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Due to close proximity, the nations of Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan witness significant tourism from India. With preferences of Indian travelers changing, boutique properties are reaching out with diverse offerings to attract this tourism segment.

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India is a key source market for the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. In February, India was the biggest source market for Nepal, accounting for more than 25% of foreign tourist arrivals in the country.

For Bhutan, Indians accounted for 60% of the total international tourists in the first three months of 2024. The country is expecting 150,000 Indian tourists this year, more than double that of 2023. 

In Sri Lanka, the number of tourists from India in the island nation increased by over 100% in January.

What are they doing to keep the growth going? Skift caught up with some boutique hotel brands from these three countries that were in India for a trade event.

Here’s what we learned:

Amrit Rajaratnam, founder of Galle Fort Hotel, Sri Lanka: Indian travelers are seeking authentic, experiential, and unique experiences, Rajaratnam said.

“They seek bespoke luxury experiences and are inclined to invest in shorter, luxe getaways as opposed to longer trips. They want unique, immersive travel experiences, which are family friendly and exclusive.” Rajaratnam added that Indian travelers prefer privacy, often booking entire properties for their group travels.

Khin Omar Win, owner of Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan: “Discerning Indian travelers are more mindful, curious, and adventurous. They seek cultural immersion. The biggest trend we have experienced is the shift in interest from classic travel to developed destinations to more immersive, nature-focused travel and soft adventure,” Win said.

She added that pre-Covid, her property received very little interest from the Indian market but this has significantly increased post-pandemic. 

Nilanka Martinus, managing director of Mosvold Boutique Hotels, Sri Lanka: “Indian travelers are looking for unique boutique luxury experiences, coupled with a discerning palate for great food, particularly with a strong preference for vegetarian options. They highly value personalized attention and excellent service standards.”

The Indian market, particularly the middle and upper-middle class, is increasingly inclined to splurge on luxurious travel experiences and boutique hotels and have moved away from package tours, Martinus shared. 

Prabina KC Chhetri, sales and marketing director of Dwarika’s Group of Hotels and Resorts, Nepal: She said that apart from experiential tours, Indians are also inclined towards holistic well-being, spiritual and cultural experiences, and sustainable travel.

Hashan Cooray, managing director of Jetwing Hotels, Sri Lanka: Jetwing Hotels has been witnessing increased interest in properties that offer agricultural experiences and tea estate experiences. “Luxury wellness retreats are seeing increased demand from Indian travelers, where they look to stay for a week or more, immersing themselves in daily physical activities, health routines and treatments. Wildlife tours in Yala, Kumana as well as in the Sigiriya region are also gaining popularity,” said Cooray. 

Thailand Extends Visa Waiver for Indians Until November 11

Thailand has extended the visa-free arrival arrangement for Indian travelers till November 11. The Thai cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to extend the visa exemption for six more months.

In November last year, Thailand decided to grant visa-free entry to Indians and Taiwanese citizens from November 10 till May this year. This visa waiver would have ended on Friday.

Travelers from the two countries would be allowed to stay without a visa in Thailand for a period not extending 30 days.

In the first four months of 2024, Thailand recorded over 12 million visitor arrivals, representing a 39% increase over the same period in 2023. More than 550,000 Indians visited Thailand during this period. Thailand expects the number of visitor arrivals from India to reach 1.7 million this year.

India is one of the most important source markets for Thailand and is also the fastest-growing. In 2023, over 1.6 million Indian travelers visited Thailand, making the country the fourth-largest source market for Thailand. These tourists spent more than THB 63 billion ($1.7 billion).

Sri Lanka has also renewed its visa-free entry for visitors from India, China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The visa-free entry will allow these visitors to stay in Sri Lanka for 30 days.

IHG Opens India’s First Voco Hotel

IHG Hotels and Resorts has opened India’s first voco hotel – voco Jim Corbett. The 70-key resort marks the introduction of IHG’s seventh brand in India. The hotel chain has four other voco hotels in its India pipeline – in Mumbai, Amritsar, Gurugram, and Goa. 

Last month, the company announced its plans to double its operating portfolio in India, aiming to have 100 trading hotels in the country by 2029. In 2023, the hotel chain’s occupancy rate surpassed pre-Covid levels significantly, it said in a statement. 

Post the 2023 performance, the company has ambitious expansion plans for India. IHG’s Southwest Asia managing director Sudeep Jain said, “We are on track to record another successful year, fueling our growth ambitions in the country.”

80% of Indian Travelers Prefer Domestic Destinations

Nearly 80% of the Indian travelers prefer domestic destinations as opposed to international ones, shared travel advisory firm VIDEC’s CEO Virendra Jain at the Arabian Travel Mart 2024. While speaking about India’s rapid emergence as a crucial source market for global tourism, Jain shared the characteristics and behaviors of Indian travelers. 

As many as 59% travelers in India prefer short weekend trips. “The primary motivator for these trips is the need for a break from daily life, with 33% of travelers seeking leisure escapes.”

He also asserted the need to understand the trends and behaviors among Indian travelers. “Coupled with India’s rising digital proficiency and infrastructural enhancements, these trends are shaping India into a dynamic source market for global tourism, necessitating targeted engagement strategies to capitalize on this growth,” he said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the pronoun for Khin Omar Win, owner of Gangtey Lodge in Bhutan.

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Tags: arabian travel market, bhutan, boutique hotels, hotels, ihg, india, india outbound, india travel, international tourism, international travel, nepal, skift india report, sri lanka, thailand, tourism, tourism authority of thailand, Travel Trends, visa waiver, voco

Photo credit: Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal are focusing on India to achieve their ambitious tourism targets. Avinash Patel / Pexels

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