But Younger Travelers are More Inclined to Try Local Cuisine … and a host of other issues to consider in the Indian market. From the current March-April issue of India Outbound magazine is this interview with Guldeep Singh Sahni, president of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI), conducted by June Mukherjee.
Q: How has the evolution of Indian outbound market been so far? How do you foresee the immediate future?
Sahni: The statistics show very clearly how outbound tourism is evolving. The Government of India has given a figure of 18.6 million outbound Indian travelers in 2015. By now, it must be 20 million in 2016-17. The UNWTO has predicted 50 million people travelling out of India by 2020 and I can see it happening sooner. Despite global recession, India is doing quite well in various sectors. Indians want to take their children out of India, show them the world, because now for them, it is not only luxury or leisure, but, it is more like a necessity and part of bringing up their children.
Q: While entering the Indian market, many tourism boards find it difficult to understand the Indian outbound tourist needs and characters. How does an association like OTOAI help in breaking the ice?
Sahni: I have interacted with many tourism boards very closely and quite regularly. We inform and educate them about the culture of the Indian market. We are late-risers; we decide late; we bargain and we make last minute changes. But, once people know the volume India is trading in, they become okay. They don’t want to change our culture; only initially they get a shock when they don’t know about how things are in India and try to compare with other countries. Once they get exposed to the volume and potential of Indian outbound market, the spending that an Indian traveler can do, they get acquainted to it. The more our associations interact with the tourism boards, the more we are able to inform them, educate them about the cultural way of working. Gradually, they become comfortable with the system and the pattern.
Q: When tourism boards are adjusting their products for the Indian travelers, what specific aspects should they keep in mind?
Sahni: Food, I think, is one of the most important aspects for the Indian travelers. But, there has been a changing pattern of outbound travelers nowadays, with more young travelers travelling out of India. Hence, the demand of authentic or conservative Indian food is also diminishing as the young India travelers are relatively open to experimenting with a particular country’s cuisine. Right now, what is required is to adapt with the last minute changes when they go to a destination and suddenly want to do certain things that they didn’t know about or planned about. So, they do make a lot of last minute changes in the itinerary. Now, as much as those new requests could be accommodated, the traveller will have more satisfactory experience from that trip. The overseas tour operators are also getting geared to handle this kind of situation more and more. Earlier, they used to think that Indian budget travelers would like to only economize, but today’s budget travelers also want luxury within their budget. If they are staying for five nights in a country, they will spend three nights in a budget accommodation, but will spend two nights in a super luxury hotel. The traveler is evolving; the supplier is evolving too. Understandably, shopping is not ‘the thing’ anymore as every kind of brand is now available in India, but, if there are some ‘wonders of the world’, people will spend money to see or experience them. People are now also spending money to go for adventure sports, which was not a traditional thing for Indian tourists.
Q: What is the changing profile of Indian outbound travelers?
Sahni: Indians have always travelled in groups, mainly with families and friend if not for business travel. New trends are visible nowadays, like solo woman, women’s group, even the elderly group. It becomes easy and comfortable for the operator to cater to the need of the group. This way, a majority of youth is travelling. A group may travel for a jazz music fest, for Formula 1 race or Wimbledon. Kitty party groups, couples in groups are also the new trends going together. My company has even done a honeymooners’ group tour. Nowadays, kids study, grow up and marry around the same time. They plan to do their honeymoon together, to have better friendship bonding among new spouses and better time spending. A lot of experimenting is happening in India. Large group of even 150 people attending exhibitions or conferences is now a very common thing for us.
Q: From a geographical perspective, beyond the UK, the US and some Asian countries, what are the newer destinations in demand?
Sahni: Eastern European countries are in demand for the last couple of years. The US is now getting more than one million people from India every year. Canada is showing good numbers during winters. If you look at the Pacific, new places like Bora Bora, Fiji and Guam are in demand. Japan is showing good numbers. People are going to places like Kenya and the Scandinavian countries. South America is also growing in demand. You have to have more knowledge and new information for your clients.
Q: From OTOAI’s perspective, what are the challenges that you see need to be addressed with the support of Government of India and what should the new strategy be to give a big push to Indian outbound tourism sector?
Sahni: We work with various tourism boards and various suppliers. We have very strict criterion for membership – tourism boards and airlines are our members other than top outbound tour operators. Allied service providers and travel media are also our members. With Goods & Services Tax coming into effect, we can foresee a lot of confusion. OTOAI will study the matter and will have dialogue with the government to see how outbound tourism is going to be impacted. We don’t want dual taxation; we don’t want services provided by other countries to be taxed in India; we don’t mind our profits being taxed, but of course not their services.
Q: What are the latest outbound travel trends?
Sahni: Business travel will always be high as the industry is doing well and export is showing upward movement. In terms of leisure, wedding and MICE are really showing good results for us. We are getting good proposals from overseas, which can even accommodate 1,000 people, flights that can accommodate so many people over one or two days. Besides, study tours and exchange programs are also happening. It is also reported by the industry that adventure sports is in high demand. Outbound tourism should be one leg of tourism growth of India, which is yet to be recognized fully by the government. Our demand is to be included in the dialogue. Not because we want any kind of funding; we do get a lot of funding from various countries. But, we definitely want to make sure that the standards and integrity are maintained to the best order.
Q: What are your plans for the next convention and this year’s activities?
Sahni: Either we will do a convention or we will do a mega-fam. We will be working closely with tourism boards, on their customized specialist programs. Then we will speak to government on GST and its impact. We will also see how outbound can help government’s inbound initiatives. Any new destination that comes to India, we will let them know in the best possible way, what the Indian travelers’ requirements are and of course be a resource center for all the information that they will need to understand the Indian travelers.