It is tough being an Indian in the West Indies. Exorbitant ticket prices, an uninspiring build-up from the men in blue and the absence of direct flights to the Caribbean will mean most Indian fans will prefer to watch the World Cup on television.
Three weeks before the biggest cricket extravaganza, Indians in the country and abroad have not been gripped by World Cup mania, yet. “Last time round, between 3,000 and 3,500 tourists bought our World Cup packages. This time, we are not expecting more than a thousand,” says Shyam Kartikeya, business head, SOTC Sport Abroad, one of the official travel agents for the ICC Cricket World Cup, 2007. “Bookings have dropped by more than 20 per cent as compared to the ICC World Cup in South Africa,” adds Jyoti Mayal, director, New Airways Travel.
Even in the UK, long considered a hot market for cricket tourism, the response to World Cup packages has been lukewarm. Representatives of travel agencies that cater to Indians in Britain say bookings are low at the moment. Surinder Punj of Holiday Express and Welcome Travel Group spokesman confirmed there had been no bookings so far.
Indians in the UK appear to be waiting for the team to make some headway at the World Cup, it appears. “If India reaches the quarter finals, we expect a sudden surge in demand for packages to Barbados,” says Punj.
The tepid response to the World Cup has nothing to do with Virender Sehwag’s dwindling form or Irfan Pathan’s inconsistency. It boils down to economics. “Packages to the Caribbean are priced Rs three lakh onward. It is at least one lakh higher than packages to South Africa,” says Rajji Rai, Vice President, Travel Agents Association of India.
Not everybody is bogged down by economics, though. Top-end travellers will shell out between Rs 6.3 lakh and Rs 9 lakh for The Geographical Company’s 11-day cruise from Puerto Rico to Barbados. Of the 500 packages that Sporting Journeys, the biggest travel agency in London has sold for the Caribbean at £2000 upward, 30 per cent have been bought by Indians. The cup of tourists may again brim over if the Indians win the series against Sri Lanka today. For the moment, though, travel agents are a worried lot.