Airfare reduction for SAARC region prompts positive responses from those working in tourism sector

The reduction of airfare for tourists from SAARC countries has prompted positive responses from the people working in the tourism sector. The airline companies, the Drukair and the Bhutan Airlines reintroduced their SAARC fares last month. However, tour operators in the country are now calling for a parallel reduction in fares for international flights which still remain relatively higher.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drukair had a three-tier airfare system applied separately to Bhutanese, SAARC nationals and travellers from the rest of the world.

However, later, the airfares for SAARC nationals and travellers from the rest of the world were clubbed into the international tier.

“Because of the SDF and increase in the fare, we started noticing that the travellers from the region have started reducing. So, in order to increase the travellers from the regions which is in line with keeping a good relationship with our neighbours, we have now reintroduced the SAARC fare which on average is 43 per cent below the rest of the fare,” said Tandi Wangchuk, the Chief Executive Officer of Drukair.

With the reduction, the airfare for Delhi to Paro roundtrip is now more than Nu 37,500 ngultrum including taxes. This is a decrease of around Nu 12,300. BBS also contacted Bhutan Airlines for the story but further information could not be gathered.

According to the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators, the reduction in airfare for SAARC nationals is a positive change as tourists from the region can visit the country at a cheaper rate. However, the association said in order to fuel the revival of the tourism industry, they hope for a similar reduction in international airfares as well.

“If you take an example of the Asian market on the airfare, the number of nights they are staying here and the tour cost, people are coming here only for four nights or five nights, especially the Thai tourists. For four or five nights, the tour costs only about 800 dollars to 1000 dollars. So, when the airfare is almost 1000 dollars, they actually avoid coming to Bhutan. They choose to travel towards Europe and the Middle East. That way we are losing our clients,” said Chencho Wangdi, Vice Chairman of Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators.

As of now, both airlines have not publicly addressed the prospects of reducing international flight costs. The Chief Executive Officer of the Drukair says the company’s cost of operation is expensive.

“People normally compare Drukair’s fare with other international airlines. I think one of the most important factors we need to keep in mind is that the cost of operation is much more expensive here than in other places. For example, in Paro airport, we operate from daylight to sunset, whereas in other countries, they operate 24 hours. So, the utilisation of the aircraft is much lower here than globally. And to land in Paro, we have to have some special changes made to the engines,” said Tandi Wangchuk, Drukair CEO.

From 23rd September last year to 27th November this year, more than 113,000 tourists arrived in the country.

Among them, over 37,000 were dollar-paying tourists and more than 76,000 were Indians.

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