India’s Emerging Tourism Relationship with Southeast Asia

Tourism is an important measure for any country’s soft power potential. It is also a great source of foreign exchange earnings. According to World Travel and Tourism Councils (WWTC), the contribution of the tourism sector to South Asia’s total GDP is 234 US Billion Dollar (Ties that Bind: India and Southeast Asia Connectivities, 2020). With the growing of the tourism industry, we can look at and analyse sociologically how tourism have social, political, economic, and cultural impact at destination and host country (, n.d.).

This essay attempts to investigate the emerging tourism relationship of India with Southeast Asia mainly focusing on three different countries which is Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore. While studying these three countries from sociological lens, four outlooks has been taken into consideration i.e., the tourist, the business providing tourists goods and services, the involvement of the government of the host country and the host community.

Furthermore, while looking into the development of tourism relations between India and Southeast Asia, it is imperative to investigate their historical backgrounds. India and Southeast Asia are often guided by several factors. The origin of tourism can be traced back seeing the religious and spiritual connection that India and Southeast Asia had. Over the time, the influence of India on different parts of Southeast Asia can be seen as different people migrated to the region in different periods of the history (Bhattacharya,2020) .

India shares a unique connection with Southeast Asia and India had a civilizational background of over 5000 years. This is mainly because the followers of the religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam who made their way to Southeast Asia through a variety of sea and land routes. This resulted in an integration of the belief systems in the region maintaining their own flavours as well as distinctions (Ties that Bind: India and Southeast Asia Connectivities, 2020).

Indonesia can be seen as a great example since it has the largest Muslim population in the world despite that, Garuda, the legendary bird in Hindu and Buddhist mythological tradition is the national emblem of the country. ‘wayang’ performances in Indonesia which is a cultural heritage of UNESCO is also inspired from Ramayana and Mahabharat (Ties that Bind: India and Southeast Asia Connectivities, 2020) a. These similar influences in terms of cultural representations can be seen in Thailand also. Therefore, the religious impact of India on Southeast Asia is very evident due to manifestation of varied rituals, beliefs, and cultural practices.

Looking the tourism industry in the twenty first century from the sociological point of view, it has witnessed a new force of globalization and rapid economic changes in the Asia and in the World (Ties that Bind: India and Southeast Asia Connectivities, 2020). With the coming up of new foreign policy strategies, increased market driven interests, styles, and scope of the destination, and due to coming up of the several policies and organisations related to it like the Look East policy (LEP), ASEAN, etc. ASEAN has been key factor in the development of the foreign exchange policy and has also helped in strengthening the economic ties.

In the recent years, India has witnessed an increase in the share of Southeast Asia tourist arrivals and Southeast Asia has also experienced this at similar pace. The main factors can be due to the geographical proximity and cultural affiliations, high cross border mobility, also increasing market size and along with the increasing spending capacity of the people (Bhattacharya,2020). These have played a very crucial role and boost can be seen in the regional tourism economy. Along with generating income, tourism is also a socio-cultural phenomenon. Tourism helps in diversification of livelihood, poverty alleviation, community empowerment and development of the concerned nations (, n.d.).

This essay focuses on the emerging tourism relationship of India with Southeast Asia taking into consideration of three distinctively varied countries of Southeast Asia namely Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore. Indonesia is one of the key members of ASEAN. Despite being one of the largest Muslim country, Influence of India is seen in its cultural roots. Vietnam and India also have had a good relationship and harmony with each other. Vietnam has been actively encouraging Indians to visit their country through a series of bilateral conferences. Singapore is also a small and influential country in Southeast Asia and a massive development can be seen in a very short period. Singapore is also major centre in terms of tourism and trade (Why Singapore is also one of the world’s favorite tourist destination?, 2021). The relationship between India and Singapore is very strong and friendly. Therefore, while studying these different tourist destinations, we can look at it from sociological, economic, environmental, and marketing factors, etc.

One of the reasons for the rapid development of tourism between India and southeast Asia can be due the growth of government involvement in the tourism sector. India adopted National Tourism Policy in 2002 and to support this the Ministry of Tourism launched the ‘Incredible India’ campaign in 2002 the agenda was to increase the inflow of tourists in India. India’s bilateral visa policies that provide easy access to the tourists resulted in increased number of tourists arrivals. For example, Maldivian nationals who travel to India for tourism do not need a prior visa if their period of stay in India is less than ninety days. Hence, Maldives eligible for visa free travel to India. In case of Vietnam also we can see that the application for the online visa process is made fast, easy, and convenient for travellers to have a chance to visit Vietnam. Therefore, it was being reported that the visa issued by Vietnam to India have surged up to twenty for times.

