Stock India airport passengers
The Eid break is over, but the UAE-India routes will continue to be busy even ahead of the summer holidays. According to airline industry sources, more flights can be easily accommodated on the sector. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: India is slowly moving to allow UAE airlines to operate more flights into and out of the country as demand on these routes soar ahead of summer. Plus, newly launched airlines such as the budget carrier Wizz Air Abu Dhabi want to launch their own services to India.

“We look forward to getting more flights working between the two regions as we look at a post-Covid re-opening,” said Rupinder Brar, Additional Director-General at India’s Ministry of Tourism.

After a near two-year suspension, India has restored all categories of tourist visas for foreign nationals. UAE, which contributes one of the highest VFR (visiting friends and relatives) traffic to India, is also a ‘premium’ source market for India’s hotels and airlines. “Ultimately, it’s a formula of demand and supply,” said Brar.

The government official said that Air Suvidha - India’s travel registration portal introduced during the pandemic - will likely continue to be mandatory for passengers flying into the country. “All countries at this point in time and all destinations are looking at how they can make sure people are safe,” he added. “I think that continues to remain everybody's priority.”

India and the UAE recently went live with the CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) that allows zero duty movement between the countries. The airline industry, however, is not part of the deal, but will be one of the biggest beneficiaries from the movement in goods.

More flights?

Airline officials in the UAE have spoken frequently about the possibility of introducing more flights on the route given the demand patterns. Emirates airline, which operates 170 weekly flights to India, is seeing 95 per cent seat load factor on the route.

During a media briefing recently, the Dubai airline’s Chief Commercial Officer Adnan Kazim said there’s scope for more flights between the countries. “The traveling pattern of India today is quite limited compared to the demand that India can offer. Demand is exceeding the current capacity offered."

Current ticket rates

UAE-India ticket prices have returned to normal following the long Eid break earlier this month, the first one for residents since the relaxation of travel restrictions. A ticket from Delhi to Dubai cost only around Dh643 right now, compared to Dh1,000-Dh1,500 seen just last week. Flying from Mumbai could be more expensive with most flights charging over Dh800. Fares have not seen a drastic fall out of Kochi, with one-way tickets to Dubai costing Dh1,500. Travel to Bengaluru has far more reasonable rates with most airlines changing below Dh800.

Travel agents pointed out that while airfares had come off peak Eid levels, rates will see another surge in July when the summer break starts at schools. During that period, a flight from Dubai to Delhi can cost between Dh800-Dh1,500. Some destinations will cost even more; an Emirates flight to Kochi on July 1 is charging Dh3,750.

Return to 2019

India, which saw around 18 million visitors in 2019, may be able to get back to that mark this year itself, said Brar. “There’s a been a few percentage jumps in the number of people interested in traveling to India – I don’t see no reason why we shouldn’t be crossing the pre-Covid figure and even exceed it.”

After its long absence from the UAE market, India will have its work cut out for it as other tourist destinations such as Maldives, Seychelles and Georgia have really upped their marketing efforts during the pandemic. Brar believes that unlike Maldives and other destinations, India offers the whole package of culture, heritage, food, and shopping. “Once can plan an all-encompassing and comprehensive holiday in India, which is just absolutely amazing.”