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Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Great Summer Escape to 'cool' spots spells travel boom

This story first appeared in DNA Money edition on Monday, May 20, 2013.

Rising mercury levels this summer are bringing glad tidings to the Indian travel and tourism industry. Forget the earlier doom-and-gloom predictions: firms in this sector are now confident of posting a 25% on-year growth this calendar year on the back of people’s penchant to travel to cooler climes to escape the scorching heat.

Citizens are travelling to Indian and overseas destinations far and wide, sources said.

Industry estimates suggest that the number of Indians travelling overseas is set to rise from around 1.5 crore at present to 5 crore by 2020.

A resurgent economy, upwardly mobile lifestyles and increasing discretionary income are driving travel and tourism, said industry experts.

Madhav Pai, director – leisure travel (outbound), Thomas Cook (India), said, “Irrespective of price hikes, Indians are travelling like never before. Clearly, travel is now a ‘must-do’ element in the Indian summer agenda.”

Karan Anand, head-relationships, Cox & Kings, said, “Domestic travel certainly continues to be the mainstay, growing at 30% annually. Outbound is not far behind with an on-year growth of close to 25%.”

Moderate to high growth rates are in evidence everywhere. For instance, Australia’s Tourism Forecasting Council predicts 1.75 lakh arrivals from India in 2013/14, a 9% increase over 2012.

From 41,000 Indian visitors in 2000, Australia received around 1.60 lakh visitors in 2012. Nishant Kashikar, country manager-India, Tourism Australia, said, “Arrivals from India are expected to perform well, with an average annual financial year growth rate of 7.2% through to 2020-21.”

Such figures are encouraging travel and airline companies to offer the world to travellers, in the form of early bird offers, complimentary stays, companion offers, kids-stay-free opportunities, free transfers, discounted sightseeing tours and promotional airfares.

Some of these are for overseas destinations, but they are priced more or less at the same level as that of domestic attractions.

These are driving a good chunk of Indian travellers to short-haul destinations in regions like the South-east Asia, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Other higher priced packages, like the Rs 99,999-per-person week-long tours of Cox & Kings, target destinations like Switzerland, Italy, east European countries, Spain and France.

Of course, there are many takers because such packages include return economy class air ticket, taxes, visa charges, overseas travel insurance, accommodation with breakfast, sightseeing and inter-city train travel on the European Rail Network, said Anand.

If not A, then B, or C – that seems the resolve of Indian travellers these days, said Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice chairman, Mercury Travels. “The recent flash sales announced by a few carriers proved to be a boon for travellers who had already planned their holidays. And, thanks to declining petrol prices, those who were left out are now driving down to the destination with family. They are all holidaying as per their convenience.”

Summer’s momentum is expected to continue beyond the season with a brief pause in June when schools and colleges open. For, a different kind of travellers – double-income-no-kids couples and singles – undertake post-summer journeys. “Monsoon is a time when destinations like Goa and Kerala aggressively promote themselves,” said Pai.

Post-summer airfares are expected to drop, said Anand. “Any such drop would entice consumers to book during the traditional ‘off season’ like the monsoon. Our Drizzlers offering had shown interesting uptake in 2012, and we hope to replicate this success even more emphatically in 2013.”

Popular destinations

Within India: Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, the North East, the Andamans and other hill stations.

Outside India: South Africa, Canada, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand are catching outbound travellers’ attention.

Europe and the US continue to be preferred destinations for the Indian traveller

Iceland, Greenland, Morocco, Canary Islands, Galapagos and Ecuador are on the travel radar this year.

Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Dubai and Mauritius remain popular short-haul destinations

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