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Tailwind in tourist traffic

Calcutta: Holiday traffic from this city of enthusiastic travellers is apparently a better bet for international airlines than business travel that refuses to grow.

So it is that Singapore Airlines will be operating larger aircraft for the entire Durga Puja week this October. Between April and June, which is the summer-holiday season, the airline will have more weekly flights and fewer of SilkAir, a subsidiary that operates smaller aircraft with less business-class seats.

In 2017, passenger growth at the city airport was 28 per cent over the previous year. An airport official said the bulk of the increase was through low-cost airlines in the domestic sector.

International business-class traffic remains very low compared to that of cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

"We will operate more Singapore Airlines flights in a week and reduce the number of SilkAir operations in April, May and June, which is the peak season. Between October 14 and 21 (the festive period starting with Durga Puja), we will operate Singapore Airlines flights throughout the week," said David Lim, general manager of Singapore Airlines in India.

SilkAir currently has flights from Calcutta four days a week and Singapore Airlines covers the remaining three days. During the summer tourist season, the ratio will be reversed.

Singapore Airlines operates Airbus A330 aircraft with 30 seats in business class and 255 in economy. SilkAir has smaller Boeing 737 aircraft with 12 business-class seats and 138 in economy.

A senior airport official said the lone business-class lounge in the international section of the integrated terminal has four times more occupancy on weekends compared to weekdays. "During Puja and Christmas, occupancy shoots up four to five times and the lounge is overcrowded."

This reflects the seasonal business-class traffic between the city and Singapore. "Calcutta's market is growing but the volume of business-class traffic from here is still less than that of cities like Delhi and Mumbai," Lim said.

Apart from being a leisure destination, Singapore also generates a large volume of corporate travel. And business-class is where the money is for international airlines in general.

"Calcutta remains as price-sensitive a market as it was 10 years ago. We have failed to create a large enough market for year-long premium travel. It's perceived as a low-cost market and the perception has not changed," said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents' Federation of India.

Low yield was the reason British Airways took flight in 2009. Lufthansa, the German carrier that was Calcutta's last direct link with Europe, withdrew its Frankfurt flight in 2010.

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