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This winter, more Indians set to flock visa-free destinations

New Delhi: Indians, typically known for finalizing their travel plans very late, might contribute an additional 20-30% to the recently-introduced, visa-free destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

This presents a significant opportunity for travel companies like Thomas Cook, EaseMyTrip, among others, particularly during the winter travel season. The challenges of low entry barriers and visa complexities have been a significant concern for Indians, especially in post-covid era, with a few visa operators dominating the market akin to a monopoly, said experts.

Thomas Cook India and its subsidiary SOTC are seeing at least 20% growth in bookings for October-December 2023, from a year ago for these destinations, with their customers favouring either no-visa destinations or those offering easy terms or those granting visas on arrival. Thailand is already seeing 30% growth for the upcoming holiday season over November 2022 and January 2023. It waived visa requirements for Indians, allowing 30 days stay from 10 November to 10 May. Sri Lanka, too, introduced visa-free entry for visitors from India and six other countries, effective until 31 March. Malaysia announced on Monday that it will offer visa-free entry to citizens of India and China for stays of up to 30 days beginning 1 December to boost tourism. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim told the media that this decision is similar to the initiatives by the other two countries.

Around 70% Indians opt for nearby destinations, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. Prior to covid, India’s outbound tourism was among the fastest-growing in Asia, it said. It has already recovered 61% of pre-pandemic market, with 13 million outbound tourists in 2022. The report said it could grow to 80 million by 2040.

Thomas Cook is witnessing early indications of increased inquiries for the destinations across all customer segments, and its consumer data reveals a strong demand among Indians for “mini-cations”, particularly closer-to-home and easy visa destinations. Indians of all demographics, especially ones wanting to utilize the year-end leave, extended weekends and public holidays are planning mini-cations to easy visa short-haul destinations, it said.

“Clients, especially those in the luxury segment find it easier when they are not bound by visas. Visas are more of a monetary decision for mid-market customers, where it makes a difference in terms of budgets. But, we see an increase in luxury customers planning trips to Thailand,” Radhika Khanijo, chief executive of luxury travel firm Welgrow Travels, said. Nishant Pitti, chief executive and co-founder EaseMyTrip, said: “Thailand leads the list, experiencing a substantial influx of Indians. Other countries benefiting from increased Indian tourism due to on-arrival visas also include the Maldives, Myanmar, Indonesia. The spike in outbound travel to these countries ranges from 20-30%. However, in the case of Malaysia, it is still early to predict the surge.”

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Updated: 28 Nov 2023, 11:35 PM IST

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