The rush to go on vacation during the Puja is back after a gap of two years, when travelling took a major hit because of the Covid pandemic.
High on demand among festive vacationers are international destinations such as Thailand and Singapore, the traditional favourites of Kolkatans, and Europe, as well as places closer home like Goa and north Bengal, said airlines and tour operators.
High demands have pushed up airfares. A round trip to Bangkok on the Puja days cost Rs 45,000 if someone booked it on Tuesday.
The usual fare on the route varies between Rs 18,000 and Rs 20,000, according to airlines and travel agents.
A round trip to London, booked on Tuesday, cost around Rs 1.25 lakh, compared with the usual range of Rs 80,000 to Rs 85,000.
The Puja fares for domestic destinations like Goa and Bagdogra have shot up, too. According to tour operators, a one-way trip to Goa in the first week of October will cost Rs 19,000.
A round trip to Bagdogra during the period will cost between Rs 16,000 and Rs 18,000, depending on the flight timings.
A round trip fare to the north Bengal destination usually costs around Rs 8,000, said airlines.
One airline from Malaysia is scheduled to start operations from Kolkata in the first week of October, adding one more option for those who want to travel abroad, airport officials said. Many people who have not traveled in the last two years because of the pandemic said they are travelling this time with family and friends because of the receding Covid numbers.
On Tuesday, September 20, West Bengal recorded 296 new Covid cases, according to the state health department.
On September 20 in 2021, the state had recorded 524 new infections. On the same day in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, there were 3,177 new infections.
Daanish Haque, an advocate at Calcutta High Court, would travel every year during the Puja but did not leave the city during the festive window in the last two years. “This time, I have planned a trip with my family to Egypt, Turkey and other places,” Haque said.
Alipore businessman Jaydip Das wants to go on vacation during the Puja but high fares are causing a delay in finalising their plans.
“Three of my friends and I are planning to go Bangkok. But the cheapest fare (for round trip) we are getting is Rs 30,000 and that too for a flight that will land in an airport on the outskirts of Bangkok. For a flight that will land in Bangkok, the fare is Rs 45,000,” said Das, who had spent the Puja last year at a friend’s house in a village in Bengal.
“This year we are determined to go and have asked our tour operator to book tickets soon after we decide on the destination.”
Tour operators said the high demand was mainly because of low Covid numbers.
“A large number of people are planning to spend the Puja holidays in destinations of their choice because of low Covid numbers. We are expecting the demand to go up even further and some airlines may have to bring in extra flights, like they used to do earlier,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman, east, Travel Agents Federation of India.
Some tour operators said the rush was unexpected and causing long waits for visas for many.
“It is a big boost for the travel industry but this was unexpected. So, this has caused a bottleneck for the inventory. There are long waits for visas because the embassies were also not prepared for such a rush from Kolkata,” said Manav Soni, chairman, eastern region, Travel Agents Association of India.
Some airlines said their flights were already becoming almost full. SpiceJet sources said their flights to some destinations like Bangkok and Bagdogra were almost full and fares might go up further on these sectors. The demand is also surging for Singapore and Malaysia.
“Singapore Airlines continues to see healthy demand from Kolkata during the festive season, not just to Singapore but to key points across our network. To meet this demand, we will continue to operate daily flights from Kolkata on our recently launched B737-8 narrow body product,” said a spokesperson for the airline.
Kolkata airport officials said although the passenger footfall was still low, they were expecting it to grow significantly for a brief period in October.
The airport now handles between 38,000 and 40,000 passengers daily, compared with around 65,000 before the pandemic.
In contrast, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport handled 1,30,374 passengers on September 17, the highest since the pandemic set in.