The domestic aviation sector is making a slow, but steady recovery with bookings jumping by half, week-on-week, and online travel agencies seeing business getting back to up to 35 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels.
This coincides with domestic airlines now frequently clocking 1,000 flights a day, and over a lakh passengers taking to the skies.
This is what Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had tweeted on August 27:
Moneycontrol spoke to multiple online travel agents, with all of them talking about robust bookings, especially from passengers travelling from smaller cities to metros.
"Booking is increasing day-by-day. Business for us is back to normal by over 35 percent on a constant basis of pre-COVID-19 level," Nishant Pitti, CEO, EaseMyTrip.com, told Moneycontrol.
The online travel agency had about 9,600 passengers booking on its site on August 26. This was a jump from a daily average of 6,000 seen in July. Before March, when domestic flights were suspended, the OTA would do about 22,000 bookings a day.
Similarly, Ixigo has seen four times growth in return flight bookings for August, as compared to May last week. "There has been a 50-55 percent growth in total domestic flight bookings in last week of August as compared to May last week when flights just resumed operations," said Aloke Bajpai, CEO & Co-Founder ixigo.
A spokesperson from Yatra.com added that the OTA is witnessing more bookings being made for near future i.e., next two weeks. "We can expect booking enquires to have a double-digit growth during the festive season of October-December this year,” said the spokesperson.
What has helped?
It could be a mix of the onset of festival season when people visit friends and relatives, and relaxation in travel restrictions, according to industry experts.
"This could be because of easing of quarantine restrictions in many states," said Balu Ramachandran, Executive Vice President and Global Head - Air Product, Cleartrip. The OTA has seen a 20 percent increase in volumes this week has compared to the previous week.
The West Bengal government, which had earlier banned flights from six cities, on August 26 said it will allow airlines to operate from September 1. It will now allow flights from these cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Chennai and Ahmedabad - thrice a week.
This is significant as the festival season has begun with the Ganesh Chaturthi, and continues through the next few months with Onam, Durga Puja and Diwali to come.
All the OTAs said that much of the traffic is originating from the northern and eastern cities.
"The top sectors booked so far in August are dominated by source airports in the North and East to metro destinations such as Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. Metro to Metro routes continue to retain a much lower share as compared to pre-COVID levels," said Ramachandran.
"One-way bookings account for nearly 90 percent of total bookings and while the share has gone down recently, it still is much higher than pre-COVID levels," he added.
Popular metro and non-metro routes in demand include Patna, Varanasi, Lucknow, Srinagar and Bengaluru.
Interestingly, it is not just flights that are seeing more people.
"Even train bookings are on an all-time high demand as tickets for existing routes like Delhi-Lucknow are going completely sold out if you see bookings for the next seven days. People are also booking train tickets in advance for the upcoming Diwali season which indicates a growing festive travel demand this year," said Ixigo's Bajpai.
The OTAs also claimed that customers are shifting from offline travel agents to their websites.
EaseMyTrip's Pitti said that the company's market share has jumped from pre-COVID-19 times, also helped by discounts for armed forces and refunds to passengers.
Ixigo's Bajpai added: " In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic having a severe impact on the travel industry, we have preserved more than half monthly active users and we gained market share, owing to offline travel agents not functioning, and automating processes relating to customer redressals."