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Indians prefer experiential and exploratory travel

Major outbound players in India are of the opinion that the rising purchasing power of Indian middle class, millennial, direct and low fare international flights, quest for exploring new destinations and experiences and easy financing options are driving the growth of Indian outbound travel. Moreover, Indians are also increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and curious to visit places that have not been visited before. Various industry leaders including; Rajesh Magow, CEO India, MakeMyTrip; Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), Yatra; Karan Anand, Head-Relationships, Cox & Kings; Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India); Daniel D’souza, President and Country Head, Leisure at SOTC Travel spoke to T3 about the latest trends in Indian outbound, popular and emerging destinations and changing profile and tastes of outbound travelers. Excerpt:

Q] What trends are you noticing in the ongoing Indian outbound season?

Rajesh Magow (RM): These are exciting times for India’s tourism industry which is being driven by the increase in domestic spends, internet penetration and availability of smartphones that have helped online travel companies provide the wide array of travel choices while making travel convenient like never before. With the rise of middle class, increase in disposable income, direct and low fare international flights - planning outbound travel has become way easier and far more lucrative. The number of Indians travelling to international destinations has grown phenomenally and we are seeing a good amount of traction coming in from travellers in tier II and III cities across India. From Gen Z to retirees to women-solo travellers, Indians are taking to international travel in very large numbers. Some of the trends that have emerged strong in the outbound travel category include: 

         Experiential travel: Travelers today are looking for holidays that meet their specific travel demands and varied interests. Each segment within the tourism community, be it the millennials or the footloose older generation, are looking for customized and differentiated experiences. For instance, instead of a plain vanilla holiday, millennials are looking to satiate their wanderlust by traveling to remote locations, participating in authentic cultural tours like wine trails, culinary walks and adventure sports, and planning bachelorette’s, outside India, among others.Booking patterns suggest that in the coming months, sports-loving Indian travellers will comprise a large part of outbound travel. As ICC Cricket World Cup fever sets in, together with the summer travel season, there is no doubt that Indian travellers will be heading to London, Manchester and Birmingham to watch Team India on the pitch.

         Travelling like a local: While Indian travellers often find themselves choosing between adventure and historical tranquillity, there are many, who spend time on zeroing down their stay property. As travellers look for deeper and richer local experiences, there is an increasing appetite for ‘home-away-from-home’ or alternative accommodations – and this pattern is gaining immense traction on our platform as well.

         Openness to travel financing options: To strike off destinations from their bucket list, travellers are now open to availing travel financing options rolled out by travel-tech companies. At, MakeMyTrip, we’ve seen increasing number of travellers opting for financing solutions that provide them a credit facility looking at their past purchase to help book flights, hotels, or holiday packages - at the opportune time that helps save money and let them plan at leisure.

Karan Anand (KA): A few observations on this score. For Gen Xér or a millennial, travelling to new places, explore new experiences, try out new cuisines and interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds has become an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. We are seeing this trend this summer. Destinations such as Rwanda, South America, Lake Districts in the UK, exploring mountains in Switzerland or Skiing at Mt Chamonix are the latest trends.

Second, they are curious to visit places that have not been visited before. A trip to Antartica or the Galapagos.  Similarly, cruising through Norwegian Fjords to reach the remote shores of Svalbard watching the passing shining glaciers and stunning landscapes are all experiences catching the eyes of avid travellers this summer. And finally, walking tours within the cities and at traditional tourist destinations have become the norm. It’s about experiencing all facets of life at the tourist destination. Living like a local, enjoying local cuisine and understanding their culture is part of the whole experience.

Rajeev Kale (RK): Indians are emerging as the new global travellers and with the summer holiday season serving as a customary annual vacation time, Thomas Cook India has witnessed a robust growth for outbound tourism. With trends like ‘switch seasonal vacation’, ‘bucket list travel’ and Instagram-worthy vacations, travel has become a clear status symbol for Indian consumers and this is power driving our Holidays business. Another emerging trend is the ‘Four Square Travel’, where packages are tailor made it to include a series of experiences to cater to the appetite of each member of the family. These cross – generational tour packages can be clubbed with a beach destination along with visits to a neighbouring theme park, a heritage walk, tour to the locale vineyard /wine pressing, pub crawls, and a shopping layover.

