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Aasheesh Sharma Aasheesh Sharma, Hindustan Times
January 07, 2012
It was a Mozart movement for the tourist from Modiland. On a recent lecture trip, social scientist Shiv Visvanathan got a taste of the Indian traveller’s omnipresence. “After a lecture at the University of Vienna, I saw a group of Gujarati tourists discussing opera while gorging on khakra.  I now joke that I can smell khakra and dhokla at every city in Europe,” says the Gandhinagar-based sociologist.

The intrepid Indian traveller hasn’t left any corner of the globe untouched. Whether it is swinging at golf courses with the Japanese, savouring single malts with the Scots, playing Baccarat with the Chinese at Macau or skiing on the playgrounds of the rich in Austria, the evolved, confident Indian traveller is displaying a proclivity for the good things in life.

The perception of the stingy videsh yatri, who cut on luxuries and survived on desi vegetarian snacks while travelling overseas, is a thing of the past.   Kabir Vasudeva, executive director India for Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), says Indian travellers were the most sought after at a global trade event they recently hosted. No wonder the world perceives the desi globetrotter in a new light: spunky, uninhibited and not afraid to loosen his purse strings.

An increasing number of Indians are going abroad on a holiday. PATA estimates 12.5 million Indians travelled abroad in 2010 and by 2020, predicts the World Tourism Organisation, India will account for 50-million outbound travellers.  In 1997, India’s outbound market, the fastest growing in the world, stood at 3.7 million visitors. This year, it is estimated to touch between 11 million and 13 million. “Greater spending power has resulted in Indian families taking multiple international holidays in a year,” says Thomas Cook India COO Madhav Pai.

Even the dwindling fortunes of the rupee haven’t managed to dissuade Indian travellers, reveals TripAdvisor’s India Travel Trends Survey 2012. “The outlook for travel in 2012 remains bullish, with 65% of desi respondents indicating they won’t cut back on leisure travel even if the inflationary upward trend continues,” says  Nikhil Ganju, country manager, TripAdvisor India.

The optimism goes beyond numbers. A growing number of travellers are opting for destinations that offer one-of-its-kind experiences, says Vikram Madhok, India managing director of Abercrombie and Kent. “In the last three years, niche tourism has come into its own,” says Madhok.  “People travel to pursue a passion. To eat good food and drive beautiful cars, they go to Italy. If skiing in the Alps gives them a kick, they begin packing for a European ski holiday.”

The growing popularity of weekend getaways, too, has transformed the way Indians holiday, avers Makemytrip.com founder CEO Deep Kalra. “There is a preference for 2-3 short holidays instead of one long annual vacation. ”

Visvanathan says the coming of age of the Indian traveller should be seen in a sociological light. “Indians were always great travellers. Earlier, we perceived ourselves as the great pilgrims. Now, we are consumers first. Globetrotting is a sign of upward mobility. Travel also signifies knowledge. If you’ve travelled the world you know what to eat, where to go and which brands to buy. The great Indian wanderlust is an opening of minds. Even if you’ve visited the shrines, till you haven’t visited Rome or Singapore or been on a cruise holiday, you are not home.”

Eat, pray, love, travel?

Meet the big spender

According to the price index brought out by Hotels.com, the average price paid per room when travelling abroad for Indians rises from Rs. 4202 to Rs. 6639, which is more than travellers from Spain (Rs 6582), France (Rs 6496), Germany (Rs 6414) and Canada (Rs 6608).  At an average of Rs. 7,000 per night, Indians are among the top 10 spenders on hotels in the world.

The desi traveller doesn’t mind spending on fine dining, quality wines and good cognacs, says Naresh Chandani of World Hotels, which has 450 affiliate properties spread over 65 countries.  “The Indian traveller pays the highest average room rate in Asia. The average spend by Indian travellers at Worldhotel properties is about $ 195 per room per night, compared to an average of $156 paid by their Chinese counterparts.”

