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Visa-Waiver: Sparks Excitement, Indian Outbound Travel Set to Surge

The outbound travel segment has received a significant boost, with the island nation of Sri Lanka, and the South East Asian neighbours of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia waiving off visa requirements for travellers from India.

The back to back announcements by each of these nations is a testament that economies heavily dependent on tourism are under pressure to outperform their peers, post Covid, and grab a larger share of the Indian outbound pie at a time when India has gained competitive advantage over China as a source market.

While the pandemic brought tourism to a complete halt, the post-Covid world saw soaring airfares, visa delays and cost of a travel package increase substantially. However, the Indian traveller has displayed resilience, and subsequently increased spend on niche and newer experiences, shopping and comfortable travel. In such a scenario, ease of travel, negating paper work or visa-free entry acts as a bonus move to improvement in travel.

According to Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), “We are already seeing an increased movement for Christmas and New Year holidays for these nations. This decision of visa-free entry to Indians will impact travel especially among last-minute bookers like the young travellers. Anything closer to home and free is an advantage when the destination is attractive, and offers all elements for a perfect holiday. Starting 2024, this will only accelerate movement from India to SE Asia. Since visa-waiver makes the tour easier on the pocket, this is beneficial for short-haul travel of minimum 3-4 night duration.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Riaz Munshi, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI), said, “This is a positive development, and will benefit travel in the South East Asian region. Moreover, for a family of four, this brings down the overall cost of travel since entry is free, providing additional disposable income in the hands of the group for better spending during the trip. Moreover, destinations that are easier to access, and the visa process is smooth are preferred since a large portion of Indians are late-bookers.”

Munshi, however, is of the view, this is a short-term measure to fill the gap, and reach a certain demand-supply threshold. Within a few months, the visa requirement will be enforced again, he said.

 

Ajay Prakash, President, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), believes that a visa-waiver is set to see an exponential surge in outbound travel from India in the coming months, while the inbound vertical will lag behind. “A visa-free country is a great attraction, provided the airlines don’t jump on the bandwagon to increase fares.”

Prakash believes it’s crucial to prioritise the growth of the inbound segment as well. The industry can truly thrive only when both the inbound and outbound sectors grow in tandem. He said that the need of the hour is aggressive marketing, and ease of visa, even if it’s an e-visa, travel to India is a complex process. “With overseas tourism marketing offices shut down, the onus of promoting India as a favourable tourism destination lies with the missions abroad, and their efforts are clearly not enough. India needs to take a cue from its South East Asian neighbours to bring in more tourists to its shores.”

Mayal is of the view that the momentum of this development will spill over to 2024, and these destinations will gain advantage, giving a tough competition to their European counterparts.

With sentiments already upbeat about outbound movement from India in 2024, what will be interesting to watch out for is the re-emergence of established destinations as a choice of preference, over newer ones, among the Indian travellers.

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