Short haul locations with no-visa or easy visa processes have also witnessed a strong uptake this summer with an increase of over 25% to destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bali, Malaysia, Mauritius, Maldives, and Thailand. Additionally, we have observed a strong uptake in demand by the consumers planning their vacations around the World Cup in UK. Apart from attending the World Cup Matches, those visiting the UK are also extending travel to locales like the Lake District, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Windermere, Liverpool, Windsor, Cambridge, and York, among others.

Sharat Dhall (SD): The Indian outbound industry has seen steady growth over the last decade with travelers longing to experience cultures and ethnicities of places across the globe. What is more encouraging is that tier-2 and tier-3 cities are leading the growth this time, widening and deepening the base of holidaymakers. The reason for this growth can be attributed to the rise of low-cost airlines and direct international flights between important tourist destinations further catalyzing the outflow. Indians are increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and are open to staying in hostels and taking pubic commute to save money while holidaying and invest in covering more places and experiencing diverse cultures.

Daniel D’souza (DD): There is a surge of people looking for the meaningful travel experience. The demand for something other than cookie-cutter tours has prompted organisations to explore adding more bespoke travel to their holiday propositions around the world. People increasingly want to travel at the pace they want and with a degree of flexibility. However, there is a large market for travellers who still want pre-screened and handpicked experiences and destinations. The ‘Co-create Initiative’ by SOTC Travel is a platform which invites customers across key markets of India to spell out their most important expectations from a Holiday and allows SOTC to enhance and deliver an enriching holiday experience to meet travellers’ expectations.  In keeping with this, our focus has always been being customer centric and this initiative is an extension of that journey. We embarked on this journey by bringing our customers at the centre of our product creation process, involving them at the product planning stage and incorporating their ideas and views, ensuring that each and every aspect of their holiday is taken care of and that we deliver an experience that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Destinations with visa-on-arrival facilities, discounted airfares and accommodation are factors that make holidays more affordable and reasonable for consumers to embark on these leisure journeys.

Many travellers are increasingly seeking new and authentic experiences this summer and prefer mono destinations.

 

Q] What is the impact of Jet Airways’ fiasco on airfare? Is this impacting the growth of Indian outbound travel?

RM: Tourism sector in India, over the past few months has been influenced by various macro-factors, ranging from capacity issues due to the grounding of Jet Airways to the closure of the airspace in Pakistan leading to an increase in airfares in domestic as well as international travel. As these developments took shape ahead of the busy summer season, we noticed that travellers tweaked their travel plans with many choosing cheaper yet, exotic short-haul international destinations. That said, bookings for outbound travel continues to remain high.

As per booking patterns, there is a growing preference for east-bound travel from India, with consequent rise in travel to untouched landscapes of Bhutan, Singapore, Bali, Thailand, Maldives etc.

KA: Air fares to Europe and USA have definitely gone up as capacity has been vacated due to the temporary closure of Jet Airways. Additional capacity has not been added and this has impacted airfares. This will have an impact on outbound holidays especially to the West. However, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand have not been affected as much. There are numerous Low Cost Carriers operating from India to the region and there has been a rise in bookings to destinations in Asia.

SD: Fares for last minute travel are the ones that have been most impacted by the reduction in seat capacity on account of the closure of Jet Airways. These fares have increase by upwards of 15% compared to the same time last year. We have seen International air fares increase by about 15% on long haul routes and 5-10% on shorter haul routes on account of this reduction in capacity. Other carriers are adding inventory on these routes which is helping to rationalise the increase in fare. 

DD: For Indian Travellers, summers vacations are the ideal time to holiday. The crisis did not affect any summer holiday plans since the vacant slots were filled by other airlines by widening their fleets. We would like to reiterate that the safety and well-being of our customers remains our first and foremost priority and, to add, the summer season travel has received a good response.

Q] What sort of growth are you witnessing in bookings for outbound destinations this summer season compared to last season?

KA: Outbound travel has been growing at a steady pace of 20 per cent overall and this season is expected to remain the same.

RK: Thomas Cook India has observed a strong uptake of 22% in bookings with significant new trends coming to the fore and growing demand for international destinations. With bookings for international destinations outpacing its demand by 30% as compared to last year, Thomas Cook India’s data shows that travellers have also become more experimental towards globetrotting to distant and unusual destinations. Some of the unique destinations with a strong demand this season are Japan, South America’s Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Bora Bora, Zimbabwe, Belize and Miami.

