The booming demand for foreign trips among Indian tourists has led to the number of international flyers surpassing the 2019 levels. Top outbound destinations include Bangkok, Dubai, Bali, Singapore and Pattaya.
Indians are travelling abroad like never before, taking advantage of airfares and hotel rates on par with domestic travel and the free visas offered by many countries.
The total number of international flyers travelling from and to India at 3.14 crore in April-September this year was higher than 3.13 crore passengers in the corresponding six months of 2019, which was the last half-year period of regular operations before the pandemic froze the aviation industry, according to Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) data.
While in the April-May-June period this year, the Indian outbound travel was slightly lower than the corresponding 2019 levels, in July-August-September it outpaced 2019 levels, the DGCA data showed.
Air India witnessed a 30 percent increase in outbound travel demand in 2023 as compared to 2022 for passengers looking to travel to the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.
For IndiGo, nearly 30 percent of ASKs (Available Seat Kilometres) in 2023 were from international passengers this year. IndiGo has seen a higher demand on some routes such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.
Also, outbound travel bookings across online travel platforms have seen a surge.
"Outbound travel in 2023 increased significantly by around 156 percent compared to 2019," said Gaurav Patwari, VP, Air Category, Cleartrip.
The increase in international bookings signals a strong recovery of outbound travel as compared to pre-Covid years on account of a growing economy and a greater willingness among travellers to explore international destinations, said Aloke Bajpai, Co-founder & Group CEO, Ixigo.
"We have witnessed an uptick of 15-20 percent in the international segment as compared to the pre-Covid levels, said Bharatt Malik, Senior VP – Flights and Hotel Business Yatra Online Ltd.
Top outbound destinations this year include Bangkok, Dubai, Bali, Singapore and Pattaya, according to the search numbers on travel platform Agoda.
It noted that Thailand’s capital Bangkok leapfrogged Dubai to claim the top spot.
"Short-haul outbound destinations have emerged strongly, including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Maldives, Mauritius, Dubai-Abu Dhabi and Oman,” said Indiver Rastogi, President & Group Head, Global Business Travel, Thomas Cook (India) and SOTC Travel.
Vietnam has caught up as they have eased the connectivity by introducing multiple flights and have done marketing campaigns in India, said Rajiv Mehra, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO).
"Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia recently announced allowing visa-free travel for Indians, and for Thailand and this alone has caused a 26 percent search increase from Indians in the 10 days immediately following the announcement. It is important to see how this trend will shape the travel industry in 2024,” said Krishna Rathi, Agoda Country Director, India, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.
Yatra's Malik said that Indians may contribute an additional 25-30 percent to the recently introduced visa-free destinations such as Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka (in terms of bookings). "Other countries benefiting from increased Indian tourism due to on-arrival visas include the Maldives, Mauritius and Indonesia. The spike in outbound travel to these countries ranges from 15 to 20 percent," he said.
Cleartrip's Patwari said that in the current (winter) holiday season, Indians are increasingly favouring visa-free nations, with a significant 49 percent increase in bookings for destinations like Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand compared to last year.
Searches for travel in December to Malaysia and Thailand have seen more than a 100 percent month-on-month increase, especially after visa policy changes that allow a 30-day visa-free stay for Indians, said Bajpai.
During the summer season this year, Singapore saw the highest international flight bookings from India for leisure travel, according to a study by travel-intent platform Adara.
San Francisco, Melbourne, Toronto and Bali received the highest flight bookings from India after Singapore.
Many international destinations saw a drop in airfares this year versus 2022. The biggest 52 percent fall in average airfares was seen for flights flying to India from Finland, while Hong Kong saw a 38 percent fall, Taiwan 40 percent, China 39 percent and Turkey a 31 percent decrease, Ixigo data showed.
The biggest hike in average airfare was seen for flights from Russia which saw a 57 percent increase, followed by Pakistan at 51 percent, the US at 19 percent and Indonesia at 22 percent.
While foreign airlines account for a majority of passenger traffic flying into and out of India, the cumulative market share of domestic carriers registered a nearly 9-percentage-point jump in market share from 2019 levels, according to the DGCA data.
Outbound travel has been phenomenally high with the market estimated to be $15 billion and growing at a compounded rate of about 11 percent annually, said Ajay Prakash, Board Member, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH).
Yatra's Malik expects the outbound travel market to witness an increment of up to 50 percent in the next 1-2 years.