Rajeev Kale, president & country head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook India says that Indian outbound tourism demand has surpassed pre-pandemic levels and is set to grow even more once air connectivity and visa processes improve
The Indian outbound market has grown strongly since international borders have reopened. How do you view the present growth of the market and are there any interesting trends?
We have noticed revenge travel. Indians are looking for opportunities to travel, be it shorthaul or longhaul destinations. So, the demand has been overwhelming.
In fact, there is a tremendous increase in demand compared to pre-pandemic times. Outbound is at an all-time high and can go further up if there is sufficient air capacity.
Indian travellers are looking at visa availability, airline capacity as well as the ability of the destination to handle the needs of Indian tourists when deciding where to go.
Demand is not restricted to a few destinations – if someone is looking to travel longhaul, Europe is not the only considered region.
Also, when it comes to longhaul trips, Indian travellers are not just looking to cover one or two destinations as part of a short holiday. There’s a very clear change where they now want holidays that span eight to 10 nights. They want to make the most of the high airfares they are paying and the pain they are going through to obtain visas.
Airfares are at an all-time high, a hike of 40 to 60 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. So, when they are paying a premium for a holiday in destinations like London, Barcelona or Munich, they are not looking at a short holiday of four to six nights.
We are also noticing a demand for immersive experiences, be it culture, cuisine or art. Gone are the days when we could prepare plain vanilla products for a few nights and get them sold. It is no longer a half-day guided city tour and lunch or dinner in a restaurant.
Indian travellers want the option of experiencing different things across various segments.
Millennial travel is on the rise, and this segment wants to do many things on their own. In terms of accommodation, many millennials opt for B&Bs and hostels.
Family travel is another segment growing big time. Senior citizens and solo female travellers are some other segments generating demand for outbound travel.
Earlier, some of the longhaul destinations had visa processing challenges, resulting in Indian travellers opting for more accessible destinations in South-east Asia. What’s the scenario now?
As far as European visas are concerned, nothing has changed. We have been told by the foreign missions that they are trying to rope in more manpower, and it is likely that next year the visa situation will be far better compared to 2022 and 2023.
So, destinations that are open (and coping well with) air connectivity and visa processes are finding many takers in the Indian outbound market. Asian destinations like Vietnam and Indonesia are getting popular because of new flights. Similarly, CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries like Azerbaijan and Georgia have also become good options because of new flights.
How is Thomas Cook India coping with these visa challenges then?
In summer 2023, we managed the situation by encouraging our customers to plan their travel in advance. Many Indian travellers make their travel plans at the last minute, so we keep them informed about the visa situation. In addition, we launched our products in advance.
We also suggested alternative destinations like Egypt and Turkey. In fact, we witnessed a great season for Turkey where we noticed Indian travellers initially keen on a short three- to four-night itinerary opting for 10 to 11 nights covering different parts of Turkey.
People are also showing interest in cruises across the Mediterranean and the Far East.
I think India’s G20 Presidency has dramatically changed the outlook of foreign countries towards India, and I expect that we will become visa-free for many markets in the months to come. This will further boost India’s outbound tourism market.
Has the slow Chinese outbound recovery allowed the importance of the Indian outbound market to shine?
The entire world is now looking at India. Tourism boards that were previously not present in India are now trying many ways to lure Indian travellers.
We are witnessing aggressive stances by overseas NTOs keen to attract more Indian tourists.
What do you think destination marketers and other suppliers need to do to attract quality Indian outbound travellers?
It is not just about marketing a destination. An entire ecosystem comprising aspects like consulates, airline connectivity, and visa centres across the country are required to create a demand. These things need time to come about.
You also require products that can cater to the needs of Indian travellers, like Indian restaurants.
A strong social media presence can help a long way in attracting Indian travellers. Destination marketers and other suppliers need to tell their stories on Instagram.
Shopping is another aspect that Indians are keeping in mind when finalising a destination. On average, every Indian traveller has a specific shopping agenda.
How do you view the present scenario in terms of international flight connectivity?
I expect more connections out of India. Indian carriers like Vistara and IndiGo are expanding their presence. Even Air India is stepping up its international operations.
International carriers, too, are improving their connectivity to India.
I think the entire flight network to and from India will be much improved in the next one year.