SD: Airfares on key short haul outbound routes have not seen a significant increase compared to last year as there has been an increase in LCC flights to destinations within Asia and the Middle East. On the other hand, long haul routes to Europe, North America and United Kingdom have seen a major price increases of between 15-20%. The rise on the UK route of over 36% as compared to last year, can be attributed to the start of cricket world cup from June 1. Travelers are also advised to book as early as possible as fares will only rise further as we move closer to travel dates.

Q] Which destinations are wooing maximum Indian travelers? Are new destinations/countries are becoming popular in India?

RM: Western Europe has been one of the favourite destinations for Indian travellers, however, in the recent times, Eastern Europe has witnessed a significant surge with more than 100% growth in bookings, on a year-on-year basis. While Prague, Vienna and Budapest continue to remain top favourite cities to visit in the region - Croatian coastline is catching interest of travellers. Hungary, too, for instance, registered over 150% growth closely followed by Serbia, Russia & Estonia, last year.

Data from already booked packages and enquires on MakeMyTrip indicate that Indians are largely traveling to short-haul destinations like Bali in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and till recently Sri Lanka in South East Asia. New destinations added to the bucket list of travellers include the heritage city of Istanbul, skiing ranges in Kazakhstan, architectural marvels in Belarus and the historical cities of Armenia. 

KA: Northern Western Europe is the flavour of the season. UK, already popular among Indians, tops the chart this year also because of the ICC World Cup 2019 starting from May.  A large number of travellers are also attracted to France, Netherlands, Iceland, Norway and Finland. South American cities such as Buenos Aires, Iguassu and Rio de Janeiro are catching the eyeballs of affluent travellers for the famous Copacabana Beach, the iconic monuments and exciting lifestyle. South Africa & Kenya, the all-time favourite destinations of wildlife lovers are also receiving a good traction for Aberdare National Park, Lake Bogoria National Park and Masai Mara.

RK: While Europe has been an all-time favourite showing a consistent growth of 26%, some of the destinations which are high in demand are Italy, Spain, Greece, New Zealand, Singapore, Scandinavia’s Finland and Rovaniemi, Russia and Ireland. Families are also opting for ‘bucket list travel’ to exotic and brag-worthy destinations like Iceland, Finland and Antarctica which has further seen a hike in demand by over 30%.

SD: International destinations such as Europe, Australia, US, South East Asian countries, Dubai and Bali witness maximum tourist inflow from India where individuals book their tickets in advance to opt for a budget friendly trip. In the pan India survey conducted by Yatra.com, it was reported that travelers are also showing keen interest in booking their trips to unexplored destinations for an exhilarating experience, while keeping budget in check. We at Yatra.com are receiving booking inquires for unexplored destinations such as Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Georgia, Bolivia, Ethiopia among others.

DD: There is a wide range of destinations that are gaining momentum. Popular ones being Europe, USA, South East Asia, Japan (owing to the cherry blossom season from March to May) and Vietnam. The desire to do something different and to tread a lesser known path has led to emergence of these destinations as preferred destinations for tourism.

Among domestic destination Bhutan and Andaman are preferred.

 

Q] Have you noticed change in Indian traveller’s itineraries and profile?

RM: If not changed, profile of Indian travellers has definitely evolved, over the years. And, what’s interesting to note is that the tourism industry is in step with the changing profiles.

 As the younger generation becomes more independent and economically empowered, we’ve noticed that the travel preferences of this cohort are distinctly different from how most others prefer to explore new places. There is a lot of focus on spending time and money on experiences over indulgence on property and the type of flight class one takes to travel. These travellers are seen choosing solo, women-only or adults-only holidays, over the traditional forms of traveling with family or in large groups. It’s also encouraging to see how young Indian travellers are more experimental and quite comfortable with making Europe their first international experience - making bolder choices, when compared to the older generation.

RK: Today’s travellers want to be the protagonist of their holidays, and are increasingly looking for highly personalized experiences. To cater to this high potential segment of personalized holiday makers, Thomas Cook India launched Voyager, an innovative technology platform. Voyager empowers Thomas Cook India’s front line teams (across its call centers, branches and franchise partners) with the ability to build, price and book personalized travel packages that include key elements of flights, hotels, ground transport and sightseeing experiences/attractions- instantly.

