The rise and rise of outbound Indian leisure traveller

Options like 'travel now, pay later' and booking through EMI are accelerating the mobility of Indian middle class travellers to foreign destinations.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 10:49 IST

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Bengaluru-based Kitty Iyer's holidays are usually planned based on the articles and blogs she reads. A travel content creator, who runs a marketing agency for hospitality, she does a lot of travel research, looking at the places the destination's tourism board is promoting and the hospitality in that region before she plans her vacation. She loves a stay option that comes with a story -- or a great design.

Her last holiday was to Bali and Komodo National Park in Indonesia. She spent a few days in a liveaboard -- swimming with Manta rays and hiking in small islands.

By all accounts, the Indian traveller is crossing more international seas than ever. The growing middle class is jetting to international destinations, powered by "more disposable income at hand", booking through EMI and 'travel now, pay later' options and visa-free facilities. They are looking for experiential travel, culinary exposure, adventure, wellness and sleep tourism.

For the Gen Z, especially, travelling for concerts and enjoying nightlife remain high on the agenda.

While a new McKinsey report points out that "a new generation of travellers benefitting from India's strong GDP growth of over 6 per cent a year will help push the annual growth in travel spending in the country to roughly 9 per cent", the Reserve Bank of India data shows that Indians took out a total of $17 billion (Rs 1.41 lakh crore) in 2023-24 for overseas travel under the RBI’s Liberalised Remittances Scheme (LRS). This is 24.4 per cent more compared with $13.66 billion (Rs 1.13 lakh crore) in the previous year, the data says.

The RBI data further spells out that "the spending on outward travel fell sharply to $3.23 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) during 2020-21 mainly due to restrictions following the outbreak of Covid-19".

When the Coronavirus infected the travel and tourism industry, avid travellers felt the pinch -- trips had to be cancelled and tourism took a backseat.

From the ashes of the pandemic, 'revenge tourism' arose. And people are travelling -- as if there is no tomorrow.

"Outbound leisure travel from India’s middle-class has seen a significant surge, driven by increasing disposable incomes, a growing preference for experiential travel, and enhanced global connectivity," said Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa - Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

He points out that, additionally, with destinations welcoming Indians via their visa-free entry, easy visa regimes, it is anticipated that this trend will continue its upward trajectory in the coming decade.

For the elderly, group tour packages are a manna from heaven. Guided by an efficient tour manager, they have an itinerary on a platter.

Sadhana Taneja, a retired professional, loves exploring new places with beautiful scenic beauty. "Enjoying different cultures motivates me to travel," she says.

She travels two to three times a year.

"It can be to a nearby destination or far away from my hometown. Going on vacation is the real therapy to relieve the stress that comes in life," she says.

The middle-class is growing and so is the disposable income, which is fuelling the Indian travel lovers to explore cultures and terrain other than their own.

The expanded routes, chartered flight packages and visa-free entry are choices that make the travel bug-bitten book a trip.

"The rise of outbound leisure travel from the India market continues to gain momentum, driven by increased affordability and a growing thirst for diverse cultural and outdoor experiences," explains Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head - Holidays, SOTC Travel.

He says this trend shows promising growth and Indian travellers are increasingly drawn to destinations that offer a mix of adventure, relaxation and unique experiences.

"Among the top choices are New Zealand for its breathtaking landscapes and outdoor adventures, Switzerland and Austria for scenic alpine vistas, France, Spain and Portugal for art and culinary delights, and emerging Central Asian destinations such as Kazakhstan and Georgia, celebrated for their cultural heritage and outdoor beauty," D'Souza adds.

Demand for group tours

"Group tours have played an instrumental role in promoting travel among elderly citizens by providing a supportive and structured environment that addresses their specific needs and these tours ensure safety, comfort, and accessibility, while also fostering engaging interactions among co-travellers," says D'Souza.

In yet another exciting development for globetrotters, at a plenary session of the BRICS Tourism Forum, Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov had said that Russia and India are working on the start of the visa-free group tourist exchange between the countries. That is something a lot of Indian travellers are looking forward to.

"Indian travellers are drawn to a variety of international destinations that offer cultural immersion, and natural beauty," says Kale.

For Indian consumers, he says, Europe and the US feature as top aspirational destinations along with Australia and New Zealand.

"This year, we have witnessed strong interest for Japan and South Korea for their blend of ancient traditions coupled with modern innovation, spa-wellness; Australia for its stunning landscapes and gastronomy, Southeast Asia for its diverse culture-cuisine, water sports and shopping , and emerging Central Asia destinations such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan known for their historical richness and scenic landscapes."

"UAE is now a year-round favourite for Indians with Oman emerging well too," Kale adds.

Switzerland and Paris, for Indians, are stuff Bollywood films are made of. Not a surprise, these two countries have constant takers in India.

Sadhana describes her most memorable travel experience as her visit to Switzerland and Paris. "I can never forget that visit. It was my dream destination. Visiting Switzerland was in my thoughts for years but I was waiting for my retirement. The day I retired from my job, I decided to go there and am thankful to God for giving me an opportunity to travel."

Sadhana travelled as part of a group tour. "The group with which I went was so good that it added more charm to the beauty of that place. If I get a chance, I would like to go there again," Sadhana recollects.

"Group tours have played a crucial role in facilitating this travel boom, particularly among multigenerational families and India’s Gen S (seniors)," says Kale.

He explains that these tours provide structured itineraries that prioritise safety and comfort, while also fostering social interaction and camaraderie among travellers.

"By tailoring experiences to meet the specific needs of older adults, such as accessible accommodations and guided assistance, group tours have significantly enhanced the accessibility and enjoyment of international travel for seniors."

He emphasises how the experience and expertise of the tour managers accompanying group tours add significantly to the reassurance and comfort of this cohort.

Travel is therapeutic and homemaker Bela Chandra says it plays a crucial role in one's life. "Nowadays, every person is stressed due to different situations -- because of professional or personal problems. To break free from stress, to refresh one's mind, it's very necessary to travel," she says.

"It could be a short trip or a long vacation, but travel means a lot for everybody," says Bela.

As for her future travel plans, she says, "We wish to go to Turkey and Greece in September or October."

Lessons on the way

Kitty's travels have indeed taught her a lot. But she has lessons to offer too. For her, the place of stay can make or break a destination. "I've hated places where I chose the wrong place to stay," she says.

She feels 'one itinerary fits all' is a very bad idea. "Everyone has a different idea on what they want to do on a holiday. So find an itinerary you sort of like and tweak it to your taste. Add elements to it," she adds.

She also believes in searching offbeat things to do and "it gives the most fun for every city".

Indians' travel tastes are as varied and as similar as the country itself, but soils other than their own are all set to woo them even more persistently.

Published 01 July 2024, 10:49 IST

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