KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 23): Domestic airline operators are expecting flight demand for the Langkawi travel bubble to remain robust until the end of the year, after a positive first week for the resort island raised expectations for the potential reopening of other tourism sites in peninsular Malaysia.
Indonesian Lion Air Group's Malindo Air — which had 20 flights into Langkawi on the Malaysia Day weekend from Sept 16 to Sept 19 — saw 11 flights fully booked, it said in a reply to theedgemarkets.com.
The hybrid-full service carrier saw an average load factor above 50% in the four-day period.
Demand could be sustained at current levels for “all weekends until the end of December 2021”, Malindo said, with forward booking already 14% loaded for all weekends in September and October.
“We have not been operating at 100% capacity for a long time, and a lot of international destinations have been suspended since the international border closure was imposed. As such, all of us are looking forward to the reopening of international borders soon,” Malindo added.
Malaysia Airlines saw “healthy” load factor for its 33 weekly services to Langkawi, with some fully-booked flights at the reopening.
“We noticed an excellent appetite in the past week with our lowest fare starting from RM89 all-in one way selling out fast especially on weekends and public holidays,” it said.
AirAsia in its statement at the reopening said over 200,000 seats to Langkawi were sold in less than a week. The airline has flights to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru, Ipoh and Kota Bharu.
The airline, which has pivoted to e-hailing and food delivery services, launched airasia ride in Langkawi that same week.
AirAsia declined to share statistics on flights and rides but told theedgemarkets.com that response had been positive.
Langkawi received some 9,500 visitors last week as the first domestic travel bubble destination after the second round of Covid-19 lockdowns since June. The success has given hope for a similar reopening in other tourism sites like Tioman island, Genting Highlands and Melaka, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukry said recently.
At the time of writing, a quick search for round-trip flights from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi showed base prices between RM181 and RM350.
Aside from the strong demand, the industry will also see competition intensify among airlines for the limited destinations.
“Demand will be strong, but capacity restoration has also been very fast from all the airlines,” an analyst covering the sector said.
“Penang will be a key market,” the analyst said. “Also key is the reopening of the cross-South China Sea market,” he added.
HLIB Research aviation analyst Daniel Wong concurred. “Domestic flights are very much dependant on island tourism and cross Sabah/ Sarawak/Peninsula tourism. (There is) need to monitor if there is loosening of requirements for travel [between these three areas].”
“If after relaxation on these routes, the situation is still under control, only then will the government be more inclined to open international borders,” Wong said.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Wednesday pointed to the reopening of tourism hubs as well as interstate travel when 90% of adults in Malaysia are vaccinated, from about 80% currently.
While the Langkawi pilot tourism project had been encouraging, Wong sees pent-up demand and competitive pricing among key factors. As such he does not see full recovery to pre-pandemic levels in the near term.
“Not until better clarity on Covid-19 and overall SOPs,” he said, “As the government and operators may also place limitations on the number of visitors to avoid crowding. It will depend on the destination and the SOPs in place.”
Langkawi’s travel bubble took off as Malaysian adults were just a little over one percent short of herd immunity from Covid-19.
The seven-day moving average for Malaysia’s Covid-19 daily new cases has trended to its month-low of around 16,600, coming off its record of over 21,000 on Aug 31.