‘Experiences’ lead summer travel choices

Experience-led travel is a priority for Indians this season, who are opting for short-haul, mid-haul and long-haul travel, along with exploring new and developing domestic destinations. While visa issues remain a big sore point for international travellers, bookings are happening in huge numbers across the country. Experts take on the issue:

Dev Karvat, Founder & CEO, Asego
Today’s traveller is not just focused on the destination, but also the kind of experience it offers. While new travellers may continue to opt for popular destinations, an evolved segment is more likely to choose offbeat destinations that offer unique experiences like adventure sports, eco-tourism, or distinctive visuals like the northern lights. This recent evolution of travel trends has had a positive impact on our business. Firstly, owing to the pandemic, travellers today are more aware and conscious of their own safety and financial security than ever before. Secondly, newer travel risks have driven us to continue innovating and curating products that don’t just secure customized itineraries, but also enhance the overall travel experience. Lastly, with the travel trade re-gaining steady momentum post the pandemic, it would be immensely helpful if the visa issuance process is made increasingly seamless to facilitate smooth operations and growth within the travel sector.

Mahendra Vakharia, EC Member/ Immediate Past President – OTOAI & MD, Pathfinders Holidays
We are seeing a renewed interest for travel to Africa, particularly South Africa and East Africa. Also, we have clients travelling to New Zealand, Japan, Australia, UK + Scotland, Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, Spain, hiking trip for a small ladies group in Iceland, USA (for self-drive) and South Korea. The Schengen visa issue is still a challenge and is causing a lot of heartburn and angst with clients as the appointment dates with some Schengen countries is still a challenge. This is hampering conversion of business to these destinations, and we need to arrange and book a trip for the client to another destination, where visa is not a challenge. Hope that this situation will soon be resolved by the respective embassies and consulates to pre-COVID times with very limited wait time for appointment as this will directly give us the confidence to promote and push that country for a holiday to the clients.

Sanjay Arya, CEO, KFT Corporation
This summer has seen a surge in travel demand, as people look to make up for a year of missed holidays. The most booked destinations this summer is Europe, with countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy being the most popular. Additionally, beach destinations such as Cancun, Miami, and the Caribbean have seen significant increase in sales. The travel industry has experienced a rebound in business, with financially fortunate individuals being more willing than ever to splurge on luxurious travel. Business is booming as people take advantage of competitive prices and flexible booking options. Airlines and hotes have seen an uptick in bookings, and many travel companies are reporting strong recovery. Visa issues have been a persistent challenge.

Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, M!CE, Visa – Thomas Cook (India)
During peak summer booking season, we have witnessed 4x surge in demand for long haul and 3x for short haul and domestic destinations compared to the previous year. Europe continues to top our demand pipeline with a surge of over 300 per cent, followed by Southeast Asia’s Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia; with Vietnam and Cambodia witnessing brisk business; also Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Khaimah. Additionally mid-long hauls like Australia, New Zealand, Turkiye and South Africa are also seeing strong re-emergence. Also bucket-list destinations like Iceland and Rhodes Island in Greece. There is big growth in travel to Japan and South Korea for the Cherry Blossom season. Baku and Almaty with convenient access are popular.

Manoj Saraf, Managing Director, Gainwell Travel & Leisure
This summer is seeing huge demand for a number of new destinations, as well as old favourites. The international destinations that are selling the most are Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Switzerland and Europe. Cruises are very popular amongst Indians this season. However, getting a visa appointment for many of the destinations is proving to be a deterrent for travellers who want to explore international shores this summer. I believe that there seems to be a deliberate attempt to create hurdles in smooth issuance of visa for some Schengen countries and United States of America (USA). The appointment slots are being sold at a premium and it seems that all stakeholders are aware of this issue, but still they are choosing to turn a blind eye to what’s happening.

Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head – Holidays, SOTC Travel
Long and mid haul destinations leading demand are Europe’s Switzerland and France, Turkiye, South Korea, Japan, Egypt, Jordan, Australia and New Zealand. Given visa challenges, our internal data indicates high interest for visa on arrival/easy and quick visa destinations like Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Ras Al Khaimah, Thailand, Indonesia, Maldives, Mauritius, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Seychelles; also Bhutan from the Indian subcontinent. The visa challenge is two pronged: obtaining appointment slots coupled with technical challenges faced by applicants on the appointment booking pages of Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland. Italy, France and Spain currently do not have appointment slots.

