OK, let's talk about the elephant in the room

Richard Turen

Sometimes the information onslaught creates reasons for us to collectively look to one side when the real action is occurring on the other side. That may have happened in the past 90 days with a major demographic shift that will surely affect our industry in major ways.

It happened in a country I first visited alone in 1969. I was struck by so many things on this trip, enough things to make me feel that this destination was in a class by itself, not at all relatable to any other travel.

I was booked at one of the better hotels in the country’s capital. As I approached with my single suitcase after a shocking taxi ride in from the airport, I noticed a man atop an elephant at the hotel’s entrance. As I neared, the elephant bowed.

In the lobby I noticed two tables with perhaps as many as 10 people seated on each side. Each table place bore a sign: “Concierge.” “Dining Reservations.” “Tours.” And behind each seated staff member was someone standing at attention.

As I checked in, I asked why almost two dozen people were simply standing behind each seated person, not one of whom was doing anything other than staring straight ahead.

“Oh, they are the backup staff, sir. They get to sit in the chair when the higher-level staff member has to use the toilet or take a short lunch break.”
It was the end of my second hour in India.

In May, the demographic “shift” came in the form of new data from the U.N. showing that India’s population is currently 1.43 billion and that it would soon be surpassing China as the world’s most populous country. The U.N. emphasized that the gap between the countries will begin growing substantially, given that India’s birthrate is rising while China’s is in decline.

The age demographics are fascinating. One in six Chinese is over 60, while only one in 10 Indians has reached that age. As a result, China is facing potentially serious labor shortages, while India will clearly lay claim, after the next round of research is completed, to being home to the world’s largest potential workforce. Manufacturers who once ran to China are now courting India and its dynamic working-age population.

The Indian government has changed course on overpopulation concerns. Its citizens are no longer regarded as more mouths to feed. Instead, they’re viewed as a workforce that’s necessary to drive the economy.

No one knows how this shift will impact India’s outbound or inbound tourism numbers.

According to research from Booking.com, London, Paris, Dubai, Toronto and Amsterdam are the preferred destinations for travelers from India. There are some concerns among Indian travelers about safety in the U.S., which may be impacting inbound numbers to the States.

A healthy 72% of Indian travelers say they will use money saved during the pandemic to travel in the near future. Some of this pent-up demand will be domestic. According to the latest data, Indians want to visit the Himalayas to get away from expanding summer heat patterns. Bengaluru, Manali, Ooty and Srinagar are showing up on Indian search engines with increasing frequency.

As its population rises, will clients still seek to visit India? Perhaps the better question is, how well-traveled can you claim to be if you’ve never been to India?

Last month, the Swiss firm IQAir released its respected World Air Quality Report. And, sadly, 39 of the 50 most polluted cities on Earth are in India. 

If my clients are considering visiting the country, I feel it is necessary that they discuss their health with their physician and see if it’s wise to go there. I don’t know what the effects will be on some of my older clients if they’re breathing the world’s most polluted air on a 10-day vacation. It’s a question that needs to be raised — and one that I think is worth asking. 

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