Indian Tourists Flock to Southeast Asia as China's Reopening Falters

Devjyot, Chayut and Aditi Ghoshal

BANGKOK/NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) – Indian tourists are flooding into Southeast Asia. This is cementing India's position as a major growth market in a travel and tourist industry that has been hit by China's slower than expected reopening.

Executives and analysts say that companies, from airlines such as IndiGo and Thai Airways, to hospitality chains with thousands of rooms are tapping India's growing middle class and its increasing spending power.

Brendan Sobie, aviation analyst at a recent industry conference, said that "Southeast Asia has a very good position for the growth which will inevitably come from India."

Travel and tourism is a vital industry for many Southeast Asian economies. It contributed approximately 12% to the region's Gross Domestic Product before the COVID-19 Pandemic. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, it also employs over 40 million people in the region.

The sector has been fueled by China for a few decades, but data from four Southeast Asian nations shows that the recovery is weak. In May 2019, the number of Chinese tourists was at least 60% less than in the same month last year.

According to members of the industry, a long-term increase of Indian tourists will lead to a recalibrating of airline capacity, hotel offerings, and tourism operators.

In a report published in May, the Asian Development Bank said that India could become the "next China" when it comes to outbound tourism, but connectivity will be limited by the lack of airports.

It said that "India could be the story of the decade following the tourism pandemic."


Thailand is a tourism-driven economy, and the number of Indian tourists is down 14% from 2019.

According to Thai government statistics, Chinese visitors in 2019 spent $197 per day on average and Indians $180. Both visited for a period of about one week.

Tanes Petsuwan said that 1.6 million Indians are expected to visit Thailand this year.

In May, there were more Indians in Singapore than Chinese. That same month, nearly 63,000 Indians visited Indonesia as compared to just over 64,000 Chinese.

Chai Eamsiri is the chief executive officer at Thai Airways. The airline has 14 flights per week to China, down from 40 prior to the pandemic, and 70 to India.

Chai stated that some of the possible double of Thai narrow-body aircraft over the next decade will be sent to India.

IndiGo, the Indian budget airline, has ordered 500 Airbus jets narrowbody to meet regional demand. It said that there had been a "strong increase" in routes connecting India with Southeast Asia, where it operates more than 100 flights per week.

IndiGo's global sales head, Vinay Malhotra said: "We will be introducing new flights to Jakarta and Singapore in August."

Sobie stated that the overall seat capacity of scheduled flights between China, Southeast Asia and India was 57% lower than pre-COVID levels in June, but flights from India had recovered to approximately 90%.

Indians have helped sustain the post-pandemic recovery for hospitality chains including Minor Hotels which has 45 properties with over 6,000 rooms in Southeast Asia.

Dillip Dilliprajakarier, CEO of Minor International Hotels in Bangkok, said that India was consistently one of the top markets for their hotel chains.


Pratyush and four friends flew from Kolkata, India, to Bangkok, Thailand, for a 5-day vacation, spending most of the time in the Pattaya beach resort.

Tripathy said that the trip costs between 40,000-60,000 Indian rupees (US$484-726) per person, which is about the same price as a flight in Europe.

The 33-year old software professional explained that they would save time and money by visiting Southeast Asia. Indians are able to get visas for the region much easier than those in Europe and the United States.

Cleartrip, an Indian online travel portal, reports that flight bookings between India and Bangkok increased by 270% from January to June of this year when compared to the same period last year.

Thailand's central banking expects 35.5 million tourists in 2024, compared to 29 million this year. This is still less than the record of almost 40 million visitors in 2019. However, the Bank of Thailand predicts that this sector will contribute to the overall economic growth of 3.6% in 2020 and 3.8% in 2023.

Somsong Sachaphimukh is vice president of Tourism Council of Thailand. He said that to capitalize on this surge, Thailand's tourism industry needs to understand Indians' tastes, especially in food and entertainment.

Somsong stated that if we do not adjust quickly, the neighbouring countries would attract these visitors. "Thailand is an attractive destination, so it's a great opportunity."