Mahesh R Patel,a chikoo and plum farmer from Mehsana,came to collect his wifes travel visa for the US last year and ended up booking a Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand tour package for his family. Their first international trip has since then laid the ground for Dubai. This year,he has his sights trained on Europe that costs a person at least one lakh for an 18-day trip.
Come summer and travel companies begin to woo the globetrotting Gujarati travellers. But,instead of markets like Ahmedabad,Surat,Vadodara and Rajkot,travel marketers are busy giving presentations in front of Agriculture Produce Market Companies (APMC) members,industry associations,like Cotton ginners’ associations,chemical associations and farmer associations in places like Mehsana,Kalol,Anand and Nadiad in North Gujarat,Bardoli,Bharuch,Navsari in South Gujarat. These areas,along with Vapi,Billimora,Valsad and Amreli in Saurashtra and Gandhidham and Bhuj,are the new hubs of tourists’ activity,especially in international travel.
So what is spurring this shift? We are seeing a lot of traffic from these rural towns of Gujarat and can safely say that around 15 to 20 per cent of our total volume of business is owing to this new segment. A lot of bookings come from cotton farmers from the Surendranagar belt and cumin traders from Unjha who prefer foreign destinations to domestic ones. Due to vibrant agriculture,these cities are flush with high-net-worth individuals who are now looking at exploring luxury through tourism, says Ratna Shah,Business Development Manager at the city-based Flamingo Transworld Pvt Ltd,a popular tour operator.
She adds,Many tourists from rural areas dont have much knowledge about the destinations and just want to experience the thrill of travelling abroad. Often,if one family goes from a village,their relatives and friends tend to take the same holiday.
Seeing a robust growth from this segment,tour operators like Cox & Kings are quick to advertise tour packages like Surat to Singapore,Adalaj to America and Rajkot to Russia. A big chunk of travellers are families from Sanand,Bavla and Adalaj near Ahmedabad,who are looking at European destinations. The booking figures are very encouraging this year. We are pegging these Europe trips as Gaurav Yatra wherein the trip ensures that while the destinations are global,the Gujarati connect,in terms of food,language and people,is maintained right from our offering them masala chai to Gujarati farsaan (snacks),Jain cuisine to tour guides fluent in Gujarati, says Sanjay Chajjer,VP of Cox and Kings.
While Hong Kong,Dubai,Malaysia and Singapore are evergreen destinations for first time international Gujarati travellers ,there is huge interest in Europe,USA and South Africa as well. Last year,my family travelled to Singapore-Malaysia in Diwali for Rs 85,000 per person for 8 nights and 9 days. We found the trip very good as it also included a Gujarati translator, says 26-year-old Yagnesh Modi,a farmer in Dehgam.
The recent relaxation of travel visa norms to USA and Canada have further spurred such trips. As local industries,like ceramics,flourish,the incomes are on the upswing and people there have more disposable incomes. Our local units at taluka levels will be promoting Switzerland,USA and South East Asian countries this year, says Manish Sharma,owner of Akshar Travels.
The trend has made tourism boards in foreign countries sit up and take note. Last month,Thai tourism connected Ahmedabad directly to Thailand via Bangkok with a new bi-weekly flight. Whats more it has also opened an office in the city.
Around 11 hotel chains from Mauritius will be vying for tourists by offering a competitive rate of $200 for four-day packages. This year,we will be looking at smaller cities in Saurashtra,like Rajkot,Jamnagar apart from Surat and Ahmedabad. About 60 per cent of our clientele comes from western India,most of them from smaller cities and towns, said Vijaye Haulder,deputy director,Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority,who is looking at 10 per cent growth in tourists arrivals this year.