Merubhai Bharwad, a farmer from Dholka near Ahmedabad is busy planning his next international trip, one that he plans to take in around a year's time to Canada. Bharwad is an avid international traveller — he has travelled with friends and family to locations in South Asia mostly and claims to take one foreign trip in about two years. "One has plan in advance and do some cash flow management to be able to save enough for an international trip," says Bharwad who is a graduate in commerce and prefers group tours. Bharwad is not a lone example — many farmers and agri-commodity traders from his village are travelling overseas regularly. Manish Sharma, owner of Akshar Travels and chairman of the Gujarat Tourism Development Society, said that farmers and others associated with agriculture roughly comprise around 27 per cent of the tourists going overseas from Gujarat. Sharma works with around 30 tour operators across Gujarat and handles nearly 30 per cent of the traffic going out of the state. He has seen the number of outbound travellers grow from a 4,000-5,000 in a year (through operators affiliated with him) around ten years back to 25,000 to 30,000 tourists per year now. He estimates that together all operators handle at least 180,000 to 200,000 outbound tourists from Gujarat every year. Gujarat is not an exception. As such, the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicts that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020. Operators say that at present around 25 million tourists from India travel abroad — this basically implies that the number would double from current levels within the next two years. Around a decade back, eight million Indians were travelling overseas. The numbers swell: "The Yatra Winter Travel Survey 2017 showed that 36 per cent of travellers were planning an International holiday. On an overall basis, it is estimated that 25 million Indians travelled overseas in 2017 and that is growing a very healthy double-digit rate and India will be one of the largest outbound travel markets in the world in the next few years.," said Sharat Dhall, Chief operating officer (Business to customer), Yatra.com. He added: "This market is growing at a double-digit rate driven by the approximately 7 per cent GDP growth over the past few years, increasing middle-class incomes, changing attitudes towards spending, low airfares, group package tours and the easy availability of EMI options on travel bookings." Outbound Travel from India is growing at 15-18 per cent annually. Indians spending more: Not only are Indians travelling to international destinations more; the average spend on travel too is on the rise.
Mohit Gupta, COO, MakeMyTrip said: "There has been a 3.7-times increase in the total spend of customers travelling to international destinations as compared to domestic destinations with more about 39 per cent more Indians traveling this winter as compared to 2016." International travel grew by 60 per cent this winter season as compared to last year, he added.Operators claim that as taking a break from work becomes a stable trend, people are willing to spend more on travel. Dhall said, " In the Yatra annual winter survey for 2017, it was seen that 31 per cent of the people were willing to spend over Rs 50,000 on a trip. While the preferred choice of accommodation remained budget hotels, they want to spend more on experiences and exploration of the destination as well as shopping, food, and drink." Changing profile of the traveller International travel is no longer confined to the rich — the middle class is taking the plunge more often. Sharma says at around 27 per cent of the tourists going from overseas Gujarat are farmers or others associated with agriculture. Teachers and government officers (banking etc) from small towns of the state comprise another 9 per cent or so, while shop-keepers and small businessmen make up for 20 per cent of outbound travelers from the state apart from senior citizens who constitute around 12 per cent of outbound tourists. While the break-up might vary with states; the fact remains that more people from the middle classes are opting to travel internationally. Mahendra Vakharia, president of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) said that with domestic travel becoming more expensive (a Dubai trip from Mumbai or Ahmedabad can be worked out to be cheaper than a trip to Kerala for example), a middle class is traveling more often. Better connectivity from tier II towns International budget carriers are offering cheaper fares and direct connectivity to overseas locations from tier II towns - for example, Thai Smile to Varanasi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, and Gaya; Thai AirAsia to Trichy, Scoot (low-cost airline of Singapore Airlines) connecting Jaipur and Singapore, AirAsia from Bhubaneshwar to Kuala Lumpur. Vakharia said,"Not only better connectivity, but competition has ensured that international fares are affordable. Travelling within India is at times more expensive." Most outbound travel happens from Western India followed by North. "Marwaris and Gujarati communities are the most avid outbound travellers," he added. With inputs from Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai