The threat of the coronavirus Omicron variant has put pressure on international travel demand in light of severe restrictions for arrivals by several countries. While domestic travel is recovering well since November and is currently trading at nearly 90 percent of pre-COVID traffic on a daily basis, future bookings have softened a bit due to the Omicron spread concerns.
"We have seen a temporary dip of around 20 percent in international bookings for now. Countries like the UK, France, the US, Singapore are getting impacted due to the restrictions and concerns related to the new variant," Prashant Pitti, co-founder, EaseMyTrip said.
"Post the surge in Omicron cases, there have been cancellations in high impact areas such as few European countries and the United Kingdom,” a Yatra.com spokesperson said.
Travel portals assure that the overall travel sentiment is positive and most travelers are either choosing destinations that are nearby or are choosing to postpone their plans and not cancelling flights altogether.
"We have seen that the advance bookings are less than 20 percent as anticipated for the period of Jan-Feb 2022 for international travel. Most of these travellers are not cancelling but postponing their travel plans due to concerns around the new variant," Pitti added.
The changing regulatory landscape for international passengers, especially regarding pre-departure and post-arrival RT-PCR tests have resulted in a fair bit of chaos and confusion among travelers.
"There has been confusion around RT-PCR and we are receiving queries from consumers regarding the same. We are going through the details and documentation required for different locations and helping consumers to avoid long queues," the Yatra.com spokesperson added.
It is important to note that the Indian government had proposed to resume scheduled commercial international flights from December 15 but the decision was soon reversed due to concerns over the Omicron variant and the ban on scheduled international passenger flights has been extended until Jan 31. Hence, the international passenger flights continue to operate under air travel bubble arrangements and Vande Bharat Mission.
While the international traffic under Vande Bharat in November was 15 percent up on the month, there will be some near term pressure on international travel due to a surge in Omicron cases in some countries and that international travel will be impacted in the short term as visible from the continuation of the suspension of scheduled international travel and will hinge on restrictions related to the spread of new variants in destination countries for both inbound and outbound travel, Suprio Banerjee, vice president and sector head, ICRA Ltd said.
The most popular international destinations from India continue to be Dubai followed by the Maldives. As the situation remains fluid and more layers are added to the SOP in the form of RT-PCR tests and pre-booked RT-PCR test requirements for arrival, officials and travel portals advice to constantly monitor the health ministry websites for any additional steps to avoid the last-minute hassle.
On the domestic front, the airlines continue to see robust signs of recovery but the Omicron variant is a concern and airlines are bracing themselves to handle the dynamic scenario.
Omicron has softened future bookings but they are still well above September level, IndiGo CEO Rono Dutta told shareholders at the company EGM on December 30. He further added that Omicron has cast a cloud of uncertainty but the company is well on its way to recover in the absence of a third wave.
(Edited by : Jomy Jos Pullokaran)