Rants
Comments 44

Stuck In a Vicious Cycle, Or Is That Just How Indians Like to Travel?

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If you’ve been following my travel adventures on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know by now which island country I’m heading to end of the month (oh yeah!). Incase you missed it, I’ll give it away with a hint: this island nation in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, has the reputation of being stunningly beautiful. Got it?

In a discussion with a travel provider last week, I was told that if I intend to write about said island country for the Indian audience, I must follow an itinerary that would appeal to Indians. This itinerary, I was told, included a visit to a massive Shiva statue to “do pooja”, and this itinerary, I was told, would ditch skydiving because that’s just as good as sitting by the window seat as your flight lands along the azure blue seas, and twenty minutes of floating in mid air are not worth the money. I was further told that if I write about lesser known experiences, I’d be misleading my readers because travel agents wouldn’t be able to secure bookings for such experiences. I could go on, about the one hour of that conversation that left my curly hair all frizzy, but you get the gist. Needless to say, I politely declined their sponsorship.

I’ve never said it in so many words, but through everything I write on this blog, I hope to break typical Indian stereotypes of travelling, and offer alternatives. A trip to a new place doesn’t mean that every single moment should be spent sightseeing; you can observe and experience much more about the culture of a place sitting at a cafe, relaxing over a cup of the region’s local brew. Or you can shortlist exactly what interests you, rather than visit every historical site in the region when you’ve never cared enough to visit one in your own backyard. The point of visiting a different country is also to step out of the comfort zone of what you would typically do in India; have Indian food, visit an Indian temple, interact with Indian people. What’s the fun of travelling if you’re doing just what you would be doing back home?

To be honest, that conversation has put a lot into perspective for me. It has made me wonder if our outbound tourism industry is stuck in a vicious cycle, where tourism providers are selling what sells, and consumers are buying what is being sold. No names named, but the advertising of several national tourism boards in India reiterate what Indians have known about these countries before, and hence typically been visiting these countries for. It is no surprise that surveys done by these tourism boards would then highlight the same factors again and again, of what Indians find appealing in their countries. It is a vicious cycle, I tell you.

I am not giving up just yet. I will fight the stereotypes. Maybe some of you reading my posts will find something different to discover in another country, or in our own, or be inspired to adopt a different way to travel. Maybe you’ll pass the word along. And maybe a few years later, that something different will become the norm for atleast a handful of Indian travellers. Maybe someone else will step up to fight the stereotypes too. Maybe the tourism industry will gradually evolve, and maybe Indians will no longer take vacations that they need vacations to recover from.

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What do you think? Are outbound travel providers and mass Indian travellers stuck in a vicious cycle? Or is that just how Indians like to travel?

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44 Comments

  1. Good article, Shivya. Completely agree with u.
    I cannót express the frustration I have experienced with travel biggies like Thomas Cook, SOTC and Cox and Kings when planning our trips to Mauritius, Thailand and New Zealand. There was no knowledge of anything off the beaten track for Indians, no attempt to customize a package to our needs and interests…finally we did end up using them but only as a glorified and expensive secretary! We did all the research on our own and even suggested some nice homestays which they didn’t even know about.

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    • I can imagine Aparna. And I’m sure a lot of Indians just give in to what they offer, for lack of their own research. It is only when more & more people start pressurizing (and even boycotting) them, that things might change.

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  2. As someone who has just started pitching to publications, I have realized just what you have here. My entire USP is off beat travel and all the photo-requirements I get from editors are about the well known touristy places! I hardly have any such images in my collection and even if I do, they will be record shots, which hardly justifies my photographic vision. 😦

    Stuck in the vicious cycle, agreed!

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    • I hear you Neelima. Had too many of those conflicts myself too, and now I’m really learning to say no, often resorting to my blog more than anything else. The freedom makes all the difference.

