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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

With the increase in awareness about newer products, Indian travellers are now ready to set foot at lesser known destinations

The rapid growth in Indian outbound travel has prompted many new countries of the world to look at the India market. At present, over 22 million Indians travel outbound in a year and UNWTO forecast suggests that this number could go up to 50 million by 2020. Indian outbound has consistently been witnessing a double digit growth making India one of the fastest growing markets in the world. The reason for this growth is due to the fact that India has rising middle class with growing disposable income, expanding air connectivity with LCC offering reasonable airfare, ease in obtaining visas for Indian by many countries and Indians quest for exploring new tourism products and destinations.

Popular traditional destination like Thailand, USA, Singapore, Dubai have crossed one million visitors/ room nights market and destinations such as France, UK, Spain, Italy, Malaysia etcetra are trying their best to push Indian arrivals to their respective countries. This has led many new and emerging destinations to foray into the India market. Countries such as Israel, Jordan, Ireland, Czech Republic, Fiji, Reunion Island, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Mexico, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Philippines, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica amongst others are aiming to tap the growing might of the inbound. Most of them have appointed their representatives in India and have consistently been running their marketing and promotional activities, although at a smaller scale, to create awareness about their tourism products. Countries like Czech, Poland and Argentina forayed into India market seven to eight years ago but due to the global economic meltdown they had to slow down their activities in India. Now, these countries are again back to cash in on growing Indian outbound travel segment. Some of these destinations are even looking at tapping the potential of niche Indian outbound wedding, honeymoon, MICE, golf, adventure and other segments. The current available statistics suggests that these countries are witnessing a double-digit growth from India.

 

Current Scenario

One of the major developments for all the emerging outbound destinations are that they have all witnessed a staggering double digit growth from India last year. India has truly been one of the fastest growing destinations for the outbound segment. With such growth, India has also entered into the priority list for most of these destinations.

Speaking about the growth in 2016, Hassan Madah, Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism India & Philippines said, “India is an important emerging travel market for Israel, which is evident in the investments we are making in the country, not only with the travel trade industry, but also advertising directly to the travellers. Indian arrival figures to Israel have grown. In 2016, we welcomed 44,672 travellers from India as compared to 39,529 in 2015 and 34,900 in 2014. There has been 28 per cent increase in Indian tourist arrivals to Israel in the last two years. The average spend is about US$2300 for approximately seven nights based on the selected accommodation.”

Echoing similar opinion Beena Menon, Representative India, Tourism Ireland opined, “India is one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in the world. Although the numbers visiting Ireland are relatively small, the Indian market has significant potential for growth. Air access is improving all the time, with Emirates and Etihad introducing double daily services from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Dublin, and Qatar Airways launching daily flights to Dublin in June 2017. The British Irish Visa Scheme has also given a significant impetus to travel to Ireland from India, and we would like to continue to see visitor numbers grow. On average, the island of Ireland has seen a steady year-on-year growth from the Indian market of about 15-20 per cent. We are yet to receive the official figures for 2016 and Q1 2017, but we believe that there will be an increase in Indian visitor numbers to the island of Ireland.”

Emilla Kubik, Project Leader – Asian Markets, Polish Tourist Organisation (PTO), earlier said that Poland welcomed 26,000 Indian visitors in 2015 and this number is growing. “It is not a dynamic growth but we observe more and more Indian travellers related to business coming in bigger numbers. Of course, when there is a business trip, there is a scope for leisure. We are very much looking for that kind of business relations, not only business travellers. We are very much looking forward to showcasing not only Warsaw but beyond the capital city,” Kubik said and added that direct air connectivity between India and Poland will make things easier.

“Over the last five years, the overall growth has been consistent of about 15-30 per cent from India to the Scandinavian countries. We expect 10 per cent average growth from the Indian market,” Mohit Batra, India Representative, Scandinavian Tourist Board, told T3 earlier. According to him, the growth comes across all the segments of the travel industry – fixed group departures, individual travellers and incentives. “This year we see people travelling in a group of 4-8, they are complete FITs. We also see a lot of interest in younger generation to visit Scandinavia. We have observed a healthy growth in the number of Indians travelling to these destinations, primarily from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. But, cities such as Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Pune have also been showing encouraging results,” he added.

Czech Republic is also strengthening its foothold in India market. “Last year, Czech Republic saw a 50 pc increase by welcoming 67,000 Indian travellers. We hope that the number touches 100,000 soon,” a spokesperson of Czech Tourism said.

Even destination like Fiji, which still doesn’t have the best of the connectivity from India has clogged double digit growth last year. “India is one of the key emerging markets for Tourism Fiji and we have been witnessing a steady growth of 15 – 20 per cent on a y-o-y basis. For the year ending 2016 we had 3,987 arrivals to Fiji from India and 1,188 in Q1, 2017,” said India Representative of Tourism Fiji.

 

Setting trends

In the last couple of years one of the major trends that have been witnessed by a majority of the tourism boards is the profile of Indian travellers is getting younger. Millennial travel has been at its peak. Every destination is now trying to attract these travellers as they are the ones who experiment with niche activities and destinations. Even when it comes to the culinary experience, these travellers opt to try the local delicacies.

Speaking about the emerging trends from India market Menon said, “We have been observing that Indians are widely opting to travel to unexplored destinations and have been quite experimental with their travelling choices. With an increasingly youthful population, more young Indians between the age group of 18-24 are travelling this summer and they have moved from fixed itineraries to flexible holidays that offer them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture. We have also an increase in demand for food tours.”

She further added, “Another trend is the increase in demand for self-drive holidays that allows flexibility and ease of travel. There has been a growth in the number of people moving beyond city experiences and venturing into the surrounds, which offer a variety of experiences including food and drink, nature and water-based activities, amongst others. We also see a trend of Indian travellers looking for new reasons to travel and apart from typical holiday season travel, we now see people making travel plans for celebrating special occasions in life such as birthdays, anniversaries, and professional achievements as well as for food and adventure and romance.”

Also the Gen next travellers are now well equipped with technology and social media. A lot of these travellers are very well informed about the destinations, which attracts them to opt for tours which has an element of local culture. According to Asit Taneja, Country Manager –India, Jordan Tourism Board today’s traveller has become more aware and we are seeing a lot of interest from travellers for more information before they travel. “They are interested in the history and the background of the country they visit; and Jordan offers them an eclectic mix of culture, history, food, etc which is an unbeatable combination.”

