New itineraries: Four key tourism trends that shatter some myths
The tourism landscape is seeing interesting changes, here are four trends that are at the shattering myths.
Bangladesh has of late been getting more than its usual share of attention in India. One reason has been the controversial National Register of Citizens in Assam that was tasked with identifying illegal migrants who moved to the state after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Another is the criticism that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been soft on the influx of undocumented Bangladeshis into the state.
But Bangladesh has also made an economic contribution to India. In 2016, it pipped the United States to become the largest source of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) in India. Bangladeshis continued to retain the top spot in 2017 and 2018, according to India’s ministry of tourism. Every fifth foreign tourist in India is now a Bangladeshi. FTAs from Bangladesh totalled 2.2 million in 2018, twice the figure in 2015 and four times the number in 2013. In every month between January and August this year, the share of Bangladesh in FTAs has been higher than the year-ago period. In August, it accounted for 30% of all FTAs.
One usual comment on this surge is that most FTAs from Bangladesh are medical tourists. But that is not the case. Only a tenth of them came for treatment in 2017, the last year for which a split of the data is available from the tourism ministry. More than four-fifths were here on holiday. In fact, India is a popular foreign destination for Bangladeshis. “We have grown up watching Indian channels and most of our border is with India. So it is a natural choice for a holiday,” says Montakim Ahmed Chowdhury, a 32-year-old businessman from Dhaka, over phone. Chowdhury first visited India in 2010 and has returned 14 more times — four this year alone. He says none of these visits was for business; he came as a tourist. He has been to Delhi, Agra and Chennai, among others.
Bangladeshis have always visited Kolkata’s markets for sari shopping before Eid, says Farid Hossain, minister for press at the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi. Now they have started venturing beyond their traditional favourites of West Bengal and the Northeast to Manali, Shimla, Jaipur and Ajmer. “With the Indian government gradually easing visa norms over 10 years, the numbers have gone up.”
In 2016, New Delhi made it easier for Bangladeshis with confirmed air, train or bus tickets to submit a tourist visa application. Later it lifted entry and exit restrictions at 24 airports for Bangladeshis. In 2018, India’s largest visa application centre on a foreign soil was opened in Dhaka.
TREND #2 India’s rise as a tourist destination
India may still be a minnow in the global tourism market, the success of the Incredible India campaign notwithstanding. Foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) in India in 2018 accounted for 1.2% of international tourist arrivals, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), with at least two-dozen countries having a higher share than India. But the tripling of FTAs in the past 10 years, from 5.3 million to 17.4 million, indicates India is making some headway in getting a toehold globally. In the same period, India’s international tourism receipts grew from $11.8 billion to $28.6 billion, according to the UNWTO.
“The greatest turning point in tourism for India, after Incredible India, was electronic visas,” says Dipak Deva, managing director of Travel Corporation of India, an arm of Thomas Cook India that handles inbound tourism. The process of making visa application simpler for foreigners began in January 2010, when visa on arrival was launched for five countries. This was extended to more countries later. But the big leap came in September 2014, when India unveiled e-visas for citizens of 43 countries entering through nine airports. The government has since further liberalised e-visas to include 166 countries and 28 airports. It has increased the duration of a tourist e-visa from 60 days with double entry to one year with multiple entries. The length of stay per visit has gone up from 60 days to 90. Around 2.4 million foreign tourists arrived in India on evisas in 2018, compared with 4.5 million in 2015, according to the ministry of tourism.
Much smaller Asian countries, including Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, had an edge over India due to less cumbersome visa process. India has addressed that over the past five years. While FTAs in Sri Lanka’s FTAs are one-seventh of India’s, Thailand’s is more than twice as many as India’s, says UNWTO.
India has a huge advantage over other countries in terms of the varied experiences and terrains it offers. That means the average length of stay for a tourist in India is 12-14 nights, while it is 2-3 nights for most other countries, says Deva.
One concern that still exists, he adds, is over safety as crimes against women are widely reported by the international media. “The other major negative is pollution in north India.”
India needs to address these issues if it wants to be among the top tourism markets in Asia, if not globally. But it cannot afford to just think of the economics of tourism, given the damage it has caused local communities and the environment in many parts of the world. An incredible, safe and sustainable India may be the way to go.