Furthermore, taking into consideration of current trends and development of tourism, several steps are taken by the government to ensure a seamless inflow of tourists in India and its neighbourhood. For example, the coming up of the E-visa with digital application and delivery, regional initiatives like association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), several tourism summits are held to strengthen the inter-regional cooperation. The government is also promoting the religious tourism circuit due to the historical and cultural linkages between the southeast Asian nations.

Advancement in the transportation industry like travel connectivity is also one of the crucial factors. Therefore, direct flights between cities are a key factor to promote travel as travellers do not have to wait for long in any other intermediate country. Hence, tourists’ satisfaction and experiences are being taken into consideration. For example, in Vietnam, VietJet Air recently announced that there will be direct flight from the city of Da Nang to New Delhi and case of Maldives also, the direct connectivity and its geographical proximity resulted in the surge of Indians travelling to Maldives. Singapore also offers good flight deals and there are several options available for the tourist for better air services. It has been reported that after China, India is the most valuable source market for Singapore. India also takes into consideration of the expanded flight connectivity and Ministry of Civil Aviation India takes care of this. Therefore, easier travel connectivity and customer satisfaction can be one of the reasons that helps in boosting the tourism sector in Singapore.

Market prominence and stronger branding of destination is also one the game-changing factor. For example, to promote its tourism sector, recently Indonesia has announced “Digital Nomad Visa’’ for travellers, to attract more foreign tourists. In Indonesia, Bali is one of the most famous locations. It is known for beaches and bar. According to the 2020 State of Independence in America Report, digital nomads are people who work remotely while travelling to different this way, they spend their earned income in the country they are travelling to (Falor, 2022). Their lifestyle allows them to work and travel independently. And the bonus factor is that it is tax free. Looking into the current trends, Indonesia is also promoting another element through visas that is the spiritual element (Falor, 2022).

While Singapore has also been very keen in branding of the destination. For example, in 2018, Singapore tourism board organised road shows in Mumbai and Jaipur. Their brand identity was, ‘passion made possible’. These events proved to be helpful for Singapore Tourism Board since, through these events people get aware of the places they can visit as well as things they can do in Singapore (Chowdhry, 2018). The Singapore tourism board has also launched Indian cartoon themed park. It has helped in attracting great number of Indian Kids and has also influenced the decision of where to go on a vacation (Hutton, 2021).

In the recent times, there is also an improved use of package tours. For example, to attract the tourists from India, VietJet from Vietnam announced ‘Love Connection’ campaign that offers Indian couple to have vacation in the touristy places of Vietnam. Vietnam has been promoting itself as an overseas and destination wedding venue also (Karantzavelou, 2022). Hence, Vietnam is offering many budget-fit plan to discover the country.

Travel is growing as a status of symbol and also increased spending capacity of people. Thorstein Veblen in his book ‘the theory of the Leisure Class’ in 1899 described how leisure is displayed to achieve social status. According to the survey conducted by the FabHotels, ninety two percent of millennials today travel for their Business purpose and Business travel is a social status for Millennials (Business Travel as a ‘Social Status’ for Millenials, 2018). On the sociological side of tourism industry, we can look at how tourism can affect people’s perspective on social status and also affects their choices of destination.

Taking recent example, in an article in ‘This Week in Asia’, it was being noted that India’s wealthiest including the upper middle class have been attracted mostly by the Maldives proximity. This is because of the ease with which they can travel to its remote island resorts. A (Lal, 2022). According to the Ministry of Tourism in the year 2020, it was reported that India was the among the first top market for Maldives. In the article, it was mentioned that Soneva, which is the Luxury Resort Chain in Thailand as well as Maldives, Indian Guest increase by a factor of six and its regular guests include Bollywood actors and highly influential people from India like influencers and travel bloggers. Hence, the Bollywood endorsement has also contributed to this trend (Lal, 2022).

Traditionally, Singapore was also one of the popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia chosen by upper middle-class Indians. Singapore is also one of the most expensive countries in the world. There are big shopping malls, sky scrapers and lifestyle are also varied. The cruise trip in the island and presence of long range of international products is great source of attraction in Singapore (Why Singapore is also one of the world’s favorite tourist destination?, 2021).

Furthermore, in case of Vietnam, the rise of Vietnamese tourists shows the growing number of middle classes. This is because, most of the important coastal cities in Vietnam that welcomes tourists lacks high-class tourism products such as yachts, supercars, etc.

