Outbound travel from China has multiplied three times over the past decade, with close to 170 million nationals traveling worldwide in 2019. Even though Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan welcomed a bulk of these, the Chinese have had a significant impact on global tourism.
The Chinese New Year is one of the most important periods in the calendar during which locals fly across the country but also abroad. However, post-COVID, the situation has changed drastically. The world still in turmoil, China’s government is encouraging its people to stay home and travel domestically.
Asian countries are thus focusing their attention on India. Showing a steady increase in outbound travel, 26 million Indians went overseas for leisure and business in 2019. A substantial amount of travel was to Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan.
This figure might be low compared to China, but one must remember that domestic travel within India saw a whopping 2.3 billion travelers crisscrossing across the diverse nation.
Why the Shift in Focus?
Besides the pandemic, several aspects have played a part in Asian countries shifting their attention to the Indian over Chinese traveler. Among the main reasons is the adventurous spirit of the residents. Indians have suffered much adversity over the years, which has made them mentally prepared for various challenging situations. Although the pandemic has affected business and the way of life, they are more than eager for a return to normalcy.
Due to COVID-19 originating from China, there has been an anti-Chinese sentiment across some areas of the world. As a result, Chinese nationals are hesitant about international travel, worried about possible unwarranted backlash. Moreover, keeping in mind these public opinions, several governments are limiting flights from China altogether.
On the flip side, even though the number of COVID cases is increasing in India, Asian countries are happy to welcome Indian travelers, Chinese not so much.
The response to the pandemic by the Indian government has had a direct and indirect implication on travel. The country had one of the strictest and longest lockdowns, which resulted in locals being cooped up inside their houses for months. When regulations relaxed, there was a desperation to travel, initially within the country but also internationally.
Among the first to fly after new guidelines came to apply were business travelers. Several local travel agencies like SOTC and Thomas Cook acted quickly, working with local organizations to offer special charters to Dubai and other countries that had opened their borders.
Simultaneously, the government formed a travel bubble with the Maldives, the first of its kind in South Asia. The bubble allowed tourists to fly between the two nations without having to quarantine themselves. By September, India had similar travel arrangements with 13 other countries, including Afghanistan, Japan, France, the USA, and the UK.
Typically, Chinese travelers have preferred all-in-one group tours when venturing outside their country. In our present state, keeping in view social distancing norms, regions do not allow a large number of people to congregate or travel together.
While Indian travelers too partake in group tours, there is a general trend towards independent travel. One reason for this is the rising interest in travel among the 25 to 35-year age group. Confident about planning their own trips, making hotel bookings, and comfortable with solo or small group travel, Asian countries now have a new demographic they can appeal to and attract.
The influencer culture is rampant across Indian travelers. With fewer internet restrictions than in China, more people than ever are now sharing honest information about their post-COVID travels through various platforms.
Making the most of India’s social media savviness has been the Maldives. Recently, a barrage of posts by Bollywood stars and starlets, having a good time on the island nation, was the talk of the town. It comes as no surprise that Indian travelers became the “number one source market” for the Maldives in 2020, locking over 60,000 tourists.
Maldives and Dubai played the bargain card brilliantly to their advantage. Indians know a good travel deal, and with resort prices at a never before low, many travelers are okay with going through the troubles and changing nature of air travel during the pandemic.
Indian business travelers are making the most of discounted hotel rates and no quarantine requirements by meeting clients face-to-face, resulting in more fruitful outcomes.
India recently started one of the biggest COVID vaccination drives in the world. As more people get the necessary double dose, a general sense of relief in travel is likely to prevail. Although PCR tests will still be required, the vaccine will give self-assurance to Indian travelers as they visit other Asian countries for a holiday.
Opening Up Borders
Looking at the success that the Maldives has had, more countries are gearing up to welcome Indian tourists. Seychelles will start regular flights from India in March, offering visitors a visa on arrival. They already accept private planes, but this change will likely bring more budget tourists.
Sri Lanka and Oman are on a similar path. They are now allowing visitors from across the world while especially tempting their Indian customers. For Kenya, another country that sees sizeable inbound traffic from India, tourists can apply for a visa online. With no quarantine required, Indians only need a PCR test before departure and yellow fever immunization.
Even countries like Switzerland, which are not open to regular tourists, are working on their media strategy for India. Over 300,000 Indians visited the country in 2018, and Switzerland hopes that they can once again entice Indian travelers to visit whenever travel resumes.