Travellers worldwide are caught in two minds about whether to hold back travel plans or go ahead. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Tickets to main destinations in India for Dh700... and even as low as Dh350? And Dh1,500 to head to Manila?

Airlines operating in the UAE are dropping their rates to try and convince passengers to take a flight despite the coronavirus fear factor. But are there enough passengers willing to take a risk?

Some of them may have to do so because of their work circumstances, according to travel and airline industry sources.

“Low-salaried employees who have been asked to proceed on indefinite leave prefer to go back to their home country than waste money on monthly rents here,” said a travel agency official.

With large-scale event cancellations and general slowdown in business, employees in different sectors, especially those in services, are being asked to go on voluntary unpaid leave, which is resulting in more flight bookings.

Plus, the early - and extended - spring break announced for schools in the UAE is also resulting in increased bookings.

On the ever popular Dubai-Kerala route, two-way ticket rates average Dh700-Dh900 compared to Dh1,200-Dh1,500 during the same time last year. For one-way trips, fares have dived as low as Dh350 in some instances. However, travel agents expect prices to rise from the second-half of this month and April with the onset of summer holidays in India.

Fare cuts on all India-bound destinations

On other popular routes such as Dubai-Mumbai, tickets on budget carriers like Indigo and SpiceJet are at the Dh700 level, while fares average Dh850 on Emirates airline. Or, if you are travelling from the UAE to Delhi, budget airlines will cost you Dh750 while those on premium ones will be between Dh900-Dh1,000. A ticket to Chennai can be picked up for Dh800-Dh900.

Manila and rest of Asia

A ticket to Manila now averages around Dh1,500 on Cebu Pacific and Dh2,300 on Emirates.

Not surprisingly, ticket rates to Asia have taken a beating, with average price to Singapore reduced by 34 per cent from $489 (Dh1,795) in January to $325 (Dh1,190) last month. And those to Bangkok are down 10 per cent from $434 (Dh1,590) in January to $391 (Dh1,435).

“Destinations like Manila, Singapore and Bangkok have seen a 3 per cent drop, followed by Europe which had a 1 per cent drop in fares on destinations like London, Munich, Milan and Amsterdam,” said Amit Taneja, chief commercial officer at Cleartrip, the online travel booking site.

According to Malou Prado, Managing Director of MPQ Travel & Tourism, “The routes to and from Asia, especially from the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, are the most affected. Even though ticket rates are reducing further, the number of travellers is not increasing.

“Most customers have moved their flights to other dates and sometimes they cancel travel plans [in the worst-case scenario].”

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A jet operated by Cebu - tickets to Manila start from Dh1,500.

Worst hit

But it’s within the wider Gulf and Middle East routes that the rate cuts are most stark. As it is, most of the Gulf states have already restricted flights.

The average fare to Riyadh has declined 11 per cent from $401 (Dh1,472) in January to $356 (Dh1,300), while tickets to Muscat are 5 per cent cheaper, from $240 (Dh880) to $229 (Dh840), according to data from Cleartrip.

“We saw the highest drop in fares in the MENA region, with average fares 6 per cent lower in February than January,” said Taneja.

Travel agency sources say they haven’t seen sharp increases in bookings because people are still apprehensive over the virus and want to see how everything pans out before making plans.

Corporate travel ‘evaporates’

With global businesses placing strictures on travel by their executives, corporate travel has been the worst affected in recent weeks. “Many businesses are shying away from flights and opting for other communication avenues until the virus is contained,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst, StrategicAero Research. “All airlines are suffering as premium travel demand falls.”

According to Cleartrip, corporate travel routes that have seen a major drop in traffic include Bahrain, a 35 per cent dip, and Saudi Arabia, down by 7 per cent.

Airlines could end up losing anywhere from $63 billion to more than $100 billion this year, as per the latest forecasts put out by industry grouping IATA. No airline is suggesting that a return to normalcy will happen soon. This could well be the lost year for the global airline industry.

But for those passengers willing to give it a chance, they can do so at some of the most competitive rates.

Customers who have imminent travel plans are being advised to stay in constant contact with their airline and ensure they comply with whatever directive is published. “Equally, it’s wise to get any clarity or coverage from their doctor or hospital to ensure that they are okay to fly,” Ahmad added.

Wreaking havoc
“The COVID-19 situation remains fluid and uncertainty still looms on the possible economic impact of the outbreak," said Samantak Das, Executive Director and Head of Research at JLL. "We are already seeing a slump in [India's] hotel and hospitality sector due to the cancellation of flights and closure of borders. The retail sector too will be challenged due to sourcing disruptions in the apparel, footwear and accessories space.

"Moreover, the slowdown is already being reflected in the delayed decisions by retailers to lease spaces. While the commercial sector has been on a strong foothold, investors and businesses will adopt a wait-and-see approach that we’re witnessing in other global markets.”