The excruciatingly humid summer weather and the unrealised yearning to travel abroad during the pandemic era have led to an upsurge in demand for outbound travel from Kerala this year.
The demand from different sections of people — a bulk of whom are senior citizens — is fast picking up, even as airfares are double that of the pre-pandemic times on most of the popular routes. The demand is expected to touch the pre-pandemic levels by 2024 or 2025, in keeping with an expected restoration of more international flights and the flattening of airline and land-trip fares, prominent tour operators and stakeholders say.
“As the demand is high, one needs to book well in advance on hitherto popular routes, in order to get air tickets and visa. The situation will improve when Air India increases its presence on international routes,” says Thomas Mathai, director, Riya Travels and Tours.
Countries are gradually easing visa curbs since Indians are increasingly being considered as high-spending tourists. Availability of all valid documents and the intention of travel/return to India are critical. Over the years, people from Kerala have matured as international travellers, thanks to credible information from travel vloggers and other platforms and the yearning among senior citizens and families to avail themselves of group travel packages, he says.
With tens of thousands of youth from Kerala opting to study abroad, parents are nowadays visiting them or attending their graduation ceremony in increasing numbers. Holy Land tours is another area which is booming, what with people from the State flying from West Asia to Jordan, spending a couple of days there, followed by up to a week in Israel and Palestine, and flying back after spending two or three days in Egypt. Many are opting for this as a pilgrim-cum-leisure trip, it is learnt.
The peak outbound-tourism season from Kerala still are the months of April and May, followed by the Onam and Christmas/New Year vacations. South-East Asia is still the highest in demand, followed by Europe, United States, Canada, Japan and Korea, Dubai, and the CIS countries, to name a few, says Mr. Mathai.
Most tour firms are yet to come to grips with the shortage of personnel, thanks to the high attrition rate during the pandemic when those having five to 10 years’ experience opted for other sectors.
Tax a dampener
Even though incentive tourism has not caught up with the pre-pandemic level, there has been a rise in demand for outbound leisure tourism from Kerala from among others, alumni of educational institutions, youth and women, says M.K. Ajit Kumar, president of Asia-Pacific Tours.
“In Kerala, outbound leisure travel balances outbound business travel, possibly because the purchasing capacity of Keralites for leisure travel is more. This could see a dent due to the introduction of 20% tax collected at source, which is up from 5% prior to April 1,” he says.
Most Keralites are desperate to travel abroad, given an opportunity. For that to happen, airlines must increase frequency of their flights, says Ross Masood, executive director of Great India Tour Company. “Vietnam, Cambodia etc., are emerging markets for travellers from the State, thanks to airfare being just about 30% of the tour-package cost.”
Speaking of the demand from Keralites for exotic tour packages, Rajesh P.R., a tour guide who frequently accompanies outbound tourists, says the cherry blossom blooming season in Japan saw people opt for the country, earlier this year.
“Many of them combined it with a visit to South Korea. Yet another attraction was the tulip-blooming season in Holland, which witnessed innumerable people opt for a tour of countries in Europe. Demand is already building up to visit the United Kingdom and Scotland, in connection with the impending coronation of Prince Charles as the King.”
The increasing demand for visits to Azerbaijan, Turkey, South American countries, Alaska, and Antarctica is proof of Keralites maturing as international travellers. Even Saudi Arabia is wooing Indians with its liberal visa policies. Wildlife enthusiasts and even others prefer to visit South Africa, including to witness migration of wildlife, he says.