x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

Etihad deploys Airbus A380 on fast-expanding Indian travel market

Rising middle-class incomes are leading to Indians making more trips abroad, and this market is projected to keep expanding over the coming years.

Above, the Gateway of India monument illuminated as a part of a new state tourism initiative in Mumbai. Punit Paranjpe / AFP
Above, the Gateway of India monument illuminated as a part of a new state tourism initiative in Mumbai. Punit Paranjpe / AFP

MUMBAI // Etihad Airways is increasing its efforts to tap one of the world’s fastest-growing outbound travel markets as it increases its capacity into India.

Etihad on Tuesday announced it would start flying the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, to Mumbai from May.

Rising middle-class incomes are leading to Indians making more trips abroad, and this market is projected to keep expanding over the coming years.

The UN World Tourism Organization has predicted that there will be 50 million Indians travelling overseas annually by 2020. The number of Indians travelling abroad was 18.3 million last year, up 10.3 per cent on the previous year, according to data published by India’s ministry of tourism.

“Indians have spending power,” said Iqbal Mulla, president of the Global Tourism Council, based in Mumbai. “Many Indians are earning well and have disposable income, and modern Indians want to explore abroad. That’s why our outbound tourism is growing more than inbound tourism.”

Etihad’s A380 flights will operate daily between Abu Dhabi-Mumbai-Abu Dhabi, allowing passengers from Mumbai to connect “seamlessly” on the 496-seat aircraft.

“Despite drastic fluctuations in rupee value recently, numbers of outbound tourists departures from India did not take a hit,” according to a report by iGate Research.

“India has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing outbound market and in absolute numbers it is second only to China.

“The foreign tourism boards are gearing up to meet the growing number of Indians who are travelling abroad and splurging.” It said that Thailand was the most popular tourist destination for Indians, followed by Singapore, while the United States was in third place. In terms of spending by Indian tourists, the US ranked first, however.

“When Air India decided to make New Delhi as the main hub for its international operations, a huge void was created for travellers using Mumbai as an outbound station,” said Satish Modh, the director of the Vivekanand Education Society Institute of Management Studies and Research in Mumbai, who has background in aviation.

“Etihad’s announcement of A380 service from Mumbai fills this gap. It is not only the New York passengers who will board this flight, but many who will use this flight to connect to other destinations in Europe and USA.”

Etihad Airways bought a 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways for $379 million in 2013. Jet and Etihad in August announced that the two airlines combined offered more flights to and from India than any other carrier, with a 21 per cent share of the country’s international air travel ­market.

The airlines have a total 40,000 seats between Indian and Abu Dhabi each week.

The travel company Thomas Cook India said there had been a 20 per cent rise in its holiday business from Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located, this year.

“Maharashtra currently contributes more than 25 per cent of our outbound business and given the high potential, we have identified Maharashtra as a key strategic focus,” said Shibani Phadkar, the head of outbound leisure travel at Thomas Cook India.

Mr Mulla said that Etihad was offering “a good product” with the new A380 service, which would appeal to Indian ­travellers.

India is Abu Dhabi’s largest source market for tourists internationally. But Mr Mulla added that he believed much more could be done to promote Abu Dhabi as a destination in India.

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