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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

The 65th Annual Convention and Exhibition of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) recently concluded in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province of China, is expected to give a new dimension to tourism exchange between India and China. The three day conference witnessed the presence of over 485 Indian delegates networking and exchanging their ideas among themselves. Industry leaders also spoke on contemporary issues and suggested road ahead to take the industry on newer heights. The theme of the Convention was ‘Tourism Beyond Boundaries’.

Inaugurating the Convention, Mme Li Milan, Vice Governor of Yunnan province, said that India has emerged as an important source market for China while China is the potential market to send travelers to India.  “Both China and India are developing countries with rapid economic development, increased living standards of the peoples and a fast growing middle class group, which created golden opportunities for tourism development.” She emphasized on focusing on building people- to –people exchange between both countries.  “Social and people to people exchanges with tourism included as one of its integral component, play an important part in enhancing relations between India and China. In April this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Indian Prime Minister Modi during the East Lake meeting in Wuhan. President Xi pointed out that China and India should jointly carry out comprehensive cooperation plan between the two countries and promote more extensive and social and people-to-people exchange. Prime Minister Modi responded that two sides should promote people-to-people friendship and raise bilateral relation to a new level,” she said.

Highlighting the tourism potential of Yunnan, Milan said that Yunnan is one of the most advantageous province in China blessed with abundant tourism resources and endowments. “The province has cultivated a large number of tourist destinations and built brands that are well received by travelers from both domestic and abroad... At present, Yunnan has ushered in a precious development opportunity against the backdrop of the initiatives such as the ‘Belt and Road International cooperation’, the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and building Yunnan as China’s powerhouse facing South Asia and South East Asia, achieving progress in a quick pace,” she informed.

Addressing the media before the inauguration, He Ligui, Director General, Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, said that the tourism department is keen to woo tourists from India which is close to the province and whose inflow has been limited till now. “Kunming has spring like weather throughout the year as in summer it is not too hot and in winters not too cold,” he said and informed that Kunming is just 4 hours flight from Delhi and 2 hours from Kolkata. He informed that Yunnan welcomed 573 million domestic and foreign tourists to deliver a total of 692.2 billion Yuan. ““In first 10 months of this year we saw 601 million tourists and overall this year we expect some 700 million tourists,” Ligui added.

Talking to media, Li Bijan, Minister-Counselor of the Chinese Embassy in India, informed that this Convention provides a platform for two sides: TAAI and its counterpart to exchange views of how to carry cooperation in the field of tourism. “It would be a model platform for the other platforms of cooperation like cooperation in sports, leisure and culture tourism. Moreover, it will also provide a platform for Chinese tour operators to know the requirements of the Indian tourists. Currently, around 800,000 Chinese visits India and around 200,000 Indian visits China and this number is very small. So, there is a huge opportunity for two way tourism exchange. If we can fly together, we can fly higher,” he added. He also informed that both India and China are organizing people-to-people exchange in New Delhi from December 18-20, 2018 where foreign ministers of both countries will be present.

Speaking on the occasion, Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI said that the convention will act as a model platform for further boosting closer tourism exchanges between the two countries. He opined that this Convention will make Kunming and Yunnan province household name among Indian travel trade fraternity.  He informed that currently less than 10,000 Indian tourists visit the Yunnan province annually. “Yunnan has huge potential to attract tourists from India. There are a number of exotic spots in Yunnan and people who go to foreign locations for weddings can come here,” Kumar added.

During the Convention TAAI also singed and MoU with Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism to further strengthen the tourism cooperation between India and Yunnan.

Enabling businesses to take immediate decisions as per the changing customer demand and seek out new revenue opportunities. Various industry leaders including; Todd Arthur, Vice President, Sabre; Sandeep Dwivedi, Chief Operating Officer, InterGlobe Technology Quotient; Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions; Priyanka Chaurasiya - Head of Analytics, Cleartrip spoke to T3 magazine exclusively on how the business dynamics are changing, future and challenges. Excerpt:


Q]  There is a current emphasis on big data. How is the travel industry approaching data?

Todd Arthur (TA): More than ever, data is central to the travel industry. It is what enables personalising and enhancing an individual traveller’s journey, while also having the ability to compellingly demonstrate the economic value that a company, be it an airline, agency or hotel, delivers to their clients.

