Toxic air chokes Delhi’s tourism business; residents moving out of city till air quality improves


NEW DELHI: Foreign and domestic tourists are cancelling or cutting short their stay in Delhi as hazardous smog envelops the capital, disrupting normal life and causing a spike in respiratory illnesses.

Delhiites also appear to be moving out of the city on short holidays to nearby hill stations and other cities such as Bengaluru and Mumbai not affected by severe deterioration in air quality. Bookings for other north Indian cities like Agra, Chandigarh and Amritsar seemed to have declined, travel operators said.

“Business travellers, too, are looking at postponing their business trips and rescheduling it for a later time period,” said Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C),

Airline bookings to Delhi have fallen 17% for travel between Oct 27 and Nov 5 as thousands of flights faced delays, diversions and cancellations, according to data shared by travel portal

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Many airlines have had to cancel or divert flights to nearby north Indian cities like Lucknow and Jaipur as the air quality in Delhi worsened and visibility reduced.

Travel operators also said that many Delhi residents are flying out or planning to travel out of the city to safer destinations till the air quality improves. “We have seen a 20% jump in last-minute bookings from Delhi to other metros like Mumbai and Bengaluru. We have also seen an around 25% rise in bookings and queries from Delhi to destinations like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, the North-East and Kerala,” said Aloke Bajpai, CEO, ixigo. As per ixigo, travel and search enquiries have also decreased 19% for Chandigarh, 15% for Amritsar and 22% for Agra respectively for travel between November 4 and 10.

As per data sourced from Delhi airport’s official website on Monday till 12 pm, out of 803 flights arriving at the airport, around 108 were delayed and eight were cancelled, while out of about 785 departing flights, 110 were delayed, and six were cancelled.

About 528 flights were delayed out of 765 flights arriving at the airport on Sunday when Delhi’s air quality spiked to record levels of toxicity. Of the 726 flights departing from the Delhi airport on the same day, 330 stood delayed and 28 were cancelled.

A senior Air India official who did not want to be identified said bookings for flights out of Delhi have gone up. “We are seeing an increase in bookings for flights going out of Delhi to destinations like Bengaluru and Hyderabad among others. This has resulted in an increase in fares also on these routes,” said the official.

Balu Ramachandran, senior VP at Cleartrip, said there is a 20% jump in people looking to keep their trips to Delhi flexible. Cleartrip provides travellers an option to keep their plans flexible on its site.

Indian Association of Tour Operators plans to write to the tourism ministry and the ministry of environment, and the chief ministers of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana to resolve the issue at the earliest as concerns of overseas tourists rise, said its president Pranab Sarkar. “There is a big concern around travelling to India at large because of the situation in Delhi. It is difficult to convince people. We are helpless,” he said.

R Parthiban, director at Delhi-headquartered Swagatam Tours that caters to overseas tourists from Italy, France, and North America, said there is a fear among travellers.

“This is mainly European inbound season. We are witnessing cancellations. There is definitely a challenge,”said Rakshit Desai, managing director at FCM Travel Solutions.