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27th April '2012
Free Market or Aerial Piracy!


As recently highlighted by the players of tourism industry in Kashmir, there is going to be another setback to tourism to the valley. This is the uncontrolled airfare hike by almost all airlines flying into the valley. The fares are virtually going through the roof! Apart from the fact that the tourism industry is getting adversely affected, the local people are getting fleeced for their genuine normal travel. The air travel is a facility used by people to save time or sometimes in emergency situations especially of medical nature. Tourism activity is welcome by all as it contributes to the economy especially by providing employment during the tourist season. There is no doubt that the airlines too have faced some hard times especially due to hike in aviation turbine fuel. However, a new competition among these has been lately assuming ugly proportions. Either they offer dirt cheap fares or they hike these to unreasonable limits. Even safety has been given a go by sometimes. In fact, the recent air crash of an aircraft near Islamabad in Pakistan is an example of this ugly competition going beyond safety considerations. The main aim of the government in throwing open the aviation sector to private players has been to give more choice to the public as well as to have a healthy competition in stabilising prices to the extent of offering reasonable fares to the consumers. While this has become true on the main metro sectors like Delhi-Mumbai at the same time it is assuming ugly forms on sectors ending in Kashmir. The tickets on Delhi-Srinagar sector are going beyond rupees twenty thousand one way. In fact, some of the people planning to travel to Kashmir from abroad have informed that they are getting cheaper business class fares from various destinations abroad to Delhi than the fares being offered on Delhi-Srinagar sector. It is cheaper to travel from Dubai or even London to Delhi than between Delhi and Srinagar!

Interestingly, it has been revealed that the unreasonable fare hikeis due to block bookings by many travel houses owned by corporates. They are reported to have purchased tickets in bulk and combined these with hotel accommodation and local transport for sightseeing thereby giving complete packages. It is virtually cheaper to buy a package than to simply by a return air ticket! One has no objection to various travel houses and tour operators offering reasonably priced packages to Kashmir. In fact, mass tourism is always in the form of organised group travel through travel agencies.Free Independent Travellers (FITs) do not constitute the bulk of traffic. However, one cannot blackmail the regular traveller because of the bulk purchase of tickets by travel houses and tour operators. This is especially so in case of Kashmir where people decide to travel at a short notice due to uncertain conditions. Thus, the hike in prices is not really helping tourism but rather dissuading potential travellers who may choose other destinations not only within the country but even abroad.

Government has been taking many initiatives to boost tourism to the state and these efforts all over the world have borne fruit. The number of tourists is reported to have exceeded a million. Promotion of tourism all over the world through participation in various travel marts becomes meaningless if the potential travellers find it cheaper to fly to other destinations equally good as Kashmir. No doubt Kashmir is unique and has certain qualities and attributes which no other destination within the country or abroad has, yet there are always economic considerations in making a decision to travel to a particular destination for leisure. This is especially so far the middle class traveller. High end tourist, as stated by the head of the tourism organisation in Kashmir, still shies away from here. In order to keep the flow on and encourage travellers to Kashmir, it is imperative on the government including the Chief Executive to take up this issue at the highest level. It is not only for the promotion of tourism but for the relief of the normal travellers that there needs to be some sort of capping of the airfares. There should be a reasonable upper limit beyond which the fares cannot go. Apart from taking up the issue with the concerned Civil Aviation authorities, one can even approach, Tony Tyler, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva or Montreal. They would definitely have some regulations for controlling the fares especially the upper limit of these!

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