Indian travellers are going places. As India’s middle-class grows, incomes rise and increasingly more Indians are willing to spend big on travel, the world wants their money. Recently, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia have offered visa-free entry to Indians, Vietnam and Indonesia are planning to consider the possibility of introducing visa-free entry for Indian tourists. Iran and Kenya are the latest to join the list of visa-free countries for India besides other countries.
Russia has proposed a regime with India that will allow tourists from both nations to visit each other’s countries without visas if they travel in organized groups. Germany is happy to have increasing numbers of tourists from India and they are doing their best to cope with the visa applications, Georg Enzweiler, Deputy Head of Mission, German Embassy, said recently. The remarkable increase this year is due to diverse campaigns and offers, he said.
The foreign travel boom
With a host of Asian countries offering visa-free travel to Indian tourists, demand for outbound foreign travel has gone up in the past two months, say travel companies.
“The announcement on visa-free entry for Indians to Thailand has seen strong interest – with an uptick of 30 per cent in demand compared to last year,” Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Limited, has told TOI. “With visas forming a critical deciding factor for Indian travellers, the recent update on visa-free entry to Malaysia from December 1 is a smart move, clearly intended to catalyse visits from the powerful and high growth India market,” he added.
“Indians are leveraging on every opportunity to travel and with the holiday season approaching, we witnessed a growth of over 20 per cent YoY in our bookings for October-December2023,” Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head – Holidays, SOTC Travel told TOI.
Scapia, a travel fin-tech company, told TOI that the online searches for flights and hotel accommodations have sky-rocketed in the past month because of relaxed visa guidelines. “Hong Kong leads with an astounding 130 per cent surge in searches in the last quarter of 2023. Following closely, Bangkok boasts a substantial 70 per cent rise in flight searches in the last quarter of 2023. Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, has also joined the travel boom with a noteworthy 50 per cent increase in flight searches,” it said.
More Indians might be holidaying overseas this Christmas-New Year season than last year as relatively cheaper fares and packages, better connectivity, and easier entry requirements have made the proposition more compelling, ET has reported. Tour and travel companies such as Thomas Cook, SOTC and EaseMyTrip have seen up to 30 per cent uptick in demand for short-haul international routes compared to last year.
Ajay Prakash, board member of industry body Federation of Associations for Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), has told ET that international travel is looking more “robust” than domestic travel.
India experienced a remarkable 140 per cent surge in visa applications last year compared to 2021, according to Prabuddha Sen, the Chief Operating Officer for South Asia at VFS Global. He noted that due to Covid restrictions and subsequent geopolitical sensitivities in certain markets, many global destinations are keen to attract Indian travellers. Some countries, such as Indonesia and Azerbaijan, introduced tailored e-visa solutions, including for Indian nationals.
D’Souza of SOTC Travel reported robust growth of 227 per cent in outbound travel between January and June this year compared to the same period last year. This growth extends beyond India’s major cities to include tier two and three cities in regional India, driven by rising disposable incomes and the aspirational value of vacations.
Indians have emerged as the second largest group of overseas visitors to the United States this summer, despite long wait times for visa interviews and high airfares.
Why foreign want Indian tourists
Visa-free entry is a carrot to expand the $28 billion that 27 million Indians spent overseas in 2019, Andy Mukherjee wrote in Bloomberg. Those numbers had swelled eightfold and sixfold, respectively, in the two decades before the pandemic.
Indians are not cutting corners while visiting foreign countries. India ranked as the fourth highest spending international market with a spending of $700 million in New York City, NYC Tourism and Conventions EVP, Global Communications, Tiffany Townsend said a few months ago.
A major reason why foreign countries, big as well as small, are courting Indian travellers is China. With the reduction in the number of Chinese tourists, the world is looking at India. “Every destination that I go to, I’m asked about getting Indian travelers there. Whether that’s Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Australia or Singapore. Everybody’s thinking about how they might have potentially lost out on getting the Chinese travelers for a certain period. The Chinese were the number one source market for many destinations globally, and now they would like to focus on getting Indian travelers,” Laura Houldsworth, MD, Asia Pacific (APAC) at Booking.com, said recently.
As the Indian economy grows, disposable incomes are rising too. In the age of social media, foreign travel has become aspirational, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities and towns. A rising middle class is willing to spend on foreign travel. Availability of vacation loans helps this trend. Foreign countries aim to tap this growing spending power of the Indian traveller.