbs in most countries and the yearning to explore the world after being confined to their homes during the pandemic have resulted in Keralites making a beeline to travel abroad, despite the limited number of international flights and high fares.

A group of 24 tourists from Kerala who flew to the U.S. earlier this month – 22 of them visiting that country for the first time, were among the first set of group tourists to land there after the pandemic, after the U.S. opened up its skies on November 8.

The tour was priced at ₹3.45 lakh per person, while an eight-day Europe tour is currently priced at ₹1.63 lakh, said M.K. Soman, managing director of a city-based tour firm. “With U.S. consulates yet to resume issuing of visas, people who had a valid visa were hand-picked for travel. Guests for outbound tours get a special insurance cover of $1,000, just in case they turn positive for COVID,” he said.

The reluctance of airlines to provide group booking for package tours, citing limited availability of flights (and the lesser profit margin they would get from group bookings), has resulted in many people keeping their fingers crossed, said Joby George, a Thrissur-based tour operator. “Despite hiked fares, Dubai has emerged as the hot destination, with the result that many tour operators are wooing commuters with competitive rates. Then come Europe and Turkey – to where travel is tough due to limited number of flights and it is tough to get group bookings. Many airlines have informed that they would not be taking group tours till early or mid-2022,” he added.

Both outbound tourists from the State and tour operators are banking on the impending reopening of skies to countries in Southeast Asia, provided the Central Government permits more number of flights to these countries.

The director of a tour agency, Isaac Francis, said most of the travellers were aged 50 and upwards. “Travel to Maldives and Sri Lanka is yet to pick up in a big way despite demand, due to inadequate flights.”

A senior official of Cochin International Airport said the number of outbound tourists from Kerala is picking up. Currently, the demand for outbound travel is more for employment, education, rejoining families abroad, than for tourism. The West Asia still is the high-in-demand destination, since 70% of the flights have been restored and there are around 200 departures from Kochi alone every week, he said.

Travellers elated

The latest group to travel from here to Russia has had a thrilling experience, said some of the travellers.

“It was a wonderful experience for our group from Kerala in Russia – a highlight being a tour of a military facility there on Tuesday (November 23) despite heavy snowfall. We got to travel in a battle tank, handle and fire from AK 47 rifles and also visit the mausoleum of Lenin – fulfilling my long-pending wish,” said Prof. G.R. Anil from Kozhikode.

Writer Babu Parekkattil spoke of how travelling by Moscow Metro and visiting among other places Kremlin, and ancient churches, was an entirely new experience. The cheerful group got an opportunity to understand life in the vast country, amidst heavy snowfall, he said.

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