Earlier destinations like Israel was considered to be unsafe, but now this is one destination which is one every niche travellers bucket list. The destination for long was considered as a holy destination for pilgrim travel, but now trends have changed, Indians are travelling to Israel for niche experiences like wine and gastronomy tours. “Honeymooners, Family, Leisure, Adventure enthusiasts, Food and Wine connoisseurs and MICE are some of the segments we are currently focusing on. Holy Land tours or pilgrimage tourism does constitute a major segment of tourists to Israel from India however we are seeing growth in the other segments as well. Israel has something for everyone from adventure, Dead Sea, deserts, mountains, culture, history, fashion and nightlife to explore,” Madah informed.

 

Novel attractions

Destinations are now going all out to get their share of the Indian outbound. Even the emerging destinations are now promoting lesser known destinations and activities for the Indian travellers to further tap new as well as repeat travellers. Speaking about the attractions in Jordan, Taneja said, “Indians are becoming increasingly adventurous and thirsty for new destinations and experiences. This enables us to bring to their notice the vast potential of Jordan as a complete MICE, family holiday, wedding and honeymoon destination. Jordan has a lot to offer in terms of historic sites, wellness, culture, religious, and leisure options. Amman, Wadi Rum, Petra, Aqaba and the Dead Sea are all unique sites and give a 360-degree diverse experience to the traveller as it includes the sea, mountains, desert and a number of historical and architectural highlights.”

In recent years, there has been a huge trend of film and TV tourism, a lot of the destinations leverage on film tourism to attract travellers to the shooting locations. Ireland is the venue popular for a lot of famous movies and series. Menon said, “Tourism Ireland will create ‘stand-out’ experiences for Ireland around the world throughout 2017, highlighting iconic experiences like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East, Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route. We will also promote Dublin and Belfast, as food and drink destinations. Screen tourism will remain a priority, as we continue to capitalise on our connections with Star Wars and Game of Thrones.”

Fiji is more popular to the global travellers as an exotic destination. The island nation is now seeing a lot of new developments in terms of hotel infrastructure. To further add to the list of attractions, the destination is all set to promote some of the newer luxury resorts to be opened this year.

 

Challenges

One of the key challenges which most of the emerging outbound destinations or the newer entrants facing is the lesser knowledge about their tourism products in the India market. Having realised this, the tourism boards or representations in India are now investing more into organising roadshows and training sessions to increase the visibility of the destination and for better selling of the products.

Speaking about the challenges Menon said, “Ireland has several iconic experiences, wonderful landscape and warm, friendly people. A holiday in Ireland offers huge diversity, rich culture and unique experiences, that we believe will appeal tremendously to the Indian traveller, For Tourism Ireland, our main goal is to create further awareness and knowledge about the island of Ireland in the fragmented Indian travel distribution system and with the constantly evolving media landscape.”

Some destinations like Israel have already organised a series of roadshows in India, but will once again organise in the year to increase the visibility. Also Israel is looking to tap travellers from the Tier II and III cities.

Madah stated, “We began 2017 with a three-city roadshow in Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad in the month of February. We will be conducting more roadshows this year in other Indian cities. We are also conducting some joint promotions with selected trade partners in India. In additional to this we will continue to conduct familiarisation trips for trade & MICE so they can have a first-hand experience of the destination.”

Long haul emerging destinations still face a huge problem of connectivity. For destinations like Fiji, the traffic between these routes is at the moment insufficient to have a non-stop direct flight.

Speaking about the hurdles Spokesperson of Tourism Fiji said, “Connectivity to Fiji used to be one of our challenges from India. However, we have seen some good feedback on this front with the launch of Fiji Airways’ direct flights from Singapore to Nadi, Fiji. To further promote the destination we will be organising Tourism Fiji India Roadshow, our biggest trade engagement, which is scheduled for July 24 – August 1, 2017 across Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Bangalore. This will help us educate and train more agents across these markets, highlighting the variety of Fiji’s offerings.”

Overall, Indian travellers are experimenting with the choice of their vacations. A lot of trends have changed over the years as the young age travellers do now not want to go to traditional destinations and travel for mere sightseeing. Increasing the awareness of today’s travellers will only further fuel the footfall to these destinations.

Hassan Madah, “India is an important emerging travel market for Israel, which is evident in the investments we are making in the country.”

Beena Menon, “With an increasingly youthful population, more young Indians between the age group of 18-24 are travelling.”

Asit Taneja, “Indians are becoming increasingly adventurous and thirsty for new destinations and experiences.”

Lack of infrastructure and proper marketing strategy has pushed India back as a global MICE destination

India is all set to go the global way and Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) is fast becoming a core part of its tourism strategies. When it comes to the Indian market as a MICE destination, incentives is still the largest component of MICE. But nonetheless, India is looking to grab the lions share in the global MICE tourism segment. Earlier the main challenge for MICE to flourish in the country was lack of connectivity and infrastructure. MICE was not even marketed in the way it should be.

With the new Government understanding the business of MICE, is all set to promote it on a global scale. The Government is now supporting private players under PPP mode for setting up large and small Convention Centres with exhibition facilities at various metros and other cities. These Centres will not only fetch a large amount of foreign exchange but also give boost to other economic activities. Today India has a lot of MICE infrastructure, some still underutilised. According to statistics, around 90 per cent of the MICE businesses globally are small in nature with a maximum of 200-250 pax. Today, India is very well equipped to cater to this segment, yet we have not been able to completely tap the potential of this segment.

“MICE is a significant segment within the tourism and hospitality sector and the government hopes e-visas for business travel will boost the segment further. Electronic visa would make it attractive for business travellers as they tend to have lesser time to plan trips than leisure tourists. We feel e-visa for conferences and meetings could go a long way,” said Suman Billa, joint secretary in the tourism ministry.

Speaking about the potential Julia Tham, General Manager, Mercure Lavasa and Lavasa International Convention Centre said, “It is important to remember that the MICE industry is one of the fastest growing segments within the tourism industry in India. The prospects for the MICE industry are bright as the economy has started picking up. As the economy improves, the demand for exhibitions, meetings and events is going to increase leading to exponential growth. Plugging challenges like finding and retaining skilled manpower, improving domestic connectivity and setting up of a centralised agency to monitor the growth and development of the MICE segment together will help India harness its full MICE potential.”

 

Governmental focus

Government of India has taken one of the major steps to revamp Pragati Maidan Complex. This is one of India’s most premium venues for large exhibitions. The existing Pragati Maidan Complex that so far used to organise National and International Exhibitions and facilitate holding of various other events, is set to get all new face with its upcoming redevelopment into a World class state-of-the-art Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC).

LC Goyal, CMD, India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO) recently announced the launch of this sophisticated Project to be implemented by the latter at a cost of approx. Rs 2,500 Crore. Once redeveloped, IECC will be a landmark spot in Delhi and a symbol of Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of ‘New India’, they informed.

