July 14, 2024

Travel recovery gains momentum in Oriental and SE Asia

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The recent surge in visa waivers for Indians, star-studded concerts featuring global icons like Taylor Swift in Singapore, and increased connectivity are all helping travel recovery in Oriental and Southeast Asia gain momentum.

Most countries in the region have reported a robust travel resumption rate, with some even surpassing the pre-pandemic tourism footfall levels or are close to crossing them.

“We are delighted to see a significant surge of Indian tourists visiting South Korea in 2023, with 1,22,771 arrivals. While this figure has not yet surpassed the pre-pandemic record of 1,43,367 arrivals in 2019, it represents a promising recovery rate of over 85 per cent,” said Myong Kil Yun, regional director, India & SAARC countries, Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO).

The prevailing influence of Korean pop culture, often referred to as the ‘Hallyu Wave’ has captivated Indian audiences, thus boosting travel to the country.

“The immense popularity of K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean cuisine has sparked a deep fascination with Korean culture, inspiring travel to experience the source of this cultural phenomenon firsthand,” Yun added.

KTO has set an ambitious target of hosting 2,00,000 Indian travellers this year. This represents a significant increase from recent figures and “reflects the KTO’s confidence in the growing Indian outbound tourism market,” he said.

Thailand too, has witnessed a sharp resumption rate of travel of 81.5 per cent since 2019.

The country, which granted visa exemptions to Indians in November 2023, has since seen its resumption rate climb up to 99.5 per cent in January 2024.

“We saw 1.62 million Indian travellers in Thailand in 2023 and expect this number to reach 1.99 million by the end of this year. The visa waiver was a positive step for us. We hope the government sees its effectiveness and extends it further,” said Siriges-a-nong Trirattanasongpol, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi.

The visa exemption for Indians is currently only applicable until 10 May, 2024.
Visa free policy for Indians

Malaysia, which saw 587,703 Indian travellers arrive in 2023, also expects increased footfall in the ongoing year.

The Malaysia Tourism Board hopes to leverage the announcement of visa free policy for Indian tourists to help this endeavour.

Tourism from India has also started seeing an uptick in Hong Kong, which was previously perceived only as a transit hub for travel to China and other Asian countries.

Speaking to Business Standard on the sidelines of the recently concluded South Asia’s Travel & Tourism Exchange, Punit Kumar, Director, south Asia and middle east at Hong Kong Tourism Board said.

“While the first few months after lifting of restrictions were difficult, we caught up towards the later part of 2023 with over 2,08,000 Indian visitors last year. The appetite to revisit Hong Kong was high, especially in the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) segment.”

The Hong Kong Tourism Board expects to see double the number of Indian travellers this year, at over 4,00,000.

“For us, India is among the top five source markets for incentive-group travel. Indians are also starting to include art and culture spots in their itineraries, which was not the case pre-pandemic – when Hong Kong was just a business or transit destination,” Kumar added.

Increased connectivity
This uptick in Indian travellers to Southeast and Oriental Asia has also been driven by increased connectivity. “Post-pandemic, when Southeast Asia opened up for travellers, the growth was muted initially.

Since July 2023, with airline connectivity coming back, travel to the region has shot up. In countries that have announced visa waiver for Indians, growth has gone up by 25-30 per cent over the pre-pandemic levels,” said Neeraj Singh Dev, executive vice-president – ecommerce, India & short-haul holidays, Thomas Cook India & SOTC Travel.

According to data from travel platform Ixigo, for flights booked 30 days in advance, the average one-way fare from Delhi to Bangkok fell to Rs 13,869 for the April-May period of 2024 from Rs 13,964 for the same period last year.

“There has been a notable surge in travel searches for visa-free destinations among Indian travellers. Countries like Iran, Malaysia, and Thailand have experienced an 80-100 per cent increase in travel searches since implementing visa-free policies,” said Aloke Bajpai, group CEO and co-founder, Ixigo.

The platform reported that Malaysia experienced over a 100 per cent Year-on-Year surge in travel searches since granting visa-free access to Indians in December 2023.

Similarly, Thailand saw a remarkable 321 per cent Year-on-Year increase in searches from Indian travellers.

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