Summer holidays for Nabanita Talukdar, a Mumbai-based business development executive with L'Oreal Professional (India), usually meant taking off for her hometown in Assam. But not this year. "A return ticket between Delhi and Guwahati sets me back by Rs 24,000," she says. A far more enticing prospect was a five-day tour of Singapore, which worked out to only Rs 19,000-inclusive of hotel stay and meals. "My friends and I decided to give in to wanderlust," she says.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
Goyal encashed frequent flier points for a return ticket to the Maldives for his wife. His own ticket cost Rs 24,000, plus another Rs 27,000 for boarding and lodging at the resort.
|"At Rs 51,000, a foreign |
holiday for two was too good
an offer to let go."
Frequent flier Mukesh Goyal, a Delhi-based chartered accountant, had earned several mileage points from Indian Airlines. This summer, he encashed them for a return ticket to the Maldives for his wife. By paying Rs 24,000 for his ticket and Rs 27,000 for boarding and lodging, Goyal and his wife lapped up the luxury of a beautiful resort for three days and four nights.
These are not isolated cases. In the first six months of this year, 2.5 million Indians travelled abroad, almost 22 per cent more than in the same period of 2004. Industry watchers estimate that the total outbound traffic would cross the 7.5 million mark by the year end (see graphic). By 2010, the Indian passport is expected to become the second most-stamped document in the world after the Chinese travel permit. Outbound travel from India, which had grown by 16 per cent in 2004 over the previous year, is projected to grow by over 20 per cent this year.
So where are all these Indians heading for? According to Ankur Bhatia, executive director of travel and tourism company Bird Group, while 38 per cent of the outbound Indians gave in to the Bedouin charms of the Middle East, 34 per cent charted the oriental trail of South-East Asia, which is popular with first time travellers and budget tourists, while 28 per cent explored Europe and the US (see graphic). China, the new El Dorado, also drew Indians in droves.
Apart from these, Australia and New Zealand are popular among well-heeled individual travellers who do not want to take package tours but are seeking newer destinations and experiences-a more exclusive holiday so as to say. "Adventure tours are picking up," says Frederick Divecha of SOTC. Another big hit are luxury crusies-last year over 70,000 Indians climbed aboard floating palaces like the Star vessels that are usually the romantic hallmarks of overseas travel.
|SINGAPORE ||4.71 |
|CHINA ||3.09 |
|US ||3.08 |
|THAILAND ||3.00 |
|HONG KONG ||2.44 |
|Number of Indian travellers in 2004 in lakhs |
Why is there such a mad rush to go overseas? That's because Indians are being offered a combination of promotional discounts by new airlines, affordable packages and fewer restrictions on foreign exchange. Add to that the rising disposable incomes across the country and you know why the outbound tourism market is soaring.
"Increased publicity, better marketing and expanded trade ties worldwide are also contributing to the boom," says Meher Bhandara, general manager, corporate communications, of TCI. Of course, the Internet too has helped, disseminating information and allowing online booking. Some nations like Thailand, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka are trying to grab a larger share of the pie by offering visas on arrival to this lucrative market while others like Egypt, China, Italy and South Africa are wisely cashing in on culture, heritage and adventure tours.
A big boost to the outbound boom has come from the Government's open skies policy. It has not only increased the number of foreign destinations and seat availability but also triggered a price war. Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines lowered the Delhi-Singapore return fare to Rs 12,699, down by more than 40 per cent from Rs 21,505. But there is a hitch. Passengers have to stay for two nights in Singapore. Add to the mix the low cost carriers which have joined the fray, and more and more Indians will start packing their bags to live out those Christopher Columbus fantasies. No-frills carrier Air-India Express, for instance, flies to the Gulf for as little as Rs 2,750 compared with Rs 18,000 charged by a regular airline.
The variety of package deals available can easily fill a three-car garage. A seven-day holiday, inclusive of air fare, boarding and lodging in South-East Asia comes for just Rs 36,000 a person. Ten days in Australia cost Rs 99,999. Explore Europe for 10 days for Rs 90,000. For the deep-pocketed, an 18-day US tour, including a Bahamas cruise, will cost Rs 1.3 lakh.
The cheap fares also explain a sharp rise in the number of first-time fliers. Besides, the connectivity has also improved, offering travellers convenience as well as economy. Air-India has started a flight to Birmingham, UK, out of Amritsar. "Such measures will make travelling from smaller destinations easier," says Bhatia.
The key drivers of this quit India boom are no short-term fixes. "Since the economy is gaining strength, this is a very sustainable phenomenon," says Divecha. What's more, with banks more than willing to lend, destinations once accessible only to the rich are now within reach of even the middle class. Seen through the prism of an EMI, a Rs 60,000 holiday is only 36 monthly instalments of Rs 2,000 each.
Of course, tourists are not the only ones responsible for the phenomenal growth in outbound travel in the past few years. The changes in the Indian economic and corporate landscape have given a boost to trade and business opportunities. Indian trade rose from $114.42 billion in 2002-3 to $186.69 billion in 2004-5. More trade mean more foreign trips. Also, the profusion of it companies and BPO centres means a lot more Indians are travelling abroad. Even small businessmen are heading for cheap production centres in China and South-East Asia.
A big bottleneck, however, is the airport infrastructure in India. "There are not too many airports, which can comfortably tackle the rising number of flights and travellers," warns Divecha. But then, when has infrastructure in India grown ahead of demand? For now, don't expect the chaos at the airports to kill the high flying spirit of Indians.
-with Sushmita Choudhury