Rajeev Kale – President and Country Head – Leisure Travel & MICE, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd
Ahmad Mukhtiyar September-October 2016
Europe tops the list among Indian travellers
“With the rise of 20-25 pc in the overall honeymoon travel demand over the last three years, Thomas Cook – is particularly bullish about the growing romantic travel market for Indians abroad segment with its partnership with Matrimonial Bazaar,” says Rajeev Kale.
Thomas Cook has been doing well in terms of business. Can you share with us the business trends last year and this year so far in India?
Travel & Tourism has become the largest service industry in India; and given its sustained trajectory, its expected growth in contribution to the Country’s GDP is approximately 7.8% annually (period 2013-2023). This is a strong indicator of the powerful potential of the Travel & Tourism Industry in India.
Spurred by a burgeoning economy that has vastly improved the spending power, coupled with declining airfares, Indians have emerged as the world’s newest globetrotters. Despite a depreciating Rupee, the Indian travel sentiment remained highly upbeat with focus on early planning and maximising savings. We witnessed strong uptake for Visa on Arrival and e-visas- a smart strategy deployed by short haul destinations like Malaysia, Singapore and newer tourism entrants like Seychelles.
Another interesting observation this year was the emergence of Slow Travel with options like ‘walking tours’ seeing uptake. Village/farm stays in Switzerland and leisurely hiking, cycling tours in Europe also saw growth.
Thomas Cook has partnered with Matrimonial Bazaar. What is the strategy behind it and how big is the market of romantic leisure tourism in India? What are the favourite romantic places for the Indian travellers outbound and where does France stand in the list?
With ‘honeymoon’ featuring as the second most searched keyword on Google when it comes to holidays backed by Thomas Cook India’s internal research and consumer analysis. Revealing a strong rise in demand for honeymoon/ romantic travel (20-25% YoY over the last 3 years) is significant. The demand is not restricted merely to honeymoon, but also includes a fun filled bachelor and hen party for friends of the couple, and a honeymoon, often with family in tow! With clear customer demand for extravagance and indulgence with their honeymoon requests- from uber luxury accommodation to spectacular and offbeat destination experiences. Thomas Cook India’s partnership with Matrimony Bazaar aims at addressing this high growth opportune market via wide range of romantic holiday options at attractive price points.
While New Zealand, Fiji, France, Greece, Hawaii, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, Maldives, Switzerland, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong-Macau and Mauritius continue to top the charts for honeymoon destinations, fresh destinations emerging on the radar for honeymoon include Abu Dhabi, Seychelles, Ras-Al-Khaimah, Korea and Trinidad & Tobago. Closer home domestic favourites include Kashmir, Kerala, Shimla, Manali, Munnar, Ooty & Coorg.
Interestingly, Cruises to South East Asia (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong), Europe (Scandinavia, France, Spain & Italy), all-time favorite USA- the Caribbean Islands, Alaska and Mexico too have witnessed a steady uptake in demand for new age honeymooners.
Europe has recently been through political changes. Does the ongoing Brexit process have some repercussions on the business segment of travellers going to Europe?
While Britain will continue to have a separate visa requirement irrespective of any development with reference to the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, inbound travel to the UK is expected to experience a spike owing to the devaluation of the pound.’
While it is too early to comment on the impact of the correction in Pound on outbound travel to the UK, it is expected to witness a surge as travellers will now gain additional benefits on the same quantum of spends. We, at Thomas Cook India, have already observed a 12-15% growth in travel queries to the UK over the past 2 months.
How did the terror attacks in France and in Europe affect your activity and the travel market from India to Europe?
The multiple micro and macro dynamics in the past year led to an inconsistent growth trajectory of the travel & tourism industry. But, Europe continues to have a favoured destination status amongst Indians and while we did receive some queries and requests from customers to defer their dates of travel, we had zero cancellations.
What is the current trend in India when it comes to travelling to European countries and is there any shift of in terms of destinations? What are the current preferred destinations for Indians and the next ones to be boosted?
Europe has been a top favourite for Indian travellers, being high on Bollywood allure and that undeniable brag factor. From an aspirational quotient, while Switzerland, France, Italy UK and Germany continue to top the list, Spain, Scandinavia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria have fast emerged as strong contenders. For the individual traveller segment, we see increasing demand for new entrants like Ireland, Croatia, Iceland, Greece, Flanders and Scotland too.
While Paris will continue as a favourite, the Indian leisure traveller is showing interest in locales like Picardy (North France), Chantilly Castle and the medieval champagne cellars of Pannier.
What are the special offers Thomas Cook puts forward and that other tour operators do not?
A key differentiator is our Thomas Cook hybrid ‘click & brick’ omnichannel strategy. This gives power to our customers- option as per their preference and convenience to research and book online and contact our call centres for assistance, meet with our travel counsellors close to their home/ work place.
Thomas Cook Holiday Savings Account- leverages the innate savings habit of Indian consumers via a simple and viable investment solution- the security and easy instalments of a bank RD with an attractive interest rate and balance top up from Thomas Cook India – a comprehensive saving solutions to guarantee every Indian the affordability of better and inflation free holidays.
One Currency Card offer, a strong USP of a single load currency (USD) and zero cross currency conversion charges, across the world and the multicurrency Borderless Prepaid Cardempowers travellers with the option of loading eight currencies on a single card (US Dollars, British Pounds, Euro, Australian Dollars, Canadian Dollars, Swiss Francs, Singapore Dollars & Japanese Yen).
The other way around- is India one of the favourite destinations for European travellers? Which European countries prefer India?
Incredible India continues to have strong appeal to European markets, with its rich culture, heritage, cuisine, florafauna and places of religious interest. Travellers from the UK, France and Germany continue to favour India and are keen to learn about current India, understand the social life, its people and experience it first-hand. Ayurveda and wellness is another strong area of interest. New source markets are emerging from Japan, Korea, etc.
How do you see the future of travel industry in India itself?
At Thomas Cook India Group we are bullish about the future of the travel industry in India. For today’s consumer, travel is increasingly inclined towards experiential travel. India offers great outdoors, local customs and charming hospitality, flavourful traditional cooking, stimulating art, intriguing architecture, unique cultural experiences and much more.
Also, initiatives such as Make in India and Digital India have led to an increased footfall of inbound tourists which is further giving boost to the Indian tourism industry.