The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Business dips as war grounds travellers

It’s business as usual, but not quite. The shadow of war is looming large on the world travel industry, with airlines and travel agents trying to allay the fears of leisure as well as business travellers and losses amounting to billions of dollars piling up every day. While all international flights from Calcutta are operating on schedule, most are going nearly empty, with even corporates deferring their plans.

Although the Calcutta holiday season begins in May, when the exams end and schools close, international bookings pour in from March. Europe is the most popular international destination in summer, according to travel operators. But this year, while inquiries have been frequent, uppermost on everyone’s mind is the war in Iraq, and some are not forthcoming with advance payments on package deals. Both sides are gearing up to “wait and watch”.

What travel operators unanimously agree on is that there is a definite dip in international travel. Mustafa Saluja of Cox & Kings says: “Those who are travelling, are not taking UK, US and West Asia-based carriers, like British Airways, Northwest Airlines and Gulf Air. So, they are the worst affected. But generally, West Asia is being avoided, with flights going over the Indian Ocean, via Africa. That means an increase in travel time by a couple of hours.”

A spokesperson for a West Asia-based airline says that while there is all appearance of normalcy in the office and in the air, the number of travellers is down to a trickle. Subhro Mukherjee of SOTC stresses that while the airlines are functioning normally, so are travel operators. And for the moment, although the war has put a damper on things, people are just waiting and watching. “But if they want to change dates, then we will postpone them,” he adds.

Basu Mallik of Club Seven Holidays explains that since security is tight, air routes are being diverted and prices are down, it’s time to go on holiday. “Now, because tourism is falling around the world, particularly among the American and British, special offers and discounts are aplenty. From the Indian point of view, this is the ideal time for a European holiday. In addition, the Euro is down to around Rs 51, from Rs 54 some months ago. So, savings will be higher.”

Minor inconveniences apart, the war is inescapable in its wider effects on the economy and people’s peace of mind. As Stanley Rosario of Thomas Cook sums up: “There is nothing much we can say to travellers or any particular advice we can give, other than wait and see what happens.”

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