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  3. Hi Shivya
    Nicely written post, although I don’t think that Indians are the only ones stuck in this routine. The very nature of a group tour is to take people around and check off the top touristy places for the minimum cost and time. Some folks move on to the next level of “adventure” in which they get agents to book taxis and hotels for them, maybe throw a hot air balloon ride in. After that is your guidebook travellers who walk around with their nose stuck in Lonely Planets refusing to do anything else. Very few manage to escape to a truly independent travel style. It’s natural for the publication to cater to the 99%. Who cares! I am glad that you didn’t sell yourself short because that trip would have made you hate yourself every minute. Plus people who travel independently probably don’t read that publication anyway! 🙂
    cheers, Priyank

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s exactly the vicious cycle I’m talking about. People don’t manage to escape to independent travelling, because so often, they don’t even know what they’re missing out on. It’s not offered by most tourism providers, so they end up buying what is offered, and the tourism providers continue to sell what was just bought.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your blog and the span of your Travel so far is amazing….I am into a corporate job which suits me fine…But I really envy the life you have 🙂

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  5. Very nice article Shriya !
    Just to add up, I believe we Indians are a bit non risk takers when it comes to the planning part of anything including travelling. The travelling part doesn’t really feel for any last minute surprises. We want our tickets confirmed, our hotel recceed upon, the best deal chosen, the sightseeing trips already planned – even the menu for 3-days 2-nights planned !
    We travel with a plan, basically ! So, that’s why this habit !

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  6. good going Shivya! stick to what you believe in, and change will follow! We’ve never opted for a ‘big name travel agent ” kind of group holiday. Even though the price tags are very attractive! find them too stifling.
    Though I am guilty of the Indian mindset of packing in as much as possible and coming back exhausted. But then thats the way I am at home too 🙂 So i guess that’s just a character flaw 🙂 Hopefully with age that will change! have fun on your trip. looking forward some awesome articles on Mauritius.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You have touched a topic that is so close to my heart. Having traveled for all these years and by watching the tourists from a distance, I always felt most of us travel to the famous spots to take a picture and show it off to their friends and family. I agree there are exceptions as well, who love to wait, take their time and soak in whatever the place has to offer, but honestly they are only a minority. To break this stereotype you will have to work really really hard as its not gonna go away so soon.
    I have been living in Sydney for the last 5 months and interestingly, the 3rd most popular place for Indian tourists here is the Helensburgh temple, after the Opera House and The Harbour Bridge. As if we don’t have enough beautiful temples in our country!

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    • Ah, not surprised about the temple popularity in Sydney! I think travellers in India are slowly evolving, but I also think tourism providers have a big role to play in evolving this mindset. Like Steve Jobs said, it’s not the responsibility of the customer to know what he/she needs!

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  8. I know the sponsorship would’ve meant a lot .. but very glad and proud that you took such a stance! Congrats.. I totally agree .. let each one of us go in our own path .. and find our own destiny .. whatever it be.. success or failure, it was a path carved by us and we were not just trudging along a well beaten path… we are not sheep!

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  9. “I was told, included a visit to a massive Shiva statue to “do pooja”, and this itinerary, I was told, would ditch skydiving because that’s just as good as sitting by the window seat as your flight lands along the azure blue seas, and twenty minutes of floating in mid air are not worth the money.”

    Who ever told you this .. has no idea what he/she is talking about and needs a job change! Maybe the person didn’t find any other job in the first place…
    ps: even the gods are tired of seeing how much puja we do !!!! go live your lives children — so they say

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    • Sadly enough, it’s still a big part of life in India; we probably use more money, time & effort praying than actually changing our own lives.

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  10. mandayamr says

    Hmmmm… think for just a minute please….how do *most* of the British, the Germans, the French and the Japanese travel to India? By chartered flights. And then by chartered buses. All staying in the same acco. Going for shopping together to the same places. You get the drift…are they also stuck in a vicious cycle?

    Why do travel companies world over offer what they do? For a simple reason. Economics. Makes them the best profit. At the most attractive price. They also take away to some extent the fear of being cheated in a foreign land.

