No place too far, no price too high. Indians are globe-trotting for leisure like never before and they are demanding the best the world has to offer.

Suddenly, they're everywhere. Marvelling at the crumbling and faded grandeur of the Ta Phrom temple in Siem Reap, where nature and architecture are locked in an ancient enigmatic embrace. Watching glaciers crumble and whales fluking up before they dive into the icy and pristine waters off the Alaskan coast. Walking through the stunning medieval citadel and palace of Alhambra in Granada, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Indians are globetrotting the world like never before. The Indian outbound travel market, a mere 3.7 million in 1997, is estimated to touch between 11 and 13 million this year. In percentage terms, it is now the fastest growing outbound market in the world; in terms of numbers, the second fastest after China. Declares Romit Theophilus, Director, Sales and Marketing of the German National Tourist Office: “Indians are now travelling abroad with a vengeance!”

Extraordinary growth

The predictions for the future are even more mindboggling. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimates that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by the year 2020; by that year, according to the Kuoni Travel Report India 2007, the total outbound spending will touch a staggering $ 28 billion.

At the heart of such growth is the sharp spurt in leisure travel — a lot of these in recent years. Consider this:

* In 2009, Jordan received 29,000 Indians, which grew by 71.4 per cent to 53,000 in 2010. According to Ashish Sharma, the Head of Marketing (India) for Jordan Tourism, there has been a 30 per cent increase over the same period in the first three quarters of 2011.

* Among the top five ranked markets for Malaysia, the number of Indians visiting the country grew from 1,32,127 in 2000 to 5,89,383 in 2009, an annual decadal growth rate of 25 per cent. In 2010, the number touched 6.90 lakhs.

* New York city saw 1,85,000 visitors in 2010, up by 26 per cent from the previous year.

* With 65, 000 visitors from India, New South Wales in Australia recorded an increase of 18.4 per cent in 2010 over the previous year as reported by Siew Hoon Tan, Regional Director for Destination New South Wales.

* South African tourism has witnessed an exceptional increase in Indian tourist arrivals in 2010 with a jump of close to 17.3 per cent. In fact, as per their latest reports for the period January-July 2011, a total of 52,588 Indians have so far visited SA; nearly 40 per cent up compared to last year's corresponding period.

* “London continues to be hugely popular with Indians. In 2010, the city had almost 250,000 visitors (up 31 per centfrom 2009) with an average stay of 17 nights. We anticipate that the visitor market from India will continue to grow in the coming years,” says Gordon Innes, CEO, London & Partners.

Driven by the middleclass

The numbers for many other countries record similar increases. The reasons for the growth are manifold. The burgeoning number of the middleclass with disposable incomes is the primary reason. But travel agents also point towards the marked increase in the number of ‘multiple holidayers' — those who travel abroad more than once a year. Says Madhav Pai, COO-Leisure Travel of Thomas Cook (India) Pvt. Ltd.: “The single annual trip concept has given way to multiple holidays.” Adds Heena J.A., COO of TravelPort Holidays India Pvt. Ltd.: “Among Double Income families with No Kids (DINKs), the frequency of foreign holidays sometimes increases to four or five times a year. Two foreign trips have become very common.”

Increased media exposure on foreign travel has provided a huge fillip to the market. Says Karan Anand, Head, Relationships and Supplier Management of Cox and Kings Ltd.: “Indians are looking for newer, more exotic destinations. A major reason for this is theinfluence of the media in terms of movies, TV programmes, and travel stories in the print media.” Added to this are a number of economic factors such as the advent of cheap airlines, attractive package tours and easy loans for foreign travel.

Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore remain the most preferred destinations — the growth in traffic to such places fuelled by their popularity with first-time travellers abroad. “Factors such as proximity, cheaper costs, increased connectivity and shorter visa-processing times all contribute to the increasing South-East Asia bound traffic,” says Jaishanker of the Chennai-based boutique travel company 365 Tours.

But the pattern of travel is rapidly changing, says Kashmira Commissariat, COO, Outbound Division, Kuoni India, with more and more Indians looking for newer and less familiar destinations. Adds Radhika Shastry, MD of RCI India: “Travellers are increasingly willing to go that extra mile or pay slightly more for experiential holidays. Countries that were not very popular till recently such as Spain, Turkey, Bali, New Zealand and South Africa are gaining popularity now.” Says Sabina Chopra, Co-founder of Yatra.com: “With high disposable incomes, global aspirations and the willingness to pay the price to fulfil this, the zest among Indians to travel and explore new places is increasing rapidly.”

Growing popularity

Another interesting trend is the increasing demand for cruise holidays. Apart from taking them to fascinating parts of the world, families on cruises like the fact that there are a plethora of activities such as swimming, sports, indoor games, movies and live entertainment.”

Taking note of the boom, many countries — including Ireland, Spain, South Korea, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, Macau and Poland — have recently opened tourist offices in India. Many others offer packages and run campaigns specifically directed at the Indian tourist. Some offer or are in the process of offering special incentives for the Indian traveller. For instance, Ireland has come up with a short stay visa waiver for valid United Kingdom visa holders effective from July 1, 2011. The country's tourism board expects an increase of up to 15 per cent visitors from India over the next year. Recently, the United States Travel Association conducted its biggest road show for the Indian market in Delhi and Mumbai, which saw the participation of 28 delegates from the country as well as a few state tourism promotion agencies. According to the country's Office of Travel and Tourism Industry (OTTI), the U.S. received 6, 51,000 Indians in 2010, an increase of 18 per cent over 2009.

A myth that has unravelled over the last few years is that of the low spending Indian tourist. Yes, they may still pack their dhoklas and curry powders in their suitcases, but the desi traveller is anything but stingy when abroad. With the urge to explore more has come the desire to spend more. According to the Hotel Price Index by Hotels.com, Indians have emerged as the sixth biggest spenders on hotels globally, paying an average of nearly Rs. 7,000 per night. In other words, they spend more than tourists from countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Singapore.

According Manoharan Periasamy from Tourism Malaysia, Indians spend an average of $ 800 per trip, which is about $ 200 more than tourists from other countries. As long as seven years ago, Indians emerged as the highest spenders among visitors in Singapore which, like Malaysia, is another favourite shopping destination for the desi traveller. The Kuoni Holiday Report 2011, a survey of Indians on their holiday behaviour, suggests that consumer trends will shift towards private luxury trips, cruises, castle and villa stays and self-drive vacations. When the Indian holidaymakers surveyed were asked what they think will be important when holidaying ten years from now, as many as 37 per cent answered ‘pure luxury.'

Along with emerging economies such as China and Brazil, India is poised to play a much more important role in the world tourism industry in the future. The potential is huge given that the outbound tourism market in relation to the country's GDP is still very much lower than that of most developed economies. As things stand, the graph for this market points clearly in one direction — up, up, and away. The new globetrotting Indian is a person who seems here to stay.

Sandeep and Kathayayini Makam,

Managing Partner at Be Positive 24;

Assistant Manager, Marketing, Saregama India

Last holiday: Bangkok, Thailand

Next holiday: Angkor Wat

Dream Destination: Greece/ Spain

Average spend: Rs. One Lakh

Yogi and Suchna Shah,

Entrepreneurs and Founders of Backpacker Co.

Last holiday: Tuscany, Italy

Next holiday: Somewhere in India

Dream Destination: Provence in Southern France

Average Spend: Varies, difficult to quantify

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012