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Indians are driving global travel like never before

By amin.ali@timesgroup.com | Aug 09, 2022

The pent-up travel demand of Indians seems to be fuelling the global tourism boom this year, especially since the war and pandemic have restricted most Russian and Chinese tourists – two of the biggest touring contingents.

What did you do this summer? Jaipur-based restaurateur Dushyant Singh is just back from a solo trip to Italy, Denmark, Norway and Germany. In May, Ritvik Kalita, a Guwahati-based businessman, was watching the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, Monaco, with his buddies. Delhi-based publicist Sugandh Swani has been showcasing her recent family vacation to Turkey on social media. Every time you scroll your social media timeline, more likely than not you will see a friend or relative posting travel updates from some exotic destination. 

Yes, revenge travel is up like never before. VFS Global, a visa processing provider, claims that visa applications in the country “are averaging more than 20,000 per day as we head into the July–August holiday season”. All the top tourist destinations across the globe are seeing impressive tourism numbers and it’s the pent-up travel demand of Indians that seems to be driving the global tourism boom this year, especially since Russian and Chinese tourists – two of the biggest touring contingents – are not travelling yet.

What’s driving the frenzy?

“The world is open for travel, with almost all restrictions eased out for Indians, which is a major reason for the current boost. It is important to address that despite the high cost of holidays, the momentum for Indian travellers across the board is only growing,” explains Ankush Nijhawan, co-founder, TBO.com, a leading global travel distribution platform. 

From hotels to destinations, India has emerged as the top source market. There are memes on social media that Mayfair in London right now is India central, Dubai has become the best Indian city and outlet malls in New York are being flooded with Indians. The Arts Club Dubai and London are jokingly referred to as the new Indian corporate go-to dining and socialising space. Rajeev Kale, president and country head – holidays and MICE at Thomas Cook India, claims a 2x surge in demand as compared to pre-pandemic levels for popular destinations from various segments like families, young professionals and couples in the summer vacation period.

 The Indian wanderlust

Mark Kirby, head of Emaar Hospitality, says India is known to be one of the largest outbound markets in the world, which makes it a key international source market. In 2019, as per World Bank figures, India saw over 2.5 crore international departures. Then the pandemic played spoilsport but things are picking up pace again.

Mark Kirby, head of Emaar Hospitality, says India is known to be one of the largest outbound markets in the world, which makes it a key international source market. In 2019, as per World Bank figures, India saw over 2.5 crore international departures. Then the pandemic played spoilsport but things are picking up pace again.

In 2021, India was the highest source market for Dubai with almost 9,10,000 overnight visitors from India. The buzz is that India won’t lose the top spot in 2022 either. Dubai has already welcomed 3.76 lakh overnight visitors from India between January and March 2022. 

About 95,500 Indians entered Singapore between January and April this year, making India the largest source market this year, the numbers are still low as compared to pre-Covid days. In Sri Lanka, too, despite all the turmoil, India emerged as the highest tourist source market in May followed by the UK.

Indians also seem to be driving up niche travel, like the destination wedding market. “London has long been a destination for Indian travellers, and we are delighted to be seeing an increased demand from the market post-pandemic at The Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. Interestingly, 90% of wedding bookings in the past year have been made by Indian guests,” says Aaron Kaupp, regional vice-president and general manager, The Carlton Tower (London), Jumeirah Group.

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Splurging like never before

Significantly, Indians are being hailed for being big spenders on travel experiences this year, rather than the general trend of tilting more towards budget vacations. Christine Galle-Luczak, founder and managing director, Heavens Portfolio, an Asia-based hotel representation company, has observed that Indians are ready to spend more on travel than the pre-pandemic level, something that all major luxury hotel brands are taking note of. 

“Almost all of the luxury hotel brands that we represent at Heavens Portfolio have India as one of their top priority markets at the moment. India contributed a major part to the sales numbers we generated for our hotels across France, Germany, UK and the Maldives since the pandemic. We believe this will only increase in the coming months,” says Galle-Luczak. According to Kale at Thomas Cook, Indian customers are willing to increase their travel spends by about 20% due to high prices internationally to take their much-awaited holiday after a gap of over two years. 

Relief for the battered industry 

Indian wanderlust over the last few months seem to have come at just the right time for the pandemic-battered travel industry. If Rounak Dua of Udaan India, a Delhi-based travel agency, is busy handling a massive rush for visa applications for Europe, Turkey, UK, South Africa, South America and Kenya, Shubhrata Anil of Curating Experiences is seeing a deluge of requests for personalised travel itineraries. 

According to Nijhawan, travellers back from recent break are already enthusiastic about the season ahead and their excitement, he says, will keep global tourism going. An on-platform search study conducted on MakeMyTrip showed Maldives, Dubai, Europe, Thailand and Greece as some of the most searched leisure regions. 

Travel portal EaseMyTrip has seen bookings for the European sector shoot up by nearly 50%, an exponential jump in demand. In the east, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are a hot favourite among Indian travellers. Daniel D’souza, president and country head – holidays, SOTC Travel, reveals that their internal data indicates a sustained travel uptick, with demand up by 30-35% month-on-month with a positive booking pipeline from customers across India’s metros and mini-metros as well as tier 1 and 2 cities. 

Propping up brand Desi

The Indian travel boom is not only leading to a rise in occupancy in Indian hotel chains abroad, but also pushing up sales of Desi restaurants. “Indian travellers take pride in staying at properties owned by Indian brands abroad,” noticed Kush Kapoor, CEO, Roseate Hotels and Resorts. With three properties in the UK and an executive chef of Indian origin, Kapoor says the brand’s property opposite Hyde Park in London was flooded with Indians because, as he puts it, “It is widely understood Indians love to stay at the city centre while on work or on leisure trips”.

Restaurateur Rahul Bhambri says his Indian restaurant brand Rooh, present in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas, has seen a sudden rise in sales in the last one month thanks to people moving out for holidays, especially from India. Similarly, restaurateur Roop Partap Choudhary has seen a substantial jump in the number of Indian diners at his restaurant Colonel Saab in London.

“The surge has been considerable. Groups of all sizes looking for a good Indian meal away from home, many who want to showcase the richness and vibrancy of Indian cuisine to their friends from other countries or Indians residing outside India who are visiting London looking for authentic Indian cuisine and fine dining experience are trying our restaurants,” explains Choudhary.

Travel industry experts say this is the age of Indian travellers who are willing to spend big on experiences. As the summer vacation rush ebbs, Kale says Thomas Cook is already seeing huge traction for the upcoming Dussehra-Puja-Diwali festive season. Then there are looming sporting events like Qatar’s World Cup, F1 in Singapore and Australia’s T20 bonanza later this year to give a boost to the leisure as well as corporate MICE segments.

The word on the street is that despite the spiralling airfares, sliding rupee and the new threat of Monkeypox, the uptick in planned and confirmed travel bookings is here to stay.

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