This winter, the Indian tourist is set to fly high. Aerosport is the new buzzword in the holiday circuit as travellers are experimenting with their itineraries. According to tour operators, ballooning is in and more Indians are shedding their fear of heights to fly in giant balloons.
“Since September, nearly 7,500 Indians who toured Australia with the SOTC as part of their Gold Coast package flew over locations in the continent aboard balloons,” said Nishant Kashikar, the marketing head of SOTC. Most of the rides were organised by the local Balloon Clubs of Australia, which tied up with SOTC.
Cox and Kings, which flew a large number of Indians, mostly below the age of 30, in balloons over Christchurch, Carterton and Queenstown in New Zealand on their Kiwi Surprise trail, says increased awareness and the magical nature of the ride are the reasons for its popularity.
Richa Goyal Sikri, director, Group Business Development, SITC Travel Group, attributes the trend to the change in attitude and the age profile of the outbound tourist. “They are becoming more adventurous and daring. More Indians who are going abroad want to try out thrilling activities. The average Indian tourist has more have more money at his disposal and costs do not matter any more for the niche traveller,” Sikri explained.
Ballooning is easy because one does not have to be in ship-shape, says Kashikar. “It cuts across the age barrier and just requires a bit of courage and nerves. Ballooning also provides breathtaking views of exotic landscapes that motoring or walking do not allow. Indian holidays have become more activity-based, unlike in the past when tourists spent their time lolling by the poolside or in luxurious hotel rooms, ” Kashikar said. Most of the balloons, according to Cox and Kings, take off at sunrise as the “soft dawn light guarantees great photography.”
Switzerland, which is hosting its annual Chateau-d’Oex hot air international ballooning festival in January has already been flooded with requests from India. “It is a new sport in India and a niche group of adventure tourists has started making enquiries,” said officials of the Switzerland Tourism Board from Mumbai. In countries like Britain, where operators like Adventure Balloons, Red Letters Day and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Balloon Flights offers rides in the countryside of England, Scotland and Wales, “more and more moneyed Indians are enjoying the Champagne Breakfast rides. They are very popular among the outbound tourists from India,” said British tourism officials.