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Tue 14 Apr 2009 11:41 AM

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Mideast airlines in hard sell on flights - agent

Sharaf Travel chief says carriers offering agents incentives in bid to beat aviation downturn.

Middle East airlines are putting more pressure on travel agents to sell their flights as demand in the region continues to wane, an industry insider said on Tuesday.

Premjit Bangara, travel manager at Sharaf Travel, told Arabian Business that local carriers are offering agents cash incentives to increase their respective ticket and holiday package sales.

“You will find a senior airline person in our offices on a regular basis, which wasn’t happening before,” he said, without naming any specific carriers.

“They were so busy doing their day-to-day work [before the economic downturn] but now they have a lot more time and the pressure is on them to deliver, so you find them pushing their products a lot more aggressively.

“They are here to stimulate business by offering you a little bit extra as an incentive for filling X number of seats for the month and things like that.”

In recent days, travel agent managers claimed advanced bookings for flights were 50 percent down compared with 2008. They also said carriers had cut economy ticket prices to stimulate demand.

While admitting demand has dropped in 2009, Bangara insisted airline bookings with Sharaf Travel were down 25-30 percent three months ago, and not 50 percent as reports suggest.

“It [demand] has rapidly improved in February and March,” he added.

“We were only four percent down in March and bookings for April look pretty good because of the Easter Holidays. We are almost on a par with what we did last year, give or take 5-10 percent.”

Bangara said that airlines were offering “attractive prices” on their websites to boost passenger loads.

He added: “People are now waiting for deals and bargains, and airlines keep reducing their rates depending on the inventories booked on hand. At this moment of time it’s a buyers’ market.”

On Sunday, it was reported that airlines in the Middle East have seen a 50 percent drop in the number of advanced bookings as passengers wait for more bargains in line with the travel slowdown.

The year on year fall-off in advanced bookings comes at the same time as most airlines in the region have increased the frequency of their summer flight schedules, with some even adding new destinations.

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