A recently released report on travel trends in India by the country’s dominant travel company, Thomas Cook India (it is owned by the Fairfax Financial Holdings Group, which also owns SOTC Travel Services—formerly Kuoni India), provides interesting insights into how Indians traveled this summer, including new trends observed, and new destinations which came up on the travelers’ radar. We’ve isolated some highlights of the report, which augur well for those who are marketing and promoting their travel product in India, which has grown in Visit USA business to the point that it is now the No. 9 overseas source market for the U.S. inbound tourism industry. The highlights follow.
—Destination Favorites: USA saw strong interest with marked uptake for New York, San Francisco and LA (due to an extension of VFR travel); also Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Florida. This summer witnessed high demand for Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, UK, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia. Short hauls were a clear “flavor of the season” with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong-Macau and Bali trending; with newer entrants like Korea, Japan, and China emerging.
—Seasonality Trends … an Extended Summer: A unique trend specific to Summer 2016 was that of an extended summer season across source markets. Typically, India’s peak summer travel season for West and South India covers April and May. However, this season, saw demand extending into the months of June and July courtesy varying vacation periods across school boards—starting as early as mid-March. This has seen cascading demand into of the months of June, July & August
—Early Bookers: More than 39 percent of Indian travelers were early planners this year, planning almost 120 to180 days prior to departure and opting for long haul destinations such as the USA, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Considering a number of long weekends in 2016, more than 66 percent of Indian travelers preferred combining public holidays with personal leave. While 65 percent of Thomas Cook India customers opted for International tours, 35 percent preferred domestic holidays.
—“Slow Travel”: Another interesting observation this season was the emergence of Slow Travel with options like walking tours seeing uptake. Slow Travel is intended for travelers who appreciate the journey (as against merely the destination), are curious to learn via travel and absorb myriad experiences en route. Village/farm stays in Switzerland and leisurely hiking, along with cycling tours in Europe also saw growth, Slow Travel seemed to offer” work weary corporate India” a neat outlet for rest and rejuvenation, to bond with loved ones and reconnect with their inner self for a spiritual refresh
—Visa on Arrival/No-Visa Destinations Saw Uptake: Over 31 percent Indians were last minute travelers this season and in an attempt to expedite the planning-booking process, opted for no-visa destinations or those that offered visa-on-arrival (VoA) like Maldives, Hong Kong, Bali, Mauritius, Cambodia, Jordan, Kenya, Thailand.
—Growing Demand for Soft Adventure/ Experiential Travel: Original and immersive experiences were high on the travel agenda. Indians seemed curious and “raring to go” on an adventure whether it was experiencing soft adventure such as snorkeling, hiking/mountain biking, going volcano climbing, sampling new cuisines or cooking with local chefs and shopping for fresh produce and wines in destinations as varied Italy, France, Malaysia or Spain. Also, unconventional locales and unique stay accommodation, with Airbnb trending strongly.
—New Travel Segments: Ad-hoc groups ruling the roost, emergence of common interest groups; opting for van tours: Significant and growing demand (35 percent) was evident for ad hoc groups of friends/colleagues – especially in the young professional segment (25-35 years). These extended groups/like-minded people/alumni groups connected via social media, traveled for common interest tours such as cycling in Scandinavia and Amsterdam, marathons in Boston, Berlin etc., and wildlife expeditions to South Africa, women-only tours to Thailand, Malaysia for culinary experiences. What also featured strongly was preference for van tours especially in Europe.
—Self- Drives Emerged as a Favorite Option, especially for honeymooners and DINKS, with destinations such as the USA New Zealand, UK, Scotland and New Zealand topping the list.
—Average Holiday Stay for Summer 2016: 6-10 days for short hauls and 14 to 20 days for long hauls. Average travel budget allocated by Indians this year for domestic travel was $525 per person; $900 per person for short-haul international getaways and $2,250 to $4,500 for international long-haul vacations.