Sandeep Dwivedi (SD): Apart from multitudes of online travel portals, many mobile apps are there to provide real-time travel plans, suggestions regarding hotels, GPS tracking anywhere, booking tickets, comparing prices for the travellers and collect their feedback regarding a travel. Henceforth the introduction of disruptive technology aggregators and their capabilities to ease and deliver customized solutions to the travel provider. Analysing ‘big data’ – the ability to evaluate lots of data points – and artificial intelligence (AI), where machines replace brain power, could be making a difference in predicting a lot more travel behaviour, using algorithms to do more listening, talking and even thinking. In fact, many international airports have increased their food and retail sales through the use of AI and ‘big data’ created experiences that are more seamless and convenient, thanks to a network of IoT devices, cloud-based biometrics and risk-based screening.

Rakshit Desai (RD): Modern-day and Digi-smart travellers leave long trails of data while making travel bookings such as research and planning (including price comparison), booking, cancellation and feedback. This data consists of critical information on consumer behaviour. Big Data therefore offers huge opportunity to assist in analysing the data and offer insights that helps provide the much-needed competitive advantage through improved product and service offerings, processes, experiences, pricing, marketing and other internal and external customer experiences. With the help of Big Data Analytics, Travel Industry is able to manage and analyse vast amount of data and predict and improve the future of travel.

Priyanka Chaurasiya (PC): Travel industry in general has been at the forefront of experimenting with new things. In the recent years, travel has dramatically caught up with the adoption of big data as well, and you see far more travel companies investing in data strategy& data-driven solutions. With big data there is so much to explore that it really provides you the opportunity to do new things & get you that ‘edge’ over competition.


Q] What relevance does big data hold in the travel and hotel industry?

TA: Data is what helps to cater to increasing consumer expectations. Agents, airlines, hoteliers and travel managers today have access to a treasure trove of traveller information — historical booking data, traveller profile information, reservation browsing patterns, and much more. Collectively, this data paints a detailed picture about who a traveller is and what they care about, both of which make it much easier to craft personalized offers for travellers.

SD: Using Big Data and Machine Learning, they can build recommendation engines that can help them personalise offers on products from their inventory and from their partners’ catalogues. The internet of things (IoT) is already helping hotels, airlines, and travel companies streamline their operations by connecting smart devices, systems, and processes. This is probably the biggest opportunity travel companies can achieve from big data analysis.

RD: Big Data has been transforming many Industries and it has also started to play a vital role in the Travel and hospitality Industry. Most companies in this domain are rapidly adopting data analytics, tools and services to stay ahead of their competition. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of these companies have invested in a dedicated research and analysis team. With the help of growing storage capacities, faster processors and powerful data mining and analytics tools, it is becoming easier to make sense of data. Effective use of Big Data analytics can help the Travel and Hospitality Industry to better strategise and bring about higher degree of personalisation.

PC: The size of big data makes it extremely helpful in identifying hidden patterns and the granularity makes it very valuable in customisation & personalisation. In the context of travel & tourism industry as well, big data provides a great opportunity to be able to decode the real requirements, needs & intent of customers at a very granular level and provide them with far more relevant choices at relevant times. In short, big data is what can really enable service providers to go beyond the ‘generic’.


Q] How can the industry use data analytics to serve customer better?

TA: The travel industry needs operational models that allow for greater adaptability and that cater to a new generation of connected customers who expect experiences. The good news is that in all they do, consumers leave a digital footprint as they go about searching and booking their accommodation – digital breadcrumbs, so to speak. With the use of innovative technology solutions, these traces can now be analysed to help generate offers that respond to guest’s unique priorities through personalization, convenience, immediacy, and differentiation.

SD: It is one of the key factors driving the evolution of the travel industry. The travel industry handles an enormous quantity of data around. Thus, the ever generated data from different sources and actions (reservations, itineraries, accommodation, inquiries, transportation, price, cancellations, customer feedback, geolocation etc.) need to be processed wisely. Travel companies are now embracing Big Data Analytics to leverage this big data to provide their customers more targeted campaigns which ultimately lead to profitable services and products. Personalization and experience carry similar importance for all kinds of travels, whether for business or pleasure. The concept fits in the use of Artificial intelligence – where the software predicts and offers travel choices to its customers.

