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A new class of ‘Ugly Indian’ travelers

Raymond Thibodeaux Sep 28, 2009

A new class of ‘Ugly Indian’ travelers

Raymond Thibodeaux Sep 28, 2009


Bill Radke: You’ve probably heard the term “Ugly Americans” to describe our countrymen who travel abroad and demonstrate behavior that some see as, you know, loud, obnoxious and insensitive to the host cultures. Well, as more and more Indians travel outside their borders, they’re starting to get a bad rap as well. Raymond Thibodeaux reports from New Delhi.

Raymond Thibodeaux: A recent survey from the online travel agency Expedia had some bad news for Indian travelers: 4,500 surveyed hoteliers from around the world rated Indians as some of their worst customers — loud, fussy and cheap.

Ritu Saigal, who manages a travel agency here in New Delhi, is unabashed:

Ritu Saigal: We kind of enjoy life full-sized, you know, king-sized. I’m not apologetic about the Indian customer being thrifty. Even I like a good bargain if I get it.

In India, it’s normal for middle and upper-class people to have a cook, a driver, a nanny. She says that master-servant relationship is often carried abroad — so travelers treat waiters, flight attendants and taxi drivers as underlings.

Saigal: It’s not that they’re trying to be rude or mean or anything. They just don’t know a different way to be. So there again our role comes in, I think. We need to educate them.

She says the West also needs to familiarize itself with the habits of Indian travelers. She says Indians often complain to her that hotels rarely offer Bollywood movies, and that foreign restaurant workers often don’t know that many Indians prefer to eat with their hands.

Azhar Usman is an Indian comedian based in Chicago. He says stereotyping of any kind isn’t helpful. But then again:

Azhar Usman: Just as not all American tourists, you know, fit the stereotype of the Ugly American, we all know that there are some that do.

He says the bigger issue here is the rise of a class of Indians who can afford to travel abroad.

Usman: Folks are not necessarily getting acculturated into, you know, perhaps the best way to behave yourself. The very fact that we have a category now of the Indian traveler, it speaks volumes about how far India has come as a country.

With the global slowdown, India is one of the few countries still spending on travel. Again, Ritu Saigal from the travel agency:

Saigal: Can any one of us who are in this business can survive without the rich Indian traveler, ugly or beautiful, whatever?

And many tour companies from the U.S., Europe and the Middle East seem to agree. They’ve set up offices in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai.

In New Delhi, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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