Thailand has quickly risen to become one of the most searched-for destinations among Indians following its visa-free pilot announcement. [Pictured: Phuket, Thailand] Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: On Thursday, Indonesia became the latest country to consider opening up visa-free entry to tourists from over 20 countries, including India – and there is a clear pattern emerging.

Before Indonesia made their announcement, Thailand and Sri Lanka started their visa-free pilot programmes that Indians can benefit from – ending in May and March 2024 respectively. Vietnam also announced that the country is considering opening visa-free entry for Indian and Chinese travellers.

A view of the Dubai skyline during the boat tour.
Dubai remains the most popular destination for Indian travellers even though there is a visa application involved. Tourist visas in Dubai are usually approved in a day or two - making it one of the fastest visas to get, provided all the documents are in order.

In 2019, Indians spent $150 billion on their travel and this figure is set to hit $410 billion in six years. An October report released by travel platform also revealed that the number of trips taken by Indian travellers would be around 5 billion in 2030 – for context, that number was 2.3 billion in 2019.

And, the destinations are responding to the demand.

Visa-free announcements are helping

Krishna Rathi, Agoda Country Director, India, Sri Lanka, and Maldives told IANS, "2023 has been an incredible year for travel in India. Agoda search numbers reveal growth on all levels: Domestic, inbound, and outbound."

The announcements have triggered an increased interest in these destinations. Data collected by digital travel platform Agoda showed that Thailand’s capital, Bangkok has already claimed the top spot as the most booked destination.

Traveling by train on most picturesque train road in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is running a visa-free pilot scheme for tourists, including Indians, until the end of March next year.

“Destinations such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia recently announced allowing visa-free travel for Indians and for Thailand alone, this caused a 26 per cent search increase from Indians in the ten days immediately following the announcement. I am excited to see how this trend will shape the travel industry in 2024,” Rathi said.

Top destinations for Indians

Chart-topper Bangkok and fifth most popular destination Pattaya, both in Thaliand, are poised to further strengthen their appeal, with the announcement. The other most popular destinations for Indian travellers are Dubai in second, Bali in third, and Singapore in fourth – the Agoda report revealed.

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Adding credence to these reports, Deepa Aleena Vinod, spokesperson for an India-based travel agency - AlHind Tours and Travels - said Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali (Indonesia) and Dubai (UAE) were the top destinations their customers were looking at.

The report found that Dubai remained the top spot at first position followed by Bangkok, Singapore, London, and Paris – in that order. Around 60 countries currently allow Indian passport holders to travel freely and travellers are taking advantage of these, the ‘How India Travels’ report added.

Singapore city skyline
Though Singapore [pictured] and Indonesia require Indian travellers to apply for visas, these countries have stayed in the top five most booked destinations for Indians.

From the UAE too, Indian residents are increasingly looking at Thailand and other South Asian countries to avoid the hassles of applying and waiting for visas. However, Indians travelling from the UAE still go for tried and tested options including Georgia, Azerbaijan and more recently Uzbekistan – UAE residents can travel to all three countries without applying for visas.

Turkey is also trending among residents, Mickey Bhatia, Founder and CEO of Elevate Trips, added though Indians do need to apply for a Turkish tourist visa ahead of their trip.

What are Indian tourists looking for?

The report by showed that Indian travellers were open to new experiences and offbeat destinations. The data showed that Indians spent only 30 days planning trips, and were inspired by TV shows or movies in their choice of destination.

The industry report found that Indian travellers would become the fourth biggest global spenders in the industry by the end of the decade.

And the shift has already begun – in 2022, 29 per cent of surveyed Indians said they spent at least 25 days on leisure trips during the year. This percentage is much higher than in large global markets including China, UK, France, USA, Australia and Germany.