KUALA LUMPUR: AirAsia should enhance connectivity and promote tourism between Malaysia and India by restoring flights to Mumbai and New Delhi, says India's High Commissioner to Malaysia Vijay K. Gokhale.
He said suspension of the Mumbai and New Delhi flights by AirAsia X, AirAsia's long-haul affiliate, since March, has impacted Malaysia's aim of transforming itself as a tourism hub in the Asian region.
Gokhale said Malaysia received about 693,000 Indian tourists last year, a 10 per cent growth from 2010.
"We've been enjoying the 10 per cent growth for the past five years. If this continues, we can have one million Indian tourists to Malaysia by 2015.
"Following the flight suspension, neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand are becoming more popular among Indian tourists," he told Bernama.
Gokhale said before AirAsia X stopped flying to Mumbai and New Delhi, Malaysia emerged as one of the most favourite destinations for Indian travellers mainly due to its first-class tourist facilities, affordability and exciting tourist spots.
He said connectivity must be enhanced for better passenger movements between the two countries, adding that among Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Malaysia has the least flight frequencies to India.
"Besides Malaysia, India is also affected, as we at the High Commission are seeing a significant drop in the number of Indian tourists visas issued for Malaysians in the past nine months," he said.
He said the demand for the two destinations was immensely high.
"If AirAsia says there is low passenger traffic from India, then why Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and its peers in Singapore and Thailand have doubled their flight frequencies to Mumbai and New Delhi.
"Almost all MAS flights are full due to overwhelming demand. But the issue here is, the current incoming tourists are people who are willing to pay more to visit Malaysia.
"If AirAsia restores its flights to Malaysia from north India, then everyone can fly from India," he said.
Currently, AirAsia was well connected with the cities in south India to facilitate Malaysian Indians to visit India for pilgrimage and personal reasons.
"But there are a significant number of Malaysians from northern India. Moreover, the non-Indians in Malaysia also prefer to go to the north as there are many ancient tourist attractions there," he added.
AirAsia X Chief Executive Officer Azran Osman-Rani had said low passenger traffic from Mumbai and New Delhi, visa restrictions for travel between the two countries and the increase in airport and handling charges in India had resulted in a "unfriendly model" for a low-cost airline.
The move was labelled as a move to complement MAS with regard to a share swap deal between AirAsia, AirAsia X and MAS, which was later aborted due to several reasons.
AirAsia X's four-times weekly Kuala Lumpur-Mumbai flight was suspended on Jan 31 while the daily service to New Delhi was stopped on March 22.
AirAsia currently flies daily to Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata and Tiruchirapalli, all are cities in south India. - BERNAMA