Qatar Airways' ban by several Arab countries from their airspace amid the ongoing diplomatic row has led Asian agents to seek alternatives for their affected clients, sparking concerns of price hikes for changes in travel plans at the last minute.
Like many tour operators in the region, a spokesperson from Singapore's Chan Brothers Travel told TTG Asia that the agency is still adopting a wait-and-see approach as they keep a close eye on the unfolding situation and await further advisory from Qatar Airways before adjusting its itineraries to accommodate the added travelling times.
However, the lengthier travelling times for Qatar Airways flights to its Doha hub is a concern for many agents and their clients alike.
Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings, remarked: “We believe that there will be some sort of inconvenience as airlines flying from India to Qatar will have to re-route their flights. Similarly, those flying from Qatar to the West will have to detour to avoid the airspace. We believe that this will force Indians to choose carriers other than Qatar Airways for onward connections.’’
Guldeep Singh Sahni, Outbound Tour Operators Association Of India (OTOAI) president and Weldon Tours & Travels managing director, commented: "Most travel itineraries for groups and series are planned and sold in advance. The change in airlines will impact the cost and change in itineraries too, which may cause disputes in the packages already booked."
He added: "Some passengers have already conveyed that they do not want to travel on Qatar Airways and requested changes. Our fear is that other airlines will also take advantage of this situation and increase their prices, which will heavily impact the tour operators."
Furthermore, the Gulf blockade is expected to hit Umrah travellers from South-east Asia, particularly as this is the peak season for travel to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.
For Ahmad Mahadzir, CEO of Malaysia's KSB Travel & Tours, whose group of 15 Umrah travellers returning next week from Umrah are booked on Qatar Airways, he is at press time awaiting arrangements from the carrier to shift his affected clients to alternative airlines.
Meanwhile, Syed Razif Al-Yahya, group managing director of Sutra Group of Companies, has started seeking alternative travel arrangements for a group of 20 FIT clients scheduled to perform Umrah in the coming weeks leading up to the Hari Raya Muslim religious festival on June 25.
“There are a number of airline choices they can opt for, but as this is considered a last-minute booking, airfares will be quite high," he said. "And this being the super peak period for Umrah, many hotels in Mecca and Medina will not make a refund on any change of dates.”
Stressing the importance of Qatar Airways for inbound traffic to Indonesia, especially as the airline recently added a third daily flight to Bali, PACTO's COO inbound Umberto Cadamuro is hopeful that the situation will be resolved soon.
He remarked: "It is too soon to have a clear picture of the possible impact of an airspace ban, considering that IASTA (International Air Services Transit Agreement) members cannot legally shut down their airspace to fellow members. The only country that can actually shutdown its airspace to Qatar Airways is Saudi Arabia. However, an IASTA member can grant limited airspace access to fellow members, causing delays in the process. It is a wait-and-see situation as of now."
In the Philippines, TravelExperts consultant Analiza Misa said the Gulf row is expected to have little impact on travel agents as there are few inbound travellers from Qatar and the majority of travellers are Filipino workers working in Doha.
Reporting by Rohit Kaul, S Puvaneswary, Mimi Hudoyo, Pamela Chow and Rosa Ocampo