The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has forecasted that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020. This figure is almost double the current size of the Indian outbound. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in 2016 there were 21.9 million departures by Indian nationals, which includes travel for all purposes such as business, leisure, education, visiting friends & relatives (VFR) and others. It is no secret that today India is the fastest growing outbound market next to China.
The major reasons behind this boom, is that the majority of Indian population fall under the youth segment, who aspire to travel. Also, there is a significant rise in the middle class population who have high disposable income. The new class of Indian travellers are also more experimental when it comes to the choice of destination and activities. If these reasons are not sufficient for destinations to attract Indian travellers, Indians are also known to be one of the highest spenders when it comes to outbound travel.
In the last couple of years a lot of destinations from across the globe have made a beeline in the India market. Some of those destinations earlier never thought of India as a source market. Whereas, a handful of destinations who started promoting themselves a decade or two ago have been extremely successful with this market. According to a report recently published by CAPA India and Expedia release 'The inflection point for India outbound travel’, over 50 per cent of Indian leisure arrivals overseas have been captured by five countries which includes, Dubai, Thailand, France, Singapore and Malaysia. Also, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia (primarily Bali), the US and Switzerland feature in the top 10 and close to 70 per cent of the travel happens to these top 10 markets.
With the evolution of the Indian travellers, these top destinations can no more be complaisant and have to chart a way out to reinvent itself for the fastest growing outbound market.
Speaking about the growth of Indian outbound Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager-India, Tourism Australia said, “The Indian outbound travel market has grown tremendously in the last 10 years with a CAGR of 10 per cent. As the fastest growing economy in the world, with aspirational middle class and rising disposable income, the future outlook of the Indian outbound travel market looks extremely positive, with an estimated 70 million visitors likely to travel overseas by 2035. Looking at the growth potential, we aim to attract a greater share of this segment by stimulating the market demand through sustained marketing activities and partnerships. We also intend to improve the supply offering through tailored product development, and launch of new experiences and destinations. Favourable tourism outcomes will be built by improving cultural literacy and face to face relationships. We will also aim to increase aviation capacity between Australia and India to build tourism and broader economic relationship.”
Are they ready?
With large number of movements outside the country, are the National Tourism Offices (NTOs) and Representatives in India ready to harness the potential? India is sometimes referred not as a country, but a continent. The demands and segmentation changes from region to region. Tourism boards need to understand the needs of different regions and tweak their strategies accordingly. Do these tourism bodies have the bandwidth to do so?
Speaking about the preparedness to tap Indian outbound Ignacio Ducasse, Director and Tourism Counsellor, Tourism Office of Spain, Mumbai said, “It is predicted that by 2020, there will be 35 million outbound travellers from India. To tap this growing Indian outbound market, we are focused especially in developing the segments of corporate incentive travel, destination weddings and luxury travel. Our Convention Bureaus have understood the importance of the Indian MICE market and are focused on working on the unique Indian requirements for venues, catering of vegetarian and Indian food, entertainment options like fusion flamenco, team building activities, etc. It is also seen that more and more Spanish incoming travel companies are interested in collaborating with the Indian market, some directly with the corporate houses while some prefer to work with the tour operators.”
One of the challenges which the long haul destinations face is the air connectivity. Over the last couple of there has been a drastic improvement even in this department.
Speaking about the strategy and improving air connectivity Beena Menon, India Representative, Tourism Ireland said, “India is one of the fastest developing markets for Ireland. We are committed to grow our share in the Indian market in the coming years. In 2018 and beyond, Tourism Ireland will continue to focus on increasing awareness and demand for Ireland. The British Irish Visa Scheme has been extremely successful for the Indian market and has given a significant impetus to travel to Ireland from India. Air access is improving all the time, with airlines like Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways increasing connections between India and Ireland.”
Globally, India has emerged as one of the most lucrative markets for the destination weddings segment. Indian weddings are generally huge and have been a big revenue generator for tourism boards. Today, apart from short haul destinations the far away exotic destinations are looking to capture this segment.
Speaking about the destination weddings Ducasse said, “Spain is an idyllic wedding destination, it has everything to suit different budgets and tastes. From beach resorts to castles and palaces, Spain can cater to small as well as big fat Indian weddings. Destinations such as the Basque Country & Galicia in the North of Spain, Barcelona along the Mediterranean Coast, Ibiza amongst the Balearic Islands, Costa del Sol in the South and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, all of them are perfect for a wedding celebration.”
India has also picking up in the luxury segment. Destinations are eyeing the luxury travellers from this market. Oman is now presenting a mix of luxury along with the local culture and experience for the Indian market. Also in terms of infrastructure a lot of luxury player have invested in Oman in the recent years.
