Passengers at Mumbai airport queue to board a plane on May 25, 2020, on the first day of service after India’s Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

India’s civil aviation sector, which has been reeling under the impact of Covid-19 travel curbs, is witnessing a gradual ascent in flight bookings. India’s airports handled the highest passenger volume of this season on Friday as people headed to tourist destinations and hometowns to meet friends and relatives ahead of Diwali – the festival of lights.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has claimed in a tweet that on November 13 over 2,25,000 passengers traveled on 1,903 flights from various airports, and the total footfall was over 4,47,000. The highest footfall was in Delhi and Mumbai airports (81,570 passengers and 46,442 passengers, respectively), while seat occupancy rose to over 70% from 60-65%, Business Standard reports.

Market observers say that the easing of lockdown measures and increased travel due to the festival season has led to a surge in bookings. Though the air traffic is still only 50% of the pre-Covid levels, there has been a steady month-on-month rise since the government allowed domestic flights to resume on May 25 after a two-month flight ban. They hope the traffic growth will continue as there is also a pent-up demand.

Regarding travel patterns this Diwali, online portal said, “Last year’s top routes during Diwali were dominated by routes between Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. This year, we see routes from business centers in the west and south to destinations in the north and east feature in the top 10 routes. These routes include Delhi-Patna, Mumbai-Varanasi, Bangalore-Patna. This trend indicates that customers this year are preferring to return home and spend time with their families.” The portal also noted that customers are preferring to book closer to the date of travel as uncertainty around travel restrictions remain due to the high coronavirus caseload in some cities.

India has still not resumed regular international flights since suspending them on March 25 but has entered into bilateral “air bubble” arrangements with many countries including the US, the UK, Germany, France, the UAE, Canada, Japan and others.

Hospitality unicorn Oyo has noted that for people going on leisure holidays, Jaipur, Kochi, Goa, Visakhapatnam and Varanasi are the top destinations. While travelers from the North are flocking to Jaipur, those in the West are heading to Goa, while in the south Kochi has emerged as a tourist hotspot.

Diwali also provided a fillip to the hospitality sector, which was severely impacted by Covid-19. Hotels and travel websites across the country witnessed a surge in inquiries and bookings for the Diwali weekend and some operators even increased tariffs by 25-30% due to heavy demand. Market observers expect this upbeat sentiment to last till New Year.