Another factor is the Proliferation in MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions). In case of Vietnam, along with promoting leisure travellers, Vietnam is also promoting MICE. The country has also been holding several bilateral conferences and offering sponsored trips for businesses (Shiraz, 2022). Through various surveys, it was being noted that India is considered as one of the potential markets for Vietnamese travel industries.

The sociological understanding of Tourism and Travel takes into considerations several aspects. It allows us to investigate the social, economic and cultural aspects of tourism in the destination and the host country. For example, in Balinese culture, tourism became a part of it and created a ‘touristic culture’ and it resulted in the proliferation of the Balinese cultural identity (Trupp, 2015). The notion of authenticity plays a great role in attracting tourists and it has become a part of global tourism market. This can also be regarded as the Ethnic tourism that involves the authentic, traditional, and original indigenous culture. Hence, the recent proliferation in the tourism in the Southeast Asia has helped the ethnic minority, street vendors to mobilize their social and cultural capital.

Motivation and role of tourists is also another important factor. And this has been taken care by several Southeast Asian countries in developing their tourism policy. In case of Indonesia and Vietnam we can notice that Indian tourists are mainly looking this place for the leisure purpose. This is known as includes Pleasure Tourism where people witness folk dance, songs, cultural experiences and trying out different cuisines, etc. the introduction of the concept of Digital Nomad Visas, Vietnam coming up with different packages can be seen as an example. In this regard, Singapore is also one of the most preferred destinations amongst Indians.

Based on purpose, there is another type of Tourism that is Business Tourism. This can be seen mostly in case of Singapore. The relation between India and Singapore have traditionally been very strong and friendly in terms of cultural and commercial factors. Singapore is regarded as the hub of India’s economic, political, and strategic relationship in Southeast Asia. Singapore is one most important ASEAN member for India. Singapore has also invested in several projects in India to upgrade India’s ports, airports and developing information technology. Therefore, through several surveys, it has been founded that, several tours are taken by Indian Business men, industrialist, or professionals for selling, buying, and even taking orders which is related to business.

Another one of the most instrumental types of tourism is Religious Tourism. There is constant flow of pilgrims in India from Southeast Asian countries. This is because although Buddhism originated in India, ninety seven percent of Buddhist population are concentrated in East and Southeast Asia. Therefore, Buddhism has the maximum Potential of attracting Tourist from abroad (Bhonsale, 2019).

India uses religious tourism as a soft power. This has also been key factor in strengthening India’s relation with Southeast Asia and helpful in improving India’s Act East Policy (AEP). The soft power emerges from the shared culture among the India and Southeast Asian countries.

In a survey it was found that the Asia-Pacific region (includes India and Southeast Asian countries), highest growth of nine percent was seen regarding the number of tourist arrivals in the year 2017. And, out of six hundred million religious and spiritual voyages that were undertaken, around fifty percent were to Asia (Bhonsale, 2019). Analysing from sociological lens, we can see how religion affects people’s choices of destination. Religion continues to have a massive impact on the society hence it is necessary to study it from a sociological point of view.

The role of government is also very imperative in this regard since, government has taken initiative towards both national and international to form tourism circuit to promote Buddhist heritage trails among the Indo-Nepal Plains. India holds meeting with ASEAN every year and it has Memorandum of Understanding with ASEAN regarding the tourism sector. BIMSTEC that includes four Buddhist majority countries i.e., Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Thailand also plays a great role. The government is also planning for the common entry visa for travel within the BIMSTEK region (Bhonsale, 2019).

Moreover, to boost tourism in the country specific to Buddhist sites, the central government has been organising the International Buddhist Conclave (IBC) for showcasing Buddhist heritage sites in India and also to develop friendly ties with the neighbouring countries. In India five ‘Pan-India Mega Circuits’ have been identified by the Union governments to promote India as a originator of Buddhism and also to promote India for religious and spiritual tourism destination.

In India there are number of monasteries following the Mahayana and the Theravada traditions which attracts huge number of international tourists in India. For example, in the Temple Management Committee website it is mentioned that in Bodh Gaya there are fifty-eight Buddhist monasteries that forms a major tourist circuit (Bhonsale, 2019). Apart from the Buddhist related places, nearby tourist places like Taj Mahal in Agra, Ajanta-Ellora cave in Maharashtra, Sanchi in the state of Madhya Pradesh is also very famous tourist spots. According to the survey report, it was found out that the highest number of Foreign Tourist Visits was seen in Sarnath between the 2015 and 2018. Sarnath is the place where Buddha turned wheel of law (Bhonsale, 2019).

