Nearby international destinations court Indian travellers with direct flights

Tourists at the Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. With the launch of direct flights between India and Cambodia, the country expects a big surge in inbound travellers from India. (Photo: AP)
Tourists at the Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. With the launch of direct flights between India and Cambodia, the country expects a big surge in inbound travellers from India. (Photo: AP)

Summary

Following the surge in Indian tourists flying to Thailand and Vietnam after the launch of direct flights between them and India, Cambodia has also launched direct flights to the country, indicating the growing interest among Southeast Asian countries to court Indian holidaymakers

The idea behind launching direct flights between Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh and Delhi—a city with twice the population of Cambodia—was crystal clear: Boost the number of Indian tourists travelling to the Southeast Asian country.

Cambodia's flag carrier Angkor Air started its first ever direct flights between the two cities from 16 June and it will operate four flights a week on the route.

Not a new phenomenon, Cambodia is learning from the examples of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, who've tasted massive success in attracting Indian tourists after introducing direct flights to and from India in the past few years.

The significance of the Indian holiday traveller has been gaining importance over the past few years, with even offbeat destinations like Kazakhstan courting Indian tourists. The increasing interest in these countries is amply visible in the number and frequency of Indian carriers flying to these locations.

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For instance, India's largest airline Indigo has been operating multiple flights every week to Almaty, Kazakhstan, since September 2023, while Vistara has been flying directly to popular tourist destination like Bali, Indonesia, since December last year.

For Cambodia, too, the move makes imminent sense, considering that only 68,836 travellers out of its total 54 lakh inbound tourists between January and December 2023, were from India, as per data from their ministry of tourism.

Destinations galore

The trend is further reinforced by the examples of Vietnam and Indonesia, which were already gathering the interest of Indian travellers post-Covid. The number of Indian travellers flying to these destinations jumped substantially after direct flights were launched between the countries in 2023.

According to Rajesh Magow, co-founder and group CEO of MakeMyTrip, the number of Indian's booking flights through MakeMyTrip to cities such as Bali in Indonesia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam grew by 190% and 226%, respectively, in May 2024, compared to May 2022.

Even booking for destinations like Almaty (Kazakhstan), Baku (Azerbaijan), and Tashkent (Uzbekistan), have grown at least 3x on the platform during the same period, since direct flights were launched in 2023.

"We expect Phnom Penh to follow suit now that a direct flight has been introduced from Delhi to support Indian travellers' interest," he added.

And it isn't just holidaymakers from the big metro cities that are flying to these destinations, but also travellers from nearby tier II and III cities.

According to Indiver Rastogi, president and group head for global business travel of Thomas Cook India and SOTC Travel, access is one of the key barriers to these destinations, and hence, the introduction of direct flights to destinations like Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, etc., has proved to be a game changes for outbound Indian travellers.

There is an increase in demand ranging from 12% to 40% for these routes year-on-year, noted Rastogi.

Also Read: India air travel: International footfalls are not growing as fast as domestic

Thomas Cook India reported an 89% increase in sales for the year in its leisure travel segment in its FY24 annual report. Further, strong volumes in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, and the gradual recovery in travel to countries such as Laos and Cambodia, helped the company report sales that exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Another online travel booking firm, Cleartrip has also witnessed a similar 12% growth in demand for these regions during the period.

Direct advantage

Since the introduction of direct flights, many travel booking platforms have observed a notable increase in interest towards these offbeat and exotic locations.

For instance, queries for flights to Cambodia have surged by 10-15% during this season for online travel major Yatra Online. “Direct connectivity not only saves time but also adds to the comfort of the travellers, making Cambodia a very accessible short-haul destination," said Bharatt Malik, senior vice president, flights and hotel business, at Yatra Online.

Data from the online travel-booking platform also highlighted a substantial uptick in bookings to other popular destinations such as Bali, Vietnam and Phuket (Thailand).

“We have seen an impressive 15-20% increase in bookings to these locations compared to last year. This trend underscores the growing enthusiasm among Indian travellers to explore new cultures, cuisines and landscapes. The improved travel convenience has facilitated increased footfall to these destinations, further boosting their popularity," added Malik.

Sunny skies outlook

A report from management consulting firm Nangia Andersen India, estimates India's outbound tourism market to be growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.4% between 2023 and 2032, to reach $44.8 billion by 2032, nearly tripling in size from 2023. 

The report, titled "Outbound Tourism in India," stated that approximately 27 million Indians traveled abroad in 2019, the year before the pandemic started. This number rebounded significantly to 18 million in 2022, according to data from Bureau of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs.

The report added that Indian travellers have begun spending significantly more. For instance, Indian travellers spent 20% more than their Chinese counterparts in 2021, while spending 30% more on accommodation.

According to travel major Booking.com's travel trends data for 2024, around a third of the people it polled in India, or about 31%, said they consider the availability of direct flights versus layovers as a crucial factor when booking flights for leisure.

“Direct flight connectivity facilitates easier travel and also presents a tremendous opportunity to boost tourism in both locations. We have seen a year-on-year increase in flight searches for favourites like Thailand-38%, Indonesia-25%, and Vietnam-19%, this year," said Santosh Kumar, country manager for India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia, of Booking.com.

Also Read: The post-pandemic revenge travel boom seems to be waning

These countries have also shown a strong promise when it comes to welcoming overall international travellers. 

Thailand, for instance, welcomed 28.04 million travellers in 2023; Vietnam received 12.6 million, and Indonesia received 11.6 million travellers, while Malaysia welcomed around half of the visitors that Thailand received, at 14.47 million, according to data from The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). 

Moreover, India is now one of the top five markets for Thailand, with over 1.6  million Indian travellers flying to the country in 2023, owing to daily direct flights as well as the temporary visa-free regime. 

As per the most recent data available from India's ministry of tourism, 21.6 million Indians travelled outside the country in 2023. That year, Thailand was the sixth most popular country where Indians went after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, US, Singapore and the UK.

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