Aug 14, 2008

LIfestyle - Indian vacationers opting for cheaper International holidays

New Delhi: Mahera Sham, 27, a Mumbai homemaker, doesn’t like the rains. She loves beaches and would rather holiday in a place where she can explore the outdoors.
So, taking advantage of the much-awaited long weekend around the corner, thanks to Independence Day falling on a Friday, Sham and her businessman-husband, joined by another couple, will head out to the Indonesian island resort of Bali for a six-day break.
“We already have a good three-day weekend and will add another three days for our trip,” said Sham, who organized the trip through a travel agency. “We looked at Kerala but in India it’s raining everywhere.”
The couple will spend about Rs1.3 lakh on their Bali trip, a few thousands more than the luxury resort they checked out in Kerala. “We don’t mind spending a few extra bucks if we can see an international destination,” said Sham.
For travel companies such as Kuoni Travel India (Pvt) Ltd, its unit SOTC and STIC Travel Group, extended weekend getaways to foreign shores are proving to be a lucrative and expanding business.
South-East Asia is attracting short-duration vacationers because of low air fares and inexpensive hotels; in India, increased fuel prices have forced domestic airlines to raise fares, making travel more expensive.
In Bangkok, a room in a three-star hotel is available for $50 (about Rs2,122) a night, while in India it could cost as much as $125-$150 a night, according to Ashwini Kakkar, executive vice-chairman at Mercury Travels Ltd.
A Kolkata-Bangkok return ticket would cost around Rs7,000 but a Delhi-Goa return flight would cost around Rs20,000. “Last year, Mumbai to Goa was Rs3,000 and this year it costs around Rs10,000. Why would one pay so much and travel in India when you can see a foreign location with less money?” Kakkar adds.
Ajay K. Jain, a corporate lawyer practising at the Supreme Court, is heading to Singapore on work and his family will join him there to spend the long weekend “just relaxing and sleeping”.
“We chose Singapore because of its cost effectiveness and the fact that hotel charges are much more reasonable there than in India,” he said. “Five-star hotels in India are frightfully expensive and two- and three-star hotels don’t have the security and the hygiene one expects.”
At Kuoni, bookings for weekend travel have grown by 25-30% over last year and destinations such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok and Mauritius are becoming more competitive and priced at par with domestic locations.
Short flights and easy visa procedures contribute to the popularity of such international destinations, said Sunil Gupta, chief operating officer at Kuoni Holidays and SOTC.
Extended weekend vacations are becoming a “year-round movement” as people try to get away from the stress brought by work pressure, says Richa Goyal Sikri, director, group business development, at STIC Travel Group. “Around 15% of our business is from weekend getaway customers as compared to only 5% last year,” she said. “We see this particular segment growing at least another 15-20% next year if not more.”

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