RD: Enhancing customer experiences is the most important factor for implementing a data analytics program for a travel company. Ability to quickly manage and analyse huge data from various sources has several benefits that can help the Industry serve customers better such as personalization of services, better and relevant recommendations for services, optimum pricing for value maximisation, targeted and efficient marketing, improved product and service offerings and identification of weak spots to improve processes. By using a customers’ available search and booking data, travel companies can provide customized recommendations for services that align with their preferences towards flight timings, in flight services, and hotel services, etc. 

PC: Travel industry has always been using analytics to serve customers right. With big data there is opportunity to take that to a whole new level. User personalization & customisation is just the beginning of what big data can enable. Intelligent products, aptly relevant content, efficient customer service – big data has a use almost everywhere to improve and better things and make you more relevant to your customers.


Q] What are the stakes / main challenges to businesses?

TA: To obtain a detailed picture of who a traveller is, agents and TMCs need access to all the right data at the right time. And they also need tools that can convert all the raw information into truly actionable insight. Too often, these conditions are not in place. Instead, data is siloed and stored across a variety of disparate back office systems that don’t communicate with each other (and certainly not in real time). As a result, travel agents are forced to operate with generic information that does little to empower exceptional customer experiences and drive new revenue opportunities.

SD: The evolution of consumer behaviour and the travel industry is a cyclic process, each contributing to the other. Today, consumers seek hassle-free, personalised experiences at every stage of travel. And because they have so many choices for every kind of service, their brand loyalties are fragile. The only way for players in the travel and tourism industry to survive and succeed is by delivering outstanding experiences at every consumer touchpoint and every stage of travel. And this is where emerging technologies – as they are referred to, although they have been around for a while – will have an increasingly important role to play.

RD: Main challenges to businesses / corporates revolve around the pressures to reduce costs while enhancing the technology usage. Moreover, there is high employee reluctance, especially in Indian companies, due to enhanced transparency from higher technology usage. Another challenge is the rapid advancement in technology and keeping pace with it.

PC: With the fast paced innovation happening in this space, acquiring skilled talent is a very common challenge faced. At the same time it’s the key to tapping big data potential. Another potential challenge could be keeping up with big data growth if the right architecture/infrastructure was not chosen initially. If faced with such a situation, upgrading becomes imperative. Of course with the constant tech advancements, this should be more of a nuisance than challenge.


Q] How big data analytics is solving the visibility problems and also helping in maximizing revenue? How big data can be used beneficially?

TA: Data is only truly useful to the travel professional if it’s sewn together in a way that tells a complete and meaningful story, and this is exactly what Big Data analytics platforms are designed to address. These platforms aggregate data from a variety of sources — APIs, cached data, third-party apps, etc. — into one platform. This brings everything together into a holistic view across data streams.

SD: Large enterprises with global presence frequently encounter such challenges. Centralising conventional data often posed a challenge and blocked the complete enterprise from working as one team. But big data has entirely solved this problem, offering visibility of the data throughout the organization. Another advantage to big data is that it can help the entire enterprise work as one functional unit. There is no longer any need for data silos for different functions such as marketing, finance, logistics, etc.  Big data techniques allow us to all work from the same data set and pull out what we need. Big Data allows travel providers to not only understand passenger behaviour and choice of travel but also helps in understanding the industry performance as a whole. It also helps in the revenue management and strategic pricing which enables them to maximise their income opportunities and offer best travel experiences to passengers. With the use of Big Data tools, operators in the travel and tourism industry can identify the new patterns evolving in the industry and respond with new product offerings. They can negotiate the rates with suppliers, maximise the revenues of each transaction and uncover hidden sales opportunities. Business analytics enables the operators to understand existing demand for the specific brands and accordingly forecasts the demand and supply position.

RD: India is one of the fastest-growing business travel markets globally, and leading Travel Management Companies (TMC) are building capabilities to tap into this market’s likely demand for enhanced business travel management in the near future. While some players are doing this organically, others are taking the inorganic route with mergers and acquisitions. With TMCs evolving with the changing trends and building capabilities in the data analytics space, they are also simultaneously overcoming a host of challenges. These also include overcoming the contentment of a typical travel manager with their existing manual processes to improving data quality and demystifying ‘Big Data’ to enable easier access to valuable insights. Big Data Analytics can help stop leakages and design effective pricing strategies to increase revenue. Ability to offer higher degree of personalisation can lead to competitive advantage consequently business growth.