With an increase in disposable incomes and the propensity to spend, millennial Indian travellers want to spend their money on experiences over traditional sightseeing. More and more millennial travellers are demanding unusual, exotic experiences as a part of their itineraries and are willing to spend more on these experiences.

For India’s digital natives, short and long haul destinations with popular social media handles along with Instagram-worthy holidays is gaining ground; properties like Facebook live and Fb story allows showcasing unique/fun experiences. There has been a significant growth in the bookings for Cruise holidays as well. Apart from families, Thomas Cook India has been getting bookings from DINKS, Ad-hoc groups, women travellers and Gen S. With the introduction of the specially curated women tour packages, Ladies First, we have been getting overwhelming queries for ‘mother – daughter vacations’ and kitty party groups especially to explore unique destinations and experiences via cruise cum land packages.

SD: Over the years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women travelers booking their tickets to international destinations to seek experience and explore culture of these places. As experiential travel is a rising trend among Indians, they are booking their tickets for destinations where they can delve into culture, history, food, environment, people and focus on knowing a country, city or particular place more closely. These changes in the itineraries of individual travelers are made keeping in mind the allocated budget and for the same reason backpacking around international destination have become a rage amongst solo and group travelers especially women.

DD: The new-age traveller is well-read, discerning and is keen to explore mono destinations at a slow pace so that the traveller can enjoy the local cuisine, culture and the attractions.  Mono destination holidays are therefore gaining popularity with Indian travellers wherein they prefer to explore one destination at leisure instead of clubbing multiple destinations.

We are witnessing an increase in demand for short haul and long weekend tour packages from the current Gen Z.  Vacationing in places off the usual travel checklist is gaining momentum and the trend of taking ‘the road less travelled’ has emerged. Millennials are bucking the age-old trend and choosing convenience over cost to completely enjoy and enthral in their expeditions.

 

Q] Are Indians opting for more experiential trips?

KA: Experiential travel is growing amongst the Free Individual Travellers (FITs). That’s one of the reasons why the market continues to grow by over 20 per cent.

The regular tour packages may not be able to match up to their expectations. As the focus of travellers is shifting to experience oriented vacations, there is an increase in the demand for unconventional destinations and itineraries more attuned to local culture and earthy experiences. Culinary journeys, cultural expeditions, yoga/ health tourism, wildlife safaris, festivals and carnivals are all part of experiential journeys. Experiential travellers make sure to go beyond the usual destinations and must-see attractions to seek authentic experiences rooted deep into the culture of land they visit.  

In the near future, that’s going to be the norm and tour operators who are well versed with a destination and have a deep understanding about what to offer the new generation of clientele will stand to gain.

RK: The Indian consumer no longer looks at only a destination, but the experiences that are on offer as well. Indian tourists are becoming more experimental and are often looking to explore exotic destinations such as Antarctica, Iceland, Tunisia and opting for eclectic experiences like dining in a volcano in Fiji or on a private Island in Australia, living in an igloo in Finland or a tree house in Malaysia, chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada or driving a supercar in Singapore, so that they can narrate a compelling story to their friends. With a surge of approximately 28%, we have observed that outdoor and adventure experiences like white/black water rafting, scuba diving; adrenalin highs of sky diving/bungee jumping/zorbing/Abseiling are gaining popularity amongst the travellers.

SD: Experiential travel has gained popularity among Indian travelers where there has been growth in demand for culinary travel, cultural exploration, and activity-based travel. Travelers allocate their budget accordingly where they take control of each element of a trip, and personalize it into a completely unique experience. While we first saw a spike of booking inquiries from millennials, with growth in new technologies and services from various travel companies, there is a rise in number of older travelers as well where they are comfortable innovating and altering their packages and trips, hence elevating their travel experience.

DD: Experiential travel is preferred by today’s travellers seeking new experiences wherein they can explore different cultures, cuisines and crafts. Travel is now becoming more of an amalgamation of an experience-driven adventure and exploring new surroundings.  With more awareness generated with the help of social media, greater ability to spend and the curiosity to know more, the Indian globe trotter wants to go beyond the mundane beaten tourist forms of travel and is attracted towards experiencing the spirit of a local culture.

A considerable percentage of today’s Indian travellers no longer want to be controlled by what they see or do on a trip. Travel experiences to them is all about visiting sites not found in most guidebooks, eating at a restaurant favoured by residents and staying at a local guesthouse instead of choosing big chain hotels.

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