Indians are travelling again. See what’s on the cards for 2022

This March, India resumed regular international flights after a two-year hiatus, and Indians are raring to go.

Over 3,200 flights are set to leave for foreign lands each week, where only special flights were heading out through most of 2020 and all of 2021. According to VFS Global, which processes visa applications for 50 countries, applications from India have risen by 133% in the first quarter of 2022, compared to the same time last year.

While this is good news for travellers, flight numbers are still about 60% lower than pre-Covid figures. In the winter of 2019, airlines were operating 1,200 international flights daily, according to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Still, as things open up, where is everyone going, and who’s wooing the Indian traveller the hardest? “This is an especially crucial time when countries are wooing Indians because the other big outbound travel market, China, is still largely dormant,” says Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI).

Around the world, countries have been dropping quarantine requirements and easing Covid-19 protocols. Travellers don’t need an RT-PCR test to enter Egypt, Turkey, Switzerland, France, Norway or Croatia, if they’ve taken country-approved shots (with some countries requiring the booster too, however). Parts of the world (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, France, Turkey, Mexico, Ireland, Italy, the UAE, among other countries) are welcoming unvaccinated travellers too, if they test negative for Covid-19. That shouldn’t be a problem for Indians; almost the entire adult population is fully vaccinated.

New attractions in Egypt include a Cairo Eye on the banks of the Nile, and the first-ever restaurant on the Giza pyramids plateau (above). (9 Pyramids Lounge)

This summer is set to see more Indians travel overseas than at any point since March 2020, analysts agree. “Even as the outlook remains volatile amid the ongoing pandemic and geopolitical risks, an ease in travel restrictions and pent-up demand in India — a key source market for international travel — indicate that there will be an uptick in volumes this summer,” says Pranav Sinha, South Asia head at VFS Global.

“The Far East is seeing a definitive re-emergence with maximum uplift for Thailand, followed by Singapore and Indonesia,” says Rajeev Kale, president and country head for travel company Thomas Cook. “Western Europe continues to be a favourite and destinations such as France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands are heading our leaderboard for the upcoming summer season. Now that all adults can get the booster dose, that opens up more countries for Indians too. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Turkey and Egypt are seeing high interest, and people who already hold valid visas are heading to the US.”

As travellers embark on their cross-border trips, we can also expect people to take with them the newfound flexibility they’ve embraced as domestic travellers in recent times,” says Daniel D’Souza, general manager of Airbnb India. “With the lines between travel and living continuing to blur, and huge numbers of workers untethered from their offices, many people have taken on a new approach to travel. They’re more flexible, willing to try new destinations, travel at off-peak times and stay for longer.”

This is good news for a parched tourism industry with a lot to recover from. Estimated losses stand at over $4 trillion across 2020 and 2021, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) released in June 2021. Tourism’s share of global GDP dropped by almost half in a single year, from over 10% in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. It is likely to have fallen a bit more in 2021.

New attractions in the UAE include Dubai’s Museum of the Future, which opened in February. Parts of the recently concluded Dubai Expo 2020, which ran from October to March, are also being retained and turned into a city of the future. (Shutterstock)


One significant change to contend with as Indians plan their summer travel is wildly fluctuating airfares. Just as the world was opening up, the Russian war on Ukraine has caused a spike in fuel prices, causing flight costs to fluctuate dramatically around the world, particularly on long-haul journeys.

“Air fares are all currently up, including from India to the US, Canada, Europe, UK, because of the fuel hike and rising demand,” says Mayal.

A few airlines have been rolling out summer deals aimed at the Indian traveller. AirAsia and Singapore Airlines are offering discounts on flights originating in India, from now through September. Singapore Airlines is also offering discounts of up to 50% for children under 12, and similar discounts on a range of family-friendly attractions such as the Singapore zoo, night safari and SEA Aquarium.

Another steady favourite, the UAE, is making a special effort too. Every year, the UAE gets more travelers from India than from any other country. In 2019, Indians made up 2 million of Dubai’s 16-million-plus visitors. In 2020, international visitors to Dubai dropped to about 5.5 million, but by 2021 had bounced back to 7.28 million, with a little under 1 million of those from India, according to data from Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism.

Since tourism is a big part of UAE’s vision for a post-oil economy, smaller destinations within the Emirates are already wooing the Indian traveller. Yas Island, a 2,500-hectare manmade island in Abu Dhabi, has been advertising extensively in India, with ads featuring actor Ranveer Singh singing and dancing his way through the island’s landmark attractions, which include a Warner Bros World, a waterworld and “the world’s fastest rollercoaster”.

Turkey currently sits in that sweet spot of still-exotic, somewhat familiar, and culturally comfortable for Indians. Among the attractions: spice markets dating back to ancient times, breathtaking Islamic architecture, and cultural experiences such as performances by whirling dervishes (above). (Shutterstock)

The Dubai Expo 2020, which ran from October 2021 to March 2022, was a big draw too. Kaushal Kharkanis, 41, a UI designer and travel blogger, spent ten days there in November 2021, on his first trip to Dubai, and he focused on the Expo. “The rest of Dubai will be there later and I have a five-year visa. The Expo was a one-time event,” he says. “Even though it’s over now, about 25% (including the Indian pavilion) is going to be retained and turned into a futuristic city. I would go back just to see that.”


The pandemic is also changing how we travel. Remote work and the rise of the digital nomad, compounded by the idea of revenge travel to make up for the lost two years, are seeing Indian tourists stay in one place for longer, and experience that place differently.

