Heading For Nowhere… Indians often let their holidays lapse. Do you?
…or rather, everywhere. Everybody is travelling – including you and I. We tell you how and why
Indians often let their holidays lapse. Do you?
YOU’RE LOUNGING at a beach like you belong there. You’ve trekked for hours, just for a selfie on the “top of the world”. You’re smiling blissfully to the sounds of music at that festival in Rajasthan. You’d forego Ladakh for the North East, Bangkok for Krabi, Italy for Greece. You’re saving up for Machu Picchu.
Your Twitter bio says you’re a traveller (and a dreamer). Travel is your hobby according to your CV too. And to testify this, there are countless photos on Facebook and Instagram.
In the last three to five years, according to a 2014 ICICI travel trend survey, there has been an almost 30 per cent increase in domestic travel. While the number of Indians travelling abroad in 1991 was 1.9 million, according to the Ministry of Tourism, it rose to 12.99 million in 2010.
And in 2012, according to a 2013 UN World Tourism Organisation report, more than one billion people travelled the world. In 2013, there were 52 million additions to that. (Mind you, the world population is all of seven billion.)
Travel is in.
A SHORT HISTORY
Now a multi-billion-dollar industry, travel is also one of the world’s oldest businesses. It was, after all, travel that in part transformed the young Prince Siddhartha into Gautam Buddha. And much of our history is based on accounts of foreign travellers. But through the ages, travel always had a purpose: pilgrimage, enlightenment, exploration, territorial expansion, trade and colonisation.
“The majority of researchers believe that tourism is an 18th century invention,” says Hasso Spode, who heads a historical archive on tourism at the Free University of Berlin, in a news report. It was in the 18th century, he says, that people began to travel for fun. But it was still a small number of people.
It was only decades later, in 1841, that Thomas Cook, an Englishman, popularised package tours. Over the next two centuries, it caught on in the West.
For modern India, however, this is a fairly new concept. The economy of newly independent India simply didn’t allow much room for tourism. It was a time when people travelled only to visit relatives, attend family weddings or to go on pilgrimages. When tourism began to emerge, it was to the odd hill station, the beach, or historical monuments – and these were still mostly annual trips. Today, travel is a round-the-year-business.
And in the last decade, it has become serious business.
When 40-year-old Lakshmi Sharath started blogging 10 years ago, travel was still a niche segment. “Of course people were going to Agra, Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan. People had started going to Singapore and Malaysia… it was all the usual destinations,” she says.
By 2006, low-cost air carriers, Deccan, Spice and IndiGo, had begun operating. People realised that in just two hours, they could go for a holiday anywhere in the country. And it was nearly as cheap as going to places around their own city. This is what first fuelled the travel trend.
The second impetus to travel was the introduction of the long weekend trend in 2006-7, says Samyukth Sridharan, chief operating officer at Cleartrip, the travel booking website. “Before this, Indians were never very long-weekend focused. A big chunk of low-cost air carriers traffic is tailored around this segment. If a month has a long weekend, 20 per cent of all bookings for that month on our site are just for that weekend.”
As is always the case, once travel became the thing to do, it moved beyond the mainstream. And so came the unusual destinations. Ecotourism (which involves undisturbed, relatively remote areas) was at a nascent stage. “Ladakh had started getting attention (from people who weren’t in the army). But nobody went to Kumarakom or Hampi or the North East,” Sharath says. By the end of the Noughties, there were many more travel bloggers, travel writers and photographers. Travel began booming.
“But let me tell you,” says travel writer Anuradha Goyal, “it wasn’t a coincidence.” While researching for her book The
Mouse Charmers, about the digital pioneers of India, Goyal found that the travel and tourism industry was one of the first to go online. All the travel writing, she says, is not because somebody decided to go to obscure areas and write about them. “It’s because somebody is investing in tourism. It’s because somebody set up rural
tourism hubs. It’s because it is constantly being promoted. Everybody benefits from tourism – from a five-star hotel to a chaiwallah. And the industry got organised,” Goyal says.
Travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. In 2010, says a Cornell University study, the guest experience mentioned in customer reviews became the dominant factor in hotel selection. Today, TripAdvisor has 200 million (and counting) user reviews worldwide. More than two million (and counting) of these are from India alone.
THE WAY WE TRAVEL
Curiously enough, we like to travel in groups. Vishal Suri, CEO of Tour Operating, Kuoni India, says, “Indians want to travel with friends or another family. Unlike the Western tourists, Indian tourists will not go read a book on the beach, they want to be engaged and connected.”
That being said, the number of solo Indian women travellers is going up, according to a TripAdvisor survey. The women surveyed said it gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted. They didn’t need to depend on family or friends, who do not have the time or resources to travel with them.
Interestingly, Indians are the most hungry for Wi-Fi. Even more so than Europeans, which is ironic considering our state of Wi-Fi – non-existent in most public spaces.
Travel is now about the experience and discovery rather than just sightseeing. “There is a shift from multi-destination to single destination travel,” says Suri. People want to explore one country thoroughly rather than club several on a single trip.
LURE OF THE OBSCURE
There is a fine distinction between travellers and tourists. (Though, by definition, if you are travelling for the sake of travelling, you are a tourist.) But all real (and most definitely, all wannabe) travellers will scrunch up their nose and refuse to speak to you if you refer to them ‘tourists’. Tourists are the guys who pose for photographs, are unable to digest local food. They pore over maps and travel guides and look very confused. Travellers, on the other hand, try to blend in. They’re cool and adventurous.
“A few years ago, I found a church floating in the middle of a village called Shettihalli – just four hours away from Bangalore,” says Lakshmi Sharath. The 19th century Rosary Church gets half submerged in water every monsoon. It’s not the kind of place a tourist would enjoy – but a traveller would. And that is the difference. Travellers love the obscure. This is our favourite trend of all – and one that the Brunch team likes to contribute to.
It has been reported that the Indian traveller is being “wooed” by several off-beat destinations across the world, because of the “sheer volume of the country’s population”. Quite successfully too. According to online travel portal Expedia India, 30 per cent of Indian travellers opted for offbeat destinations during the summer in 2013.
You don’t need us to tell you that travel is good. That it makes you healthier and happier – holiday arguments notwithstanding. But apparently, even the simple – on second thought, not so simple – act of planning a holiday generates happiness. And true travellers, well, that’s all they do.
For seven years, Neelima Vallangi worked as a software engineer in Bangalore. And for seven long years, she was miserable at her well-paying job. In 2008, she began travelling – and blogging about it. Two years later, she began freelancing, and a year later, figured out how to survive just by freelancing.
Last year, she quit her job. This January, she gave up her apartment. “I’m a location-based traveller,” she says, like it is the most normal thing. In the last three months, she’s travelled to Ladakh, Karnataka, Almora and Arunachal Pradesh. “When I had my apartment, I always had to come back to Bangalore after every trip – to pay the rent, the bills, all that nonsense,” she says. “I don’t need a house, all my work [writing, photographing, blogging] is online.” She travels from one destination to another, and lives without a permanent base.
You may not want to quit your job though. We’re travelling often enough now. But here’s something you must consider: India is still the fourth most vacation-deprived nation in the world. People let their holidays lapse.