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NEW DELHI : Long waits for tourist visas to Europe are forcing many Indians to shift to alternative destinations for vacations amid a sharp rebound in travel demand in line with the easing of the pandemic.

Both large groups and families are looking for holiday options in countries with easier visa norms or shorter visa processing times, according to travel companies.

Many of these destinations are in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Others that are seeing an uptick are Vietnam and Cambodia. Indian tourist traffic to Turkey, Egypt, Maldives and Mauritius is also increasing.

For instance, a group of 15 people from Delhi wanted an uber-luxury holiday in June and was recommended a trip to Turkey by the New Delhi-based luxury outbound travel agency Welgrow Travels. Radhika Khanijo, the agency’s managing director, said the family didn’t have the necessary Schengen visa, which allows a person to travel to 26 countries in Europe, and wanted to immediately plan a holiday for a fortnight towards the end of June. For this, the agency curated a high-end vacation to Antalya, Cappadocia and Istanbul. “Major visa delays and airfares touching the roof are causing many people to find alternative locations that work for them. A lot of these people want to take their summer holiday before their children’s schools begin (in July). Countries like Turkey are giving them e-visas if they have a valid US or Canada visa," Khanijo said.

Meanwhile, a family of four from Delhi, keen to tour Europe in October, is already veering towards Iceland to avoid gruelling waits for visas to other European countries.

Travel agency LuxuryEscapes clocked its best-ever month from outbound travel from India to Turkey, a country that was so far not its major focus area. “We have done quite a few deals in the past for this location, but in June, we had an 11-day tour of the country priced around 2.5-3 lakh per person, and that saw better sales than before," said Arun Ashok, the firm’s regional head for India and the Middle East.

For those who want to travel to Europe, Khanijo has been planning trips through Spain, which she said has a shorter two-week wait time for an appointment and visa. Earlier this week, the Greek embassy in New Delhi said in a statement that a “temporary problem" that had occurred regarding the processing of Schengen visa applications in its consular office has been resolved and that applicants who are planning a holiday in the country will have their visa application processed in less than 15 working days.

Given the visa challenges to Europe, several customers of Thomas Cook are opting for destinations that either doesn’t require visas for Indians or offer e-visas or visas on arrival. “We are witnessing a considerable demand shift to Southeast Asia. Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have seen an uptick of 25-30% in the last couple of months; Vietnam and Cambodia are doing well too. Turkey, Egypt, the Maldives and Mauritius have increased by 20-25% due to proximity and easy access," said Rajeev Kale, the company’s president and country head for holidays, MICE and visas.

New options are also emerging, such as Jordan, Seychelles, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, added Kale.

The pipeline for Australia, too, is seeing robust demand of 15-20% from both leisure and MICE segments, helped by the start of the Bengaluru-Sydney flight and the 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup starting October, Kale said.

At Thomas Cook’s sister firm, SOTC, visa on arrival and easy or quick visa destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia are seeing a lot of traction. Daniel D’Souza, president and country head for holidays at SOTC Travel, said that after two years, Indians are inspired to take their much-needed holiday, and the travel sentiment is at an all-time high.

Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer of MakeMyTrip, said demand for international travel would continue to grow despite the start of school after the summer break. In addition, several long weekends in August and October will boost demand. “The country of travel could change slightly depending on weather patterns and visa conditions, but it will be a continuous revival until then. But we’re seeing that the interest level in international travel is high," he said.

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