India has emerged as the top destination country for Australian residents in the first few months of 2022, beating the United States and the United Kingdom by a considerable margin.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), India was the most popular destination country, accounting for 18% of all resident returns. The February data shows 20,400 Australian residents returning from trips to India, while 12,760 resident-return trips were recorded from the US and 8,150 from the UK.
Most of these trips to India are thought to be family reunions that had been on hold for the last two years, thanks to border restrictions put in place by both Australia and India due to the pandemic. In January 2020, just before Covid struck, short-term residents returning from India stood at a staggering 88,390.
However, travel between the countries nosedived after Australia imposed fines and a controversial ban on residents returning from India after the rapid spread of the Delta variant there. The resumption of flights now has come as a great solace to Australians of Indian origin who couldn’t travel all these months to meet their families ravaged by the virus.
The Indian diaspora is huge in Australia, currently just under a million, with around 721,000 India-born migrants, second only to the UK, which tops the charts with 980,400 migrants. Interestingly, the average group of Indian migrants is only 35, comprising mainly of IT professionals and students, who are the most likely to travel back and forth between the two countries. This may have played a major role in driving up short-term resident returns this year.
The travel bubble between Australia and India that was signed in December last year meant that Air India flights between Delhi and Sydney/Melbourne could resume once again. Qantas also launched two Delhi services from Melbourne and Sydney and has recently announced the launch of a third route.
According to the announcement, Qantas will operate four weekly return flights from Sydney to Bengaluru from 14 September, which will be the first non-stop flights between Australia and southern India by any airline. In addition, they will continue to operate up to five flights a week between Melbourne and Delhi, making it the only airline offering direct flights between Australia and both northern and southern parts of India.
It further plans to enter into a codeshare agreement with IndiGo, India’s largest domestic carrier, which will give customers improved one-stop access to more than 50 Indian cities.
The codeshare agreement will allow Qantas passengers to transit seamlessly from Qantas flights in Bengaluru, Delhi, or Singapore onto IndiGo services to other major Indian cities as well as smaller ones like Pune and Goa.
The recent Trade Agreement between the two countries is also being seen as a boost for future travel. Two weeks ago, Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce declared that the agreement “will massively increase the traffic from India into Australia: tourism, students, business traffic, and that’s one of the key reasons we need to have a strong presence”.
Dan Tehan, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, who signed the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AIECTA) on 2 April with his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal, and spoke about the opportunity to enhance tourism.
Speaking at a press conference with Indian media persons, he said, “India was the fastest-growing tourism market that Australia had before we went into the pandemic, and there is no reason why that shouldn’t continue. And when you think about the number of Indian students who are coming to Australia and this agreement will also seek to get more Australian students going to India, one of the things that you see on the back of international students is that their families and friends visit to see them while they’re away studying, so it’s a big driver of tourism as well.”
“There are more and more Australians who want to go and watch the IPL in India. I know more and more Australians who want to go and see the wonderful attractions that you have in India, whether it be from the Taj Mahal to the beaches of Goa to the lovely coastal landscape down at the southern tip of Trivandrum; all of this provides wonderful opportunities – there are so many more – for Australian tourists to go to India,” he added.
The minister also spoke about a personal trip he had taken to India as a 16-year-old boy.
“I went to India with my five brothers and sisters and parents, and we spent five weeks travelling around India, and it was the most wonderful, wonderful holiday. The warmth of the Indian people towards us, the great hospitality which we were shown, the beauty of your country, the outstanding location, the outstanding attractions and the warmth of the people have stayed with me ever since,” he said.