The Northeast region in India is very important from the perspective of attracting tourists from the Southeast Asian countries. The Northeast region can help in facilitating India’s connection with Southeast Asia through Buddhism and familiarity that arise due to cultural affinity. Various initiatives are also taken by the union and the state governments to boost the religious tourism in the region The northeast is also strategically crucial because of its international geopolitical location and it lies in the border area with China (Bhonsale, 2019). Also, in terms of similarity, the Northeast shares many cultural resemblances in terms of food habits also like sticky rice, brown rice, food of fermented property, etc.

There is also similarity in language that is spoken in Thailand and Lao is similar to language of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. This is due to the presence of the Trans Himalayan Communities and the racial kinship is also prominent in various parts of Southeast Asia (Bhonsale, 2019).

In Arunachal Pradesh there is Tawang Monastery which is one of the main attractions, and it is the second largest monastery after the Lhasa monastery in Tibet. There is another famous monastery named Bomdila Monastery, a duplication of the Tibetan Monastery. Sikkim is another Northeast state where Buddhism footprints is being found therefore it is being promoted for the religious tourism (Bhonsale, 2019).

The location of Myanmar is strategically very important in developing the tourism relation. This is because Myanmar acts as a connecting link between India and Southeast Asia. In an interview with members of various Civil society organisations (CSOs), one of the members stated that people from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia want to visit Tawang Monastery and then to Bodh Gaya via Myanmar. Therefore, improved visa flexibility and travel connectivity can help in dynamically changing and increase in the number of religious tourist arrivals in India. In India, road transport remains the most popular mode of transport for the tourist. But the tourist experiences several lacks of facilities and inconvenience because of lack of eateries, toilets, petrol pump, etc.

The more welcoming a country is towards the foreigner; more it can gain success in the tourism sector. India is not among the top 30 countries who uses their soft power potential. Hence India needs to improve in this segment. Since, promoting the religious tourism can pave a way to improve the trade relation between India and Southeast Asia. Therefore, there is need to grant permission regarding the Inner Line Permits (ILP). In Singapore, there is a single office under the Union Ministry of Tourism that manages the covers promotions and marketing of Indian tourist to all ASEAN countries. This is not sufficient to cater the needs and challenges of geographically diverse population of India.

Hence, tourism is one of the important elements that leads to the physical connectivity between the India and ASEAN. Although, over the last decades, the relations between India and Southeast Asia in terms of tourism has kept on improving and strengthening, there is a need for increasing the number of tourism offices and adopting a country specific approach (Bhonsale, 2019). It is necessary because tourism also helps the nations in building their diplomatic relations. since, most of these nations share border with China or is the neighbouring country. In the last decades China is seen as threat. Tourism helps in building national identity. International tourism also helps in building solidarity with other countries. The application of soft power is the base for the tourism diplomacy and it includes the people, cultural heritage, tradition, etc. hence tourism helps in building the international bonding and helps in creating peace among the different countries in the world. Hence, the government of India and the Southeast Asian countries should focus on the prolonged approach and better coordination between the elements of the system and measures to move towards International Cooperation and overseas marketing.


Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange and important metric of any country’s soft power potential. India shares a unique connection with southeast Asia and this has been shaped and reshaped by various historical developments. In the twenty first century, due to new forces of globalization, several renewed foreign policies emerged and coming up of various organisations like LEP, ASEAN, FATA, etc. Involvement of government is crucial in the proliferation of the tourism industry. Several steps are also taken by the government to ensure a seamless flow of tourist in India and Southeast Asia. . considering three different countries of Southeast Asia namely Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore, we can notice that despite the differences there are some common factors that has contributed in the rapid development of their tourism relation with India. These are advance in the transportation industry, strong branding of their destination, improved visa facilities, etc. On the sociological side of tourism industry, we can analyse how these factors have led to influence tourist’s preference of destination country. International tourism also helps in building solidarity with other countries. The government of India and the Southeast Asian countries should focus on the prolonged approach and better coordination between the elements of the system and measures to move towards International Cooperation and overseas marketing.



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I am a dedicated sociologist with a passion for unraveling the intricate threads that bind our society together. Holding a Masters degree in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, my academic journey has honed my empirical research, writing and analytical acumen as well as enabled me to cultivate a deep understanding of social nuances. I have passionately engaged in an array of research projects spanning a diverse spectrum of subjects.