Ankit Bajaj, Manager, Chiky Travels
This year the tourism industry is at its peak this summer and the entire Indian population has their mindsets and schedules spaced with a plan for a good leisure trip with their friends or families. Some of the preferred domestic destinations include Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim (which was slightly affected due to recent natural calamity), and Rajasthan. Some of the preferred international designations for my clients are Turkey, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Bali, Vietnam, and of course Europe. However, visa is creating a lot of hurdles in execution of these trips, appointments are lately like a lottery, VFS also sometimes plays to mint money with their premium lounge arrangements (where appointment are only available when one buys their premium lounge).

Ajay Chhabria, Partner, Intime Travels By Design
There is tremendous pressure on travel agents. Europe being a hot favourite every summer, putting huge pressure on us agents for Schengen visa dates. People want cooler places in summer, so Europe still is number one but many who have valid USA and UK visas, are opting for turkey as that is an e-visa online. Japan is a country many are opting for, and USA and UK are top on every family list as backups as many have family based there. Canada has strangely fastened up on the visa front, while Asian countries and Middle East countries’ visas are a cakewalk. Number one is Europe, which is yet in demand and people are trying every way possible for appointments. Many agents have made it a business to sell Schengen visa ODMV dates for money.

Anshu Tejuja, Managing Director, Ashoka Dream Holidays
The destinations selling most this summer include the evergreen Europe. However, I have seen clients wanting to explore more offbeat and unusual places in the countryside and village areas, beaches as well and add on new experiences in destinations already visited. A lot of people want to include gastronomic experiences in their itinerary. With increased spending power of high-end travelers, sale of business class travel and suite rooms has increased to make a statement. Apart from Europe, Asia and Australia, cruises in Japan, offbeat Africa, Vietnam and Korea have also done very well for us this summer. The visa challenges continue but things are slightly better than what they were last year. The planning needs to be done in advance.

Meha Vashi, Director, Nivalink Holidays
Switzerland is all time favourite, along with Alpine countries in Europe along with Scandinavia (specifically Norway and Finland). In short-haul travel CIS countries such as Azerbaijan are in demand, along with South East Asian Countries (specifically Thailand and Vietnam). In India, Himalayas are always one to head for in summer for travellers. While there is overall demand for Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Darjeeling-Sikkim, travellers are also looking at lesser visited areas of Upper Kumaon and offbeat Himachal (Sangla Valley, Lahaul Valley, Spiti Valley and Banjar Valley). We are expecting 20-25 per cent volume growth for Summer 2023 over Summer 2022. Visa processing capacity for Europe in general continues to fall short of demand.

Rajat Bagaria, Managing Director, Shrishti Tours & Travels
Europe as usual is the flavour for the summers, but at the same time, other destinations are in demand, thanks to the visa complications. Austria, Italy, Croatia, Norway and Iceland are in focus. On the other side – Bhutan, Mauritius & Maldives do get their share. Sri Lanka is also an area of interest for many. Domestic holidays continue in big numbers. Destinations where new direct flights have started or connections have improved, are showing good growth. Business is good. Visas are definitely hampering business. Appointment dates for US, and Schengen visas are difficult. Considering the number of tourists Europe gets from India – they should have a better streamlined policy to encash. Overall, the business is not suffering, but getting shifted to other destinations.

Anju Tandon, Chief Executive Officer, Ark Travel Group
Europe still holds a lot of charm for the traveller. France and Switzerland are still all-time favourite with people. Also, a first-time traveller to Europe has these two destinations as his first choice. Spain is fast catching up with the old favourites. Since summer vacations are longer than the rest of the breaks, long haul destinations are more in demand. Many a time the client is choosing a destination for the ease of visa appointments and time frame of issuance for each individual country. Higher airfares are also proving to be a deterrent for the coming season. There are no appointments for visa submissions and longer processing time for most European visa is a sincere concern as one is not able to achieve the desired numbers for want of these.

Rajesh Magow, Co-Founder and Group CEO, MakeMyTrip
On the international front, while long-haul destinations, including Europe, are generating a lot of interest, short-haul destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Maldives, and UAE make it to the top five. India’s rainbow offering of diverse cultures and landscapes, offering varied destinations to travellers, is coming to the fore in our booking mix. Goa, Kochi, Srinagar, Dehradun, and Leh are the most sought-after domestic flight destinations. From an accommodation lens, the top ten most booked destinations remain consistent, led by Goa. Leading metropolitan cities, such as Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai, take the next five slots. Jaipur, followed by Kolkata and Pune, complete the top ten list.

