As more Indians take to foreign skies, their profiles have changed too – from corporate, business travellers, the average Indian travelling abroad is now more likely to be young, flying alone and holidaying. And very likely a woman. International air traffic from India has grown six times over the last two decades – from 1.07 million in 1997-98 to 6.06 million in 2017-18.
German airline Lufthansa now sees, among its Indian customers, more couples and women travelling in groups, compared to the mainly corporate passengers 20 years ago. British Airways says 47 per cent of their Indian women passengers now travel alone. Oman Air now carries more holidaymakers, honeymooners and corporate travellers from India to Oman than the migrant labourers the airline ferried five to six years ago.
Lubaina Sheerazi, India representative of Oman’s Ministry of Tourism, says the number of Indians arriving in Oman has gone up – from 1,87,322 in 2013 to 3,21,161 in 2017.
“In 2010, when Oman’s tourism ministry opened office in India, Oman Air had a low profile. Most of the traffic on Oman Air then was of people travelling for employment. That has changed now. Families with grown-up children, honeymooners and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) form a very important segment for us. Bachelorettes are now a trend – I was surprised to hear from tour operators of organised groups of 40 women travelling. They are not necessarily friends, probably people who have come together as part of group travels,” she says.
A study published earlier this year by aviation consultancy firm CAPA and travel platform Expedia Group pointed out that Indian travellers have traditionally gone on holiday in family groups, with the key decision-maker likely to be between 35 and 55 years. However, in the coming years, it said, the growth is expected to be driven by millennials, who prefer travelling alone and are less concerned about the availability of vegetarian or Indian food, or whether English is spoken at the destination. The study said that over the last few years, 45 per cent of the 18-25-year olds they surveyed went on their first international trip either with friends or by themselves.
Lufthansa, which has been flying to India for over 55 years, has also witnessed a significant shift in its traffic. “Maybe 20 years ago, you would have seen more Westerners on our flights, but today, 75-80 per cent of those on board are Indians. That includes the Indian diaspora – be it from Canada, US or the UK,” says Lufthansa’s Senior Director, South Asia, Wolfgang Will.
“There was much more corporate travel in the past. Among the leisure travellers were passengers who were most likely visiting friends and relatives, but today we see many more couples, groups of women and honeymooners, but also people travelling solo,” Will adds.
David Lim, Singapore Airline’s General Manager in India, says the carrier continues to see families travelling from India to Singapore as they have over the decades, but over the last few years, the number of youngsters flying has gone up.
Further, flyers from India’s tier-II and tier-III towns are increasingly contributing to the outbound leisure tourism market, thus pushing airlines to add these cities to their networks. “Initially, Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai were our markets. As we moved on, in 2012 and 2013, we looked at Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Kolkata. As we move forward, we will go to more cities,” says Sheerazi. Oman’s national airline currently flies to 11 cities in India, including relatively smaller airports such as Lucknow, Jaipur, Kozhikode, Kochi and Goa.
“By 2025, we expect 19.4 million Indians to travel overseas, with a major contribution from tier-II and -III cities,” says Simon Fiquet, Expedia General Manager (Southeast Asia and India).