Conceived by NBCC in association with ARCOP Associates and Aedas Pte of Singapore, the IECC shall be developed with latest architectural design along with basement parking facility of 4800 vehicles and comprehensive traffic decongestion interventions. The Convention Centre will be 32.4 mtr. tall landmark building on par with the best in the world. This structure will be on an elevated podium with unique slopping facade incorporating rich architectural heritage of Delhi. The Centre will have a capacity of 7000 pax in single format (Plenary Hall with fixed sitting of 3000 pax and Multi-Function Hall of 4000 pax) and amphitheatre with 3000pax. There will be altogether 30 Meeting Rooms of different sizes and capacity and the complete structure of the Centre will be built with a mix of red stone and Dholpur white stone and GFRC. The implementation of the whole project shall also have the provision for monetisation of land for a 500-Key Hotel.

Exhibition segment of the Integrated Centre shall comprise 7 new modern Exhibition Halls along with pre-function area with exhibition space of one lakh sq. mtr. Each Exhibition Hall will have integrated F&B facility. There will also be exhibition open area (15 acres) with 4 open amphitheatres, (two of 900 pax each and two of 600 pax each) with two colourful fountain areas. The complex will also have covered walkways/canopies & skywalk connectivity with Pragati Maidan Metro Station.

Both the Stakeholders revealed the detailed timeline of the project saying that the vendors for both IECC project and Traffic Interventions would be in place by the end of June, 2017 and the construction work would start by July, 2017. The Convention Centre, they informed, would be completed by November- December, 2018 and the entire project by July- August, 2019.

Speaking about the new initiatives Chander Mansharamani, Vice Chairman, India Convention Promotion Bureau added, “There are number of steps that have been taken by MoT in the form of greater participation in MICE related shows in the world. We at ICPB have drawn a plan to market India as a preferred convention destination. The other good news is the new additional infrastructure coming up in various part of the country. To further tap this market, it requires very aggressive marketing and promotional activities. We are sure with the new approach; we will be able to achieve the target.”

 

Infrastructural insights

The traditional players in the MICE business are all now looking to upgrade their infrastructure at par global standards. The most used convention centres in India Pragati Maidan in New Delhi and Bombay Exhibition & Convention Centre in Mumbai are set to go for makeover. One of the key reasons for this sudden development is the rise of the new players. Today Hyderabad International Convention Centre is regarded as one of the venues which is at par with global convention centres. AccorHotels is also launching an international convention centre in Jaipur. Also a mega convention facility is all set to come up in Knowledge Park II in Greater Noida soon.

The lack of world-class convention centre coupled with other infrastructural challenges has been a major hurdle for the growth of this segment. Ironically, the Govt. of India itself is facing challenges to organise a mega global summit as was seen during Indo –Africa Meet which was organised in a stadium rather than a convention space. This prompted the government to expedite the process of developing convention centres across the nation.

Gorav Arora, Director of Sales & Marketing, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre & HICC said, “2016 was a successful year for Hyderabad, as we at Hyderabad International Convention Centre hosted several large conferences bringing more than three lakh international and national visitors to the city. The contributing segments included IT, medical tourism, agriculture, financial services and aero sciences. Both Hyderabad International Convention Centre & Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre have been integral to the growth of MICE, helping catapult Hyderabad to the top four Indian MICE cities based on number of events we have hosted at our venue. We expect 2017 to be much stronger with higher number of conferences. Apart from the segments which performed well in 2016, various international associations and conference boards will also contribute to this year’s progression.”

Positive news for the MICE industry is the new venture by Reliance Industries. The group is all set to launch a state-of-the-art convention centre in Mumbai which is set to be the country’s largest Convention Centre – The Dhirubhai Ambani International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Reliance has invested US$680 million in this project. The project is located in the heart of business capital of India – Mumbai – Bandra Kurla Complex, popularly called as the BKC. The project revolves around four buildings including a Convention Center, an Exhibition hall, and a Theatre in a 75,000-square-meter plot in the centre of Mumbai. The Convention and Exhibition Centre will be a mixed development project that will include retail space, service apartments and hospitality facilities.

Another convention centre which is yet to tap the chunk of the MICE segment is The Lavasa International Convention Centre (LICC) situated right on the banks of Warasgaon Lake. LICC is spread over 1.5 acres of land, offering 34,500 sq ft. of flexible floor space. The meetings space includes six additional break-out rooms, a Board room, a Business Centre, a Media centre, and a VIP room. LICC is one of a kind property which embodies a huge pillar-less area for events & exhibitions and has vibrant interiors to break the monotony of long conference sittings.

Tham said, “MICE segment in India is still at a nascent stage and will take some time to develop to its full potential. There is been a dramatic change in the hospitality industry over the years as the portfolio of the clientele has diversified over the years from only leisure to business and leisure travellers. Hotels today offer a diverse portfolio of services, MICE being one of them. Therefore, the focus of hotels is to promote all the services they offer equally. Every hotel is trying to diversify their service offerings and therefore typically does not promote itself only as a MICE destination or only as a leisure destination. Today, destinations that were considered to be leisure destinations are fast becoming MICE hubs as they provide a perfect balance of work and play.”

He further added, “Lavasa also falls in a similar category. Lavasa city is a leisure as well as MICE destination and we are promoting it to two sets of travellers in two different ways considering their needs and expectations. Lavasa International Conventional Centre is promotes as an ideal MICE & Wedding destination and as a great weekend gateway for FIT travelers as well. Rate strategies have been implemented keeping in mind the strength and weakness of Lavasa being as a destination.”

 

Challenges

MICE segment does no doubt taste some success in the Indian market. But still a lot of developments are yet to happen. One of the major steps to tap the MICE is the introduction of e-tourist visa for MICE. At the moment MICE industry in India is fragmented, with less specialisation than some other MICE destinations. India’s MICE industry is still in its growth stage and we are witnessing the emergence of new destinations within the country. The MICE sector in India is making a steady comeback as transport and Infrastructure development gains momentum. The connectivity to Tier II and III cities is another important development which needs to be looked at.

Tham added, “Hotels are already facing intense competition and the MICE sector is expected to see significant growth. As new meetings formats and technology will continue to develop, hotels need to assimilate these changes and adapt to latest trends. Hotels seeking to increase their share in the MICE market must create more flexible services and adapt a new attitude to change to offer the best experience to their guests. There is also a need to bridge the last mile connectivity and give a boost to infrastructural development to see rapid growth in the MICE segment. Training of manpower and retaining highly skilled manpower is another area that needs to undergo boost, especially for a highly specialized business like MICE.”

Another major challenge for the entire industry is skill development and talent retention. MICE is a very specialised and niche business and requires a lot of highly skilled manpower, which at the moment is difficult to procure in India.

Speaking about the challenges Arora stated, “Hospitality is a highly dynamic industry and employee turnover is one of the biggest challenges that the industry faces today. Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre and Hyderabad International Convention Centre attract a large number of MICE guests and business travellers. For us, one of the major challenges is getting the skilled employees and retaining them with the company. Both international & national visitors travelling for MICE events have a specific set of requirements as they come for different nature of events. To serve these guests up to their satisfaction level, making their stay and meetings at the property a memorable and flawless experience, demands a proactive understanding and a greater skill set at employee front. Hence to bring such talent in the company and train them as per AccorHotels’ service standard is imperative. With growing opportunities in the industry it becomes a challenge to find good resource and retain them.”

Speaking about the overall MICE infrastructure challenges in the country Om Prakash, Director, In ORBIT Tours stated, “Despite continuous efforts, our infrastructure has not improved that can be compared even with neighbouring countries like Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and China. Beyond our metro cities, the facilities are not to the mark.”

Witnessing double digit growth in India, global hospitality players are now bullish on expansion to tap the utmost potential of this market

The dynamics of the Indian hospitality industry has seen a major metamorphosis in the last decade. Today, the nation has some of the best international hotel chains, who are now further eyeing to tap the potential to its fullest. According to a report by HVS, India is growing consistently since 1995/96 from just 120 hotels with about 18,000 branded or organised rooms to a record 887 hotels with a room count of 113,622 in 2015/16.

Most of the major hospitality players present in India have witnessed a healthy growth in terms of occupancy. On a nationwide basis, new branded and/or organised supply grew by 9.9 per cent last year. Demand outpaced it considerably to increase by almost 16.4 per cent in the same period. The resultant market wide occupancy of 63.4 per cent in 2015/16 was thus a healthy six per cent higher than the preceding year. When broken down by positioning, the improved occupancies are evident across all star categories. Overall, this is the third consecutive year of occupancy growth.

However, the pipeline for proposed supply totalled 114,466 rooms back in 2007/08 – the highest in a decade, whereas in 2015/16 it contracted significantly to 56,912 rooms.

One of the major growth stories for the hospitality chains are the Tier II and III cities in India. The ever-changing demographics of these smaller cities are making a huge difference for the hotel chains. Today most of the bigger chains have their footprint in these smaller cities.

Over the next five years, Noida (194 per cent) and Kolkata (119 per cent) are anticipated to have the highest increase in future supply among the 13 major cities tracked by HVS. “Other cities” too may have a robust 87 per cent growth in supply during this period. However, that the absolute number of proposed rooms is higher in Bengaluru and Mumbai owing to them being larger hotel markets. That being said, the highest percentages of supply actively under development are in Chennai (100 per cent), followed by New Delhi (92 per cent) and Goa (90 per cent).

 

Current scenario

2016 has emerged as a good year for the Indian hospitality. India has been a growth story for most of the chains in terms of high demand and occupancy. Also a lot of new brands have forayed into India market. But on the contrary, last year there has been an insignificant or marginal growth in terms of ARRs.

Speaking about the India market, Christopher J Nassetta, President and CEO, Hilton said, “We have 16 hotels in India currently and some more in pipeline. India is a great market for us; we see tremendous growth potential here. India is also very important as a source market for Hilton.”

In the last couple of years, RevPars have grown in the India market. Also the share of domestic travellers to the hotels has seen a significant rise and is still booming. Vikram Oberoi, Managing Director and CEO, The Oberoi Group said, “The Prime Minister of India believes in tourism as a key pillar of our economy. Tourism segment creates tremendous employment which is the need of the hour. I am optimistic and think that there is immense potential in India. The domestic travel has been increasing very rapidly. In 1997, we had occupancy of eight per cent from the domestic market for the Mumbai property. Today over 40 per cent of our guests are domestic travellers. Indian guests understand the meaning luxury travel. They seek value and experience and have a lot of expectations.”

Speaking about the Indian market Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer - India and South Asia, AccorHotels said, “2016 has been a good year globally and also in India market. Globally for us the occupancy has been above 63 per cent which was a very good sign. We were higher than the average. It was good in terms of growth and occupancy and marginally good in terms of ARR increase. In 2017 our focus will definitely be to grow the ARRs, because the ARRs for many reasons have not been growing in the last three to four years. Now that the occupancy is back the market is strong enough and the market is now ready to absorb an increase in the ARR.”

Voicing similar opinion Ramesh Daryanani, Vice President, Global Sales - Asia Pacific (excluding Greater China), Marriott International said, “We have seen double digit growth when it comes to RevPar in India market. So it is a very important market for us. It’s the second most after china. We see tremendous potential in this market both in terms of expansion and also as a source market. Indians travel globally, a lot of our hotels rely on Indians as the spending power of the middle class has increased. Even the five per cent of the luxury travellers continue to travel and want more new experiences; we are striving to cater to this segment.”

While international hospitality players are always striving to introduce newer brands in the India market to target more segments of travellers, The Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) has recently restructured its brand architecture and has discontinued brands like The Gateway Hotels and Resorts and Vivanta by Taj. Now the group has one single brand Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris. Speaking about the strategy Rakesh Sarna, Managing Director and CEO, Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris said, “Internally we spoke to our owners, guests, stakeholders about this brand restructure and there was a common decision taken. This will help us give a better experience to our guests. We wanted to keep it simple. We strongly believe in the future of the Indian market. Our focus is to grow responsibly. And India will always remain our main focus market. We are also looking at markets like South East Asia and GCC.”

 

Mergers & Acquisitions

In the recent years, one of the routes taken by the hospitality industry for growth has definitely been the mergers & acquisitions. One of the most talked about acquisition, ‘Marriott acquiring Starwood’ has potentially made Marriott the largest hospitality chain globally. Even the AccorHotels acquiring FRHI has been a significant one. With these developments, a lot of big players in the industry are eyeing acquisition rather than organic growth. Interestingly, a lot of these players are eying the regional chains to grow in particular regions. One of the classic examples is the acquisition of Sarovar Hotels by Louvre Hotels Group, which has given them a major boost in the Indian market.

Manav Thadani, Chairman, HVS Asia Pacific said, “We expect this trend to continue. HVS was very proud to be part of one of the biggest transactions to have taken place earlier this year with Louvre Hotels acquiring Sarovar. We hope to be involved in a few more and are working with some parties on this. I think 2017 will see another 7-8 hotels change hands.”