PC: With the growth of smart-phones and mobile network, most of the users now look at small screen spaces. Real-estate is far more valuable and you only want to show customers what is relevant for them at that point of time. Big data enables you to do exactly that. You can pin-point to a set of customers and identify what is exactly valuable to them vs. others and serve them accordingly. When you take this approach, there is no opportunity lost. This creates an ecosystem which works for everyone –happy customers and happy sellers.

David Lim, General Manager- India, shares his perspective on India market.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group which along with SilkAir and low cost arm Scoot connects 14 points: Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Kochi, Trivandrum, Trichy, Coimbatore, Vizag, Lucknow, Kolkata and Amritsar - in India is bullish over its India operation. SIA is inducting B787-10 on New Delhi – Singapore route from October 2018. 

You are going to induct new aircraft on Delhi-Singapore route from October 28. Could you please tell us more about it?

We are inducting B787-10 Dreamliner on Delhi – Singapore route. We are the first to fly this aircraft. It is a longer version of the Dreamliner. With this, we will have two flights daily by B787-10 and A-380 from Delhi. Currently also we have two flights. The first flight is by B777 which is being replaced by B787-10. The capacity by the replacement increases by 28 per cent. However, holistically it increases by 10 per cent. This aircraft has a capacity of 337 seats – 301 in economy and 36 in business class. The product in business class and economy class is the best in the market.

Have you exhausted your bilaterlas?

We have around 35,000 weekly seats for the SIA Group. We are operating almost full capacity in metros. We are increasing our Ahmadabad service from four weekly flights to five from this winter. We have also been increasing capacity in Kochi, Trivandrum and Vizag. We are increasing in tier –II cities as much as we can. Regarding bilateral, there is unlimited capacity for 18 points in India.

How is the performance in India market?

We are happy with the performance in India. Singapore Airlines has always placed high emphasis on India market as India is an important market for us. We are in India since last 48 years. We started with Chennai and thereafter we have been growing.  As Indian aviation market is the third largest in the world, we want our share in this growth.

We do not disclose our route occupancy but at the system-wise occupancy, we are at 84 per cent.  As far as yield is concern, we are full service carrier and we offer very attractive price point to start with and so far the prices have been stable for us. We see the weak rupee but in terms of rupee we are not reducing the price. Our business class is also performing well.

Vistara is also going to start its international operation. How is this going to further strengthen your position in India?

We treat Vistara as an Indian carrier. Vistara has been growing and bringing a new feeling of flying in India. Vistara and Singapore Airlines will benefit each other. We have reciprocal lounge arrangements, code share and frequent flyers.

How do you see the travellers profile changing over the years from India?

We have a good mix of business and leisure travellers. Leisure travelers are increasing as there is more and more middle income group traveling from India. We also see that Indian travelers are today more sophisticated. We invest in our products. Our cabin products have been constantly changing and improving. We look at good price point for India market. We always have been trying to provide the best service to our customers.

What upgradation in terms service you have implemented in last couple of years?

For Indian market, we came out with Ruchi Thali in last one year. Ruchi Thali is our Indian ethnic meal for business class travelers. We are launching our outer long range aircraft on October 11. We are flying A 350 -900 outer long range from Singapore to Newark. It will fly for nearly 19 hours. We have good cabin products and came out with wellness menu.

What percentage of your Indian outbound traffic goes beyond Singapore?

We are now getting stronger to the US. We started Singapore-San Francisco service two years ago and we have been very happy from the contribution from India. It depends on the travel season. During holidays, the percentage goes up. There is a fare proportion of Indians that go to Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Asia. We offer choice for customers to use SIA to go to west coast as well.

How do you view competition?

Competition is nothing new for us. We have been taking competition head on. We have always been coming out with product innovation. We deal with competition by having a better product and we always focus on improving ourselves. Our focus has always been on service excellence and we constantly improve our connectivity.

What are the challenges that you are facing in the India market?

Indian customers are becoming more sophisticated and they are more demanding. They want good value for money. So, we have to manage and constantly improve our service and product to meet their expectations. 

Kayak has analysed travel searches and found that Bangkok, San Francisco, New York, Auckland and Toronto are the top destinations that are catching the eye of Indian solo travellers with significant year-on-year increase in search growth of  13 per cent, 30 per cent, 20 per cent, 119 per cent and 26 per cent respectively. This trend can be prompted by a rising curiosity towards contemporary cuisines, learning new skills along with scouting for unique experiences in places outside India.

“With decreasing airfares, more accessible flights and a soaring interest in adventure and discovery, solo travelling is a rising trend amongst Indians. International travel has become affordable and accessible for Indians, prompting a large number to travel abroad on their own. We have seen some drastic increase in searches when it comes to destination such as Auckland and Toronto. Whereas for group travel we have seen an increase to destination where there has been a drop-in airfare,” Abhijit Mishra, Director of India and Middle East, KAYAK said.

Among the top searched destinations, Auckland has the highest year-on-year increase of 119% in flight searches, and with an average trip duration of 15 days. The all-time favourite Southeast Asian city of Bangkok has seen a year-on-year growth of 13% with an average trip duration of 6 days.

The most popular destinations in North America is San Francisco, Toronto and New York with 30%, 26% and 20% year-on-year increase in search volume respectively. These cities have a higher average trip duration ranging from 16 to 22 days as compared to Southeast Asian cities (between the range of 3 to 6 days).

The recently concluded Indian Association Tour Operators’s annual conclave delved deep on the Ministry of Tourism’s target of welcoming 20 million foreign tourists in the next 3-4 years through a panel discussion. Moderated by Arjun Sharma, Chairman, Select Group, the panellists included Rashmi Verma, Union Tourism Secretary; Nakul Anand, Chairman, FAITH & Executive Director, ITC; E M Najeeb, Senior Vice President, IATO & CMD, ATE Group and Rani George, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

Throwing a question to Anand, Sharma asked that keeping the hotel and aviation infrastructure constrain in mind do you think that the infrastructure will support us in our journey from 10 mn to 20 mn? Responding to this, Anand candidly said that welcoming 20 mn foreign tourists is very much possible. “If we touch 11.4 mn in 2018, it is very easy for us to touch 20 mn mark in the next 3-4 years. Any country which has crossed 30 mn tourists, 60 per cent of those tourists have come from the same region. There are 140 bn dollar worth of regional travel within South East Asia region,” Anand said and added that we have products that they do not have. “Buddhism is one part of this and a lot of these countries follow Buddhism. However, there are some challenges. If South East Asia is the region we are going to focus on then our benchmark should be this region. Our entire strategy and advertising must be focused on South East Asia. The average taxation in SE Asia is 4.8 per cent where in India is around 19 per cent.,” he said.

Talking on capacity, Anand said that today India is catering to 10 million foreign tourists. He informed that the countrywide occupancy of the hotels is between 60-62 per cent which can go upto 84-85 per cent. “We have the capacity today to go to 15-16 mn. With a little bit more of effort, we can manage the 20 million. We need to have 360 degree approach that 20 million is our target and in the next 5 years this is what this industry needs to achieve,” he said advising that we have to get out of the mind that India is still a long haul destination.

Agreeing with Anand, Verma said that we can all agree that 20 mn is achievable provided we adopt a specific strategies. “We were never focused on SE Asia market. Lately, we have changed our strategy to this market. We have adopted 3 pronged strategies : G2G, B2B and B2C. If we have to get numbers from China, it cannot happen if we do not have good government to government relation. India was completely taken out of Chinese tour operators brochure during Doklam standoff last year. We need to work on those micro details on how to get India back in their brochure. Now, through India mission, we are reaching out to the Chinese market. Our marketing strategy is also now focused on SE Asia, China, Japan and Russia. We need to focus more on our neighbors because it is intra regional tourists which can bring the number while continuing to focus on our traditional market,” Verma informed and added that if we have to get 20 million the big question is what should be the model to get additional 10 mn and where to keep them and where to take them. “The biggest challenge we have been facing so far is the lack of the infrastructure at our key tourism destinations,” she said and added that India’s tourism infrastructure is improving.

Najeeb advised to form a body like NITI Aayog or National Tourism Advisory Council which will have focus to push the tourism growth. Responding to this, Verma said there is no magic wand through which the National Tourism Advisory Board can take us to 20 million. “Today, both government and industry is working together and trying to come out with strategies through which we can achieve numbers. It is not the lack of institutional mechanism or platform which is keeping us away from the magical number. We also have a Group of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary. We need to work in collaboration with our sister ministries and we have good mechanism in place,” she said and added that however we do need some autonomy and freedom and a platform where the government and industry can work together for working out the strategies. “There is an advisory council but without any financial power,” she said.

Verma also opined that there is a need to have different national level strategy. “Tourism should be led by private sector. Most of challenges that we are facing is that industry is not so proactive to take tourism forward. If we have to get the number, the private sector has to lead. We can only be the facilitator,” she said. George also opined that tourism has to be driven by private sector and said that the success of Kerala Tourism is due to proactive private sector.

Indian arrival to Turkey is all set to get a boost under the hope that the air connectivity between India and Turkey is going to be strengthened. “We have a bilateral air service agreement which will be reviewed. The Government of India is in the process of reviewing the existing conditions regarding connectivity between India and Turkey. Soon, we will have not only Turkish Airlines but other companies including Indian companies will connect two countries. This will be not only from Mumbai and Delhi but also from other Indian and Turkish cities. This development should take place in the next few months,” Şakir Özkan Torunlar, Ambassador of Turkey to India, said at an interactive session with travel media at his residence recently.

Speaking further, he said that Turkey is one of the leading business destinations in the world. “Last year, we hosted more than 32 million international visitors in 2017. We expect this figure will reach to 40 million by Turkey is one of the leading business destinations in the world. Last year, we hosted more than 32 million international visitors in 2017. By end of this year, we expect this figure will reach to 40 million in 2018. By end of 2018, we expect number of Indians visiting Turkey will reach to 200, 000,” he added.  Turkey welcomed 87,000 Indian visitors in 2017.

He informed that Turkey is gradually emerging as a MICE and wedding destinations for India market. “MICE is another area where Indian companies are very much focused on. In the past 12 months, Turkey has hosted groups from several Indian conglomerates who organized their annual meetings in Turkey,” the Ambassador informed. According to him, Turkey is becoming a popular destination for young Indian couples who plan their marriage. “In 2017 and 18, Turkey hosted more than 10 Indian weddings. For next year, more than 20 Indian weddings are booked in Turkey. This indicates that by 2021, Turkey will host around 100 Indian marriages,” he opined.

The Ambassador was quite keen on strengthening the people to people exchange between two countries.  “Indian should go Turkey and vice versa to enjoy the hospitality and diversity of each other’s country.  “For this to happen, connectivity has to improve. You cannot ask tourist to make stop over somewhere in the Gulf on both ways and spend 3 to 4 hours for transit,” he said adding that travel associations from India needs to support the Embassy’s efforts.

Speaking on the occasion, Deniz ERSÖZ, Culture & Tourism Counsellor of the Turkish Embassy, said that Istanbul, Antalya, Cappadocia, Troy and Izmir are extremely popular with Indian travellers. “However, Bodrum and Marmaris have also emerged as major tourist attractions in recent past. In addition to that, Konya where Celaleddin Rumi spent his last 45 years, the sacred site where he was buried is also among the popular destinations for Indians,” ERSÖZ said.

Replying to a question about the new International Airport in Istanbul, Torunlar said that the new airport is designed to accommodate 200 million passengers in a year. The airport will be thrown open for operations on October 29, Turkish National Day, he said.

Shikhar Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, BLS International talks to T3 about growth prospect of the company

There has been no looking for BLS International since 2016 as it expanded its business operations from visa outsourcing to provide front-end services to the state governments in India to facilitate the realisation of the goal of transparent and accountable e-governance.

The year 2016 was a turnaround year for you. What all you have achieved?

The year 2016 was a landmark year for BLS International. We were working in 26 countries before 2016 and today we are present in more than 62 countries. We bagged the Spanish government contract in 2016, got listed in NSE and BSE and around the same time we also bagged the contract from the Punjab government for the e-governance. It was kind of all the hard work we had been doing for the last 10 years. From inception in 2005 till 2017, we had processed 20 million applications and now just in 2017-18 we have done more than 11 million applications including e-governance as well. Of these, 70 per cent applications would be probably in e-governance and the remaining 30 per cent would be around visa applications. However, this is an offline figures.

