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Indian tourists flock to Southeast Asia as China’s reopening falters


Members of the Shivkumar-Manjunatha family from India walk and take photos during their first family holiday trip to Thailand at Patong beach on Phuket island, Thailand July 14, 2023. REUTERS

BANGKOK/NEW DELHI — Indian tourists are pouring into Southeast Asia, cementing the world’s most populous country’s position as a key growth market for a travel and tourism industry that is feeling the effects of China’s slower-than-expected reopening. expected.

From airlines like IndiGo and Thai Airways to hotel chains offering thousands of rooms, companies are taking advantage of India’s burgeoning middle class and rising spending power, executives and analysts said.

“Southeast Asia is obviously very well positioned for much of the growth that will inevitably come from India,” aviation analyst Brendan Sobie said at an industry conference last month.

The travel and tourism industry is critical to several economies in Southeast Asia, contributing approximately 12% of the region’s gross domestic product prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also employs more than 40 million people in the region, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

For about a decade, the sector was driven by China, but official data from four Southeast Asian countries show a weak recovery with Chinese visitor numbers in May at least 60% lower than the same month in 2019.

A long-term increase in Indian tourists would lead to a recalibration of airline capacity, hospitality offerings and tour operators, early signs of which are already taking place, according to industry insiders.

India could emerge as the next China “in terms of outbound tourism growth” over the next decade, though connectivity would be constrained by fewer airports there, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a May report.

“India could become history in the post-pandemic decade for tourism,” he said.

‘Strong rebound’

In Thailand, where tourism is an economic mainstay, the number of Indian tourists, although fewer than Chinese in absolute terms, is only 14% lower than in 2019.

In 2019, Chinese visitors spent about $197 a day in Thailand and Indians spent about $180, with both visiting for about a week, according to Thai government data.

Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said 1.6 million Indians were expected to visit the kingdom this year.

In May, more Indians than Chinese visited Singapore, while in the same month almost 63,000 Indians visited Indonesia compared to just over 64,000 Chinese.

“Indian routes are very strong,” said Chai Eamsiri, chief executive of Thai Airways, which runs 14 flights a week to China, up from 40 before the pandemic, and 70 a week to India.

Part of a possible doubling of Thailand’s narrow-body aircraft fleet over the next decade would be deployed to India, Chai said.

Indian budget airline IndiGo, which ordered 500 narrow-body Airbus jets to meet regional demand, said it had seen a “strong increase” in routes between India and Southeast Asia connecting with more than 100 flights a week.

“We will be introducing flights to Jakarta in August, as well as additional frequencies to Singapore,” said Vinay Malhotra, IndiGo’s director of global sales.

Overall, seat capacity on scheduled flights between China and Southeast Asia was 57% below pre-COVID-19 levels in June, but flights from India to the region had rebounded to as much as 90%. %, Sobie said.

Indians are helping sustain a post-pandemic surge in hotel chains, including Minor Hotels, which has 45 properties in Southeast Asia with more than 6,000 rooms.

“The Indian market is consistently one of our top source markets,” said chief executive Dillip Rajakarier, adding that the hotel chain, part of Bangkok-listed Minor International, had stepped up marketing across India.

‘Time and money’

In June, Pratyush Tripathy and four friends took a 2.5-hour flight from the Indian city of Kolkata to Bangkok for a five-day vacation, most of the time in and around the seaside resort of Pattaya.

The trip cost between 40,000 and 60,000 Indian rupees ($484-$726) each, about the same as a flight to Europe, Tripathy said.

“It will save you time and also money,” said the 33-year-old software professional, explaining his decision to visit Southeast Asia, where Indians can generally obtain visas much more easily than for European countries and the United States.

India-Bangkok flight bookings increased 270% between January and June this year compared to the same period in 2019, according to Indian online travel portal Cleartrip.

Thailand’s central bank expects 29 million visitors this year and 35.5 million in 2024. That’s still less than a record of nearly 40 million in 2019, but the Bank of Thailand forecasts the sector will help boost overall economic growth. to 3.6% in 2023 and 3.8% next year, compared to 2.6% in 2022.

To capitalize on the increase, Thailand’s tourism industry needs to understand Indian preferences, particularly when it comes to food and entertainment, said Somsong Sachaphimukh, vice president of the Tourism Board of Thailand.

“If we don’t adapt quickly, neighboring countries will attract those visitors,” Somsong said. “Thailand has a lot to offer, so this is a great opportunity.”

($1 = 82.6122 Indian rupees)


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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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