Marriott is now further eyeing more regional expansions by acquiring smaller chains. Daryanani said, “In terms of launching new brands or acquisition is always on our cards. Considering our dynamic CEO, there is no surprise that we will be looking at more acquisitions. But as of now there is nothing concrete we are making sure to create distinction and smooth integration.”

Speaking about the FRHI acquisition and impact on India Cassé said, “We are delighted to have the Fairmont Jaipur and Swissôtel Kolkata in our network, adding 346 rooms to our portfolio in India and strengthening our position in the luxury and upscale sector. The addition of these brands will enable us to expand more quickly in India by providing a more diverse portfolio of brands. At this point in time there is no plan to change the management and brand of these hotels and for our guests it will continue to be business as usual. The full integration of our newest brands will take some time and our first priorities will be to see where we can add value for our guests, our partners, owners and other stakeholders.”

Speaking about the impact of the Marriott- Starwood acquisition, industry leaders have mixed opinion. Oberoi said, “The merger is quite significant in the hospitality industry. But I don’t think it will affect us. Our priority focus is our guests and their experience. It’s still too early to speak about the effects of the merger.”

Voicing similar opinion Nassetta said, “We are very happy with the portfolio we have. Our larger strategy is to grow organically. Also we are very customer centric and we don’t focus much on what the other players are doing. Time will tell the effect of this merger.”

Some of the hospitality tycoons believe that the merger has made no difference as the inventory remains the same only the name has changed. Mark Hoplamazian, President and CEO, Hyatt Hotels Corporation said, “If scale was the only thing that mattered, we wouldn’t have been in the industry. Growth size doesn’t dictate success. With the merger, they are bigger now, but there won’t be any impact as the numbers have not increased the hotels is still the same. Fundamentally we don’t see any difference. If we are smaller as a group, the focus is extensive on growth of our brands.”

 

Prospective development

In 2017, hospitality chains across India are eying to increase the ARRs. Last year there was no significant increase in terms of rates increase. Also, rapid expansions are on cards for most of the brands.

Speaking about the pipeline for India market Hoplamazian, “We have a long time presence in India. We have seen some phenomenal growth over the years in India market. Currently we have a strong pipeline for the India market. We recently introduced the Andaaz brand in India. It’s a very exciting launch for us. Globally we had a growth of over 10 per cent last year and India is one of our fastest growing markets.”

Speaking about the expansion Cassé said that in 2016 the group opened up 10 hotels. This year again they have a pipeline of another 10 hotels. He further said, “So from 8700 rooms today we would be crossing 10000 rooms by mid of this year. For the last few years we have been opening an average of eight hotels per year in the India market. We have set the pace now. We are now present in most of the key cities. Now what we are doing is not necessarily bring new brands but to densify the existing brands. Our priority will still be the Novotel and Ibis. This is our objective as of now. By end of the year, we plan to have a network of 45 hotels in the country and by 2020, we aim to reach the 80 hotels milestone.”

The Oberoi group plans to grow its Trident brand in the India market in the coming years. Oberoi said, “We strive hard to provide exceptional experiences. India is a very interesting market. This market has immense potential. As of now we want to grow the Trident brand in India.”

Marriott group currently operates around 86 hotels in India and is looking to increase its portfolio in this market. The group is focusing to open up hotels in the Tier II and III cities as these are high potential markets. According to Daryanani, “Tier II and Tier III markets have massive potential; we have major expansion plans to these cities. We are opening up a hotel in Belgaum, Fairfield in Coimbatore and Amritsar this year. There will be a key expansion by Marriott in secondary and tertiary cities in India. For Asia Pacific we are opening close to 100 hotels this year. In the India market currently we have 86 hotels and have a strong pipeline of 80 hotels under development and construction.”

Overall this year there will be launch of some new brands in the Indian market. Singapore based GMH Group has announced the entry of The Chedi hotel in India. Also, recently G6 Hospitality has partnered with Auromatrix Holdings to introduce Motel 6, Studio 6 and Hotel 6 brands to India.

 

Alternate accommodations

In the last couple of years, a lot of travellers have shifted loyalties from hotel to other alternatives. The concept of alternate accommodations has now picked up in India. Some of the start-ups have disrupted the Indian hospitality space and are doing well in the market.

OYO has today grown as one of India’s largest branded network of hotels with over 7,000 hotels and 70,000 rooms in more than 200 Indian cities. The start-up has seen some substantial growth in the Indian market with over five million check-ins since inception. The group has inventory in all major metros, regional hubs, leisure destinations as well as pilgrimage towns. With over 22,000 listings in India, Airbnb has also got a fair share of the market. Globally, Airbnb provides access to millions of unique accommodations from apartments and villas to castles and treehouses in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries.In India the company is largely catering to foreign and leisure travellers who are looking for local Indian experience.

Both these brands are a direct competition to the hospitality players, especially the economy and the budget brands.

Encouraged by the double digit growth in Indian cruise travellers, Cruiselines are being compelled to make India its Port of Call

Today, India has emerged as a booming market for every destination and every product across the globe. The market which was seen as an emerging market a decade ago, has grown substantially, to an extent that today India if not the number one market, ranks in the top source markets for many countries. And, cruising is one segment which has also tasted some success in this market. A decade ago cruising was for the wealthy, seniors and for the newly married couples. Today, it is attracting all sorts of travellers from India.

Various reports suggest that Asia continues to see rapid growth in deployment and cruise capacity. In 2016, 31 cruise brands were active in Asian waters, deploying a total of 60 ships of which 14 were year -round and another 12 operate for 5 or more months. However, the statistics does not look bright for India. The longer term growth trend reveals India had relatively flat CAGR from 2013 to 2016 at only 2.6 per cent compared to 12.8 per cent in South Asia as a whole, according to CLIA.

According to a recent report by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), cruising from Singapore is steadily becoming one of the key activities Indian travellers consider when planning their holiday itinerary. In 2016, Singapore reported 1.2 million cruise passengers with a double digit growth of 16 per cent as compared to 2015, out of which 100,000 were from India, an increase of 29 per cent over 2015 figures.

This shows that Indians are adapting gradually to cruising segment. Internet has played a major role in educating the consumers. On the other hand, cruise companies and the tourism boards are sharing the knowledge with the travel agent fraternity. Cruise operators from across the globe are now eying this market. Right from river cruising to luxury or expedition cruises, every company is trying to get its chunk of pie from the Indian market.

 

Current scenario

Currently, Asia is emerging as the next biggest hub for the cruiseliners. Ports like Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Dubai, and the South East Asian ports have become major hubs. Presently, around 15-16 cruiseliners have deployed or are travelling on Asian itineraries. Each of these cruiseliner is looking to include India as a part of its itinerary. Ports like Kochi, Mangalore, and Mumbai are becoming important for cruises, as these destinations not only help as an entry point for the Indian travellers, but are also popular for shore excursions.

