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Indian travel and aviation sectors have managed to rebound faster than expected and well beyond pre-pandemic levels. But how will travel and tourism leaders work to ensure sustained growth and profitability, remains to be seen.

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Editor’s Note: Happy Holi, everyone! We will not be publishing our newsletter on Wednesday, March 8, as our India team will be celebrating the Indian festival of colors — Holi. 

Metasearch engines have emerged as the leading channel for travel bookings post-Covid, according to a travel trends report by Adara, a travel martech and data exchange platform. India-headquartered travel tech firm RateGain Travel Technologies has recently acquired Adara. Currently, the share of metasearch in bookings accounts for 80 percent of all bookings made, as per the Trends for Indian Travelers (Outbound) report. Thailand emerged as the most preferred destination post-pandemic, the report stated. Ever since it has eased travel norms, leisure travel from India to Thailand almost reached the pre-pandemic level, rising to 69 percent in 2023. Further findings reveal that the U.S. remains the top searched destination in India with an average share of 25 percent, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with an average search share of 15 percent. The UAE, U.S., Singapore, UK, Australia, and Thailand have maintained the top positions when it comes to international holiday bookings from India. Maldives saw a pandemic boom, however, as the bigger countries opened up for tourism, the demand has replicated the pre-pandemic trend, the report stated.  

After U.S., Russia is also working on easing visa procedures for six countries, including India, Syria and Indonesia. “In addition to India (procedures simplification) … is being worked out with Angola, Vietnam, Indonesia, Syria and Philippines,” said Evgeny Ivanov, deputy foreign minister of Russia. The easing of visa regulations would certainly be an incentive, especially as the wait for visas keeps getting longer for Indian passport holders. Earlier Skift had reported that Russia also plans to launch electronic visa for 52 countries, including India — a resolution that had been passed in 2020, but had been stalled due to the Covid restrictions. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago — which has killed thousands and displaced millions — Moscow has turned to China, India and African nations, trying to seek closer ties there. While the United States, Japan and the European Union condemned Russia’s invasion and imposed sanctions, India kept a neutral stance, declining to blame Russia for the invasion while sharply boosting its purchases of Russian oil.

With the number of Indian flyers growing to 47 percent to 123 million in 2022 compared to 2021, India’s booming civil aviation market is expected to benefit its immediate neighbors like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, directly under its Neighbourhood First Policy. A total of 100 unserved and undeserved landing sites such as airports, heliports, water aerodromes and advanced landing grounds will be revived or developed by 2024 to extend air connectivity to the unconnected, as per data released by Indian aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The Tata Group has announced that it would be buying 470 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. With the Boeing order estimated at $34 billion and the Airbus deal at around $35 billion, the entire deal is said to be the largest in commercial aviation history. “India is on the verge of an international air travel revolution and we are humbled at Airbus that our partnership with the Tata Group will contribute to this new chapter. The time is right for India to become an international hub,” said Guillaume Fuary, CEO of Airbus.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has confirmed that it would provide $1.5 billion funds to strengthen the tourism infrastructure of Himachal Pradesh, a state in northern India most popular for its tourist destinations. The project would advance the cause of sustainable development of tourism in the state. The project components to be covered under the first phase are the beautification of Shimla, Palampur, the convention center and wellness center at Dharamshala, wayside amenities at Mandi-Kullu National Highway, among others. The state government will also focus on developing adventure, religion, rural, health, religious, and weekend tourism. 

Indian citizens have received one-fourth of the total visas issued by the United Kingdom in 2022, according to the British government. Out of the 2,836,490 visas the UK issued last year, 25 percent went to India more than any other country, said Alex Ellis, British High Commissioner to India. In 2022, Indian nationals received the highest number of student visas which increased by 73 percent from the year 2021 and work visas increased by 130 percent. India was also issued 30 percent of visit visas, which is the largest share compared to any other country. According to statistics provided by the UK government, in terms of visitor visas, Indian nationals have overtaken Chinese nationals, who were first in this category pre-pandemic, accounting for 27 per cent of visas granted in 2019, but have come down to five per cent in 2022. 

Air India has resumed its non-stop Delhi-Copenhagen service after three years. This service will provide Indian travellers access to not only Copenhagen but also to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Air India Flight AI157 now operates on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays from Delhi. The flight will be operated by Air India’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. With this service, Air India’s India-Europe frequency has increased to 79 non-stop flights per week. The only other Asia-Pacific based carriers currently offering direct flights to Copenhagen are Air China from Beijing, Singapore Airlines from Singapore, and Thai Airways from Bangkok. 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s aviation watchdog, has confirmed that it will increase its technical staff to 1,100 by hiring another 400 people in the next one to two years as well as increase the number of offices to 19 from the current 14. The regulator aims to strengthen the safety oversight capabilities. India’s aviation safety oversight ranking jumped to the 55th position from 112th place earlier under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) coordinated validation mission. Currently, DGCA has around 1,300 employees, including about 700 technical staff. India is the world’s third largest as well as the fastest growing civil aviation market in the world. 

Thailand has revised its target for Indian arrivals up to 2 million in 2023 from the earlier expected 1.4 million, after almost a million Indians visited the country last year out of a total of over 11 million foreign visitors. As of February 7, this year, Thailand had received 2.58 million foreign visitors, of which 122,303 were from India. The Thai tourism authorities are keen on Indian tourists as their average length of stay in the country is longer than the average and they spend about $1,000 on each trip per person. “India is and has always been a significant and primary tourism market for Thailand. We would like to express our sincere thanks to all our industry partners in India for helping to strengthen the positive image of Thailand as a popular destination for Indian travellers,” said Yuthasak Supasorn, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor. TAT lauded India’s decision to scrap COVID testing requirements for travellers arriving from Thailand and said that it would catalyse the recovery of the tourism sector in Thailand. 

IndiGo, India’s largest airline by fleet and market share, has set its sights on the U.S. market through an existing codeshare with Turkish Airlines. A codeshare is an arrangement between airlines that allows passengers to seamlessly transfer from one operator’s flight to another by using the same flight number. In a joint filing by IndiGo and Turkish Airlines with the U.S. Department of Transportation — the nodal agency for such filing and approvals — the airlines have asked for “expedited approval of the application,” a standard practice for such cases. When accepted, IndiGo will be able to sell flights to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. When approved, the Turkish Airlines flights to 12 destinations in the U.S. will also have the IndiGo code — 6E, on the flights. This will be the first time that IndiGo flight numbers will be listed at airports in the U.S.

Over 75,000 tickets to and from India were sold from the U.S. in 2022, registering an increase of 432 percent, compared to 2021, according to figures revealed by Trevolution Group, a company focusing on agency sales of airline tickets and travel services. The top Indian destinations from U.S. airports were Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai. Most passengers originated from New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, and Dallas. The average round-trip economy ticket between the U.S. and India was priced at $1,400. “Being one of the largest and more diverse countries in the world, India is just gradually achieving its potential as a tourism destination. Thanks to the significant demand for travel between the U.S. and India, which is primarily driven by the 4.5 million Indians living in the U.S., we have focused on entering and securing our position in the Indian market,” said Peter Vazan, executive vice president of industry relations, Trevolution Group. 


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Tags: air india, dgca, himachal pradesh, india, indigo, indigo airlines, russia, skift india report, Tata Group, tourism authority of thailand, united kingdom, visa

Photo credit: Metasearch engines have emerged as the leading channel for travel bookings post-Covid. Getty Images

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