Oligopolistic Approach on Charter Flights?
Since the Government of Nepal has decided to suspend all international flights from March 22 as recommended by the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of COVID-19, different airlines has made numbers of chartered flights to return back the people from European countries, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and the US to their home. Among the flyers, our national flag carrier Nepal Airlines made the highest number of flights followed by Qatar airways, Korean Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Etihad airways, Himalayan airlines, Czech Republican and Tibet airways. These flights were managed by the embassies of respective countries in Nepal and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had facilitated towards that end. Even though these flights were done in coordination with two governments and the airlines companies; airlines companies are appointing particular agents as a mediator to facilitate them. Undoubtedly, they are only appointing the agents who are their near & dear.
As of now, Government of Nepal is planning to bring back some 25000 Nepalese (The number is ever increasing) stranded abroad due to the unforeseen corona virus pandemic and for this more that 100 charters flights will be operated to different destinations. This could be the wonderful opportunity for all International Air Transport Association (IATA) accredited travel agents to execute some business at this time, if airlines companies allow all agents to do so. Till date, for all charter flights, they've allocated very few travel agents repeatedly and we can simply understand that there is something of their interest on this repetition and limitation. There may be technical difficulties to place these fares on GDS instantly, but since it's been more than 2 months and they are continuously doing charter flights; they must have make it available for all IATA agents to issue the tickets rather than depending on some and same agents. But again, airlines companies have given the impression of not allowing other agents, except some from their pockets, to issue the tickets for charter flights. This has shifted our perfectly competitive tourism market into the oligopolistic one where only few agencies are allowed to do their business and other's existence is in serious threat.
At the time, when most of our agencies are in the verge of quitting from the market due to huge operational loss; this could be the righteous opportunity for all of us to add something on our nothing. By doing this, not only the agents will be benefited but customers will also benefit directly. Customers can choose their preferred convenient agency for the issuance. Moreover, customers may adjust the unsettled payments/refunds resulting from flight cancellations during lockdown, with their respective travel agents so that their instant financial burden can be reduced. On the other hand, all those agents whose refunds are still in pending with IATA could be settled in a very proper manner. Similarly, the burden of single agency to execute the flights can be shared with others. This could definitely help to address the issues of existence among travel agencies, even for a short time.
Thus, Even though the charter flight is quite different from regular flight and the agreement is done between airlines and agents in normal time, operation of today's charter flights are the result from obligatory situation. It's not normal charter flights. So when situation demand your proactiveness, you must deliver it to your agents in an unbiased manner. To make this technically possible, airline should confer with respective GDS to fix the fare and open flight for all IATA members as soon as possible. IATA, on the other hand, should develop a fastest way to settle payment to the airlines. This may be heard little complicated here but it is surely not a big deal on today's digitalized world. By doing nothing and not pressurizing, airlines will definitely continue to facilitate these oligopolists who are for maximizing their profits only. So it is time to raise the voice for equal opportunity of survival. All travel agents, customers and all tourism stakeholders should come together to speak out on this. I wonder, how long will we be staying in the state of wait and watch? Is there anything, which prevents us from speaking for survival? Most importantly, being a representative of Nepalese travel agents, why Nepal Association of Tour & Travel Agents (NATTA) is not lobbying for the benefit of all of their members OR Are these representatives themselves among the oligopolists?