Malaysia, in a surprising announcement, decided to offer visa free travel to Indians, along with Chinese nationals. While Indian tourists are back significantly, the same is not the case with Chinese and both have not yet reached pre-COVID levels. India is the fifth largest source market for Malaysia.
Malaysia has always been tourist friendly and the process to obtain a tourist visa has been a simple one. The costs have not been prohibitive either. A visa free announcement triggers interest from tourists and an itch to club the destination along with a trip to neighbouring countries.
Which flights connect you to Malaysia?
Malaysia is one of the handful countries where the Malaysian side has exhausted its rights to India and Indian carriers have very poor utilisation. At present, there is just one daily flight operated by an Indian carrier. IndiGo operates a daily flight to Kuala Lumpur from Chennai.
The four Malaysian carriers – Malaysia Airlines, Batik Air Malaysia (formerly Malindo), AirAsia Bhd. and AirAsia X offer over 170 weekly departures from 11 points in India.
These include flights to all six metro cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad along with five destinations under the India ASEAN open skies agreement. These points are Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Trichy, Kochi and Trivandrum.
Carriers from Malaysia have been expanding rapidly to India. Malaysia Airlines recently launched flights to Amritsar and will see resumption of flights to Ahmedabad and Trivandrum soon. AirAsia has announced flights to Trivandrum.
As Indian carriers expand their horizons and carriers from other countries like Vietnam make inroads in Indian markets, the hubs at Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will come under pressure. A visa free regime will help Malaysian carriers to overcome these pressures.
Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai Kochi( from dec 01), Trivandrum
Amritsar, Bengaluru, Delhi, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Trichy
Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Trichy
There are 42 weekly frequencies to Kuala Lumpur from Chennai, 23 weekly each from Delhi and Kochi, 22 weekly from Trichy, 18 weekly from Bengaluru, 15 weekly each from Mumbai and Hyderabad, 11 weekly from Amritsar, 10 weekly from Kolkata, twice a week each from Ahmedabad and Trivandrum.
These include seven weekly from Chennai by IndiGo, and the rest 176 weekly by Malaysian carriers. In the past, there have been direct flights to Bhubaneshwar, Vizag and Goa.
With flights allowed to 18 destinations under the ASEAN open skies arrangement, it won’t be surprising to see more flights being added by airlines from Malaysia.
Indian side has been weak
Currently IndiGo is the only carrier operating flights to Malaysia, a miniscule seven weekly. The airline operated to Kuala Lumpur from Delhi and Bengaluru as well in the past but has since not returned. As IndiGo grapples with shortage of aircraft, this is probably an indication of the airline choosing profitable routes first to return to.
Air India express has also flown to Kuala Lumpur in the past and so has Jet Airways. The market is a mix of transfer passengers to ASEAN and Australia and Indian diaspora which has been largely centred around Tamil Nadu. At some point pre covid, the maximum frequencies between India and Malaysia was between Trichy and Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia has by far remained the second choice for travellers who typically club it with a trip to Singapore. While Singapore is a city state, Thailand has developed tourism beyond Bangkok with Phuket and Krabi becoming popular destinations for Indians.
Malaysia, on the other hand, has not been able to catapult itself into that league with tourism largely restricted to Kuala Lumpur. The islands of Penang and Langkawi have not had a similar pull.
As Indians loosen their purse strings, countries are trying to attract more and more travellers. A visa free regime ensures a last minute trip over a long weekend. Will Indian carriers add flights? This could be a good time for Air India Express to enter the market again!
Ameya Joshi is an aviation analyst