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NEW DELHI : Optimism around a boom in foreign travel following reports of a surge in queries by Indians has run up against a dampener: the zooming cost of travelling abroad. This, however, has led to a spurt in domestic travel.

Globally, flights to Switzerland, France and Germany have grown four times in October from a year ago, as per tour operators. But there was next to no travel from India after many international flights got suspended.

Foreign flights are still few and far between, dependent on bilateral bubble arrangements between governments, which has led to the hike in airfares. As a result, travel to closer short-haul destinations like Maldives, Dubai and Sri Lanka have also grown.

Many Indians have flocked to Dubai, which continues to be a top destination despite a hike in airfares of over 122% compared to 2019, according to tour operator Thomas Cook. The segments fuelling the demand for Dubai are families (including multi-generational families), groups of friends, millennials, young professionals, corporate R&D teams and trade associations.

Maldives continues to witness strong demand from India, which is 75% higher compared to pre-pandemic levels, said tour operator SOTC Travel.

“Demand for Egypt and Sri Lanka is also rising among holiday seekers. Additionally, tour operators are seeing high interest for experiential destinations like Iceland, Russia, Lapland and also for an Antarctica cruise for departure in February 2022," said Daniel D’Souza, president and country head, SOTC Travel.

One tour company in Ahmedabad just sent a family and friends group of 35 to Serbia for a holiday, while another based in New Delhi has seen strong demand for France and other European countries.

Karan Vakharia, director, business development at Ahmedabad-based Pathfinders Holidays, which specializes in outbound tours, said he is witnessing a lot of demand for outbound travel. “People want to get back to travelling now. Last year, they were concerned about getting sick but with covid insurances that have come into play, the fear has gone away. We will see a great boom in the travel industry is what we are hoping for in the next one year," he said.

Maldives and Dubai are still giving them steady business and Sri Lanka is also doing well for them.

An improvement in the overall situation after ramping up the vaccination rate across the globe has resulted in the recovery of the travel industry. After months of lockdown, people are ready to travel, which is resulting in a significant rise in travel demand, said Shikhar Aggarwal, joint managing director at BLS International Services, which provides services like visas.

Destinations like Dubai and Kenya have witnessed an increase of 200-300% in visa applications from India as compared to pre-covid times, he said.

India’s outbound tourist numbers were estimated to be about 26.92 million in 2019 before the covid pandemic struck. Last year, only a fraction of Indians travelled abroad (7.29 million), said data analysis website Statista.

Vakharia of Pathfinders said the company is now converting 70% of its international holiday queries into business. But the remainder, he said, are dropping out due to excessively high airfares. “Our holiday costs have gone haywire. On some sectors, airfares are close to 100% over 2019 figures. The airlines are charging whatever they want to and clients have to pay. Internationally, some hotel chains too have increased their pricing and we are seeing a jump of 30-40% on an average in hotel bookings," he added.

Even so, a certain section of travellers, like wealthy individuals, remain unaffected. “Affluent travellers will travel no matter what the airfare is," said Arun Ashok, regional head - India & Middle East for Australian travel firm Luxury Escapes.

Some operators are still finding it difficult to convert the demand for outbound travel.

“People are eagerly waiting to travel. Most destinations are open now like the US, Canada, Europe and parts of the UK. But Asia is still restricted. The trend is upwards but prices are not matching budget expectations. There is also a serious lack of inventory in the airline market," said Sidharth Khanna, managing partner, Travel Engineers, an outbound travel company in New Delhi.

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