Guldeep Singh Sahni, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India and MD, Weldon Tours & Travels, talks about the current scenario of outbound travel and the challenges that this segment faces. Indian outbound numbers are rapidly growing with desinations witnessing several trends among the now discerning and experiential Indian traveller. Sahmi throws light on the segment, its growth and its roadblocks. Excerpts from an interview:
The biggest challenge that the Indian outbound tour operator faces is the burden of taxes. Taxes on air fare, fuel surcharge, airport charges and now service tax. The Government sees outbound tourists as forex spenders rather than the ones who are generating job opportunities, using facilities and paying for them. The Government will have to look at taxation from a wider prospective rather than an orthodox past.
Another challenge faced is the delay in visa and visa charges for various countries. This happens because of visa issuance problems those countries face from Indian missions abroad. The Government of India will have to step in to address this.
Indians also have to pay higher visa fees. Secondly, due to the delay in visa processing, tour operators have to pay heavy cancellations to overseas hotels and foreign airlines. If the visa fee is reduced, it will definitely make outbound tourism more attractive, while also attracting visitors to India.
We saw a growth of 15 per cent in sales, but as far as the number of passengers is concerned, there is marginal decline. We have added new destinations that we are looking at developing in the near future.
Drastic changes have taken place in the profile of the outbound traveller. Earlier, an outbound traveller would depend on the tour operator to suggest itineraries and destinations. Now he is well planned and well informed and has already decided where he wants to go.
Philippines, Maldives, East European nations, Kenya, Tanzania, Canada and South America will emerge as new destinations for Indian outbound because the seasoned travellers will look out for new and more exotic locations. New travellers always get influenced by the talked or sought after destinations. New markets are already looking at India as the emerging market and will throw all the benefits and attractions to attract Indians to their shores. Abu Dhabi, for instance, is attracting Indians for MICE.
Outbound travel out of India is growing at a constant pace and will keep growing, as predicted by UNWTO, to reach 50 Million by 2020. Travel within the country has become quite expensive and with the world looking at India, China and Brazil as emerging global markets for their destination, most short-haul destinations will woo Indian travellers into their country with attractive rates and promotions and the outbound travel industry will create an abundance of job opportunities for all - skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled.