New Delhi: Cash in hand and family in tow, small town India’s on the move like never before. Travellers across age groups from small towns in India are increasingly opting for a foreign holiday to destinations such as Dubai, Europe and South East Asia, driving growth and sales for travel operators. Some 30-40% of business for both online and offline tour operators, such as Thomas Cook, SOTC and MakeMyTrip, now comes from tier II and III towns, the companies said.
Small-town Indians are the new globetrotters
“The growth in tier II and III markets is definitely way higher than in larger cities year-on-year. Cities such as Lucknow, Visakhapatnam, Coimbatore, Trichy and Nagpur are becoming big markets for us,” said Daniel D’souza, head of sales, India, NRI markets and e-commerce at SOTC.
Thomas Cook India said growth in tier II and III towns has been much higher than metros in the last three years. “Around 40% of our business comes from tier II and III towns and first time outbound travellers constitute 20% of this revenue pie and it is increasing very rapidly,” said Romil Pant, senior vice president, leisure travel, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.
While an increase in disposable income is the underlying reason for the trend, the biggest immediate factor is better airport infrastructure and air connectivity. “The spurt in growth has been specially observed from hubs where direct flights to international destinations have recently started. In tier II and III towns, we have seen large family group travel bookings and year-on-year we have observed that these families are taking at least one international trip together,” said a MakeMyTrip spokesperson.
An explosion of information on social media, powered by cheaper internet and smartphone penetration, is firing up the desire for foreign travel.
Unlike metro travellers, however, there is a greater need for service for these travellers, operators said, such as overseas assistance, itinerary briefings, pick-up and drops, popular activity addition and food preference support. Language barrier continues to be a major concern.
“We recently went to Dubai through MakeMyTrip and found the entire process of booking extremely easy. Apart from the planned itinerary, visa assistance was also provided which was a relief. This trip has certainly motivated us to explore more international destinations,” said 36-year-old banker Harsh Jain from Rajkot. Jain took his first international trip in September along with his wife and 6-year-old son.
Social media is an important influencer when it comes to the travel sector, said Rakshit Desai, managing director, India, at Flight Centre Travel Group which says 30% of its business is now coming from tier II and III towns.
“For the last five years, we have been arguing that tourism boards need to promote international destinations in small towns because that’s where you have a willing audience hungry for content. Metro travellers are highly independent and are not prone to easy influencing. We are now seeing tourism boards have shifted their focus and are talking directly to these audiences,” he said.
For the first time, Dubai Tourism has launched roadshows and digital campaigns targeted at smaller cities this year. Tourism boards of Singapore, Indonesia, the US and Czech Republic are actively leveraging branded content and social media influencer marketing campaigns across Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Travellers from small towns tend to be a mix of families (between 35-45 years) with two kids, older couples (around 50 years) who prefer taking long hauls, and honeymooners.
SOTC has created a specialized language product called “Europe Darshanam”, meant only for South India travellers. The package offers a Tamil-speaking tour manager, South Indian cuisine and a custom-made itinerary.
“Such kinds of products are driving demand and increasing volumes as well,” said Thomas Cook’s Romil Pant.
Currently, travellers from small towns are ticking off all the tourist spots and shopping destinations, and FCM Travel’s Desai believes they will eventually become more event- or experience-driven.
“Their needs are slowly shifting from visiting geographies to experiencing certain events or phenomenon. As these travellers evolve they will opt for more experience-driven holidays. So, for instance, instead of just visiting Norway they would want to experience Northern Lights,” he added.