    Yes, there are people like you too who visit India and try to embrace it in different ways. Good for them! Good for you too…in what you are attempting to do.

    Would request you to not judge your fellow countrymen by their choices of travelling abroad. By all means do what you want to…but I smell disdain for those *not like you* in your article. People who read your blog *know* that you are attempting to offer them alternate ways of exploring known or new destinations. Why do you feel the need to put others down?

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    • mandayamr says

      Oops…Priyank has already addressed this in an earlier comment…my bad! 😉

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    • I beg to differ, atleast what I’ve seen and known of foreign travellers in India, they always have a spirit to explore beyond the tourist paths, especially the Brits & the French. The Japs prefer to travel in groups because language is a barrier.

      I’m not expressing disdain or trying to put Indian travellers down. All I’m saying is that I feel they are stuck in a vicious cycle of tourism companies that don’t want to innovate their offering. Since ours is still a market where people prefer to buy a package rather than research & buy independently, I think it is equally upon companies offering these packages to break off tourist circuits which most often dont justify what a country has to offer.

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  11. I’m not Indian – so don’t really feel I can comment.

    But – I hope you find a way to travel in a way that means something to you – not what agencies in India think it should mean, nor what those of us in the west think it should mean. Explore the world for yourself, tell us what it means to you.

    Yet, just as your experience is unique, so is that of the group traveller. We all make our own stories – and there is room for all to be heard.

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    • Absolutely Jo. This rant is surely not about or against group travel, it is about travel companies who choose not to innovate their offerings because “this” is what people have always done.

      But yes, each to his own, may we all discover just how we would best like to explore the world 🙂

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  12. Shivya, You are doing great by not going the stereotypical way , rather deciding whats good for yourself and in general for the true sense of travel pleasure. It is useless to visit a foreign land or for that matter any place and not embrace or understand the local culture…From whatever little i could make out from your posts, i love that tinge of arrogance within you regarding the Travelling culture. Even i strongly believe , that mindset needs a change..and you are very much on your way to become a catalyst for that looking at your story so far..Cheers!!!.

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    • Thanks Mayank, I hope that by sparking this debate, I’ve atleast lent some food for thought for everyone who’s going to plan that next trip.

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  13. Shivya, I hear you! I travelled once with people I hardly know and had to sacrifice a lot of things I wanted to do simply because they wanted to do the typical Indian things and eat the typical Indian food.
    I am the one for offbeat things so I hated every moment of it ! Frankly I think travel agencies give us the typical –“Indian Deal” or package because that is precisely what majority of the Indians want. Mot of us are not comfortable being out of our comfort zone or trying new things.
    I know people who were more concerned about getting their regional food in Ladakh rather than try momos or thupkas and the same people were more interested in the spa in the hotel rather than the scenic beauty around them!
    I look forward to travelling with India Untravelled ! If you are after breaking stereotypes I am with you !

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Ruchira. My rant wasn’t so much about group travel – it is possible to travel in a group and still tread off the tourist circuit, though sacrifices are certainly involved and it’s not for everyone! Agreed that it is assumed that most Indian travellers wouldn’t want to step out of their comfort zone while travelling abroad, but my question is, do travel companies even give them the option to?

      Look forward to having you explore India Untravelled 🙂

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  14. I have done it both ways but I haven’t been to places where tours could have been designed especially for Indians, so not sure how that works. But yes, if you do your own research before making up your mind about going by a tour package or on your own, it helps. Sometimes, it is easier to go on your own because the packages are plain weird.

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  15. Shivya – The world is made of all kinds of people. The best way to bring a change (and I completely agree on breaking the stereotype) is to get inside the system, join a group travel or write about touristy-places for a magazine which people want to read and then introduce this group-travel guy or the regular-magazine reader to do different.

    My personal observation based on interacting with 1000s of travelers via Ghumakkar is that the largest reason for travel in India is ‘Religious’ travel. From super structured Ma Vaishno Devi in Jammu to super chaotic Amarnath. That is the ground truth, people who do off-beat are very few (If both of us work hard, we can probably count then, he he). If we need to break this stereotype then first lets get ‘Inclusive’, join the club and then try.

