Indian wanderlust continues despite economic woes (Sep 27 is World Tourism Day)
Neither the wobbly Indian rupee nor rising airfares can deter the growing wanderlust of the Indian middle class.
"Travelling has become more of a lifestyle thing," Karan Anand, head of relationships at Cox and Kings told IANS.
"We have observed the average holidays an Indian traveller takes is three: two are small ones and one is a big one. The other two important things he seeks while travelling is better connectivity and accommodation," he added.
The change in attitude has come because many travellers now look at these "holidays" as a "gift" to themselves.
"I work hard and I can treat myself with a good break' this is the mantra an Indian traveller believes in," said Yatra.com president Sharat Dhall.
"Money isn't a constraint because no one wants to compromise on their personal time. After all, they are earning for their happiness," he added.
Tourism ministry figures show that 14.92 million Indians travelled abroad in 2012 against 13.99 million in 2011 and 12.99 million in 2010. The figures are however much lower than China which saw 82 million outbound tourists in 2012, making them the number one global travellers.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), growth in global travel and tourism was robust in 2012 despite many economic challenges. The growth in the last fiscal has been around three percent, the Council says. As for India, "the total contribution of travel and tourism to the GDP was 6.6 percent in 2012 and is forecast to rise by 7.3 percent in 2013."
Though the weakening of the Indian rupee against the dollar has been a blow to the economy, travel experts say it hasn't done much damage to the tourism industry and the growing Indian middle class, with a lot of disposable income and a yen for seeing new places and experiencing new cultures, are willing to spend for pleasure and for shopping in exotic places.
"We have been saying this from day one that the depreciation of Indian rupee hasn't been more than 10-12 percent against dollar. So technically, this is only a small portion of a holiday package," pointed out Anand, adding that overall, for outbound travel, if one opts for a group package there is an increase of five to seven percent.
Bhupender Mehta, CEO, Overalltravel.com feels the slump has seen a boom in domestic travel.
"There are always two sides of a coin. Domestic destinations has done well because of the sliding rupee. Even neighbouring countries have come out as favourite hot spots," Mehta told IANS, adding Kerala, Goa and Jaipur are the hottest domestic destinations.
Even though better connectivity and low cost carriers have given wings to the Indian globetrotter, the rise in domestic airfare by almost 40 percent has resulted in travellers increasingly opting for buses and trains as a mode of travel.
"Domestic airfares have gone up, so people opting for destinations that are nearby," said Dhall, adding this shift has been a contributing factor in planning short holidays.
Mehta agreed: "Flights cut down on travel time. But when prices have increased, people don't want to burn their pockets. So they seek near-by destinations. They change their travel destination, but not travel plans."
And this is what 25-year-old Abhijit Singh did recently.
He had planned to travel to Pune to meet his friends but the exorbitant airfares came in the way and he instead opted for for Macleodganj near Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh.
"I had switched my job and had to quickly plan something. Air tickets were expensive, so I chose a nearby place instead," he said.
"For longer holidays it is wise to pre-book your tickets," he added.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 26-09-2013)