Speaking about the India market, Nalini Gupta, Managing Director, Lotus Destinations (GSA of Costa Cruises India) says, “Business is here in India. It's still a nascent market and need to be developed further. We have a lot of travellers from tier I and also tier II and III cities. South East Asia is a very favourable destination as homeport for the Indian travellers. Cruising is not a seasonal business anymore. MICE and events happen throughout the year.”

There has been a lot of demand for the cruise products from the Indian market. Also now India is in a stage where there is also a high number of repeat clientele who have earlier experienced cruising, which is known to be a value for money product.

Naresh Rawal, Vice President-Sales, Star Cruises said, “India is not really a first time market. In last couple of years, there have been a lot of repeat cruise travellers. People are well versed with the cruising segment and people know about all the products. There is a rising demand for the luxury and the expedition cruising from the India market.”

Some of the most popular cruise companies like Royal Caribbean have been catering to the India market since the inception of cruising business in India. Royal Caribbean has also witnessed that India is the market which need to be looked upon seriously to exploit its utmost potential. “We had a great year in 2016 both in terms of volumes and revenue as we embraced new markets and catered to the people who have high aspiration in lives. As we all know that the cruise business is cyclical, we hope for a promising 2017. We have our ambitious plans to expand in Asia in the coming year. At the same time, we are aware of there will be more and more challenges as we expand in the newer market, but we are sure that expansion in Asia is surly going to boost our business,” Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN stated.

Currently, India as a market is in the experimental mode. Indians are trying fly cruises from the close by destinations, but again there is a segment that is well versed with cruising and is looking to go beyond. Angelo Capurro, Executive Commercial Director, MSC Cruises said that, “Mediterranean and West Mediterranean out of Barcelona and North Europe is the most popular route for the Indian travellers. We are growing a lot from the Dubai market. Indian passengers are the number one market for Dubai and we are seeing growth for cruising from Dubai.”

For the luxury segment India is still in its nascent stage, but cruiseliners are deploying Asian itineraries to target India. Edie Rodriguez, President and CEO, Crystal Cruises said, “Currently, Indian numbers is small, but is growing rapidly. Indian clients are embracing what Crystal wants to offer and Indians are coming with us for river cruising, yacht expeditions. We are an all inclusive brand experience. Every year we go to Asia. We will settle in new ports in Asia. As of now we have a variety of itineraries in Asia, starting from Hong Kong and Singapore. We also come over to India and Sri Lanka. We have our voyages from 5 nights to 128 nights.”

 

India calling

With cruises witnessing a double digit growth from India year on year, there has been a lot of demand to introduce cruising from India. The Government has also started looking at cruising as a major revenue generator. Recently, the Government invested Rs. 200 crores to develop infrastructure at Mumbai Port. Last year, Genting Dream, the inaugural ship of Dream Cruises entered the Indian waters for the first time on its relocation voyage. In its maiden voyage from Mumbai port, the cruise welcomed 1900 guests from India.

During the inauguration of this very first voyage, Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis had said that cruise tourism was the only missing link in Mumbai. With the sailing of Dream Cruises from Mumbai, this city will become the gateway for cruise tourism in India. “We will create all necessary infrastructure required for cruising and we also extend our invitation to all the cruise liners. We will develop a cruise terminal in Mumbai Port under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme. Our major aim is to develop the entire coastline of Maharashtra,” he said.

Voicing similar opinion, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister of Shipping and Road Transport, said, “Cruise tourism has a lot of potential in India, earlier it was neglected. Now, we will look to create a passenger terminal in all the major ports in India.”
Genting has witnessed a double digit growth from India last year as a source market. In 2015-16, Genting witnessed a growth of 36 per cent in the number of Indian passengers. Genting is also looking seriously to schedule more sailings from the Mumbai port in near future.

Also, Costa Cruises considered India as a hub for its schedule of 14 sailings from Mumbai. For the first time, Indians embarked on a cruiseliner from Mumbai and travelled to destinations within India such as Goa and Cochin and also to Maldives and Colombo. Costa had deployed its Costa neoClassica vessel which performed a series of weekly sailings from Dec 16, 2016 – March 18, 2017.

Speaking about the success, Gupta said, “The nearer the port, the more is the demand. We had introduced sailings from Mumbai, which has been extremely successful. We didn't even have to market the Mumbai sailings, and it was sold out. We need to have agents believe in the products, awareness is the key. Now, Government of India has actively started looking at the cruise segment, they have started working to develop India as a cruising destination.”

With these two cruises as inspiration, other cruiseliners are now working out their economics to homeport in Mumbai. Some of the cruises are looking to increase the numbers and then deploy a vessel in India, whereas some are just waiting to see the success rate of India as a cruising hub.

Speaking about plans to introduce cruises from India, Chadha stated, “The government is diligently working at this and is serious to make cruise tourism their business. All barriers are being removed to achieve this objective and I have no doubt, India will become a major cruise hub sooner than later. Further, India has a strategic geographical advantage and we need to exploit this position to the fullest. The fact that there are more ship visits now, proves the point that the environment has changed to attract more cruise lines to Indian shores.”

Angelo Capurro, Executive Commercial Director, MSC Cruises added, “We need to find the right balance and interesting itinerary. In the coming two years, we will try to achieve targets and get a lot of Indian travellers in our ship. What is important is to get the right deployment and easy accessibility for the European market. That can sustain the occupancy of the ship. We are running really high in terms of occupancy. If all things work out, we will surely look at India as a homeport.”

 

Changing profile

According to a recent consumer survey conducted, in Mumbai, 34 per cent of young Indian families are willing to spend Rs 1, 00,000–2, 00,000 on a cruise holiday. Majorly considered as a vacation avenue for the senior and married couples, cruising is now going through a metamorphosis and witnessing interesting trends. According to a new trend, cruising segment is witnessing a lot of the millennial travellers. Also, cruiseliners are now branding themselves as family destinations to attract multigenerational travellers.

Rawal said, “Cruising is not only for the FIT segment. There is a lot of growth in the special interest group segment. People are coming for conferences, MICE, incentive groups, etc. We have also seen a growth in the single women travellers segment. Celebrations and occasions are a major part of the business. Even when it comes to the wedding segment, cruise is one of the most cost effective mean. There is minimal cost on the infrastructure development for events.”

