Outbound travel from India is picking up. Thomas Cook (India)’s senior vice president & head – Leisure Travel Outbound, Shibani Phadkar says that not only more Indians are travelling abroad, they are increasingly looking at niche tourism such as sports and wine tourism.
Q: Do you think 2015 was a good/bad year for outbound travel from India? Why?
A: 2015 was indeed a great year for us. The Summer of 2015 was a peak travel season for Indians. Our bookings went up by 30% with interest not just from families, but also from ten younger Gen Y (youth), friends travelling together, solo-women travellers, couples, also the discerning luxury traveller; interestingly MICE groups too. While families lead our growth story this year, ad-hoc group of friends were also a significant segment; middle India turned out to be a powerhouse in terms of our Europe volumes. For the individual traveller segment, we saw an increasing demand for countries such as Greece and Flanders.
Q: Were there any particular trends that stood out for 2015?
A: We saw sports tourism, once considered a niche, now featuring prominently on the travel calendar of most Indians. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Australia and Ne Zealand garnered interest from Indian cricket aficionados – not merely to watch the matches live on ground, but equally to explore the delightful diversity that both destinations offer.The Trans-Tasman joint visa agreement, for the match was truly a good strategic move by the Australian and New Zealand Governments. This eased documentation and built momentum fuelling demand.
Q: Do you expect 2016 to be a good year as well?
A: We expect that with ground-breaking developments like the Irish-UK Visa Deal taking place, the coming years is certain to enjoy higher outbound travel for both leisure as well as MICE travel.
Q: What was your strategy to grow the outbound travel market in 2015?
A: In the face of exchange movements and a price sensitive consumer, we took a strategic view in introducing tours across a range of price points to suit every wallet. This worked well in our favour. For example, our super budget six day Europe tour at a launch price of merely INR 59900 per person resulted in impressive bookings within a short period. Europe has always been a favourite for Indian travellers and while UK, Switzerland, France, Italy and Germany continued to top the list, Spain, Scandinavia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Vienna are fast emerging as strong contenders.
Q: What are outbound consumers looking for when they come to you?
A: Special Interest tours such as wine/ whiskey trails, star gazing, mono destinations, slow travel, learning based travel, pop up restaurants, tea tourism, golfing and horse-riding, personalized shopping and adventure tours are steadily growing year on year. Thomas Cook India’s internal research & analysis has revealed a powerful emerging segment that has evolved from being mere hobby enthusiasts to truly being passionate on experiential travel. They are looking for vacations based on their special interests.
Our teams have been also receiving strong demand for adventure and fun experiences as a part of hobby based thematic vacations and engaging itineraries centering on their preferred hobbies which include the likes of golfing and horse-riding. New travel trends like interest based itineraries are gaining ground with Indians, hence outdoor-adventure, hobby based travel, culinary tourism, education trips and regional tours are seeing growing demand and smaller tourism boards are keen to position themselves as the ideal holiday option.
Q: Are there any particularly popular outbound tourism trends at present?
A: Culinary/cuisine is clearly trending – already on a 20% upswing. While we saw its origins in classic wine tours of France or more contemporary new age wines of California and Australia – New Zealand, today we have a veritable smorgasbord: wine-cheese-chocolatier experiences in Switzerland, champagne trails in France, culinary tours around Italy’s Piedmont truffle festival/its famed Tuscany region to heady safari-spa-wine & fine dining itineraries of South Africa.
The HNI-UHNI segment of our luxury brand “Indulgence” has truly decadent itineraries on offer including Cordon Bleu programmes and private dining at Michelin star restaurants in Europe; a stay in an exclusive 16th century chateaux, touring Burgundy’s world renowned Cote d’Or and of course wine tasting aplenty!