Indian tourists pack bags for exotic, offbeat locales


NEW DELHI (eTN) – Planning a holiday trip during this winter break? Well, forget it. You’re most likely to be greeted by a ‘Sold Out’ sign instead of a welcome drink. From beaches to mountains, most hotels are putting away their check-in register as they don’t have any more rooms to offer.

All domestic low-cost carriers (LCCs) are also expecting 100% load factor around Christmas and New Year’s eve. Many airlines are deploying bigger aircraft on the India sector during the winter months around Christmas and New Year.

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Amidst all this, the tourism industry is spotting two new trends — one is an unprecedented rise in demand for domestic destinations such as Kerala, Himachal and Uttarakhand in the long haul segment, and Jaipur, Agra, Shimla, Manali and Mussoorie for those wanting to travel short distances. And two, a growing demand for Europe to experience a White Christmas.

While tried and tested destinations are thronged by people each year, travellers are also exploring new destinations. “This year, we have seen demand for destinations such as China, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Turkey and Greece. A surprise this year is the demand for Europe. People want to experience a White Christmas, in all its hues.” says Karan Anand, head-business development, Cox & Kings.

Even the foreign tourism boards have chipped in to tap the Indian winter break market. For countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Mauritius or long-haul ones like Australia or even the US, Indians comprise a significant section of the tourists.

In fact, tourism boards see higher growth in tourism from India rather than any other Asian countries. Manoharan, director, Tourism Malaysia, India, hopes to receive over 2,000 arrivals during the last week of December 2007. “We are offering special packages for Indians that include the year-end Malaysia sale carnival, street festivities, parades and performance and a party bash in Kuala Lumpur.”

Indeed, tourism is the flavour of the season. And why not? The industry has seen a 30% increase in travel between October and December this year vis-a-vis last year. And this, when prices have not changed significantly for holiday packages despite the weakening dollar. Among the many factors guiding this boom is the convenience of booking online. Industry estimates say that Rs 5,400 crore worth of travel was bought online this year, with the online market expected to grow to Rs 10,000 crore by 2008.

According to VM Albuquerque, managing director, Alcon Victor Group, hotels such as Resort Dona Sylvia, Ramada, Majorda Beach Resort and others have few rooms for sale for the New Year as they are contracted to the charter operators on more or less a fixed price for the entire season.”

Some hotels which have lesser charter presence, such as Park Hyatt, Taj Exotica, Marriott and Cidade de Goa, have at least 50–60% of their rooms for sale to the domestic sector, he says.

Says Arjun Sharma, managing director, La Passage to India and Select Hotels: ”Most of our inbound charters are from Europe to the beaches. The Europeans have a good excuse to escape the cold. So they come to the beaches in Goa, Kovalam and Mahabalipuram.”

M Shervani, CEO, Star Hotels and board member, FHRAI, agrees. “As the holiday period in India is short, most travellers within the country prefer to go to the hills. Those wanting to go abroad prefer short-haul trip to South-east Asia,” he says.