Some of the newest entrants in the Indian market are eyeing the segments that are looking at luxury, all inclusive cruising. Crystal Cruises, which is one of the cruises catering to the luxury segment, is looking focusing to tap millennial and family market. Edie Rodriguez, President and CEO, Crystal Cruises said, “The target clients are varied. It is for someone who can afford a luxury holiday. It is for someone we have a mix of millennial, multigenerational travellers going with family, couples. We really play to a varied audience.”

Chadha said that, “We have observed that the Indian travellers have turned extremely modern and experimental. They want to seek experiences that are novel and exciting. We are regularly receiving queries for immersive destination excursions, the onboard entertainment options and unparalleled levels of indulgence at sea.”

Echoing similar opinion William Harber, President, China & Asia Pacific, Hurtigruten said, “We see a lot of interest in demand from groups and families that want to experience something unique and special, something that is life-changing and something that not many people have done. It is a very popular cruise in India, both, for coastal Norway as well as for our exploration product. What we want to do is to make sure that we are tapping the growing demand and we are making our brand well known in India than it is now.”

 

Opulent demand

Internet and technology has played a major role on how we travel. Today, the consumer segment is well read and aware of various products. Earlier, tour operators used to push products in the market, where as now the travellers demand for products which the tour operator may not be even aware of.

Rodriguez said, “I think India is certainly getting wealthier, and there is power for luxury holiday. We are very excited to cater to the India market. We have a mix of Ocean cruise, river cruise and yacht expeditions, all these tours are selling in Indian market. This year we are departing the 32 nights North West passage experience. Even there will be an interest for this itinerary from India market.”

This year, Azamara Journey, one of the luxury cruise line is visiting Indian shores on 9th April sailing to Kochi, Goa and Mumbai. Also, Celebrity Constellation, a premium cruise line is sailing to India on 2nd April visiting Kochi, Goa and Mumbai.

Indian travellers are inquisitive to travel to newer unexplored destinations. Indians are now looking to travel to destinations like the North and South Poles. “There are two things driving growth in India. When we look at a market, we look at the addressable market, that is, the number of people in a given market that can afford to go on these types of holidays. And that number is of course growing very rapidly in India. Besides, there is also a growth in the awareness of cruising overall and the real interest in adventure travel. Hertigruten is attracting not only cruisers that want to take their cruise vacations to the next level, to the ends of the earth, but we are also attracting adventure travellers that perhaps have been already to other destinations and they need a base camp for the North and South Poles,” Harber added.

To sum up, cruiseliners are now compelled to look at the India market more seriously. Overall, cruising as a segment just scratched the tip of the iceberg in India, with only a per cent of the total outbound travellers from India. Luxury and expedition is witnessing some serious queries from this market. The positive still remains that the Government is looking seriously to create cruise infrastructure in the country, with Mumbai as a world class port, this only indicates that more and more cruise travellers can embark from India, which will be a game changing scenario in the cruising segment of Asia.

Indonesia Tourism has witnessed a growth of 21 per cent from the India market in 2016. From January to May 2017, the destination has already welcomed around 200,000 travellers from India. With this growth, India has now become the sixth largest source market displacing South Korea.

Speaking about the new development, Vinsensius Jemadu, Director for Asia Pacific Tourism Promotions, Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia said, “India with the rise in aspiring middle class traveller and robust economic growth has become a potential contributor to the inbound tourism to Indonesia and in particular to Bali. Indonesia recorded a 21 per cent increase in Indian arrivals and during January to June this year we have received around 200,000 Indian tourists making it the sixth largest source market. In Bali, the total number of India arrivals has increased over 35 per cent every year in the past six years. We are hopeful Indians will equally value Badung as their preferred destination in Indonesia.”

Badung Tourism promotion Board partnered with Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia to organise India sales mission. The Total number of arrivals from India to Bali has increased over 35 per cent and Badung Tourism contributes to 65 per cent of Bali total tourism income. Badung Tourism Promotion Board has appointed Dhiraj, MD, Air Guru Travel Solutions as the Honorary Representation of Badung Tourism Promotion Board in India.

Speaking about India market Saut Siringoringo, Consul-General of the Republic of Indonesia, Mumbai said, “We are showcasing Indonesia in five cities in India; India is a very strategic source market for us. We will be now promoting 10 new destinations in India apart from Bali. We are also now improving the tourism infrastructure in the nation to attract more footfalls.”

Rai Suryawijaya, Chairman of Badung Tourism Promotion Board said, “The appointment of Dhiraj as Honorary Representative of Badung Tourism Promotion Board is a serious effort of BPPD Badung to promote Badung tourism to the Indian market in accordance to the significant growth of the visitor from India.”

Speaking about the strategies for the coming years, Jemadu said, “We have three main pillars for promotions. First is digital, we are very aggressive on digital platforms. We have tapped the entire online and offline media in China which has proven successful for us. We will replicate similar model in India as well. Next, we are now aggressively looking to develop home stays in Indonesia. In India, we are in process to tie-up with MakeMyTrip and also other agents. We are in discussion to partner with Airbnb to promote the home stays.”

Indonesia is also looking at increasing the air connectivity. “We have already connected India and Indonesia with Air Garuda and AirAsia in India. Last week, we have inaugurated Batik Air flight to Chennai. We will soon introduce another flight from Medan to Chennai.”

Indonesia and Badung Tourism are also looking to establish a training programme for travel agents in India. The destination is in discussion with Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) to extend support to introduce a model in India. “One of the weaknesses which we have seen is that we haven’t worked on any educational model for the Indian travel trade. There is a huge potential in India but maybe agents don’t know how to sell our products. This year by November we will introduce some online and offline models to educate the travel agents in India. We are already in discussions for this.”

Sampat Damani, Chairman-Western Region, TAAI said, “TAAI has always made efforts to partner with destinations. Today we are partnering with Badung tourism to educate our members about the destination, so that they can sell the products more efficiently.”

In a recent effort to increase visitor footfalls from India, Fiji organised a six city roadshow in India. The roadshow kicked off in Mumbai and continued in Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Chennai and concluded in Benglauru. In the first half of 2017, the destination has witnessed a 28 per cent growth in visitor footfall from India.

Speaking about the growth, Matthew Stoeckel, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Fiji said, “For the last five years, we have grown by 20 per cent YoY for visitor arrivals into Fiji. This year the growth rate has accelerated to 28 per cent. We are very optimistic with this growth rates to further increase with improved access with twice weekly Fiji Airways service from Singapore to Nadi and the codehshare with Jet Airways reaching to three cities in India; Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai.”

The destination is now witnessing a lot of new developments in terms of infrastructure. Also a lot of the luxury hospitality chains are now looking to open up properties in Fiji. This year Six Senses is all set to debut in Fiji.