You recently acquired Starfin India. How it is going to strengthen your business?

Starfin India is a company which already has presence at 1300 centres across India in different states. This means we have got access to 1300 centres in one day. Our objective is to grow our B2C services also. We want to offer a lot of allied services -- like in visa we want to offer a lot of value added services. Our aim is to offer value added services in these centres also. Starfin right now has the banking correspondence licenses from the State Bank of India. So, we want to add lot of value added services also which is our end goal.

What is your main focus – visa or e-governance?

Our main focus is visa as it is the high margin model. As of now, we have 36 clients across 62 countries including Italy, Hungary, France, Singapore, Spain, Dubai and the UK amongst others. . We are looking at big government contracts in future. These countries and the markets want competition to deliver and BLS International is well placed to deliver these services.

How do you see the overall visa markets?

Globally, right now only 30 per cent visa services are outsourced globally. So, there is a huge scope of visa getting the outsourced by governments. We feel that new governments are getting matured and they understand that this process is safe so market is opening up. We feel that every year there is a big growth in the market. So, the next 4-5 years look very good for the industry. BLS International is the only Indian company in this business competing on the global scale. Indian embassy in Canada, Russia, China also outsourced services to us for inbound travellers.

You are getting stronger in overseas countries mainly in Europe. In Asia, you have the Afghanistan. What are the growth prospects?  

We are very aggressively bidding for tenders across the world. We cannot disclose the name as these are sensitive issues. We are bidding for South East Asia, Asia, China and Europe also. 

What is the India expansion plan on visa?

In visa sector, a lot of tenders are coming out globally. So, we are very aggressively working with foreign governments, applying for tenders and even specific tenders that come out locally and we feel that in the next 1-2 years, we should add quite a few accounts.   For Spain, we have also introduced mobile biometric. After we took over the Spanish visa work, the application counts grew by over 50 per cent.

What is your current operational profile?

We have 9,000 people working for us including in the e-governance. We have over 2200 offices in 62 countries. There was a change in the contract from the Punjab government. Before, we were operating 2000 offices in Punjab. Offices which had low footfalls have been transferred to other centre. This means the number of offices got reduced but there is a talk to extend as the number of applications will remain the same. We are in similar sorts of talk with other state and countries governments. We wish to take this model to abroad. We are handling more than 50,000 applications daily in the Punjab.

What is the expectation for the 2018?

The contract we bagged in 2016 is getting matured so the application count is growing 10 per cent per annum. This year, we got a contract from Sopra Steria that enables visa renewals for those individuals who are already in the UK. There would be increase compared to last year definitely. We expect more than 5 to 10 per cent growth. As different contracts came in at different time periods, this year will not  be captured for all contracts. Hence, the growth will not be more than 10 per cent.

Where do you see BLS International in the next five years?

In the next 5 years, we see ourselves growing more. In last 4 years, we have growin 40% CAGR. As the company grows bigger, it will be difficult after a certain size to maintain the same level of growth. But, our aim is to maintain the same level of growth. Every year, we are aggressively focusing on bidding for lot of tenders. We aim to add some tenders every year.

The Govt of Punjab has reoriented its strategy to promote tourism in a big way. While it has been promoting its culture, heritage, history, religion and other segment, the new thrust is being given on rural and medical tourism. “The Heritage Street in Amritsar has really increased the footfall of tourists many times. The Golden Temple in Amritsar receives 1.25 lakhs tourist everyday which is the highest footfall compared to any other heritage in the country. The Wagah border is also getting good number tourists. There are lot of other attractions also in and around Amritsar,” Malwinder Singh Jaggi, Director, Punjab Tourism said. The Govt has also been working to conserve the heritage in the state. “We have identified many destinations in the state to develop them as world class.  These include places such as Amritsar’s Heritage Street, Gobindgarh Fort, Wagah Border, Jallianwala Bagh, War Memorial, Partition Museum, Pul Moran and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Summer Place amongst others. We are restoring all the heritage sites in Punjab in a phased manner. But the important places like Kila Mubarak, Patiala, Sheesh Mahal, Ranwas Palace are also being renovated. We are converting Ranwas Palace in a heritage hotel.  We also have plans to renovate sites of historical and religious importance with the help of Centre under the Swadesh Darshan scheme,” he informed.

