A five-year-long economic boom in India has led to a dramatic rise in the number of Indian tourists heading overseas for a vacation. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.
A teacher in Delhi University, 54-year-old Nandini Guha, is packing her bags to fulfill a long-cherished dream - a holiday to Europe with some friends.
Guha loves to travel, but like most middle class Indians, she was unable to afford overseas vacations until recently.
"Things were much more expensive and it was difficult to plan a holiday, especially abroad," said Nandini Guha. "But now it is a little easier to take a holiday like this."
Indians can now travel more easily thanks to an economic boom that has raised incomes and fueled consumer spending. The growth of low-cost carriers in recent years has slashed air fares, and made travel more affordable.
Five million Indians traveled overseas last year. The number is expected to triple, to more than 16 million by 2011, according to travel industry associations.
The growing number of Indian tourists has prompted countries as far apart as China, Ireland and New Zealand to open tourist offices in India to tap into the large market.
Rebecca Lim is a senior official with the Singapore Tourist Board in India. She says India has become the fourth largest source of tourists visiting the country, and the number is on the rise. She says visitors include families and young professionals with big incomes or "yuppies".
"Key segment continues to be the family segment and there is a growing segment of yuppies traveling from the key metros for short trips there for lifestyle experiences, shopping, partying, dining," said Rebecca Lim.
The president of the Confederation of Indian Tourism Professionals, Subhash Goyal, says countries want to target Indian tourists not only because of the large numbers, but also because Indians are big spenders in the destinations they visit.
"It is not just Indians traveling, but they are spending a lot of money in shopping," said Subhash Goyal. "Whenever they go abroad, they have to bring back something, it is like a custom, for their friends and relatives and even business associates. So that is why they really stir the economies of the countries where they go. Everyone is wooing the Indian tourist today."
The most popular destinations for middle-income Indian tourists are the United States and Britain followed by East Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. But as Indians begin to travel more frequently, they are also heading out to other places such as China, South Africa, Egypt and Australia.