Alefiya Singh, Director, IRIS Reps India
This year, summer travel season looks promising, we can see a tremendous boost from India to Mauritius. Dubai is always in prime demand for summer holidays. Within this skyline are also some of the best hotels in the world. Indian vacationers are also choosing cruises. Vietnam is not only famous for the beautiful natural landscapes but also well-known for its untouched beach resources and limestone bays. If you are planning your tours to Vietnam from India, taking the Paradise Vietnam cruise is one of the must-do things that you will not want to miss. Several foreign missions in India are finding it difficult to process the sudden high demand for visas. We expect an improvement in the visa situation for Europe and UK, thus allowing more customers to travel to their favourite destinations.

Rahim Aslam, Founder & Consultant, One Above DMC
Business from India can grow in double digits, one of the fastest in the world. But some deterrents are – most of the destinations has increased cost up to 30 to 50 per cent and airlines more than 50 per cent, which plays a major role in choosing a destination. The future looks bright for short haul destinations like Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Vietnam. Europe is already sitting with 95 percent occupancy this summer for FITs, group series and leisure groups. We expect to see many exciting opportunities for globetrotters from India looking for unforgettable trips throughout the world. To attract more Indians many countries uplifted the restrictions this year, the travel loads have increased majorly.

Nitin John, Vice-Chairman & Director, Riya Group
Indians are now looking at at least one international vacation every year. Middle East, Singapore, Europe, UK, Vietnam, Thailand and Maldives will always be top summer favourites. Our strategy is to plan unique domestic trips during shorter holidays and a fabulous international destination for that one gigantic family vacation. We are seeing a similar growth for rail travel. Cruise is another segment with strong summer potential. It is predicted that summer travel will surpass pre-pandemic levels. This year, there has been significant reduction in visa appointment waiting period. However, there is need to reach at least pre-pandemic level. Hence, we are encouraging people to plan their summer trips to countries with a quick turnaround time.

Rikant Pittie, Co- Founder, EaseMyTrip
This summer, people are keen on planning a rejuvenating vacation to beat the scorching heat. Ladakh, with its snow-capped mountains, pleasant weather, and picturesque views, is their go-to destination. Travellers’ second choice is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We have witnessed a 70 per cent increase in searches on our platform and are expecting a growth trajectory through the summer season. With the resurgence in travel, delays in visa appointments continue to disrupt travel plans for the second consecutive year. However, several destinations, especially Schengen area countries, are making it possible for travellers to obtain visas in two to three days. Even the visa application period has been extended from 3 to 6 months.

Pradeep Kumar Rai, Managing Director, Skyline India Travels
This is year is quite good for Tourism. Though domestic is in large numbers in comparison to foreign tourists. Important destinations visited by tourists this year is Varanasi along with Prayagraj and Ayodhya because of best connectivity by air, rail & road. UP Tourism and Government of India have given appreciable effort for promotion of spiritual & pilgrimage tourism along with options to spend quality time with lots of changes and promotions. Tourists are also going to Agra and Gaya along with hill destinations like Manali, Spiti, Simla, Kufri, Nainital & Jim Corbett. Goa as usual is the hottest selling destination for India. Internationally, most in-demand destination is Vietnam. Other than that, outbound is popular for Europe, UK, Canada and USA.

Vinay Malhotra, Head of Global Sales, IndiGo
The Indian aviation sector witnessed a record number of flyers in the second half of 2022 surpassing the pre-Covid levels, with the growth streak continuing in 2023. We are expecting this summer to have an uptick in Domestic as well as international travel. We have been expanding in both, international as well as domestic markets. We are currently operating over 1800 daily flights, covering 400 routes, across 78 domestic and 26 international destinations. We are further planning to add 600 weekly flights this summer season. We have recently announced new destinations including Dharamshala and Nashik and commenced operations from North Goa, Hollongi, and Deoghar. We’re also planning to expand our network.

Anil Kalsi, Joint Secretary, TAFI
The travel bug is taking Indians to all parts of the world. It is no longer a luxury to travel overseas, as the middle income group also aspires to travel to value destinations in the neighbouring countries. It’s the experience and knowledge addition to the traveller that opens new vistas to their personality and growth. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore top the current list. The well-travelled are planning to travel to Europe, UK, USA, Canada and Australia, more so since they can afford the additional cost of getting priority visas or already have long term visas. A fair number of aspirational travellers are having major visa problems as getting visa interview dates are certainly a deterrent.

