With less than two weeks to go for the Eid Al Fitr holidays, leisure travellers face long queues, online as well as offline, and high fares. With flights to much sought-after destinations all chock-a-block, airfares this festive season have gone up almost 60 percent. Despite airlines enhancing their capacity by 30 to 40 percent, virtually no seats are available for outbound travellers for seven straight days starting on August 7, close to the expected first day of Eid.
A number of officials representing various travel agencies reported “heavy booking action” for Eid, with both European — particularly London and Paris — and Far East destinations in heavy demand. To cope with the higher-than-expected booking, airlines are expected to operate either bigger aircraft or additional flights during the initial days of the holiday.
The holiday bonanza for the travel and tourism sector comes with a “good luck charm” this year. The industry is already enjoying high passenger volumes since the last week of June, when schools closed for their summer vacation, and the Eid holiday business comes as an extra boost. Some families have returned from a short holiday and are now gleefully packing for another trip.
This season, Qatar’s travel industry is seeing a change in the preferred destinations of travellers. While European destinations remain popular, especially among families, youngsters are largely travelling to the Far East. Asian expatriates are set to fly in large numbers to various destinations in Asia, either to take a dip in the blue waters of Maldives or visit favoured getaways such as Bangkok.
Another new trend is of a large number of Qatari families flying to the United States, thanks to Qatar Airways’ decision to operate to various US destinations.
“Of course, London and Paris are in high demand, but we are witnessing a new trend of more and more families flying to America this time. No seats are available in the lower fares to the US”, said Feroze Mahmood, senior supervisor at Ali bin Ali Travels and Cargo. “The flights are full. We do not have seats in any sectors between August 7 and August 12. The fares have gone up 60 percent against the normal fares this time”.
Sources in Emirates said the airline had already closed booking on the Doha-Dubai sector for the peak days of the Eid break. Those travelling to Turkey are also facing long queues.
“The Vienna-London package of Emirates is a huge hit. A large number of Arab families have booked seats to different European sectors in tailor-made Emirates packages meant for large families. As we have increased capacity on almost all sectors, we will be operating bigger aircraft during the season…. Compared to the previous year, there is a huge demand for first class and business class”, a source said.
Airfares “would increase further and we are clueless on what prices airlines will charge for the last batch of tickets on the most popular sectors. We believe a huge number of families are still working on their schedules before booking tickets. The last-minute rush would push prices up three times the normal fare”, an industry source told The Peninsula.
“Until last week, the momentum of booking was very slow compared to the previous season. But it has picked up suddenly since. If you compare the current fares with early May, they have gone up 40-60 percent on the East Asian and European sectors. They are likely to go up further if you wait for another two-three days”, said A P Manikantan, general manager of Fal Travel Mart.
Political instability in some of the traditional destinations of Arab travellers is putting off many. There is a huge drop in bookings for Cairo, Beirut and Damascus as a result of political tensions and violence in these places; and the majority of bookings to these destinations are by those visiting or returning home rather than tourists. Leisure travellers are no more visiting Cairo and Syria. The Egyptian capital has been one of the favourite destinations of Arab travellers during Eid in the past. Bookings to Jordan, too, have fallen.
However, despite recent incidents that raised political tensions, Turkey is on top of the list of travellers this time too. “Almost all our flights scheduled to operate from August 1 to August 15 are full”, said Turkish Airline General Manager Mehmed Caymaz. “This summer, we have increased our carrying capacity by 40 percent. Yet we are struggling to cope with the rush. We find more and more Europeans and Africans have booked their tickets this time. The number of Qatari families is also high compared to the previous season”, he said.
Sources in Emirates said flights to Turkey on the first few days of Eid were fully booked.
The Turkish Tourism Board is expecting a big increase in the number of Arab tourists travelling to this year’s Ramadan and Eid events in various cities of Turkey. The year 2011 saw a total of 1,908 Qataris visiting Turkey.
Qatar Airways’ Eid Al Fitr packages start from August 7, 2013. The 11-day offers range from “exotic and thrilling African adventure” to “world-class shopping and fashion, arts and food scenes in London” and Mediterranean cruises. The tailor-made packages, which target large families and individual travellers, range from QR1,447 to QR14,799 covering various destinations offering a wide choice of fun and entertainment.
The five-day “Kenyan Getaway” package covers the flight plus hotel/camps plus safari tours, starting from QR7,879 (twin share). Dynamic, exotic and richly cosmopolitan Bangkok is another attractive offer on cards. Starting from QR4,342, the package includes three nights plus flight plus hotel. It’s a great offer for entertainment, gastronomy, shopping and sightseeing.
A three-night flight plus hotel package for QR5,385 to Phuket is another attractive offer from Qatar Airways. Besides the beach and night life, Phuket is known for some unique attractions. “Head to Phuket Fantasea, a cultural theme park offering big extravaganza. Alternatively, trek to the jungle on an elephant, go rafting down mountain rivers fringed with the forest”, says the ad for the package.
However, a section of industry experts say that Qataris, especially those who travel with their families, are not keen on tailor-made offers from airlines. These are high-spending travellers who prefer holidaying according to their convenience rather than being forced to stick to the schedules of airlines.
Qatar Airways Holidays, the airline’s leisure division, has partnered with some of the best hotels in the world to provide customer service and a unique, five-star experience. It offers a range of packages to destinations in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the US.
“Whether customers are looking to book beach holidays, city breaks, cruise vacations, family fun, history and culture tours, romantic getaways, spa vacations or safari tours, our team is on hand to help and guide them in making their vacation hassle-free and unforgettable”, Qatar Airways Senior Manager Brett Barclay said recently.
Banks, on their part, have lined up liberal offers to deepen the pockets of their customers while holidaying. Commercial Bank has launched an “exciting” new summer credit card campaign offering its loyal credit card members more reward points on their everyday and holiday credit card spending. The promotion will run from mid-June to mid-September, continuing throughout Ramadan and Eid.
The innovative campaign will reward credit card holders with “double” points for spending in Qatar and “triple” points for international spending.
Commercial Bank executive general manager (Retail and Consumer Banking) Dean Proctor said: ”We recognise that the summer period, during which people will be observing Ramadan and celebrating Eid, is a special time for people to spend time with their family and friends, both in Qatar and overseas. We also recognise that people will be taking summer vacations, and for these reasons we have devised a campaign that truly rewards our customers for their spending habits.”
This is the first time Commercial Bank is awarding its credit card customers triple reward points on international transactions.
“Benefit from the highest cash back on all your spending with your credit cards”, Doha Bank is telling its customers. It says loyal customers can get double cash back on all local and overseas spending. However, corporate, company and Tatweer credit cards are excluded from the promotion. Islamic cards are also excluded. Only cardholders who spend QR3,000 or more in a month during the campaign will be eligible for double points for that month.
HSBC customers holding MasterCard credit and debit cards can enjoy exclusive discounts on a range of Etihad Airways destinations across Asia, Europe, the US, Africa and the Middle East, including newly launched destinations Washington DC, Sao Paolo and Amsterdam. HSBC customers can enjoy a 10 percent discount on economy class, 15 percent on business class and 20 percent on first class airfares, according to Etihad Airways.