The state tourism has its own budget and also getting support from the Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India under various schemes for development of these heritages. “We are working on many projects with the loan from Asian Development Bank which sanctioned Rs 600 crores. Of these, we have already spent around Rs 250 crores. We will spend Rs 125 crores in the beautification Amritsar city,” he said and added that these efforts will give a major boost to tourism in the state.

The state tourism department is also developing rural tourism. “We are focussing on farm tourism. Some of the farm tourism products in Hoshiarpur are getting good response,” he added.

The state receives more than 4 crores tourists. “We welcome 4.83 lakh foreing tourists every year. Our aim is to grow this number and we aim to become one of the top states in terms of foreign tourist arrivals by 2020,” Jaggi added.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has signed a management agreement with Bhumika Enterprises for Holiday Inn Udaipur Urban Square. The 195-room hotel will be the first Holiday Inn hotel in the city and is expected to be operational by 2022. The signing also marks IHG’s entry in Udaipur.

Holiday Inn Udaipur Urban Square will be an integral part of the upcoming “Urban Square”, an integrated hospitality, retail and family entertainment destination spread over 1.8 million square feet (approx.).

The hotel feature 12,000 sq ft of sizeable meeting space including a 10,000 sq ft ballroom to accommodate 800 - 1000 people, and will be well placed to meet the rapidly growing business from the MICE and destination weddings segment.

Commenting on the announcement, Sudeep Jain, Vice President, Development, South West Asia, IHG said, “We are delighted to partner with Bhumika Group to mark IHG’s debut in Udaipur, under the Holiday Inn banner. Urban Square is set to develop as a landmark destination for hospitality, retail and family entertainment in Udaipur and we are pleased to be a part of this prestigious development.”

Uddhav Poddar, Managing Director, Bhumika Group, said, “IHG is a leading hospitality player, globally and we are very pleased to partner with the company to launch Holiday Inn Udaipur Urban Square. We are confident that the Holiday Inn brand will further enhance the bouquet of services that the Urban Square has to offer to travelers, office goers and shoppers.”

IHG currently has 31 hotels operating across four brands in India, including InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, with a further 46 in the development pipeline. 

Netherlands received 165, 000 Indian visitors in 2017, reflecting a growth of 31 per cent over 2016, and expects a 25 per cent growth in Indian arrivals in 2018. “India is currently sharing the second position with Brazil as fastest growing market for us. Russia is at the top as fastest growing market. We expect to maintain the growth momentum from India. We have already received over 67,000 visitors from India until May 2018,” Carola Muller - van Rijn, Global Travel Trade Manager, Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) Holland Marketing, a public-private partnership, said on the sidelines of a Sales Mission in New Delhi recently. The Mission also travelled to Mumbai and Bangalore to showcase its comprehensive product profile as well as to understand the requirements of the Indian travelllers. Holland Sales Mission 2018 includes participation from several private players from the Netherlands, including Lovers Canal Cruises, Efteling Theme Park, Henri Willig Cheese Farm, Madurodam Theme Park, and ITO Tours. According to her, India is currently not in top 10 source markets but it is closer to top 10. Currently, 17 million people visit the Netherlands annually.

Responding to a question over the expected growth, Muller said that the Board looks at different factors such as direct connectivity, capacity and economic ability of the destination to estimate the growth. “One of the reasons for the rise in the number of visitors is growing direct connectivity from India to Amsterdam and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines beginning operations between Mumbai and Amsterdam will also add to the number of visitors from India to Netherlands,” she said.

She said Indians like the city life. “City life and visiting the city is one of the pull factors for Indians. We saw 74,000 Indian visiting Amsterdam in 2017 which is a big number. There are obviously other interesting products that we offer. We mainly focus on leisure travel. We do see the most of the travelers coming to Holland is leisure,” she said and added that the average length of stay for Indians in Netherlands is four-days.

Talking about the marketing and promotional activities, she said the Board is looking expanding its activities in emerging markets. “We would also look at joint promotion with likes of Mercury Travel and Thomas cook. We are doing some trade advertising as well. We are going with our in-house training programme. We have also attended some trade fairs in India,” she said informing that the Budget for four emerging markets – Russia, Brazil, India and China – is euro 500, 000. Carola is responsible for driving traffic from these markets.  



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