Sales of airline tickets have dropped as much as 65% compared to the same period last year, according to a section of travel agents in Qatar.
They attribute the sharp decline to a host of reasons, including a rising worry over swine flu, the global economic recession and the holy month of fasting overlapping the summer vacations this year.
The peak season, in the traditional sense, begins on June 16 and ends on August 30, a date that has now been pushed to September 30.
“As we speak, all sectors are wide open. There is no pressure at all. We had 300 reservation requests at the start of summer but only 30 actual purchases were made,” said the general manager of a travel agency.
Tickets to the subcontinent, Cairo, Manila, London, the Far East and other destinations from Qatar have also dropped in pricing.
“As of now, a one-way ticket to Manila (without taxes and service charges) is available for QR760 on a Gulf-based airline. This is unbelievable,” said the travel professional.
According to him, there were instances of tickets exchanging hands last year to routes such as Manila for as much as QR3000, yet the same “8-hour flight is now readily available”.
Further, while expatriates are expected to return to Qatar following Eid holidays or during September when some schools reopen, the locals have already started returning ostensibly to be in time for Ramadan preparation.
“Even the Qatari nationals didn’t opt for their favoured destinations in Europe, the US or Far East this year. The choice for Qatari holidaymakers was restricted to Middle East,” a sales supervisor at another travel agency maintained.
The inbound rush is expected to last for a week or two but is likely to “pan out” again after October 10 judging by the sales so far this year, industry sources said.
“Already hard hit by an economic recession and with increasing availability of tickets online, the swine flu scare added to woes with our sales dropping further by 5-7%,” he said citing in-house figures.
Introduced towards the end of last year in Qatar (October 2008), a large customer-base has switched to purchasing tickets online offers them the freedom of selecting everything from dates to seating months in advance.
“So all that business has gone; and those were cash transactions. The company accounts are mostly one-way tickets. Seventy percent of government offices now deal directly with the national career. At this rate, it’s about survival,” a senior official at a 32-year old travel agency explained.
“We now look forward to the Eid-al-Adha and Christmas holiday season that begins from December 15 and runs until January 15. It’s simply a hope though,” he added.
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