Zurich-Colombo is “Skyscanner Unserved Route of the Week” ‒ nearly 250,000 searches; SWISS’ next Asian route after four-year gap??

One of the sights that the 250,000 chocolate-making and extremely travel-hungry Swiss travellers can gobble-up in Sri Lanka is the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy (nope, I am not making this up!). 93% of the searches on this unserved city pair originated from the Swiss-end of this potential intercontinental city pair.

With nearly 250,000 searches in the last year, a potential city pair from Zurich to Colombo has been identified as this week’s “Skyscanner-anna.aero Unserved Route of Week” – a powerful analysis based on aspirational data captured from the Skyscanner.net flight comparison site used by +60 million unique visitors per month. “The Zurich-Colombo route saw a regular scheduled five times weekly service by Sri Lankan until Spring 2005, which was complemented by Edelweiss Air charter flights during the peak months,” states Stefan Wermelinger, Manager Airline Affairs, Zurich Airport. “During W11/12, Edelweiss and SriLankan picked up the route again, lasting until August 2012. At its peak, total two-way passengers on the route amounted to 108,000 in 2004.” 

Source: Skyscanner.

anna.aero suggests SWISS or SriLankan Airlines to select this sector

Skyscanner demand on this week’s unserved route shows a significant bias towards the Zurich end of the city pair, with a 93/7 split, so on this basis we looked at potential carriers at the Swiss origin first. As you might expect, the national carrier, SWISS, is the biggest carrier at the airport, with Zurich being its largest base in terms of weekly seats, commanding over half (51%) of weekly capacity at the facility according to OAG data for the week commencing 11 August. The Star Alliance carrier currently offers 88 non-stop destinations from Zurich, of which eight are in Asia – namely Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai Pudong, Singapore, Tokyo Narita (all served daily) and Delhi (six times weekly). Given its #1 position at Zurich and with the airline already having a substantial market presence in Asia, a Colombo service, especially as a result of this Skyscanner data now being made public, should be the next long-haul route SWISS launches. However, it should be noted that it has been several years since the carrier has launched a long-haul city pair from its home base, with Singapore in May 2013 being its last addition.

Zurich’s second largest carrier is home-based leisure airline Edelweiss Air (6.3% share of weekly capacity), with 41 direct destinations, including 10 long-haul services. Edelweiss is wholly-owned by SWISS, so its network offer is naturally complementary to its parent, with all of its long-haul services at this time being to the Caribbean, as well as North and South American destinations, but none to Asia. It commenced three of these new routes this year – namely Cancún, San Jose and San Diego, with Orlando, Varadero (both in January) and Denver (June) to be launched in the near future (all six again in these markets). That said, a potential route to Colombo, with a similar high leisure component as these sectors have, could easily generate coherent business plan to make this city pair work from the Swiss airport too. 

Faical Allou Skyscanner’s Business Development Manager says: “Zurich serves 82% of the traffic from the catchment (50 km around the airport) going to Colombo. With better service, such as a non-stop operation, the traffic could grow by 21%.”

Contemplating the Sri Lankan end of the route, the potential carriers in Colombo were considered next. Unsurprisingly, the airport’s capacity is led by national carrier SriLankan Airlines, which with its 85,000 weekly seats, controls around 30% of capacity of the 45 serving airlines presently at Colombo. The airline currently serves just one European airport, with a daily flight to London Heathrow. Indeed, presumably due to the MEB3 carriers hoovering-up much of the demand from across Europe to Sri Lanka, direct capacity from the continent to Colombo is pretty limited. “90% of passengers now fly via Gulf States,” confirms Wermelinger. Ukraine International Airlines offers a twice-weekly service from Kiev Boryspil, while Turkish Airlines has a daily one-stop operation which routes from Istanbul Atatürk via Malé. Much of the airline’s recent network expansion has been focused on adding more regional points (Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Coimbatore), however it is adding an intercontinental service to Melbourne (it last served Australia in August 2001) in October, so clearly its network development strategy is allowing for more far-flung destinations to be considered.

Dubai, Doha dominate transfer market

When looking at the previous year of search data, the busiest month for potential traffic flows (for both directions on the route combined) is January 2017, with nearly 31,000 searches, around 17,000 higher than the lowest monthly figure, which was recorded in September 2016 (13,800 searches). The seasonality profile of this search data is less extreme than the last Unserved Route of the Week (Muscat to Tunis) with the low-month traffic representing 45% of the highest month. “The seasonality has a strong peak in July (20%) with the other months varying between 7% and 9%,” suggests Wermelinger.

According to OAG Traffic Analyser, because there is no direct service, the top three connecting options chosen by those passengers who did book travel between Zurich and Colombo in the last 12 months indicates that the majority of connecting travellers used Dubai (40%), Doha (24%) and Muscat (20%). While looking at the traffic flows in reverse, Sri Lankan-originating passengers opted for the same top three connecting options, however Muscat replaced Doha as the second most-used transfer point.

With a lack of direct services, travellers between these two cities have clearly got used to these one-stop alternatives. However, the market demand is extremely buoyant – as the graph below shows, with 8.5% of the Skyscanner searches for these indirect Zurich to Colombo services converted into ticket sales – that’s more than the average 8.3% achieved for Skyscanner conversion/purchase rates for all direct routes available from either Zurich or Colombo. However, with nearly 250,000 annual searches, a three or four times weekly service should be immediately viable for the airline selecting to start this potential city pair. “The strong one-way O&D passenger growth from just below 10,000 in 2008 to more than 31,000 in the last 12 months makes us believe that the market may be fit again for the start-up and continuation of a more convenient direct service,” concludes Wermelinger.

Source: Skyscanner.

About this anna.aero analysis and Skyscanner data

“Unserved Route of the Week” is a cooperation between anna.aero and the B2B branch of the Skyscanner.net consumer flight comparison site and is a new kind of analysis harnessing an entirely new resource: the amazing power of the aspirational data captured from Skyscanner.net flight comparison site which has +60 million unique visitors per month.

Skyscanner” packages this amazing B2C data into a suite of business products which offer comprehensive data solutions – our specific need to identify unserved routes uses the Skyscanner Travel Insight product, a comprehensive, unique ‘big data’ set that can accurately predict future demand by telling you where 60 million real living-and-breathing travellers actually want to fly to. (And bear in mind that there are other significant search volumes that could also be added to the Skyscanner totals – from dedicated airline websites, competitive search engines etc, underlining the value of Skyscanner data as a conservative indicator of market route demand.)

Check next week’s newsletter for another great anna.aero-Skyscanner “Unserved Route of the Week” – or browse in anna.aero’s Route Shop where there are 3,100 more unserved routes.



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