Recognising the rising purchasing power of Indian travellers, a number of countries — including Ireland, Spain, South Korea, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, Macau and Poland — have recently opened tourist offices in the country.  No wonder top-end luxury resorts are trying to woo desi travellers. Says Carmen Heinrich of Switzerland’s Bad Ragaz resorts, which targets high net worth Indians. “The growth rate of arrival of Indians into Switzerland rose 20% in the first half of 2011, compared to 2010. Within Switzerland, Indians are asking for packages outside the Golden Triangle of Zurich-Lucerne-Interlaken and exploring destinations like Bad Ragaz, Ticino, Basel and Lausanne.”

Niche goes mainstream

Visitors to Spain increased after Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara says Madhu Salainkar, analyst, Spain Tourism. “Between January and September 2011, visas to Spain issued from Mumbai and Delhi increased from 14,643 to 25,000.”

A few new niches in the Indian travel space that have come into their own over the last three years include golf tourism, river cruises, casino tourism, gourmet travel and Bollywood tourism. (see box, right) At R75000-80000 per
person for a week on the Rhine or the Danube, river cruising is a hit with the well-heeled. For their honeymoon, Mumbai-based hospitality executive Smita Pandit and her IT consultant husband Mahesh wanted an unconventional itinerary.

In 2011, they travelled on the Rhine with Avalon Cruises. “We were the only vegetarians on the boat and the crew still indulged us,” says Smita.

Cinema makes a destination aspirational, says Arjun Sharma of Le Passage to India. Delhi-based businessman and Bollywood buff Rajan Aggarwal (48) agrees.  Inspired by the depiction of the LaTomatina festival Zindagi NaMilegi Dobara, the Agarwals holidayed in Spain last month. “My wife and kids are film fanatics. We have earlier visited
Switzerland, too,” he says.

All in the Parivar

According to the Nielsen India Outbound Monitor, the average cost of travel for every member on a typical family holiday works out to $1,645 (Rs 1,04,035).

Flight and accommodation account for around 45% of family travel costs, says the Nielsen  India Outbound Monitor. The rest is divided between shopping, food and recreation. Outbound Indian tourists spend $1,0000 (Rs 63,000) on an average on shopping, per family.

Author Advaita Kala, a former hospitality executive, is not surprised. “Many Indian families I know won’t venture on a holiday abroad unless there’s plenty in the kitty to shop. I guess we are among the nationalities that keep the Great Dubai Sale in business. ”

With more than 100 million Internet users in the country, most research prior to a holiday happens online. “Families are looking at shorter distances for 3-day holidays abroad since flights are inexpensive. SOBO – search online and book offline is a done thing,” says Pratik Majumder, head, marketing, yatra.com.

Ask the Guptas at South Delhi. Just back from a trip to Malaysia, they’ve chucked their once-a-year hill holiday for at least two international holidays where they explore new cultures and experiment with novel cuisine. “At close to Rs. 60,000 for a week-long holiday per person, it is more affordable than many destinations within the country,” reasons airconditioning consultant Sunil Gupta.

Many more Indian families are checking into villas in Europe to get a taste of aristocratic luxury.  The damages: Between 150 and 500 euros per person per night. Did someone say tourism is inflation-proof?

The Spunky traveller

The Kuoni Holiday Report for 2011 found that younger travellers aged 25-34 are inclined towards towards luxury (40%) and extreme adventure (18%) . 

“We don’t mind spending to revive and rejuvenate,” says Rajiv Duggal, 46, Managing Director, Kuoni India. Other travel trade professionals agree. The Indian traveller is getting bolder, opines Neelu Singh, COO, Ezeego1.com. “Unlike the past, people want to go bungee jumping in New Zealand. Indians have developed a stomach for discovery.”  Mumbai-based pharma entrepreneur Uddhav Kanoria (30) and his interior designer wife Bhawna (28), for instance, try out a new destination every January: peak season for ski holidays in Europe.

“We don’t go through travel agents.” Inclusive of airfare, the Kanorias spent a cool R 5 lakh on each of their ski
holidays to destinations such as Grindelwald in Switzerland, Megeve in France and the Kitzbühel ski area, one of the most popular winter sports resorts in the world.

On a holiday, according to the Kuoni report, Indian holidaymakers aged 25-34 are likely to spend their hard earned cash on clothes (48%), designer items (24%) and a hew hairstyle (28%); 15% of Indian holidaymakers treat themselves to a tattoo, rising to 19% of women.