P P Khanna, President, ADTOI
With the hectic current academic session coming to an end, the summer rush could be seen all around the country. Hills, coastal areas would be preferred by all age groups. Pilgrim tourism will also be promoted by the religious groups. With the Government initiatives Northeast has come up very well as far as the infrastructure and connectivity are concerned. Being G20 Presidency year, all states would make special efforts to maximise tourist traffic to their states and bring out special promotional campaign with the latest additions. Kashmir, Leh, Ladakh witnessed an unprecedented tourist rush last summer. New destinations have been developed in Jammu (Bhaderwah), Kashmir (Doodhpathri)and Ladakh (Kargil) and there can be shift in the preferred destination.

Prateek Hira, Chairman, FICCI Uttar Pradesh & IATO UP Chapter
Summer of 2023 is expected to be an indication of the trends of travel after almost full recovery of domestic travel. In fact, in many cases the numbers have surpassed the pre-COVID levels. Also, with the restriction-less opening of international destinations, long-haul travel is back with the only downside being the high fares and the visa waiting period of many countries which has become long and impractical for leisure travellers. Kashmir and Ladakh have suddenly become preferred destinations since last year and this year too it’s on rise. Even the higher terrains of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are generating huge interest among domestic travellers. Surprisingly even the scorching heat of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, are in great demand this summer.

Sunil C Gupta, Director, Travel Bureau, Chairman, IATO North Region
The Indian Outbound has started well despite high airfares, limited seat availability, TCS and Visa struggles. The destinations doing well are Vietnam, Azerbaijan and the traditional southeast and middle east countries. New tours to Cyprus, Iran, Lebanon are exciting. Almaty and Uzbekistan are also getting popular and getting leisure groups and conferences. Saudi Arabia and Oman are also wooing Indian holiday Makers and doing well. Cruise travel is also widely accepted now after the pandemic. The traditional destinations like Paris, Switzerland remain on top of the favorites. Visa remains a dampner for most European countries and USA and late appointments for most European destinations will not help tourists during this summer.

Rajiv Mehra, President, IATO
This summer season, people are preferring different locations to go for a change. We had a meeting with the tourism minister of Maharashtra, where we were talking about visiting the state in monsoon season, as they are talking about some destinations for the same. It’s a very good idea to seek both domestic and international tourists in monsoon. Apart from the routine destinations like Mussorie and Nainital in North India or in the hills, and some hills in Maharashtra or Ooty. There are few new destinations coming up whether it is in Kerala, Karnataka or Mumbai. Hence, I am quite hopeful that people would like to go and avoid the crowd at other places. People prefer places where there is less rush. They are checking in to hotels in those areas and avoid run-of-the-mill places.

Valmiki Harikishan, Managing Director, Valmiki Travel & Tourism Solutions
Destinations popular this summer include Vietnam, Dubai, CIS countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Thailand remains an all-time favourite. However, VISA issues for major destinations are continuing. Huge delays in obtaining visa for European countries and USA. Hence travellers are choosing visa-free, visa-on-arrival or hassle-free visa countries to travel. Most of the countries are giving Visa on Arrival if Indians have a valid US, UK, Schengen visa, then they are given visa on arrival. To resolve the issues, staffing problem needs to be sorted out at the earliest by consulate and embassies to handle Indian travellers as post pandemic travel has increased beyond measure. Visas are getting delayed due to server down or cracked with few countries, which needs to be fixed urgently.

SMA Sheeraz, Director, Sheeraz Tours
There is a drastic boom in almost all the travel sectors, be it M!CE, Leisure, or Fixed departures. Preferred destinations for summer are mostly European countries and some offbeat cities in Europe and Turkey. Also, Vietnam is picking up this time. Travellers from II & III tier cities want to explore places with longer itineraries for this vacation eg. like Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, ALULLA in Saudi destination like Hua Hin & Chiang Mai in Thailand & Malaysian Kota Kina Balu, Radang. Regular itineraries are not trending anymore. Schengen Visa & US visas have major appointment issues. Hence, the client is getting diverted to other countries. The embassies should outsource more staff to clear the dependencies and accept more applications to promote tourism.

Inputs by TT Bureau

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