Inbound travel to India is surging, driven in part by big-ticket events and geopolitical issues, according to tourism sector executives. “We have seen a surge in inbound travel since October. A few of our key markets, including Germany and France, have fully recovered to 2019 level. Overall our inbound business is at 82 per cent of pre-Covid level,” said Dipak Deva, MD of Travel Corporation of India, Thomas Cook India’s inbound travel division.
A combination of factors is driving traveller interest towards India, said Deva. “Western tourists are still not travelling to China in large numbers. Destinations like Egypt, Israel and Jordan have fallen off tour itineraries because of the Gaza war. India as a destination is getting favourable reviews, and that is contributing to growth. I expect 2024 to be even better for inbound travel as Air India expands its network,” he added.
Data from RateGain Travel Technologies, a global SaaS solutions provider, show a slump in travel demand to West Asia after the start of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Hotel bookings from the US to West Asia have declined 26 per cent, while those from India have reduced by 6 per cent on a year on year basis due to ongoing tensions and travel advisories, it said. The only exception is Saudi Arabia, which continues to attract pilgrims to its holy places.
On the other hand, online travel companies are reporting a positive start of peak travel season in India due to cricket World Cup and Diwali festivities. “Currently, we are observing a robust performance in inbound travel, driven by business and leisure demand,” said Bharatt Mallik, Senior Vice-President (flights and hotel business), Yatra Online. Agoda said its search data show an increase in tourists visiting India during Diwali, with highest numbers coming from the US, UK, Singapore, Australia and the Netherlands. Hotels too are benefitting from increased arrivals.
“We have observed significant contributions to the inbound travel mix from markets such as Singapore, West Asia, Korea and France in recent times, “ said Salil Kopal, director of marketing, Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai.
India received 6.4 million foreign tourists between January-September, which is 84 per cent of arrivals of the first nine months of 2019. The Tourism Ministry hopes that foreign tourist arrivals will reach pre-Covid levels by next March. India received 10.9 million foreign tourists in 2019.
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Aashish Gupta, consulting CEO of Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality, said that deepening of the West Asian conflict will have an impact on the tourism traffic to and from the region and tourists from other countries may consider visiting India.
While industry executives are upbeat there are challenges, too. Airfares still remain elevated, increasing tour costs. While foreign tourist arrivals have picked up they are still not at 2019 levels. Rajiv Mehra, president of Indian Association of Tour Operators believes that reduction in Russian tourists and drying up of Ukrainian and Israeli arrivals as a contributory factor. The recent suspension of visa issuance for Canadian citizens too has had an impact, he said.
“As the Indian tourism industry is looking to recover from Covid-19 impact, it is critical to intensify our tourism marketing efforts to support inbound tourism,” Gupta added.