Indian Travel Agents Need to Introduce Travellers to New Products, Experiences
|Dr. Sanjay Nadkarni & Ashok Kapur
The tourism industry in ASEAN is going weak at the knees and falling in love with India’s rapidly expanding urban middle class. If pesky issues of visas, food choices and prejudices can be overcome, the infatuation will grow into a long-term marriage of dependency and mutual respect.
Furthermore, Indian travel agents need to introduce Indian travellers to new products and experiences beyond trips to ASEAN’s gateway cities for shopping and nightlife with quick add-on beach trips to Pattaya, Penang or Sentosa “to see and be seen”.
These were some of the realities and issues emphasized by Dr Sanjay Nadkarni, Associate Professor at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in Dubai. In his 29 March presentation entitled “Growth Drivers and Challenges for India Outbound Tourism to ASEAN,” he told tourism industry leaders and students at Bangkok's College of Innovation at Thammasat University that if ASEAN's tourism destinations wanted to benefit from the Indian growth story they needed to create new offerings, sell them convincingly to the Indian travel agents and adapt to Indian needs.
Many Indian travellers to ASEAN destinations are first-timers. They are very dependent on travel agent advice. “When Indian travel agents say, 'I've been there,' it reassures the Indian traveller,” said Dr Nadkarni.
However, many Indian travel agents only sell a limited number ASEAN packages. They are popular and profitable. Demand is high. So why change?
“We try our level best with travel agents to sell more than Bangkok and Pattaya,” said Ashok Kapur, CEO of Bangkok based Khiri Asia, which specializes in promoting holidays to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to Indian travel agencies. “We're trying to promote Chiang Mai and Cambodia, which has great hotels, entertainment and deep Indian cultural roots. It's quite difficult. Over 90 per cent just want Bangkok plus Pattaya or Phuket.”
Dr Nadkarni said there was huge new potential to be tapped in India’s second tier cities such as Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad and Amritsar. Cities with an affluent IT sector such as Bangalore and Hyderabad also have major potential for ASEAN destinations, even on long weekends in India.
The elusive single ASEAN visa for Indian tourists would drive growth and encourage more multi-destination holidays in ASEAN, but is unlikely in the near future, said Professor Walter Jamieson, Director, Service Innovation Programme at the College of Innovation. “However, we are seeing steps towards joint visas for twin destinations that Indians often visit in tandem, such as Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia,” he observed.
Dr Nadkarni noted that the number of Indian tourists taking more than one leisure trip a year was increasing at 16 per cent annually, with the number of Indians taking three or more leisure trips increasing at a rate of about 200 per cent. He noted that Indians are high spenders on shopping, prefer luxurious hotel properties and love to tell their social peers they have been to exotic locations such as Bali where a six-day holiday with flights can cost less than a domestic holiday to Goa or Kerala, which are both perceived as overpriced by many Indians.
Dr Nadkarni warned that the availability of an Indian chef can be a deciding factor when Indians book a group or MICE holiday. Many Indians are vegetarian for religious or health reasons. ASEAN destinations need to be aware that a group from north India will expect a different kind of Indian cuisine that a group from south India.
However, he noted that India was a good "all weather" market. “Indians tend to ignore travel advisories and will travel anyway. They have an innate sense of defiance,” he said.