India’s tourism sector is counting on the upcoming May-June travel season to finally leave the pandemic blues behind, with people already starting to make their summer vacation plans.
Almost 84 percent of Indians plan to spend on leisure travel either domestically or internationally in the next four to six weeks, according to a survey by SurveyMonkey. About 35 percent of the respondents are considering travel overseas in the next few months and the remaining are looking to unwind at popular local destinations.
Airlines in India expect domestic traffic to recover to pre-pandemic levels from May – compared with the 85 percent mark hit so far – if another wave of Covid-19 infections does not hit the country. Hotels and the tourism sector are also eyeing a recovery after two years of disruptions.
According to Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer at MakeMyTrip, an online travel company, sentiment is rising every week and will hopefully surpass previously recorded numbers in the coming months.
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Prakash said his company has already achieved 100 percent recovery in the flight segment compared to pre-Covid levels and leisure travel bookings will continue to lead the recovery as the summer holiday season approaches.
Pradeep Shetty, joint secretary of the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India, said there has been a gradual uptick in hotel bookings since March, and May and June are expected to be even better on account of the holiday season.
Travel demand is likely to increase by 150 percent on-year in hubs such as New Delhi and Mumbai, according to a report by RateGain Travel Technologies.
Holidaymakers domestically are eyeing popular hotspots Goa, Srinagar, Dehradun, Pondicherry, Mysore and Kochi for their planned vacations.
Search queries and bookings for May-June have so far risen about 200 percent and 40-70 percent, respectively, compared to January-March, according to data from MakeMyTrip, Yatra.com, Thomas Cook, EaseMyTrip, Ixigo and domestic airlines.
“For the upcoming summer vacations, we are witnessing a 40 percent rise in bookings for Goa, Kashmir, Jaipur and Himachal. We are also witnessing a sharp growth in air ticket bookings to and from tier 2 and 3 cities,” said Nishant Pitti, co-founder of EaseMyTrip.
Rajeev Kale, president & country head, holidays, MICE, Visa at Thomas Cook (India), said his company had witnessed a three-fold surge in demand for the May-June compared to March-April.
Demand for travel to places of worship like Shirdi, Vrindavan, Ajmer and Bodh Gaya is also rising. Online travel agencies expect spiritual travel to rise 60-80 percent during the summer vacations.
Daniel D’Souza, president & country head - holidays, SOTC Travel, said travellers are also looking at experiences such as cruises, biking trips, wellness and yoga retreats, ayurveda treatments, vegetarian special food tours and safaris at leading national reserves.
“Based on customer interest, we have witnessed multi-generational families taking that much needed holiday, especially during festivals and extended weekends at eclectic accommodations like villa stays, tea/coffee plantations, and eco-lodges,” D’Souza said.
Indian travellers are eyeing popular overseas tourism hotspots that are closer to home such as Dubai, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives to unwind, data collected by tourism companies shows.
Major online travel agents and airlines say that search queries have risen 90-130 percent while bookings have increased by 20-30 percent compared to levels in March.
Search queries to Dubai, Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Singapore have doubled since the government announced earlier this month that international flights will be opened up from March 27.
“Current data patterns on the platform indicate that 96 percent of the searches are for the coming summer holiday season, with Dubai, Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, London, Paris and Amsterdam ranking high on the consideration list of international destinations,” MakeMyTrip’s Prakash said.
International tourism continued its recovery in January, with a much better performance compared to the weak start to 2021, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine adds pressure to economic uncertainties, coupled with many Covid-related travel restrictions still in place, it said on March 25.
VFS Global, the world’s largest outsourcing visa processing company, said applications for travel to Dubai, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives have risen almost 30 percent in the past month from February.
According to Yatra.com, international travel queries have risen 130 percent in March from levels in February, while overseas bookings have risen close to 30 percent.
“Our travel queries have even surpassed pre-Covid levels in March as Indians are looking to travel to international destinations again after two years,” an official from Yatra.com said.
EaseMyTrip said enquiries for destinations such as Dubai, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the US and Australia have seen a strong jump between May and June.
“International destinations such as Dubai and Sri Lanka have been witnessing a surge in demand, not just for longer vacations, but for short-haul weekend trips as well,” Pitti said.
Rise in luxury travelIndian tourists are not only looking to vacation internationally but are also willing to spend more on travel with queries and bookings for premium hotels, private villas and eclectic stays rising significantly in the past month.
“Our customers are displaying a clear preference for private villas with a personal chef and concierge services, villas with a backyard, pool with a deck and more for luxury stays and relaxation – with multi-generational family or groups of friends,” Kale said.
Data from Yatra.com shows that the average per person expenditure on booking a week-long holiday has risen by almost $200 (Rs 15,270), with customers booking luxury experiences like private accommodation, valet services and adventure experiences on their trips.Booking patterns also indicate that travellers are choosing slow travel, leading to long stays when planning their first international trip after the pandemic.