Leh (Ladakh), May 11 :
Airlines and charter flights hired by tour operators are making a beeline to Leh as the tourist season sets in the cold desert area of the Himalayas.
High returns due to low rates of parking, housing and landing (PHL) charges coupled with growing demand is making it attractive for the airlines to add more flights to the region.
“We have added four flights per week to Leh from our original schedule of three flights per week, this summer season,” a senior Air India official told IANS in New Delhi. “It is not only us, others are also set to increase their frequencies once the season sets in from mid-May,” the official added.
Air India also flies in three charter services for the army from Jammu, Srinagar and New Delhi. Currently, only three scheduled passenger carriers – Jet Airways, Air India and GoAir – operate flights to the destination.
According to an airline official, the one way ticket price, which ranges between Rs.6,000 and Rs.10,000, can even reach Rs.20,000 per seat due to high demand.
A Boeing 737-700 or an Airbus A320 with a maximum passenger capacity, which ranges around 160-180 passengers, garners enough revenue to make the routes extremely profitable.
While a number of visitors use highways connected from Srinagar and Manali, a majority of them are air travellers, thereby making the routes profitable both the ways.
Even cargo business to and from the area is also a healthy money spinner. Airline officials, however, say that preference is given to passengers due to high demand and load restrictions at the airport.
Not only scheduled airlines but even online booking, travel and tour operator MakeMyTrip blocks seat inventories in advance for its customers on these airlines to ferry them to the exotic destination.
“It (Ladakh) is both our largest business in terms of volume (number of passengers) and we are also the largest operator for this destination. However, the margins for this destination are not very high, limiting the number of players operating in this circuit,” said Mohit Gupta, chief business officer- holidays, MakeMyTrip.
“Due to enhanced connectivity and better awareness Ladakh has come into the consideration of many travellers.”
Local tourist industry insiders say that though airlines have added frequencies, the area needs an independent civil airport with high capacity to handle tourists as well as defence personnel.
“We do require a new civil airport which will help us grow tourism potential in the region. The current airport can only accommodate a limited number of passengers,” Phuntsog Dorjay, a tour guide and travel industry entrepreneur, told IANS.
The main tourist season in the cold desert region which is also home to exotic wildlife, beautiful lakes and ancient monasteries starts from mid-May and ends around early period of August.