‘Return of inbound travel hit by recent visa issues’


NEW DELHI : India’s travel and tourism industry will have to rely on domestic demand for some more time as inbound tourists still lag behind their pre-pandemic level.

However, domestic travel demand has rebounded after the Omicron wave at the beginning of the year, according to Booking.com, a hotel and flight reservations website.

India is recovering from the pandemic-linked lull, said Santosh Kumar, country manager for India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, at Booking.com. “People are just starting to return to their normal routines of going into the offices. This trend of taking more frequent vacations, staycations, and spending more on experiences, is something that we have not really seen to reduce. That’s really reflected in our business uptick as well in the market. India has more than before definitely become a priority market for us,” he said.

While metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai continue to be on the travel list, locations like Goa, Udaipur, Jaipur, Puducherry, Amritsar, Ooty and Manali are the top booked destinations by travellers this festive season, he added.

“Despite some of the headwinds we’ve seen, like food and fuel prices going up, or how hotel average daily rates in some destinations like non-metro cities have gone up significantly, demand has been very strong. And it continues to be strong,” he said.

He said India has been very self-sustaining in this regard of domestic travel. For Booking.com, the June quarter saw a significant rebound compared to the first three months of 2022, when the Omicron wave hit the country. The second quarter of CY22 was when travel really picked up in India for the company, Kumar said. There was, though, a lull for the company in July. August and September were when the numbers rose significantly again, he said. “India has done even better than the global numbers that I’m talking about,” he added.

Religious travel has also started to come back quite significantly for the firm. He said travellers are still combining work with leisure, and the average booking window has gone up too. This was not the case during the pandemic when a lot of people were making last-minute bookings. But he said it might take some time till international travellers return to India. The return of inbound travel has been hit by recent visa issues, such as in the UK.

According to the ministry of tourism, foreign tourist arrivals in India registered a 45% decline in 2021 from the previous year. The Asia Pacific region has lagged slightly behind Europe in terms of recovery, Kumar said. Asia’s recovery is also linked to that of China, which currently isn’t open. The company has also recently on-boarded, for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, cricketer Suresh Raina as its India ambassador, along with international cricketers Jos Butler and Pat Cummins. Kumar said the company does not disclose specifics about the financials of its partnerships and campaigns.

“The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia will be an incredible sporting and cultural event. We believe cricket, like travel, has the power to bring us closer together, engaging millions around the world, inspiring and reminding fans that there is a world of experiences waiting to be discovered,” he added.

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