With increasing disposable incomes and social media-fuelled peer pressure, travel has become an indispensable part of most middle and upper middle-class Indian families.
As common tourist destinations like Europe, Bali and our very own Ladakh become overpopulated, affluent Bengalureans are looking towards other less-explored places.
Prominent among these are icy destinations like Iceland, Greenland and even Antarctica.
“There are touristy icy places and there are really offbeat icy places. For examples, Iceland is now like a Singapore in the 90s. It has become a cliched international travel destination; there are tons of people from India, especially Bengaluru, going to Iceland. One of the major attractions there is the Northern Lights (aurora borealis),” says Jayanth Sharma, a wildlife photographer and writer and CEO and founder of Toehold, a travel and photography company in the city.
Why is there an interest in such places?
One of the more recent fads among wealthy and adventurous millenials is wildlife photography in difficult terrains. So what better than clicking pictures of the famed polar bears or photogenic penguins of Antarctica? So there is a rise in demand for guided tours and expeditions led by experts and photographers. Young executives and retired professionals make up a major chunk of these enthusiastic travellers from Bengaluru, according to several surveys.
And Bollywood too plays a role. “After movies like Dilwale hit the screens, which showed Kajol and Shahrukh romancing on icy stretches, the North Indian market showed a steep increase in interest in such places. They want to go to such places, pose in a similar manner like the actors and take a picture. This is exactly what happened to Ladakh around ten years back when ‘3 Idiots’ hit the screen,” he explains, adding that there is also a regular influx of techies and the IT crowd to such places.
Who goes to these places?
Usually nature-loving tourists. A large number of affluent Indians travel to Bengaluru since it costs only about $2,000-$4,000 per person.
“On the other hand, Antarctica doesn’t see a huge number as the cheapest Antarctica trip would be anywhere upwards of Rs 5 lakhs. People with a very different economic background opt for these places but I still feel around 3,000-4,000 Indians travel to Antarctica in a year. There are many agents throughout the country who have regular tours to that place,” says Jayanth.
He adds, “Arctic tours are not that popular as people are still not aware of it. Toehold specialises in tours to a place called Svalbard; tourists don’t go here, only serious wildlife photographers and nature lovers undertake the journey to this place. Less than 50 people in a year go there. It costs around $10,000 for a ten-night expedition; it happens just once a year. The number of people who know this place, can afford the money and can take the time off are relatively lesser.”
Rajeev Kale, President and country head – Holiday, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.: Indian travellers want Instagram-worthy experiences. An emerging trend is ‘switch seasonal vacation’, with tourists travelling to destinations with weather contrary to theirs. We see a rise in demand of over 15-18 per cent for icy destinations this summer.
Some popular destinations are Finland, Switzerland, Antarctica, Iceland, Scandinavia, Norway, Canada and New Zealand. Tourits are usually ‘double-income, no kids’ couples, women’s groups and young couples.”
NatGeo’s luxury expedition cruises
A burgeoning travel industry and a growing appetite among Indians for rich travel experiences has led to the launch of National Geographic Expeditions in India.
“National Geographic Expeditions in India will not only be a one-stop solution for immersive travel experiences but also a catalyst for change built on the spirit of sustainable travel. The expeditions are not targetted at a particular age group, it’s for those who want to explore beyond travelling. For offbeat travel destinations such as Antarctica and Greenland, we have entered into a partnership with Ponant to offer a series of luxury expedition cruise itineraries where travellers can experience ice-covered landscapes and amazing wildlife while travelling with National Geographic experts, explorers and scientists.”
Vijay Nair, Associate vice president and country head, National Geographic Expeditions.
Ponant is a French cruise ship operator.
Antarctica: The expeditions typically begin at Ushuaia situated in Argentina’s southernmost tip and can range from 11 days to 22 days.
The cost is around Rs 6.5 lakhs onwards per person for double occupancy, depending on the category of the cabin and the duration of the trip.
Greenland and Newfoundland: The expedition begins at Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. Cost is around Rs 4 lakhs per person for double occupancy depending on the category of the cabin.