Tour operators desperate to lure Puja tourists to foreign destinations despite the rupee meltdown are rolling out schemes like free hotel upgrades, easy monthly instalments and free stay at stopover cities.
The travel industry has been reeling under the blow of the dollar, pound and euro’s steady climb against the rupee. Sources said international leisure travel bookings had dropped 20 per cent over the past two months.
Tourists are either cancelling their bookings to the US, UK and Europe or holding up plans for the holiday season.
“Many of our customers had held on to their bookings even as the rupee was in freefall for a month. But touching the three-figure mark against the pound has raised a psychological barrier,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India. “The industry has received a jolt and we have been forced to think of ways to attract customers.”
Kuoni-SOTC is offering a series of upgrades, schemes and discounts to tourists and promoting destinations where the rupee is holding out well.
From five-star accommodation at three-star rates to an additional country thrown in, prospective travellers at a tourism fair organised by the company were wooed with offers aimed at ensuring greater value for the sliding currency.
“We are going through a phase of struggle at the moment and such offers have been designed keeping the falling rupee in mind,” said Masroor Ahmed Khan, regional head of sales at Kuoni-SOTC, which held a travel fair in the city on Sunday.
A 13-day Europe tour now includes two extra nights in Dubai, free of cost. Similarly, a 15-day trip to the US comes with four additional nights in Florida along with a two-day Disneyland pass. For those travelling to South Africa, five-star luxury awaits at three-star prices along with three nights in neighbouring Kenya.
“Some are going for shorter holidays or smaller packages. To cater to that segment, we have five-day customised Europe tours as it is the most sought-after destination among Indians,” said Daniel D’Souza, the company’s head of sales (India).
Businessman Ramesh Jalan said he had been planning a trip to Europe for his family but was now in two minds. “The cost per person is about Rs 1,80,000 and with the rupee in freefall, it might not be prudent to travel to Europe at this point,” Jalan said.
Some tour operators are planning EMI schemes to make it easier for customers to absorb the rupee shock.
“We are speaking to banks and working out the details. With costs going up by more than 20 per cent, a segment of passengers seeks to pay in instalments,” said a city-based tour operator.
Operators have also been promoting South Africa and Australia as alternatives, citing their “steady” exchange rates against the rupee. One South African rand is Rs 6.17 while an Australian dollar is worth Rs 57.09.
A nine-day trip to South Africa comes for Rs 139,000 per head and is likely to remain the same given the steady rate of exchange. Ditto for Australia which costs about Rs 200,000 a person for a 10-day package.
Sanjay Bhattacharya, a chartered accountant who has booked himself and his wife for a trip to South Africa, said his choice was value for money.
Some tour operators had even come up with a fixed exchange rate of Rs 58 to one US dollar at the beginning of August, when the rupee had crossed the Rs 60 mark.