Lubaina Sheerazi, India Representative, Ministry of Tourism, Oman explained, “In keeping with this ambitious target for tourism growth, luxury hoteliers are foreseeing lot of potential in Muscat. With Oman’s flourishing tourism industry, we are positive that the upcoming chains will be a welcome addition to our already extensive portfolio of hotels in Muscat and will offer our tourists a taste of Omani hospitality. We are also looking at developing properties and upgrading the infrastructure beyond Muscat, for travellers to get an experience of different topography like staying at a luxury resort overlooking the mountains, glamping in the desert or makeshift camping experience. To take a break from the city life and experience the beauty and thrill of camping in Oman, the diverse environment of the country allows many options like local Bedouin camping, luxury camping as well as mobile camping. One can choose whether to camp in the deserts of Sharqiyah Sands or the Empty Quarter, on the mountain tops in Jabal Shams (Sun Mountain) or Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain) or on the magnificent beaches across Oman.”
With robust connectivity, Abu Dhabi is emerging as a popular destination amongst the Indian travellers. India primarily is a family travel market where the group consist of travellers with different interests. Abu Dhabi is upgrading itself to become a complete family leisure destination. The destination has recently unveiled the Warner Bros. Park, which they expect will further create interest in the India market.
Speaking about the products Bejan Dinshaw, Country Manager, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi said, “We have always been prepared for the India market and have encouraged visitors to travel to Abu Dhabi. We have superb connectivity from all the major cities in India. Abu Dhabi has a well-planned infrastructure, hotels of all categories, readily available transport facilities etc. In terms of offerings, it has a wonderful connect with Indians. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the most visited attractions among Indians. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Al Ain, Corniche beach, Saadiyat Beach have attracted Indians and now with the opening of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, we are confident that there would rise in the number of Indian travellers to Abu Dhabi. Also, post the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, there had been a dramatic surge in the number of travellers to Abu Dhabi. This is the reason we keep adding new attractions so that the charm of the destination is maintained.”
The changing demographics of the average Indian traveller have given rise to various travelling trends. Now, Indians are not the usual travellers, who are looking for regular touristic attractions but are exploring beyond.
Speaking about the changing trends Menon said, “Over the years, it’s been observed that Indians are widely opting to travel to unexplored destinations and have been quite experimental with their travelling choices. With an increasingly young population, youths between the age group of 18-24 are travelling and, have moved from fixed itineraries to flexible holidays that offer them the opportunity to immerse into the local culture and tradition. Another trend is the increase in demand for self-drive holidays that allows flexibility and ease of travel. There has been a growth in the number of people moving beyond city experiences and venturing into the surrounds, which offer a variety of experiences including food and drink, nature and adventure activities, amongst others. We have also witnessed an increase in demand for food tours.”
Destinations like Australia have witnessed that Indians are not shying away from exploring new segments such as gastronomy, art, architecture, history, travelling like a local, self-drive, adventure, among many other segments are now gaining significance. Kashikar explained, “We’ve observed that the first generation of Indian families (our parents) took their first international holiday at the age of 55. The second generation (we) embarked on our first outbound sojourn at the age of 25. Whereas the third generation (our kids) are enjoying their first overseas vacation at the age of five. As India has a youthful demography, young India is travelling at a much younger age, and this is the primary driver of the Indian outbound travel market. The modern Indian traveller has now come to age. The ‘ticking the check-list tourist’ has matured to an ‘immersive and experiential traveller’. The escorted group tour segment is now giving way to more personalised and bespoke itineraries. The young traveller demands freedom and seeks independence.”
Earlier, the Indian passport holder could only enjoy a few destinations which offered visa free access or visa on arrival schemes. With the changing dynamics of the market, the mainstream destinations are now looking to relax their visa policies so as to attract more numbers from this market.
One of the most recent examples of visa relaxation has been done by the Omani Government. Sheerazi said, “To bring momentum to the tourism growth and to encourage more travellers to visit the country, the Royal Oman Police has recently announced a new short-term tourist visa at five Omani Riyal to visit the Sultanate for a period of 10 days. Which means, Indians who hold a valid visa to any one of these countries – United States of America, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan and Schengen States can avail the Oman visa through an e-visa process and make the payment on checkout, whereas other Indian travellers can get a sponsored visa by paying five OMR plus processing fee through their tour operators. This is in addition to the existing e-visa for Oman which is available at 20 OMR with a validity of one month. India is one of the key markets for Oman and we are certain that this proactive initiative by the Ministry will drive a lot of footfalls.”
UAE has taken initiatives to make entry into the nation seamless. Recently, there has been an introduction of free transit visa for 48 hours, which is a huge step to promote tourism. Also, VAT charges will be refunded by fourth quarter of the year.
Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi said, “After the implementation of this directive by the UAE Cabinet in the fourth quarter of this year, the refund of VAT charges for tourists will provide further impetus to our strategy of positioning Abu Dhabi as a visitor-friendly destination of distinction. The UAE in general, and Abu Dhabi specifically, will now have this added significant attraction to all types of tourists and business travellers, reinforcing the emirate’s position as a ‘go-to’ destination and further boosting potential visitor numbers. This new directive in is line with the UAE’s efforts to implement an efficient tax system in the Emirates, and will directly support the growth of our tourism sector. It will also work in concert with the recently announced reduction in tourism and municipality fees, which means that accommodation costs will be reduced across the emirate.”