The war is winding down and strict safety measures are in place to check SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Tourist traffic is low, but so are the prices. Singapore and Hong Kong have dropped off the tourist map, but Down Under has stolen the thunder. And closer home, Kathmandu is king in the summer of 2003.
Budget Tours, a conglomerate of five leading city-based travel agencies launched last year, announced its summer-special packages on Wednesday, keeping faith in the irrepressible Calcutta traveller seeking alternate avenues this season. “People don’t stop going on holiday,” says Manoj Saraf of Gainwell Travel and Leisure. “Summer usually has the highest figures, followed by the Pujas and Christmas. During May and June, flights to Southeast Asia never go empty. This time, although we don’t expect our Southeast Asian packages to do well. Other destinations are emerging.”
From the 600-plus mark for the Southeast Asian group tours last summer, the company’s 2003 projections have dropped by around one-third. “We will be happy with 250 bookings,” admits Saraf. The number of packages, too, has been reduced, with Thailand the sole Southeast Asian destination of choice.
“Some Southeast Asian airlines, like Cathay Pacific, have had to revise their schedules, because instead of going 80 to 90 per cent full, as is usual at this time of year, there are only about 40 to 50 passengers on each flight,” adds Saraf.
But one’s loss is another’s gain, with the spotlight on international destinations like Kathmandu, Australia and New Zealand, and national hotspots like Goa, Darjeeling, Puri and Port Blair. This year, Budget has weekly group departures to Kathmandu all through May, and an eight-country, 16-day trip to Europe.
The Australian tour ticket is most sought after. At Rs 79,999 for 11 days touring Sydney, the Gold Coast and the Barrier Reef, the package has caught the Calcutta traveller’s fancy. “And people want to extend their stay to New Zealand,” says Prashant Binnany, of Discovery Travels and Tours. Also on the brighter side, prices are down by about “five to 15 per cent”, according to Satish Ramnani of Vensimal World Travels.
The stress is on hope of normalcy returning to the region. “International travel from Calcutta accounts for about seven to eight per cent of the national figure of around 250,000. British Airways and Singapore Airlines have increased flights, Royal Brunei and Royal Jordanian have entered the market and KLM and Malaysian Airlines are planning to start off soon. So, things are looking up,” says Saraf.