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Indian Outbound: Shifting Strategy

Almost 27 million Indians travelled overseas in 2019 in the pre-Covid world. Year 2020 and 2021 were largely lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with the world gradually opening to travel and tourism, in 2022, almost 20 million Indians have travelled overseas. According to Ministry of Home Affairs, Bureau of Immigration, over 18 million Indians have travelled outside the country between January-November 2022. For those more optimistic about the recovery in outbound travel, the number is expected to reach the 2019 pre-Covid high of 27 million this year, or else full recovery are expected by 2024.

However, with India being the fastest growing large economies, optimism is running high with reports that the country might clock 50 million in outbound travel in 2023 itself. Now this may seem far too ambitious, a recent FICCI report predicts outbound trips to cross US$ 42 billion in 2024 from US$ 22.9 billion in 2019. Nevertheless, India is soon expected to be the second largest tourism source market after China.  

Taking cue from the market sentiment, SATTE 2023 brought together a panel discussion on ‘Indian Outbound: Shifting Strategy’ moderated by Robert Oblogogiani, Executive Vice President CIS & South Asia, AviaReps. The panellist included G B Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board; Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head, Middle East, India, South East Asia · South African Tourism and Luis Cabello, Trade & Tourism Counsellor of Peru in India, PROMPERU India.

Unique market

Opening the discussion, Obolgogiani wondered, “If we are back to normal or experiencing a new reality?” He further said, “If it is new reality, we should have a kind of new navigation system to navigate and a clear roadmap to move forward.”

While highlighting Peru’s approach for the Indian market and how his country looks at on India for its source market potential, Cabello said, “Indians just want to travel. Indian travellers are looking for luxury services and we have that. They are looking for good services, good hotels and good hotels and we have some of the best hotels and the best restaurants in the world. We are now also offering some of new places and experiences, some unique experiences like Nazca Lines. We are like Indians when it comes to foods. Like India we too have street foods,” said Cabello. He continued, “Indians want to discover new places and new cultures. They are looking for new cultural experiences.”

Talking about behaviours of India travellers, Cabello said that Indian travellers want to share everything online. “Post-Covid, trend of solo travel is growing among Indians. They love challenges.”

Obolgogiani mentioned that 6.8 million people died during the pandemic. He said, “The Covid came to almost each and every family. Fatalities were huge. Therefore, people and their behaviours have probably changed. Their values have changed. Their perception of life has also changed. Now they may not take the life for granted as they used to did in pre-covid period. They may be reconsidering the way they live earlier. They have become more conscious of how long they may live. These changes in behaviours may lead to new trends.”

Responding to Obolgogiani, South Africa Tourism’s Nkani said, “The world has changed not only from travel perspective but in many ways. People’s life has changed. Economy has changed. Belief system has changed. But what remained the same in South Africa and India is conviction and faith, she asserted.

“When Covid was ravaging India, we in South Africa made a conscious decision that we will not close our doors for Indians. In South Africa, humanity and humility are our two core values. As a society we are now more conscious about the way we treat people. From travel perspective, people are prioritising their health because they have realised that they need to give themselves, their body, and soul and mind better treatment. For Indian travellers too, health has become first priority.”

Furthermore, she added, “Surely, we have found that there is a new segment, which is millennials. The group travel has also shifted a little bit. Nobody now wants to travel with somebodies they don’t know. Now people want to travel mostly with their families and friends. People want to travel with someone they can trust upon, someone who understands their hobbies. People want to travel with someone who will not leave them if something goes wrong.  People want to travel to a destination where if borders are closed and they run out of money, someone will reach out to them.”

For Singapore, India was the second largest source market in 2022 with 686,000 visitors, marking a 50 percent recovery over 2019.

In the context of the pandemic, Srithar mentioned the concept of VUCA where V stands for volatile, U for uncertain, C for complex and A for ambiguous. Giving a new interpretation to VUCA in the context of travel and tourism post Covid world, Srithar said that now in VUCA, V stands for venture, U for uncover, C for caring, connecting and celebrating and A for adapting. “For us V stands for venture. We all humans are full of spirit of venturing; we will venture for the purpose of MICE, cruise, family travel, dining and so on. Then U is for uncover. There is a spirit in all of us which seeks to uncover and discover new experiences. History taught us that every generation had gone through a lot of calamities.”

Srithar pointed that looking at all economic indicators and talking to many quarters, feedback from various sources, a few things are very clear: “Number one, the next decade and ahead is going to be India’s decades. We will see lots of changes coming from India. I certainly think that India’s outbound will grow fast; even in pre-covid time, Indian outbound trajectory was growing up rapidly. According to Various estimates, 5 to 10 per cent Indians have so far got passports. As this number is bound to grow in coming years, Indian outbound travel will grow. Moreover, we noticed that coming out of the pandemic Indians travelled inside the country immensely; they have become comfortable with the idea of travelling that they are likely to translate this passion into intentional travel. Lots of Indians would like to go outside and explore the world.”

Furthermore, he noted that there is going to have a lot more discerning taste in where they (Indian) would like to go, what they want to do, they are going to be more demanding. I do believe that a lot of destinations in the world have to be ready to cater to the Indian consumers on their (Indians’) own terms, not imposing their definition of destination effectiveness on them.

Shifting Strategy

Returning to Cabello of PromPeru India, Obolgogiani asked him how he is going to do things differently in India as compared to pre-Covid time. “I have been in India for last 10 years. Initially when I came here, I needed to talk a lot about my country because then very few people here knew where our country is located. Earlier we used to hold lot of seminars. But now things have changed. People now know about Peru and what we offer. Now we are trying to change the way we talked to India in the past; the way we will engage with trade now will be different. Tools that we are going to use now will be different from the previous ones. We are not going to promote Peru in the same way we used to do earlier,” Cabello said.

In future, Peru will be highlighting commonalities it shares with India. “We share a lot of commonalities with India. Like India, we have best foods in the world.”

Meanwhile, Obolgogiani observed, “Some experts predict that India’s outbound number in 2023 can touch a miracle number. No doubt, India is powerhouse of travel in future.”  

Furthermore, Srithar talked about three points about Singapore Tourism’s global campaign that is relevant for Indian market as well. “Number one, Singapore is a modern metropolis city. We are the first world country within South East Asia. We have modern architecture, modern amenities of the standard of a modern metropolis which is peaceful in nature. And we are very-very focussed on keeping our city green, making sure that our forest spread is good,” he said.

Second, he said is, “our campaign ‘Passion Made Possible.’ That is our brand. We are now in a space where we are saying that let us allow, enable and invite travellers to come to Singapore to live up their passion. And this applies to Indian travellers as well. Whether it is food, culture, artistic stuff or any other passions, travellers can live up their passions in Singapore.”

Third, he said is about forward planning. “We are future-proving ourselves for travel. That means even as we are now looking at bringing one million Indian tourists to Singapore, we are also looking at how to shape the perception of Indian consumers about Singapore three to five years down the road. Even as we talk about here and now; we are also going to shape the perception of future generation travellers who are going to come to Singapore in future,” said Srithar.






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