TREND #3 Dominance of Tamil Nadu
The top-of-the-mind destinations for an Indian holiday generally include Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala. But a surprise is that Tamil Nadu is the top state in domestic and foreign tourist visits. It accounted for a fifth of each category in 2018, according to the ministry of tourism. Tamil Nadu has garnered the largest number in both categories year after year, except in 2017, when it lost out to Maharashtra in foreign tourist visits.
Tamil Nadu is not known for its tourism-promotion campaigns the way Kerala or Madhya Pradesh is. What, then, explains the state’s status as the most favoured destination of Indian and foreign travellers?
The oft-quoted reason is its ancient temples in Mahabalipuram, Madurai, Thanjavur and Chidambaram. Then there are the popular but crowded hill towns of Ooty and Kodaikanal. Romil Pant, senior vice-president-holiday, Thomas Cook India, says Tamil Nadu is among the company’s top five states in domestic tourism. “The infrastructure in the state, the number of airports and its perception as a safe state for tourists have helped.”
But these alone do not explain the 386 million domestic tourist visits and 6 million foreign visits it had in 2018. These numbers also included business visits to Chennai, Coimbatore and Tirupur, India’s biggest textile hub. Tamil Nadu has India’s secondbiggest economy among states, after Maharashtra.
The other factor could be medical tourism. According to a 2015 report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Grant Thornton, Tamil Nadu was the preferred destination for 40-50% of foreign medical tourists to India.
Runa Rani Roy brought her father Shambhu Nath from Rangpur in Bangladesh to Apollo Hospital in Chennai in May 2017 after he suffered a brain stroke the previous year. “The public hospitals in Dhaka are overburdened with a huge number of patients and private hospitals are expensive.” They ended up staying in Chennai for nine days and spent Rs 50,000.
In 2017, the most recent year for which data from the tourism ministry related to medical tourism is available, there were 5 lakh FTAs on medical visas. There are no figures available for intra-country medical tourism. Tamil Nadu’s share of domestic tourist visits has slipped from a fourth in 2014 to a fifth in 2018, but no state seems close to replacing it at the top.
TREND #4 Indians head to newer destinations
Till a generation ago, middle-class Indians considered themselves lucky if they managed to go abroad once in their lifetime. But with rising incomes, Indians are travelling abroad in larger numbers. Easy availability of holiday loans has also encouraged Indians to travel abroad more. In 1997, there were 3.7 million departures of Indian tourists. By 2017, that figure had grown more than six times to around 24 million, according to the ministry of tourism. A breakdown of the data showing business and leisure travellers is not available.
An interesting development is that Indians are choosing newer destinations such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Tanzania and Myanmar. Between 2011 and 2016, the latest year for which country-wise data is available, the number of Indian arrivals in these countries at least doubled, says the tourism ministry. Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer, MakeMyTrip, says, “There is a noticeable shift in destinations preferred by Indian travellers, with many moving away from well-known to offbeat and experiential destinations.”
His fascination with Japan made Advait Ubhayakar, a Mumbai-based copywriter, and his parents to take a trip to the country last year. Ubhayakar opted for a package tour as it meant he did not have to plan the itinerary. “It made sense to do a group tour as it was in line with the kind of place Japan is — disciplined and structured.” They spent Rs 1.8 lakh per person on the 7-day tour and decided to stay an additional week with the friend. A trip of a similar duration to France and Switzerland costs around Rs 1.1-1.2 lakh.
Between 2011 and 2016, Indian arrivals in Japan more than doubled to 1.2 lakh. Romil Pant, senior vice-president, holidays, Thomas Cook India, says the number of Indians they take to Japan has grown by a third annually over the past three years.
South Korea is another country attracting more Indians. Our familiarity with Korean brands like Samsung, LG and Hyundai as well as Korean pop and TV shows has led to a deeper interest in the country. South Korea saw Indian arrivals more than double to nearly 2 lakh between 2011 and 2016. Among the other new destinations are Tanzania and Myanmar, which saw their numbers increase four and five times, respectively, albeit on a smaller base, according to the ministry of tourism. Tanzania, known for its safaris, is emerging as an alternative to Kenya, though it is more expensive.
While Dubai and Bangkok might continue to be popular among Indian travellers, it is clear that many are choosing to look beyond the usual suspects.