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Travel agencies in Gujarat have been expecting a significant increase in the number of people booking for holidays at foreign destinations. This year, however, Gujaratis have trained sights on Europe and South Africa, and not the USA. Among Indian tourist destinations, Ladakh and the north-east were the most preferred by Gujarati travellers.
With a stronger rupee, demand for international travel has surged with tour operators in the state looking to clock nearly 20 per cent growth this season.
Sanjeev Chhajer, vice president of Cox & Kings, said the rupee, being stronger against the US dollar and Euro, has helped a lot for a surge in demand to travel to Europe. “Croatia is a new entrant with a 10-day package beginning at Rs 1.75 lakh per person apart from South Africa and Australia-New Zealand.”
He added there had been a surge in bookings for domestic destinations like Kerala, north-eastern states, Manali, Ladakh, apart from the traditional tours to south-east Asian destinations like Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand-Hong Kong circuit. “Despite demonetisation and shrinking size of travel budgets, the number of travellers has not gone down and we are expecting a growth of 25 per cent this year,” Chhajer said.
Managing director of city-based Akshar Travels Manish Sharma echoed Chhajer: “Demand for eastern Europe, South Africa and Russia are picking up, but the number of tourists to the USA have dipped from roughly 10,000 in 2014 to 8,000 in 2016 and just about 1,000 this year so far. Usually the USA is preferred international holiday destination for group tours from Gujarat. This year, however, we have planned only 11 departures of groups of 45 people each to the US so far. We are seeing no fresh applications or enquiries for the US travel due to a negative sentiment arising out of travel ban, the country’s anti-immigrant policy.”
He added: “The geo-political tension has affected tourism to Turkey, Egypt and Middle East that were popular last year. Among the domestic destinations, we are seeing more enquiries for the seven north-eastern states, especially Sikkim, Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, apart from Kerala,” said Sharma who is looking forward to clock 10 per cent growth over last year.
Sources added that Mumbai officials of the US Consulate are slated to reach out to tour operators from the state and conduct outreach activities in a bid to allay this negative travel sentiment towards the USA.
Rajeev Kale, president and country head of Leisure Travel, Meeting Incentives Conference Events (MICE), who was in Ahmedabad recently said that negative sentiments for travel to the USA had given push to the European destinations this year. “Despite a slow start due to demonetisation, tour packages to Bhutan, Leh-Ladakh and Andaman are seeing double digit growth. Most of the business comes from big cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot and tier-three cities like Anand, Mehsana, Surat, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar.”
Kale added that while travel budgets of Indians have shrunk by 15%, they are opting for value category tours as compared to premium. “The budget category was also growing by 12 per cent.”
Meeta Shah, director of Flamingo Transworld Ltd, said that rural market had been a huge contributor to growth in revenues. “The travel period has been delayed by two weeks instead of May 1 this time. While bookings to Kashmir has been affected because of the political turmoil there, smaller week-long private tours to Bhutan, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Sikkim, Kerala and Leh-Ladakh are selling well. We are seeing 20 % growth from last year in revenues and a majority of the share is stemming from rural markets like Morbi and Mehsana.”
Ahmedabad-based Radiologist Dr Trupti Patel, who is headed to Scandinavian nations, during her summer break said, “This summer close to 18 members of my family would be travelling to Scandinavia for 15 days where we will travel via cruise, air and road. Having travelled to the USA earlier we decided to pick this destination.”
Gynaecologist Dr Kalpana Munshi travelled to South Africa with her family and friends and clubbed it with a three-day conference she had in March.”South Africa had anyways been on our travel wishlist since long and it just coincided with the conference.”