    Who knows, the same folks might offer you a sky-diving 20 years down the line but you may refuse the offer against the ‘Pooja’. 🙂 Take Care.

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    • I know you’re probably right, but I always think there are plenty of people already writing about the touristy stuff, so I delve into the offbeat right away. To be honest, I don’t think I could do justice to the former anyway! Haha, I doubt giving up sky diving for anything will ever happen!

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  16. Satish says

    Shivya, This is the first time I am participating and certainly agree on the points highlighed by you and my other friends. I had been to Peru, South America last month. Apart from my flight ticket and pre-arranged hotel accommodation (due to high influx of tourists during the month of July) , I had all the flexibility to decide my place and time of visit. I could visit off-beat locations, interact with natives, did have my share of exotic Andean Cuisine (which I thoroughly enjoyed, no Indian food – pun intended ), explored the unique purple cornfields (freaked out on the beverages made from purple corn), trekking on the foothills of the Andes, etc…the list goes on! There are tour operators like the ones in India. However, they allow certain degree of flexibility to clients so as to not to make the itinerary drab or monotonous. I did meet an Indian couple from Mumbai and they seemed pretty cool with their fixed itinerary, obviously set up by a tour operator. With determined folks like you, hope this trend of pre-arranged tour packages based strictly on time and most commonly visited places, would slowly cease. KEEP GOING!!!

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  17. Hi Shivya,

    Give it some time and I think the Indian tourism industry will start to shift. Its only going to grow and hopefully give way to make a little more room for independent travel. Seeing it from afar, I think it’s right at the beginning stages of this shift. Like you mentioned publications and tour operators play a big part – I noticed that national geographic India just launched in July, expedia india too and there’s a women’s only travel group called Women on Wanderlust I think based in Mumbai and they do tours into Turkey, south Africa, rafting in rishikesh, etc. not sure if u already know of them but maybe they’d entertain a skydiving trip 😉

    Btw, I’m heading to turkey in sep! Jordan didn’t work out, was thinking of Tunisia, but not enough time to cover two countries so sticking to one with a couple day layover in Paris. I’ll have to read ur blog posts for more tips 🙂

    Cheers, Parm

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  18. Maybe Indians will no longer take vacations that they need vacations to recover from.

    Love this line! I have a dream… that one day Indians take off from work/study and travel for travels sake, something like the grand tour that the Europeans take, and that travel loans become as common as house/car loans! 😀

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  19. Interesting debate, and one that’s quite close to my heart. Have you seen the travel company commercial that gets the woman in the family all excited because the package offers Indian cuisine? Never could understand that her 🙂 What’s travel for if not for exploring?

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  20. Time to start a “different” travel magazine 🙂
    Maybe an online one initially to keep the costs low. Sure enough over a period of time, as the mag gets popular, the hotels, restaurants, adventure sport companies providing offbeat experiences would be interested in advertising

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      • By the same logic why do you need to pitch to travel magazines 🙂
        The rationale for the magazine is the same as approaching current publications… you get visibility and also supplement your income! Also you need not write every article in the magazine. At times you can wear the eidtor’s hat and give a chance to budding travel writers.
        Anyways this was just a random thought that came to mind. Actually starting a magazine would require lots of detailed analysis…

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  21. I liked your article and am glad I stumbled on your website too.
    However as one commenter said this is a problem of all countries,not just India. All tour companies offer the same stuff on the “gringo trail”. For the majority of people that is enough. They feel like they were off the beaten path (even though they were not). It’s enough adventure just to be out of their own country. And that’s ok. If people truly wanted to be off the obvious trail then they would not use a tour company in the first place.
    And finally selfishly I must comment that I want the majority to be in the tour groups because then the actual special hidden places stay hidden (well except to backpackers! )
    Thanks for listening to my rant. 😉

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