India beckons SE Asia tourists with diverse, experiential offerings

To step up greater awareness of its vast offerings in the South-east Asian markets, India’s travel operators are joining forces with India’s Ministry of Tourism (MOT) to promote lesser-known experiences in the country.

The majority of travel agents in South-east Asia currently sell tours focusing on the Golden Triangle, the Himalayas, Rajasthan, Ladakh and Kerala, but “more and more agents are growing interested in other places to visit around the year in India”, observed Pronab Sarkar, managing director, Swagatam Tours.

Brar: South-east Asia key source market for India due to growing tourist numbers and rising affluence

He shared: “With the new e-visa and fee reduction (for immigration), more and more people are now interested in coming to India. In September, we brought a group of 12 from Singapore to Ladakh, and now they’ve booked another tour next year for 22. They liked it so much that they’re bringing their friends and relatives.”

As interest in India rises, local operators are taking the opportunity to push more diversified products. For instance, Swagatam Tours is hawking authentic activities such as village visits and dining with a local family, and religious tourism specialist Lotus Trans Travel is spreading the word about luxury sleeper trains that traverse India.

Lotus Trans Travel general manager (sales), J Jeyendran, told TTG Asia: “Buddhism tours have always been popular among Singaporeans and Malaysians, but not many people know about the luxury trains. They can sleep overnight and dine in a luxurious cabin, and it’s a great way to experience India.”

To extend their outreach to South-east Asian agencies, these tour operators participated in an Incredible India trade roadshow that is currently making its rounds in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok this month.

“South-east Asia is an important market for us because of its growing tourism (volume) and affluence in the past couple of decades. We want many more of (South-east Asian travellers) to travel to India,” shared Rupinder Brar, additional director general, MOT, Government of India.

However, the lack of awareness of its diverse attractions is a primary challenge the country is grappling with, confided Brar. She said: “Travellers who want to visit India can feel at a loss as to where to start and where to go. The feedback that we get from a lot of people is that one visit (to India) is not enough. The challenge is how to strategically pitch the right products for the right customers.”

Brar added that India is also seeing increasing interest in cruising, as well as golf tourism with the opening of more resorts and clubs across the country. The Incredible India roadshow is therefore part of the MOT’s strategy to widen India’s presence in South-east Asia.

Next year will bring big plans for the destination, with the International Buddhist Conclave set to attract traveller interest from the region when it takes place from late September to early October. Brar revealed that the local operators are working to “try some mixing of itineraries” with the event.

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