A destination expected to be popular this year, for this kind of experiential long-stay travel, is Turkey, which was already seeing growing interest from Indians just before the pandemic hit. This is a country that currently sits in that sweet spot between still-exotic, somewhat familiar, and culturally comfortable for Indians. In 2019, Turkey hosted about 2.4 lakh Indian tourists, up 57% from the previous year, according to data from the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. In 2021, it had 50,000 visitors from India.

Among the Indian visitors this year was dancer Meghna Das, 32, from Bengaluru, who spent two weeks there in April. “As a dancer, I am used to travelling a lot, but all that came to a standstill. So this year I was looking for places to travel, to break out of a creative rut,” she says. “There was a hole in my life I was trying to fill.”

With the T20 World Cup slated for October-November, Australia is actively wooing Indian tourists with offers such as free extensions to visitor visas that expired between March 2020 and June 2022. While there, don’t miss the Gold Coast and the Twelve Apostles (above). (Shutterstock)

A trip to a country that had long been on her bucket list felt like the old life again, she says. It was also an unusual itinerary; she went for an artist residency, stayed back, immersed herself in the local culture. “Usually when I travel for residencies, I go, work and come back. I decided I don’t want to do that anymore,” Das says.

Vineet Chhatria, 31, a fashion entrepreneur from Delhi, spent three weeks at a rented villa in Bali in April, where he did things differently too. For one thing, it was a workation, something he’d never tried before. For another, it was the longest he ever stayed in one place while on holiday. He also cooked for himself, made up his own itinerary, and took in the sights by himself, on a rented motorcycle. He isn’t coming home yet either. From Bali he travelled to Serbia, where he will live and work for two weeks before heading to Spain to explore Madrid and Seville.

With an eye on the workationer, countries such as Georgia, the UAE, Barbados, Malta, Iceland, Australia and Croatia are now offering Indians longer-term “digital nomad” visas for extended periods that range from six month to two years, with Italy and Spain likely to introduce these this year too. In April, Australia also announced that it will offer backpacker visas to 1,000 Indians a year. These visas will allow them to earn as they travel.

Elsewhere, an old favourite is making a concerted effort to win back tourists from around the world. In Egypt, tourism typically accounts for nearly 9% of GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. As revenues have plummeted, the country is reaching out. A new Cairo Eye is now operational on the banks of the Nile. The Grand Egyptian Museum, the world’s largest archaeological museum, is slated to open this year. Two new pyramids, King Sneferu’s Bent Pyramid and its satellite pyramid, opened to public viewing in 2019. And there’s a restaurant on the pyramid plateau at Giza. The exchange rate is very friendly to Indians too; it is currently about 4 per Egyptian pound.

So the map is coming alive again; the options are aplenty. “Covid-era travel has become a lot more passenger-friendly than in the early days of the pandemic,” Chhatria points out. “Everything is more streamlined: immigration, customs, Covid tests. Airports have more counters for these things, as do malls and other attractions.”

But we are still in a pandemic. So the one tip mentioned across the board, by travellers and agents: Don’t travel without Covid cover.

Game plan: Highlights from the 2022 sports map

This is a big year for sports fans. Restrictions and bio-bubbles are being eased around the world, as rounds of vaccines weaken the Covid-19 virus. Finally, major tournaments and world cups can have people in the stands again. Where the Euro Cup 2020, held in June 2021, had only a sprinkling of fans present at venues across Europe and in Russia, the Australian Open in February this year had stadiums filled to 50%. There is an unavoidable element of uncertainty involved; the Australian stands had to be emptied out again as numbers shot up in the country.

“In the past, travellers typically looked at two key factors: The scale of a sports event and the destination,” says Shashank S Mishra, CEO of sports tourism company Sports Konnect. “Post-Covid another factor that has become imperative is ease of travel. The fear of changing travel rules has been one of key determining factors of travel behaviour.” For those willing to roll the dice, here’s where the biggest sports events are unfolding in 2022.

The FIFA World Cup has never been this close to India. Qatar’s 40,000-seat Al-Janoub Stadium (above) will be among the venues. (Shutterstock)

Football World Cup, Qatar: The FIFA World Cup has never been closer to India than it is this year. (It’s usually held in Europe and South America, with a few exceptions including South Korea and Russia). Over 1.5 million fans are expected in Qatar between November and December. India currently ranks seventh on the list of countries accounting for most tickets sold, according to a FIFA press statement. Ticket prices range from 250 Qatari riyal (about 5,200) to 5,850 QAR ( 1.23 lakh) for a seat at the finals.

T20 Cricket World Cup, Australia: The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in October-November is expected to add 20,000 fans to the total number of visitors in 2022, Tourism Australia told financial website Moneycontrol in April. Indians are expected to grow to be the country’s third-highest source of tourists, after China and New Zealand (India is currently at No. 6). “Every time the Indian cricket team has travelled to Australia, we have seen the halo effect which lasts beyond the actual event,” Nishant Kashikar, Tourism Australia country manager for India and the Gulf, told Moneycontrol in April. In an effort to boost visitor numbers further, Australia is also offering free extensions to Indians whose visitor visas expired between March 2020 and June 2022.

UK: From the ongoing Premier League to the upcoming Wimbledon tennis tournament (June 27 to July10) and the India cricket tour of England in July, there’s a sporting bonanza ahead in the UK. The other big events on the sports calendar for the year are the French Open in May-June and the US Open in August-September.

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Indians are travelling again. See what’s on the cards for 2022

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