India’s outbound market, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, has the potential to impact any location. Thailand, which is only a short flight away and has strong cultural ties with India, could be the spark that the kingdom needs to relaunch its tourism economy.
But how big is India’s potential, and what does Thailand’s tourist and hospitality industry need to do to take advantage of it? These subjects were discussed in Delivering Asia Communications and C9 Hotelworks’ newest webinar, “Outbound India – Restarting India’s Tourism to Thailand.” This fascinating event, held on the 14th of December, heard from important participants in many sectors, including airlines, hoteliers, tour operators, wedding planners, and more, to understand how India is shaping up as Thailand’s tourist rescuer.
1.9 million Indians visited Thailand prior to the global epidemic in 2019. While this was an increase of 22% over 2018, it was still only a fraction of the 12 million visits from China, a country with similar characteristics. However, with China’s outbound tourism on hold, Ravi Chandran, CEO of Laguna Phuket, believes that India has a chance to shine.
“With the Chinese market having slowed, the Indian market is massive – not just for Phuket, but for Thailand as a whole,” Ravi said at the virtual event. “India is historically a family-oriented country, so a two-week vacation in a destination like Phuket, which has so much to offer, is excellent.” Indian visitors are seeking for anything from walking and cycling to water sports and resting by the beach when it comes to activities. I believe we have everything anyone desires with so much outside area, three kilometers of beach, and a championship golf course. For Indians, who had previously only visited Bangkok and Pattaya, this opens up Phuket as a new destination.”
Phuket’s status as a sports tourism destination might benefit from a renewed focus on fresh air and outdoor activities. Laguna Phuket has hosted international beach volleyball and golf competitions in recent weeks, bringing this to light. Jeev Milkha Singh and Shiv Kapur, two top Indian players, competed in the latter tournament.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the Indian outbound sector however, is weddings. While this US$50 billion industry was severely impacted by the pandemic, it looks ready to bounce back. Ravi revealed that Laguna Phuket has seen a surge in wedding inquiries over the last three months. This was echoed by Sally Mangharam, Managing Director of Mantra Events, a Thailand-based wedding planner, who told the webinar that she’s already taking bookings for 2022.
“There’s definitely a market, but it’s highly dependent on travel regulations and consumer confidence. I have six weddings confirmed between now and July; they’re very positive and want to come back to Thailand,” Sally stated. She added that it would be “very helpful” if the Thai government could help to subsidise the cost of PCR tests for inbound guests.
Of course, any recovery is dependent upon the availability of flights, and Phuket was given a huge boost this month when Go First, the low-cost carrier formerly known as GoAir, became the first Indian airline to resume direct flights to the island. Paul Wu, the airline’s Regional Head for Southeast Asia, outlined the impact this will have on Phuket.
“We have 10 charters lined up between 4th December and 10th January, which will bring an estimated 2,000 Indian visitors into Phuket. These include one flight chartered by Dharma Productions, one of the biggest production houses in Bollywood. This will provide a major boost for the Phuket tourism industry, as once the movie is released it will show Phuket to Indian audiences,” Paul revealed. He added that Go First is aiming to launch scheduled flights to Phuket and Bangkok from several major Indian cities, including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, once international restrictions are lifted in January.
2022 has the potential to be a transformative year for Thailand’s tourism industry, as the world continues to rebound from the depths of the pandemic. With improving accessibility and a wealth of activities and attractions for Indian travellers, Phuket will be at the forefront of this fightback.
“Pent-up demand is strong; India can be a good substitute for the Chinese market, especially in those low season months when we were reliant on China. We’re working with the airlines and agents in India, focusing on five major cities and putting together packages to suit them,” Ravi concluded.
The Indian outbound webinar was hosted by Bill Barnett, Managing Director of C9 Hotelworks, and David Johnson, CEO of Delivering Asia Communications. It also heard from Pinki Arora, Marketing & PR Representative of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) India; Stanley Rozario, Director of Marketing & Communications for the Thai Indian Tourism Club (TITC) and Head of Business Development – Indian Subcontinent Market at Asian Trails; Heshan Peiris, Corporate Chef at Laguna Phuket; Ranjeet Viswanathan, Director of Sales & Marketing at Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort; and Nitin Sachdeva, CEO of Venture Marketing and India Representative of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB).