Travel in the time of slowdown
It's that time of the year again when the calendar is choc-a-bloc with holidays, making it the perfect time for a big fat family vacation. You would think that the downward spiral of the rupee and the sluggish economy would make the holiday revellers think twice before packing their suitcases and heading to sunny destinations. Yes, there is negative consumer sentiment about travel in general and there has been an increase in the cost of outbound packages "by about 5 to 15 per cent due to spiralling air fares, taxes and fuel surcharges, and not just because of the fall of the rupee," says Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook
(India). In fact, the cost of an all-inclusive Europe holiday has increased by Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per person. But is that enough to stop our globetrotters from dreaming of the surf, sand and sea? Travel agencies and tour operators don't think so. "Our summer 2013 numbers were robust with growth at 22-23 per cent and our forward bookings for winter 2013 are looking strong, upwards of 30 per cent," says Menon.
The revamped family holiday
With travel a "must-do" for most Indians, consumers are merely re-assessing their choice of destination and not their decision to travel. This festive season, instead of long languid holidays, travellers are opting for short-haul and value destinations. "People are on a lookout for packages that give them more bang for the buck. We will also see an increase in group holidays as they are at least 15 per cent cheaper compared with customised holidays," says Karan Anand, (head-relationships), Cox & Kings. The regular holidayers refuse to travel to run-off the mill locales and packages to unusual destinations continue to do well. "But first-time overseas travellers have decided to settle for domestic destinations, while some who would have taken packages of about Rs 200,000 are now looking at packages up to Rs 150,000," says Sumitra Senapaty, founder, Women on Wanderlust (WOW) club.
The BIG deal
So how to choose an overseas holiday with the rupee in free-fall? It's raining discounts and deals as tour and travel companies are partnering with hotels and airlines to offer holidays that fit the budget. They are leveraging 'upswings' and stability in the rupee against currencies of specific countries to offer significant savings. "With stability seen in Australian and South African currencies vis-a-vis the Indian rupee for the past few months, a strong demand is seen for holidays to these two countries from India," says Vishal Suri, chief executive officer (tour operating), Kuoni India. In fact, South Africa has been rated as the favourite by nearly every tour operator, also because South African Airways is the only airline offering direct flights (seven a week) between India and South Africa. "It's interesting to note that South African Airways has seen a 20 per cent increase in passenger traffic from India between May and July 2013," says Sajid Khan, country manager (India), South African Airways.
The Thai Bhat, Sri Lankan Rupee and Indonesian Rupiah have also seen depreciation and this works well for on-ground expenses like sightseeing, dining, entertainment and shopping, thus adding value to travel to these nations. "Destinations in the far-east and island destinations like Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui are much in demand from travellers seeking short vacations," says Suri. Bhutan has emerged a new favourite, as the sinking rupee has no impact on those traveling to this pristine Himalayan kingdom. "Uzbekistan too is reasonably priced; and is of special interest because its history is inextricably intertwined with India's rich past," says Senapaty.
Most tour operators are recalibrating their product portfolios. For instance, Thomas Cook has enhanced its Asia packages, supplementing favourites like Malaysia and Thailand with new destinations like the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. Value-adds like free transfers, dining, complimentary additional nights and upgrades are also on offer. "We have a scheme of Australia with New Zealand free! Also on offer are free child travels, early bird discounts, complimentary cruises and free travel to add on destinations like Kenya or Oman," says Menon. The super saver recommendations by most tour operators include stays at hostels and apartments.