Anne Majumdar

Contiki is already reporting a strong response to its brand new India itinerary, its first foray into the subcontinent in over 40 years, so why has it taken it so long to get back there?

The youth specialist withdrew from the destination 40 years ago due to instability in the region, and didn’t return due to a lack of demand. That is until now.

On Tuesday, the company confirmed it will operate a new Indian itinerary from October.

“I think the market hasn’t been ready for it until now,” Contiki managing director Katrina Barry told KarryOn.

Traditionally, India was seen as a “journey” destination, with travellers setting aside three or more months to explore and “find themselves”, according to Barry.

“Now, particularly out of Australia, people are saying ‘Oh, we’ll go there for a couple of weeks’.”

The growing popularity of Goa as a beach destination, and Air India’s direct flights from Sydney to Delhi are among the factors driving demand.

“People are really excited because there’s a nice little gap in the market there,”  Barry said.

Intrepid’s youth-focused Gecko’s Adventures already operates itineraries in the destination, but Barry stressed that Contiki’s version draws on a “very different” philosophy. She highlighted Contiki’s commitment to offering unique local experiences and lots of free time, as well as three to four star accommodation.

“All of our research is showing that, in terms of creature comforts, that’s what the youth want these days” she said.

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That commitment to regular research, both among consumers and agents, is largely behind the decision to launch the new India program.

‘India came up on our radar two years ago, and we’ve been watching it for a couple of years  until we saw that interest starting to peak,” Barry revealed.

The company is operating the tour itself rather than outsourcing to a local ground operator, with experienced local guides brought on board for their expertise.

As a result, the 18 months since the decision was made to launch the Indian itinerary have been spent hunting down the local families and local guides that are crucial to delivering local and authentic experiences that Contiki is promoting.

These include a cookery class with a local family on a rooftop terrace in Jaipur or a visit to the Dhonk enterprise is Ranthambore National Park which aims to commercialise the arts and handicraft business of families that were formerly dependent on the proceeds of poaching.

Barry’s personal favourite is the Bollywood experience, which takes travellers to the film and TV sets of Mumbai, before taking them on a whistlestop tour of the stars’ houses, then finishing up with a dance class in full costume.

And expansion of the program is already on the cards.

“We’re always thinking a few years ahead,” Barry said. “This the first step and we know what the next three steps are.”

Is India climbing your travel agenda?