Kushagra Bajaj, joint managing director of the country’s largest sugar producer, Bajaj Hindusthan, had plans to holiday in London during this summer. But, ash clouds forced Bajaj to cancel his UK trip. He is now holidaying in Singapore.
As volcanic eruptions in Iceland ground flights across Europe and political unrest grips Thailand, many passengers, like Bajaj, are either cancelling their holiday plans or changing their itinerary.
According to travel agencies, at least 15 per cent of those who booked for travel over the next few weeks have cancelled their trips to Europe. For Bangkok, the cancellation rate is as high as 30 per cent.
As a result, travel agencies, are expecting the number of travellers to these regions to fall by over 25 per cent compared with last year in the upcoming holiday season.
Europe was the preferred destination of 25 per cent of about 9 million outbound travellers from India in 2009. Thailand attracted 8,00,000, or 9 per cent, of Indian travellers in the year.
“We have 30 per cent cancellations and postponement for Bangkok. We are pushing for amendments in the itinerary of the travellers. We are taking them straight to Pattaya and Phuket and not halting in Bangkok,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder, Yatra.com, a travel portal.
Subhash Goyal, chairman of Stic Travel Group, however, said cancellations were much higher. “There have been up to 60 per cent cancellations from tourists going to Bangkok. Even though flights for Europe are operational, around 15 per cent have cancelled their trip to Europe.”
Travel company Le Passage to India, which caters to high-end travellers, said its clients are looking for newer destinations. "There has been a fall of 60 per cent in tourists going to Bangkok from our target this year. As a result, they are preferring to go to Macau and Hong Kong. In Europe, we have seen a drop of 10 per cent in tourists from our targets," said Arjun Sharma managing director of the company.
Travel agencies said the high number of cancellations will surely impact the business.
“Compared with last year, the travellers to Bangkok and Europe have come down by around 27 per cent, and this will have an impact on our businesses,” said Ajay Prakash, general secretary, Travel Agents Federation of India. "We are advising those cancelling to look at alternative destinations like Macau and Hong Kong, which have visa-on-arrival, and also exotic locations in India like Ladakh.”
The alternative destinations are already cashing in on the opportunity.
Macau, for instance, is trying to attract Indians through tourist trade fairs in India.
"We are expecting a 40 per cent increase in tourists to Macau this year and expect about 1.5 lakh Indian to go there. The numbers have been helped by the crises in Bangkok," said SanJeet, Indian representative of the Macau government's tourist office.
With contributions from Mihir Mishra and Sneha Kupekar