Thursday 08th February 2024 04:28 EST

2020 and 2021 were strange years. The world stopped moving overnight, with growing anxieties over cancellations and refunds with tourism figures collapsing to 406 million from 1.46 billion in 2019. It has taken three years for the world to reset, though airports, ground staff and air traffic control systems are still struggling, but people have started to feel confident to book holidays ahead. The Daily Telegraph reported that WTO’s figures indicate international travellers reached nearly 1 billion in 2022, so it is most likely that 2024 will be marked as the biggest year for travel that world has ever witnessed. 

According to WTO’s recent published data, numbers on international travellers departing from Germany, Italy, the US and the UK are up by 10% compared to the same period pre-pandemic in 2019. And as expected, the British are currently the most resilient and determined of all, showing growth of 16% since 2019. The Chinese, Koreans and Australians travellers are down by almost 29% though the reasons are unknown. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, international tourism reportedly ended at 88% of the pre pandemic level in the end of 2023. By the end of 2024 the recovery is estimated to be full, especially in Asia, according to an article printed by the ET Travel.

India has seen a meteoric growth in pilgrimages and religious tourism in 2023, with Varanasi, Haridwar, Amritsar and Tirupati temples seeing a record number of visitors. In 2024, with opening of the Ayodhya Temple on 22 January, this is estimated to grow further. According to data shared with Asian Voice, India has issued a total of 4,29,19,995 visas in the last 10 years, and there has been 2.6% growth from 2017 till January 2024. 

Despite the geo-political tensions and conflicts as well as challenges like inflation, shortage of staff, increasing oil prices, the Middle East countries are set to benefit from tourism visa changes, as well as African nations such as Kenya and Rwanda. 

In Europe, with Paris hosting the Summer Olympics this year, the continent is also expected to be a driving force in international tourism, especially as Romania and Bulgaria join the Schengen area. 

While wedding tourism is predicted to soar by 21% in 2024, people are suffering from cost-of-living crisis with less disposable cash than before. They are therefore looking at holidays close to home, or holiday packages including cruises. The other factors affecting decisions include environmental concerns as some cities like Venice are reaching saturation points. 

In 2020 and 21 cruise holidays took a hit, as Covid-19 spread like wildfire. But in 2023 31.5 million people were estimated to have taken cruise holidays. Estimations now show 36 million people will embark on cruise holidays in 2024, higher than the 2019 level, though the growth is quite slow. 

This year is poised to be a landmark year for cruise vacations and cruise operators and travel agents have reported a surge in bookings, indicating a strong resurgence in the industry. One of the driving factors behind the popularity of cruises in 2024 is their affordability compared to land-based alternatives. Despite nearing pre-pandemic occupancy levels, cruise operators are still offering competitive pricing, making cruises an attractive option for travellers seeking value and adventure.

Leading cruise lines like MSC, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean are set to introduce new cruise itineraries and experiences, further enhancing the appeal of cruising for travellers worldwide. Asian Voice has a special feature this week (see page 15-17) talking about how cruise tourism plays a vital role in supporting local economies and communities in port destinations worldwide. 

Indian tourism booming

According to a report published by CNBC, India tourism sector is booming. States like Kerala, Rajasthan and Goa have always had a regular inflow of international and domestic tourists, but with Sr Ram Mandir in Ayodhya opening, the Indian tourism industry is expected to see a 50-100 million more people this year.

Pre-pandemic, especially in 2019, India saw 10.93 million foreign tourists, and 6.43 million between January and September in 2023 according to the Press Information Bureau. 

India is reportedly set to be the fourth largest global spender on travel by 2030, with travel and tourism to surge by more than 170% from $150 billion in 2019 to $410 billion according to data shared by Booking.com, the CBNC reported. 

India’s improving air and road connectivity has made travel easier. The current budget presented by Nirmala Sitharaman has also made considerable inclusions to railways introducing more Vande Bharat and NAMO trains as well as Metro services. The budget also allocates resources for tourism projects in the islands, including Lakshadweep.

The Atal Setu – India’s longest sea bridge covering 21.8 kms was opened in January 2024, while there has been unparalleled service by Indian hospitality sectors, especially by top star hotels such as Taj, Oberoi, ITC, Leela, Lalit etc. 

Sustainable tourism in India

India is also trying to include sustainability into the mainstream tourism sector. The Travel weekly reported that ‘Travel for LiFE’ initiative aims to reportedly "create more resilient, inclusive, carbon-neutral and resource-efficient tourism". The campaign was unveiled at World Travel Market as tourism representatives met many UK tour operators to build contacts and discuss further regarding options. 

India’s tourism secretary V Vidyavathi reportedly said, “The ‘Travel for LiFE’ programme will encourage tourists to take simple actions that result in conservation of the environment, biodiversity, improvement in the local economy and preservation of the socio- cultural integrity of the local communities. 

“It aims to create mindful and deliberate utilisation of resources by the stakeholders in the tourism value chain.”

Travel and Tour World reported that Visit Britain took its first mission in three years to India in 2023. VisitBritain CEO Patricia Yates expressed delight in hosting the flagship trade event in India, emphasising its timely and valuable nature. She reportedly said, “India is one of our most important inbound visitor markets, also boasting strong airline connectivity including to regional destinations and we know there is pent up demand for travel. Working with the travel trade in India is crucial to ensuring they are ready to sell Britain, as well as broadening travel itineraries to encourage visitors to explore further and stay longer.”

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