From destinations announcing relaxed and simplified visa regimes for Indian tourists to airlines introducing new routes to fly them, from new destinations foraying into the market to existing ones wooing them with engaging campaigns, 2014 indeed was quite an eventful year for Indian outbound market.
The world finally took into cognizance India’s expanding middle class who were ready to spend on travelling and explore newer destinations. Exclusive campaigns, incentive programme, dedicated trainings, to name a few came rolling in as India concretized its claim as an important source market.
India Tourism Review looks at some of the key happenings of the year just going by.
Single Visa for Indian tourists to England and Ireland: Recognizing separate visas to travel to England and Ireland as a serious impediment in the growth of tourist inflow, the two countries decided to issue joint visa for Indian travelers this year.
Now visitors from India will be able to travel freely within the Common Travel Area using either an Irish or UK visa.
Canada Tourism Commission introduces CAN+: Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced the launch of the CAN Plus program in India to make visa processing easier and quick.
This program includes three visa “Express” programs for Indian business people, students and tourists; 10 Visa Applications Centres (VACs) across India — a global record; and a standardized multiple-entry visa at a reduced fee of CAD $100.
French Visa within 48 hours: French Embassy in December announced that Indian tourists will get French Visa within two days of applying in the French Consulate and within 3 days from VFSs. Additionally, eight more VFSs were announced taking the total number to 14 in India.
Visa Waiver for Indian tourists to Reunion Island: Reunion Island, a French administered island in Indian Ocean abolished the provision of visa for travelers from India, given that the bookings are done through the authorised 56 Indian Travel agents.
Easy visa for business travellers to New Zealand: A new agreement was signed between Immigration New Zealand (INZ), Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) and six key travel agents which will allow Indian business travellers to get their visa issued within three days and considerably reduce the paperwork.
South Africa: This year South Africa introduced in-person biometric data collection for issuing tourist visas and unabridged birth certificates for travelling minors which became major issues of concern across the industry. Travel agents reported a 80-90% drop in bookings. However, the concerned officials informed that new centers will be opened soon to meet the requirement.
India has been recognized as one of the least penetrated markets when it comes to aviation, but the situation may begin to look up with Government readying itself to bring some major changes in the industry. The new Civil Aviation Minister strongly hinted that the 5/20 rule may soon be scrapped.
Also, the year was full of flash sales and discount offers from airlines who competed against each other to increase their market share here.
While the FAA downgrade still persists, the highlight of this year, however, was Air India becoming a Star Alliance Member which is expected to give its passengers seamless access to over 1,200 destinations around the world. The airlines was allocated about Rs7000 crore in this budget. It is expected that the airline will soon start making profits.
As far as other domestic airlines are concerned, while Indigo remained the only profit making airline, SpiceJet’s condition grew from bad to worse. In order to avoid Kingfisher-like fate, the airline is trying to work up a way to raise funds to get itself going.
Jet Airways also witnessed major revamps supported by its partner airline Etihad Airways. It announced many new flights on new routes, also connecting many Tier- II cities. It also became the only airline to fly to Vietnam, which is being seen as the next most sought after tourist destination.
Apart from this, Gulf Carriers continued to reign Indian sky, eating into the market share of both Indian airlines as well as non-gulf carriers. Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of United Arab Emirates operates flight to about 23 cities now. Gulf Air, flydubai, Emirates also continued expanding their operations in India, entering Tier-II and Tier-III cities.
While British Airways celebrated its 90 years of India operation, Virgin Atlantic withdrew operations from Mumbai, one of the two cities it flew to. Lufthansa became the latest airline to bring the superjumbo A-380 to India , becoming the third airline to do so after Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
Besides these, while Air Seychelles started its operation on Indian routes, Air Vietnam is soon expected to do so. A number of codeshare agrrements were also signed between the airlines to make navigating the world easier.
However, Air Kenya and Royal Jordanian withdrew their India operation.
Most visited Destinations:
Dubai stood out as the most visited foreign destination, while despite the military coup Thailand attracted more than a million Indians this year also. Singapore and other Asian countries like Mauritius and Phillipines remained popular among Indian outbound tourists. This was also Visit Malaysia Year.
While Western Europe still remained a favorite among well-heeled travelers, a strong and stable rupee made the tours especially lucrative. Central Eastern European countries also witnessed an increase in Indian tourist arrivals, thanks to major Bollywood hits like Ek Tha Tiger and Kick being shot in these exotic destinations.
Brand USA which has been aggressively promoting USA in Indian market pegs the total number of Indian visitors at one million.
Apart from hosting roadshows and FAM trips, numerous destinations also ran exclusive campaigns to lure Indian tourists. While New Zealand and Australia carried out a number of campaigns in order to woo Indian cricket fans for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup, destinations like South Africa, France and USA continued to bolster and promote their ongoing campaigns.
Destinations looked beyond metropolitans to invite tourists from other cities as well. Brand USA this year took their ‘Discover America’ campaign to Tier-II cities and France opened new VFSs.
South Africa conducted Take Me To South Africa V.2 contest to engage and encourage people to visit the country. Also, Korea and Oman tried to create an aspirational aura around their respective destinations with their latest brand campaigns.
New Destinations that entered Indian market:
Among the new destinations which forayed into the Indian market were Vietnam, Croatia, China, Central Europe, Scandinavian, Latin American countries with South Carolina becoming the latest USA destination to start its promotion here.