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Is India becoming the new China?

What’s the biggest emerging outbound tourism market? India. And is Sri Lanka Tourism doing enough to attract more Indians?


In 2022, India generated Asia’s highest outbound travel volume for the first time, with foreign trips exceeding those of China, South Korea, and Japan. With around 10 million foreign trips, the country registered a 190 percent year-on-year rise in outbound travel last year. Indian outbound travel is on the rise and is expected to surpass US$ 24 billion by 2024 and $ 44.7 billion by 2032.


Not only has India overtaken China  as the most populous country in the world, it is also the biggest emerging outbound tourism market and is among the fastest growing markets globally; with approximately 80 million passport holders, a growing population of youth and a rising level of purchasing power, especially among the middle class.


As per UNWTO statistics; from 2019 before COVID hit, Indian tourists are among the world’s highest spending globetrotters with a spending power, estimated to be four times that of the Chinese and Japanese. The average Indian traveller spent US$1200 per visit compared with Americans who spent about $700 and Europeans who spent $500 approximately.


Though India is not yet amongst the top 10 source markets for many countries across the world, it is already the largest market for several of its neighbours such as Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. For many others including the UAE, Thailand, and Malaysia, it is rapidly emerging as one of the top 5 source markets globally.


The majority of Indian tourists go to the Asia Pacific region, namely Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. They prefer South East Asian destinations for two major reasons – mainly due to the close proximity of certain countries, where little time is wasted in travel, and because these destinations have similarities in terms of culture and food which they can relate to; soothing factors that provide a comforting ‘home away home’ safety net, particularly for those traveling out of India for the first time.


In 2018, Sri Lanka recorded 2.33 million tourist arrivals of which 424,887 (18%) were visitors from India – part of the Indian outbound tourists who accounted for 22.5 million of the worldwide tourists total in 2018. Indian outbound tourists’ figures rose to 27 million approximately in 2019, before COVID shut down travel. Post-pandemic, over 21 million Indians embarked on an international journey in 2022 during the ‘recovery’ phase.


Sri Lanka has offered Indians planning to visit visa free access – as have 57 other countries including several in Asia. Some of these countries offer longer duration stays with multiple-entry facilities. Joining Sri Lanka in accepting India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) payments, allowing Indians to pay in rupees during their outbound travel are Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, and France and the list is bound to get bigger.


Countries across the world are trying to attract Indian travelers by launching targeted marketing campaigns showcasing their unique attractions, with some even partnering with Indian celebrities or influencers. Abu Dhabi Tourism, for instance, has enlisted Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh as the destination ambassador. Meanwhile, Germany, which hosted more than 600,000 room nights from Indian travelers in 2022, is investing INR 45 million in marketing efforts to regain pre-pandemic levels of 1 million room nights from Indians by the end of this year.


Saudi Arabia has introduced a 96-hour free stopover visa with a free one day hotel stay for travelers using SAUDIA airline, while the Singapore airline, Scoot, is offering a 50% discount for children.


Sri Lanka Tourism is confident of reaching 1.55 million arrivals in 2023. Using 2018 statistics, where Indian visitors accounted for 18% of that year’s total arrivals, the island should welcome 270,000 Indian visitors in 2023. As of end September 2023, Sri Lanka has attracted 200,310 Indian tourists and that target appears extremely surpass-able.


However, that is a miniscule (1%), of the 24 over million Indians who are expected to travel overseas in 2023 and begs the question are we really focusing on this market considering its huge potential and easy access to the market in terms of marketing and reach?


Shafeek Wahab – Editor, Hospitality Sri Lanka, Consultant, Trainer, Ex-Hotelier



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