Single and offbeat. The niche tourist has emerged as a new profile in tourism’s summer landscape this year, pushing traditional group travellers less hot, industry officials say.
Changes in the economy, where growth is combining with a restless adventurous spirit among young workers and increasing affluence, has given rise to a market category appropriately summed up in the acronym FIT – fit individual travllers.
In the FIT business, the same size does not fit all. Tourists flush with cash are looking for customized itineraries aided in part by employers offering travel incentives.
The Kuoni Group, which is eyeing this fast track segment, has aligned its itineraries for 2007 to suit free travel needs. "Individual travellers want to discover exotic destinations. Their itineraries are broad, tailored to suit personal needs. Exotic locations appeal to them because they can explore these destinations at their own pace," says Nishant Kashikar, senior general manager,marketing, Do-it-yourself Holidays and Kuoni Holidays.
The current outbound market is pegged at 7.5 million, up by 20 per cent from two years ago, and inbound tours have increased by 12 per cent. Riding on a nine per cent economic growth in the country, changing lifestyles and more global exposure, the trend also reflects an economy in which 50 per cent of the population is under 25 years of age.
These new tourists travel light, want some stress busting to make up for aggressive corporate lives and look for comfort, not just old-fashioned sightseeing.
As part of its new marketing strategy to promote individual travel, an expert panel, Kuoni Certified Travellers, is designing new customized packages for the FIT segment. The group has logged 30 per cent growth in customized packages for individual travellers since last year and foresees an onward march.
"Individual holidays are journeys of self discovery for me when I can spend time with myself and reflect on my life," says Aditya Paul, a Mumbai-based model-turned actor.
Paul planned his holiday on the Internet last year, carved an adventure trail from Bangkok to Vietnam by boat and then hopped off to Camodia for the temple circuit.
OP Munjal, director, Vivada Cruises, attributes the spurt in FIT to a maturing market, which is moving from traditional sources of marketing to online hawking, which has grown by 125 per cent over the past year. Travel portals help individual travellers source services and innovate schedules at the best possible prices.
Consequently, river cruises, rural tourism and spiritual and wellness odysseys are climbing inbound popularity charts. For instance, Cox and Kings’ Ezeego1.com, an FIT portal, takes care of airlines, hotels and attraction bookings worldwide with scope for tweaking itineraries.
The government is also on an overdrive to lure the foreign tourist. It has relaxed via procurement norms, especially in Europe, where embassies have outsourced jobs locally to meet a 48-hour clearance deadline. Five-year tourist visas with multiple entries have also opened floodgates for Indophiles. "Now, I am even pushing for visas on arrival," says Union Tourism Minister Ambika Soni.
Kuoni sees 35-40 per cent growth in health holidays, spiritual getaways, adventure and wildlife tourism in the FIT niche over the next two years. At present, the average holiday duration of the individual foreign tourist in India is the highest in the world, exceeding 27 days in non-tourist packages and 14 days in holiday deals.
WTM Global Travel Trends lists individual travellers into two categories: the adventurers and singletons scouting for mates on holidays. The concept is fundamentally American.
"They are mostly second-time travellers, who have either visited India or have been abroad once as part of group charters and want to do it on their own the next time around. Most of them are affluent and well-informed, and they background schedules on the Internet," says Arup Sen, executive director, Cox and Kings, which has clocked 30 per cent growth in the FIT segment since last summer.