In an exciting development for travellers from Eastern parts of India, Australia’s tourism department is gearing up to offer special Puja travel packages and exploring the possibility of direct flights between Kolkata and Australia.
This initiative comes as India emerges as the first market to achieve pre-Covid tourism levels, and Kolkata, a city with deep cultural roots, takes centre stage in Australia’s tourism strategy.
Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager, India and Gulf, Tourism Australia, emphasized the significance of the Kolkata market, stating, “India is the first market to achieve pre-COVID levels, and Kolkata is a very important market for us. We are working with local travel agents in Kolkata to develop Puja packages.”
Talking to the Telegraph India, Mr Kashikar revealed that discussions are underway with around a dozen travel agents in the city to create all-inclusive Puja packages catering to tourists of all generations.
The proposed two-week packages would cover four of Australia’s eight states and cost between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 3.5 lakh per person (approx. AUD 6,000 – 7,000), including airfares. These packages are expected to be available for honeymooners during the Puja-Diwali season and throughout the year.
Despite the enthusiasm, airlines have yet to respond positively to direct flights between Kolkata and Australia. However, several factors contribute to the surge in tourism from India to Australia.
Since Australia reopened its tourism sector in February 2022, there has been a substantial increase in footfall from India, with 383,000 Indians visiting Australia between July 2022 and June 2023, marking a 3% increase from 2018-19 figures. India has risen from the seventh to the fourth-largest inbound market for Australia. Furthermore, Indian tourists have spent a whopping Rs 11,000 crore in Australia during this period, reflecting a 16% increase compared to 2018-19.
One key factor driving this surge is the ease of visa processing. Mr. Kashikar highlighted the fully digitized process, which eliminates the need for personal interviews, biometrics, or physical submission of documents, including passports. Flight tickets and accommodation vouchers are not mandatory at the time of application.
Another contributing factor is the rise in MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) travel, with various sectors like banking, infrastructure, automobiles, and healthcare sending groups to Australia.
Additionally, the tripling of air capacity between India and Australia has made airfares competitive, increasing tourist interest in the region. This, combined with streamlined visa processing, has facilitated the growth of Indian tourism to Australia.
Tour operators have reported a growing demand for combined packages encompassing both Australia and New Zealand.
While direct flights between Kolkata and Australia are yet to materialize, this move holds the potential to enhance cultural exchange, trade, and tourism between the two countries. It would be a gateway to India’s eastern and northeastern regions, less explored by Australians and non-resident Indians living in other Indian states.
Navneet Mittal from Travel2India in Wollongong NSW notes, “The Australian population of Indian origin has exceeded 800,000, now constituting nearly 4% of the total Australian population.” Therefore, establishing direct flights could offer significant advantages to both Australia and India, fostering cultural exchange and tourism growth.
Jayanta Bairagi, Secretary of the Melbourne Bengali Association, commented,” “During the festive season of Pujo, colleges, schools, and offices all shutdown. It’s the time for family gatherings and making travel plans, whether within India or abroad. Sometimes, family members express concerns about missing out on Pujo festivities while travelling. As a Bengali, this dilemma arises because the essence of Pujo is deeply ingrained in our culture. However, here’s the silver lining: You don’t have to miss out on Pujo entirely when travelling from one country to another. In fact, you can immerse yourself in a unique opportunity to experience how Bengali traditions and Pujo celebrations are preserved by like-minded Bengalis worldwide. For instance, you can visit places like Melbourne, enjoy Pujo festivities for a two-day trip, and witness how we maintain our Bengali gharana traditions, elaborate Pujo pandals, vibrant dhols, and all the sacred rituals. This way, you can enjoy your travels while keeping the spirit of Pujo alive, even overseas.”
The proposed Puja travel packages are a wonderful initiative that could see added benefits, he added.
“This two-way cultural and heritage exchange can also spark interest in business collaborations. When people visit our festivities, they might think, ‘Let’s explore some business opportunities.’ This, in turn, could foster new business ventures and growth,” Mr Bairagi told Indian Link.
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