Urban Indian tourists opting for special interest relaxed holidays

July 8th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, July 8 (IANS) Luxury tourism is redefining itself in urban India with special interest holiday packages to meet the mature market needs in which customers look for “deeper satisfaction” rather than the usual gamut of vacation activities. Such holidays also provide greater freedom to explore destinations at one’s own pace and time.

As the high-end leisure segments of outbound Indian travellers - those holidaying abroad - curtail their holiday durations because of increased work pressure, entrepreneurs and travel firms are going out of their way to come up with emotionally satisfying “short-haul” packages to give customers the best and the most innovative tours that money can buy.

The cornerstones of the new holiday packages on the shelves are “freedom, flexibility, relaxation and space”, unlike holidays of the past when outbound tourists packed in the maximum activities and destinations in their itineraries to make most of the money spent.

“These specialized and short-haul holidays will drive the Indian tourism industry in the future,” Srinivas P., senior vice-president of SOTC’s Special Interest Tours, told IANS from Mumbai.

To cater to the growing tribe of special interest tourists, comprising mostly stressed corporate executives, double-income working couples taking a break from work and affluent baby boomers who have travelled early in life but now want to relax with their children, Six Senses Resorts and Spas, a leading wellness holiday chain, has unveiled a new package called “Destination Spas”.

The first destination wellness resort, a place devoted exclusively to wellness tourism away from the bustle of daily life and cut off from the mainland, is Naka Yai, an island off Phuket.

“It is different from other spas. This wellness centre is a destination in itself where tourists can avail of complete therapies of the mind and the body without interruption throughout their holidays without having to indulge in the usual holiday chores like shopping, sight-seeing, eating out and having to rub shoulders with the local lot,” explained Vasudha Sondhi, managing director of Outbound Marketing Private Limited, which represents the Thailand-based Six Senses in India.

“It is another world where we don’t allow tourists to smoke on the island except on designated zones, do not admit children below 16, do not serve meat and eggs and discourage mobile phones and contact with the world outside,” Sondhi added.

The pace of life is slow, relaxed and “disciplined”.

The target audience this year, according to Sondhi, is the “moneyed” segment from tier two and three cities across India.

“We have a fixed clientele in Bollywood and in the metros, but we are getting maximum business from places like Lucknow, Kanpur and cities in Punjab where travellers are becoming more discerning, hip and informed,” Sondhi said.

They are the ones who are looking for more spaced-out holidays at the moment. “As most of them go on foreign holidays at least two to three times a year now instead of the once-in-a-year trip till a couple of years ago, there is no rush to cram holiday schedules with every major attractions and activity on the way,” she said.

Her travel firm, which fetched only five percent of its business from the second and third rung towns till 2003, now generates nearly 35 percent business from the smaller cities.

“Small-town tourists are opting for destinations that are isolated and prefer packages with a lot of space and variation,” she said.

Agrees Seema Kundra, the chief executive officer of a public relations firm in the capital, who is just back from Bali. “I just chilled out in my resort. I did not venture out except for my meals and to explore the beaches,” said the genial corporate honcho.

Most vacationers feel that packing a schedule with too many stops is tiring. “The traveller returns exhausted. It requires another holiday to overcome the fatigue,” she said.

Industry watchers feel that one of the reasons why special interest holidays is becoming popular in India is the growing need to spend quality time with family and loves ones; and indulge in favourite pastimes which are not possible in the western lifestyle models that Indian metros are adopting to adapt to the new globalised economy.

Mumbai-based SOTC for instance is cashing in on the Indian passion for sports. It has launched the country’s first-ever Formula One sports holiday package jointly with the Singapore Tourism Board.

Called the SOTC Sport Abroad, the holiday schedules will coincide with Singapore Grand Prix to held Sepr 20-Oct 5. It will feature various formula-one themed entertainment and lifestyle activities allowing Formula buffs the freedom to enjoy the races as part of the holiday packages.

Formula One Singapore Grand Prix is the world’s very first night-race on the Formula One calendar.

“More and more Indians are travelling abroad to play or watch sporting events. Cricket and football are no longer the main draws and neither is corporate travel, incentives for dealers and employees driving the growth in sports tourism.

“Instead, groups of friends and families travelling abroad to catch a sports event form the majority of our sports tourists,” Srinivas P. said.

According to him, the SOTC Sport Abroad packages are not only restricted to watching the race on the tracks “but go much beyond this”.

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