The rise of outbound luxury travel from India
Authored by: Arun Ashok (Partnerships & Contracting Manager)
They say, the Indian luxury holidayer has finally arrived. Statistics peg the number of luxury outbound travellers from India at about 3.6 million and growing. These escapers have completely changed the game for destinations such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, now counting India as one of their largest and fastest growing source markets.
But in order to truly understand the significance of this opportunity, you must first differentiate between the wealthy traveller and the luxury traveller. India has never had a dearth of wealthy millionaires, or for that matter, billionaires. However, the psyche of the shrewd, economical Indian traveller prevented them from splurging on luxury holidays. In fact, the very purpose of holidays for Indians, until very recently, has been to visit friends and relatives, and as a side effect, maybe take in the nearby sights and sounds. Of course, there is also, the occasional adventurous Gujarati family that would book a group holiday to Bangkok and go landmark to landmark, checking off their checklist only halting to visit recommended vegetarian Indian restaurant, or to settle down in a park to eat homely cuisine, freshly prepared by an Indian cook.
Hence, the bottomline has always been, spend as little as possible and dip one’s toe in the bottomless pond that is international travel. Never out of one’s comfort zone. Never splurging on an experience where there's an equivalent frugal option out there. And certainly, never trust a faceless, unknown e-comm platform to purchase on.
The wealthy Indian traveller’s preferences are, however, witnessing a tectonic shift. You can credit this to an increase in disposable income or the internet spreading through the far corners of the country or even the millennial generation coming of age and influencing the family’s travel decisions. It is no longer enough to just visit a destination. A random, unknown hotel recommended by the local travel agent will no longer do. And heaven forbid, you travel to the same location your grandparents visited decades ago. If one is to travel now, it must be in style. What, after all, is the point, otherwise? Travel now represents an important social status. And what better way to earn these points than by checking in at the Four Seasons during your next trip? Snapchat yourself in an underwater restaurant at the Conrad, Maldives? How else can Mrs. Singh insist to all her kitty party friends that they absolutely MUST stay in a glass igloo while chasing the northern lights in Finland.
And then, there are those who truly travel to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, for personal growth. Luxury for this Indian traveller is not about dining at a Michelin star hotel restaurant but, visiting a local izakaya (if in Japan). This breed of traveller while far more difficult to find, would be willing to spend top dollar on an experience that they find authentic. For them, the experience is invaluable and they are willing to invest in it, be it in terms of money, time or efforts.
What is even more heartening is that more Indians, young and old, are willing to ditch the comforts of group travel and venture out on their own. While solo travellers are still extremely rare; couples and small circles of friends are more often than not, hand picking where they wish to travel, stay, eat and explore rather than sticking to a tried and tested itinerary put together by a tour operator. The internet has made both travel research and purchase easier and this has enabled the Indian luxury traveler to reclaim the driver’s seat in the travel planning process. They are far more trusting of travel booking websites now than ever and the resulting freedom has democratised an industry that has before now been shackled in India, to a great extent by the local tour operator.
Whatever their motivations and preferences may be, the Indian luxury traveler is certainly being noticed; with their revenue generating potential being evaluated by hotels far and wide; and entire marketing models being dedicated to reaching out to him / her in as authentic a manner as possible. Let the games begin.