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Newer pastures
(From top): The famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul; caves in Cappadocia; the Great Wall of China

Two years ago, any Indian holidaymaker would have yammered on about his trip to Singapore’s Sentosa Island. He’d have waxed eloquent about the fabulous Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai or the imposing Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Today, though, all these places are passe; their landmarks having been digi-clicked and done with. So, don’t be surprised if the Banerjees next door have just returned from a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Or, if your landlord regales you with stories of his adventures in Queenstown. Or even if the Chatterjees who live down the street can’t stop gushing about the caves in Cappadocia.

If you hadn’t figured it out already, more Indians are bypassing the tried and tested, and heading to newer destinations — places like Turkey, New Zealand and China. Subhash Goyal, chairman, Stic Travel confirms that these countries are becoming increasingly popular with Indian wayfarers. And he puts it down to “connectivity, affordable airfare and the natural beauty of these places”.

Agrees Sunil Gupta, chief operating officer, SOTC, “It’s a case of ‘been there-done that’. Now people are looking for something new.”

That ‘something new’ is being found in the heart of Asia, in Turkey. From its Kazdagi mountains to its monuments and masjids, Turkey is wooing Indians like never before. According to Deniz Koprulu, director of Plaza Tur India, a travel company that specialises in packages for Turkey, around 12,000 Indians visited Turkey in 2005. This year, around 11,000 Indians have already hit Turkish shores — and we’re still in August.

Turkey’s main attraction, says Koprulu, remains Istanbul. “Indian tourists also love to visit historical places like Kusadasi and Izmir. Then it’s usually some shopping, eating out and a night on the town. They rarely want to miss out on anything, and end up visiting all the hotspots like Konya and Cappadocia,” he says.

What’s also driving the traffic are the promotional offers from Turkish Airlines. For instance, if you’re in a group of 30 people or more, you pay Rs 16,000 for a return ticket as against the published fare of Rs 27,000 (plus taxes). “We’re also working out special fares for honeymooners and students,” says Halil Yorulmazer, general manager, Turkish Airlines in India.

The airline that began its Indian operations in September 2003 now has seven flights a week --- three from Mumbai and four from Delhi. To reaffirm their commitment to the Indian market, Yorulmazer says a tourism board office will be set up by the year-end.

What’s more, Turkey also plans to win over Bollywood. Come September actor Suniel Shetty and producers Rajiv Rai and Shabbir Boxwala will be visiting Turkey to look at shooting options, on an invitation from Turkish Airlines.

While Turkish delights are going down well with the Indian tourist, New Zealand is also climbing the popularity charts. In 2000, only about 4,000 to 5000 Indians travelled there. Since then there’s been a phenomenal growth. “In the last one year, we’ve touched the 20,000 figure mark,” says Kiran Nambiar, country manager, New Zealand Tourism.

The numbers are indeed impressive. Consider Select Vacation, which has bookings for more than 400 people travelling to New Zealand in the next month. Stic Travel has about 40-50 bookings for the coming month. And now with Air New Zealand planning to start Indian operations by 2009-10, Nambiar feels the traffic will rise further.

What works for NZ, according to Nambiar, is the variety of activities it offers. For instance, in Queenstown, there are more than three types of bungee jumping.”

New Zealand Tourism is also hoping to capitalise on the approaching wedding season. “From November to February, we will offer attractive packages starting from Rs 1.10 lakh to Rs 1.50 lakh per head. This includes airfare and stay in a four-star hotel for 10-15 days,” says Nambiar. He also says that people tend to stay longer now than the average eight to 10 days.

The third destination that’s fighting to feature on the Indian tourist’s getaway list is China. Says Sunil Gupta, chief operating officer, SOTC, “We’ve been trying to promote China for the last three years. And it is only now that the traffic is really moving.” Three years ago, SOTC began with just 300 Indian tourists in the leisure group. Now, it has over 1,500 bookings for China. And this year, Gupta expects a 30 per cent growth.

China is fast picking up pace as a holiday spot. In the last two months Stic Travel has handled 700-1,000 bookings. Nutan Gupta, manager, sales and marketing of China Eastern Airlines, which operates four times a week from Delhi to Shanghai, confirms there has been a 30-40 per cent growth in the leisure market for China.

“People are looking for an alternative to South East Asia,” she says. What’s also ensured increasing traffic is the occasional promotional fare. Edward Zhu Xuemin, India representative, China Eastern Airline, says, “There are promotional fares from time to time.” This means, a 20 per cent discount on the published fare of Rs 31,200 (plus taxes).

China Eastern Airlines entered India in 2002 with two flights from Delhi. Today, it has four flights to Shanghai. “In keeping with the India-China friendship year, our endeavour is to serve this sector to the best of our capacity,” says Xuemin. The airline even has Indian crew on board and serves Indian food.

Without doubt, the Indian tourist is looking for newer pastures. And for now, at least it looks like China, Turkey and New Zealand are fitting the bill just about perfectly.

My favourite holiday

Aryan Vaid, model/actor

Whenever I travel across the country or even abroad for modelling assignments and shoots, I try my best to create a sort of working holiday. So I almost always end up staying back for a few extra days in that particular place.

In fact just last month, I was in Mauritius for a show and decided to take a few days after that to just do my own thing and enjoy the island. So I extended my stay by four days and had a grand time exploring Mauritius’ many attractions.

After my time there, I would definitely rate it as one of world’s best holiday destinations. I had an awesome time scuba-diving and trying out all kinds of watersports, and I've come back thirsting for more. Mauritius has everything to offer to a traveller — the beautiful azure waters of the sea, rolling hills, wide open spaces and lots of greenery. The best part of the deal is that it comes with every single modern amenity, so there’s never a chance for boredom to set in.

I don't know exactly when I'll be able to get the time to return there, but know this, Mauritius is high on my priority list for now.

Route map

With Malaysia celebrating its Independence Day on August 31, the country’s flag carrier has reason enough to keep the festivities going. So there’s good news for you if you are planning a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Australia. Log on to www.malaysiaairlines.com to book tickets and you can bag some special return fares. The online return fare to Kuala Lumpur is Rs 8,300, and if you choose to travel onwards to Singapore there will be an additional charge of Rs 500. You can travel to Australia’s leading cities — that’s Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide — at fares of Rs 21,300. A journey to Perth will cost a little less, about Rs 20,300. The special online fares are valid from August 31 to October 31 for Kuala Lumpur/Singapore and from August 31 to November 15 for Australia. For those who choose to travel during weekends (Friday to Sunday), an additional charge of Rs 1,500, will be levied on these special fares. The return airfares are exclusive of taxes.

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