`Open sky policy will trigger price war'

CHENNAI OCT. 22. The largest congregation of the World Tourism Professionals Congress, currently on in Chennai, welcoming the Union Civil Aviation Ministry's announcement allowing private Indian carriers to fly to Sri Lanka, said the move would trigger a fierce price competition among the players.

"Better road, rail and air connectivity form the backbone of tourism. India is taking a step in the right direction. And the timing of the announcement has been good as there are now positive trends of tourism growing after a series of crises," the SKAL International president, Mary Bennet, told The Hindu. While the world tourism professionals are happy over the announcement of an open sky policy, a majority of the overseas participants, representing 38 countries, appealed to the Union Tourism Ministry to "publicise well the strengths of India on the whole and the temple towns of south India, providing a thrust to heritage tourism."

"We think the `golden triangle' (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) is not the only attraction for overseas tourists though that alone is promoted in a big way. The Central and State Governments should promote other Indian destinations, especially by participating in world travel marts," said Ms. Bennet. While the major private carriers — Jet Airways, Air Sahara, and the recent entrant, Air Deccan — are buoyant over the new policy, the travel trade and tour operators said it would provide a big impetus to bringing wealthy European tourists to India via Colombo. Travel trade and hospitality industry sources, including V.M. Devan, managing director of Diana World Travel and member of the Travel Agents Association of India-southern region, and R. Rangachary, honorary secretary, South India Hotels and Restaurants Association, said though there are already 22 services operating out of Chennai alone, the Colombo sector could absorb more capacity from new players. The national president of the Air Passengers Association of India, D. Sudhakara Reddy, said the decision would mark yet another step in providing customer satisfaction, and there would be a price war among the private and national carriers operating between India and Colombo.

At present, Sri Lankan Airways alone operates 15 flights a week out of Chennai, besides Indian Airlines providing seven services.

Describing the move as a "major revolution" in the aviation sector, P.K. Mohan Kumar, one of the executive council members of Indo-Srilankan Tourism Initiative and chairman of the Tourism Task Force Committee of the CII, said "this open sky policy will attract substantial European tourists, who arrive by chartered flights to Sri Lanka, and we could now create a special coastal ocean circuit package, connecting Kerala or Chennai in India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives."

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