Chat with Hari Nair, CEO of HolidayIQ, throws up a few emerging trends in Indian tourism

Seven years ago, all tourism in India was restricted to 25 destinations. But today, there are 1,300 domestic destinations listed on just one holiday planning portal alone. Tourism is among the fastest growing industries, says Hari Nair, founder-CEO of HolidayIQ, making India the second largest travel market in the world. “The western traveller is evolved; in India, however, people are still discovering leisure travel, and it’s seen as very aspirational,” he says.

Experiences are a big thing; and when Indians travel — locally or globally — they’re second to only the Chinese in their spending. Nair talks of how Indians tend to look at travel as an opportunity to indulge. “If you can tap into that spending, especially in rural areas, it can transform India,” he points out.

The big trend in India is the discovery of new places. Coorg, for example, was fairly unknown. Today, it’s a top tourist destination in India. The turnaround happened mainly because of tourists who spoke up the place on travel portals. With more visitors, coffee estates started renting out rooms as home stay experiences. Today, the owners stay in guesthouses, giving their main homestead to tourists! Additionally, roads and infrastructure have improved.

Tamil Nadu, however, seems to have missed the bus. “I keep saying that Tamil Nadu should promote itself to Chennai; once they discover the place and talk about it, others will,” says Nair. The reason for this is because most domestic travel takes place within a 300 km radius of home.

Nair’s portal adds 200 to 300 new destinations every year. “Once you’ve been to the top five destinations in your area, you start looking out for new places,” he says. Travel portals such as HolidayIQ help the process of discovery by crowd-sourcing information. “Tourism in Karnataka took off because of the IT boom,” points out Nair, “as people needed to do something in the weekends.”

Talking about domestic travellers, Nair says that research shows they are happy to spend money but are starved for time. Holidays are carefully researched. Beaches and hill-stations continue to top the list of preferred destinations, while religious holidays aren’t far behind. “We have 45 lakh people visiting our portal each month looking for information on transportation, food, or accommodation. The information is from real travellers who share their insights about places they discover.”

Annually, says Nair, about 500 million non-business trips are undertaken in India by domestic travellers alone. Ironically, the entire tourism mechanism in the country is geared towards handling roughly 3.5 million foreign tourists only. Isn’t it time to ring in the change?