Speaking about the infrastructure development in the country Stoeckel said, “We have just completed US$126 mn modernisation of our Nadi International Airport and surrounding road infrastructure to it. Mobing around Fiji will be much easier now. This year we have also got a new resort the Marriott Fiji Momi Bay Resort with 250 rooms and its located just outside Nadi. We have Kokomo Private Resort and Six Senses Resort opening shortly in Fiji. We have got some luxury products.”

From India, certain trends has changed over the years, the travellers have evolved. Now, most of the Indian travellers prefer luxury products in Fiji. Also, the average length of stay from India has increase to five to six nights.

Vaijayanthi Kari, India Representative, Tourism Fiji said, “The Indian outbound travel segment has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years. The itinerary that is being preferred by travellers is one of the main changes we have seen. Indians visiting Fiji are choosing various outdoor and culture experiences in addition to experiencing water-based activities and spending their day at the beach in Fiji. We are also seeing a spike in luxury travel, making full use of the offerings of some of our premium properties.”

The major traditional source markets for Fiji are Australia which constitutes 45 per cent of travellers followed by New Zealand with 15 to 18 per cent and North America with eight to 10 per cent. These markets constitute around 75 per cent of the overall footfall. India is one of their fast emerging markets.

Speaking about the access and the MICE segment Stoeckel said, “Access has certainly improved; it wasn’t easier to get into Fiji. Now, one can get through Singapore or Hong Kong. But it’s still a one stop destination and there are no direct services. But Fiji can be a nice coupling with Singapore, people may bundle their trip along with Singapore. Fiji has some fantastic MICE infrastructure that are capitalised by our short haul markets. But as of now we are focused on the leisure market from India.”

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) welcomes the launch of new Turkish Airlines flights to Phuket in Southern Thailand. Phuket, one of the world’s best known beach destinations with a number of award-winning beaches voted for by tourists, will host the airline’s four direct flights per week from Istanbul.

Pataraporn Sithivanich, Executive Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle East Region, TAT said, "This new Istanbul-Phuket service is part of the collaboration between TAT and Turkish Airlines to meet the growing demand for travel to Thailand from holiday-makers from Turkey, Europe and Latin America. In addition, 2018 marks 60 years of Thai-Turkish relations, and TAT is planning to organise cultural and tourism activities in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Thailand."

Turkish Airlines inaugurated its Istanbul-Phuket route recently with the first flight carrying 210 passengers, including 20 members of the media from Turkey. The journalists and writers also got the chance to visit important attractions in Phuket and nearby provinces, including Phuket Old Town, Wat Chalong, Siam Niramit Phuket and James Bond Island.

The airline plans to increase the frequency of the Istanbul-Phuket route from four times per week to a daily flight in the upcoming winter season, to cater to the higher demand for Thailand. Phuket is Turkish Airlines’ 300th destination. The airline began a direct Istanbul-Bangkok service in 1989 and now operates 14 flights per week.

Pataraporn said, "Since 2012, Turkish nationals entering Thailand have been able to apply for a visa-on-arrival and this has led to many more people discovering Amazing Thailand. We know this new Turkish Airlines’ direct Istanbul-Phuket will ensure that more visitors enjoy the delights and unique culture of the southern region of Thailand."

Turkey is one of Thailand’s important merging tourist markets. In 2016, Thailand welcomed 74,568 visitors from Turkey, representing an increase of 17.97 per cent over 2015. This year, from January – May, there were 35,605 Turkish travellers to Thailand, up 2.66 per cent year-on-year.

The majority of Turkish travellers visit Thailand for a holiday, especially during November-January. Top Thai destinations among Turkish tourists are beaches and islands; such as, Pattaya and Phuket.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has announced its entry into luxury yachting and cruises – bringing the luxury hotel brand’s service to sea. Created by The Ritz-Carlton and maritime experts Douglas Prothero and Lars Clasen, in collaboration with funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management, The Ritz-Carlton will provide luxury hospitality service under a long-term operating agreement.

Named The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, this venture represents a unique foray into the cruise industry for a luxury hotel operator. The first of three lavish cruising yachts in this series is scheduled to take to sea in the fourth quarter of 2019, and distinguishes Marriott International as the only provider of luxury accommodations both on land and at sea.

Herve Humler, President, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company said, “The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will have a distinctive personality and the vessels are sure to be true stand outs in some of the most glamorous ports around the world. This unique combination of yachting and cruising will usher in a new way of luxury travel for guests seeking to discover the world in a relaxed, casually elegant and comfortable atmosphere with the highest level of personalised service.”

Itineraries are being developed with intent to combine the lifestyle of The Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts and the casual freedom of a yachting vacation. Calling at intimate and signature destinations alike, voyages will range from seven to ten days. The first ship will cruise a wide variety of destinations depending on the season, including the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Due to the intimate size of the vessel, the yacht will call at unique locations typically not accessible to large cruise ships, from Capri and Portofino to St. Barths and the old town of Cartagena.

With a relaxed pace, that includes both overnight and daytime ports of call, guests will be offered a uniquely curated destination experience. The specially designed small capacity vessel will measure 190-meters, accommodate up to 298 passengers, and feature 149 suites, each with its own private balcony.

 

The yacht will also feature two 138 square-meter lavish duplex penthouse suites, with modern craftsmanship and interior finishes jointly designed by The Ritz-Carlton and leading cruise ship design firm, Tillberg Design of Sweden.

Passengers on Etihad Airways flights out of Abu Dhabi to the United States will be able to use larger gadgets, such as laptops, during their journey. Regulations requiring passengers to put laptops and other gadgets in baggage in the hold were introduced in March.

“We welcome the decision by the US department of homeland security to lift the electronic devices ban on flights between Abu Dhabi and the United States, following the successful validation of security measures at the US preclearance facility at Abu Dhabi airport,” said a statement from the carrier.

“Effective immediately, the removal of the restrictions allows passengers flying to the US to carry all laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices onto the aircraft, subject to enhanced security measures. We would like to thank our guests for their understanding and loyalty while the ban was in place.”

All Etihad Airways guests travelling to the United States clear US immigration and customs at the US preclearance facility in Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the only one of its kind in the Middle East. When guests land in the US, they arrive as domestic passengers with no requirement to queue for immigration and custom checks again.

Affecting 180 airlines and 280 airports, it is anticipated that Etihad Airways is one of the first airlines to be able to satisfy the short-term measures required by the transportation security administration due to the superior security advantages provided by the preclearance facility.

Etihad Airways currently operates 45 flights a week between Abu Dhabi and six cities across the United States – including double daily to New York, daily to Washington, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, and three-times-per-week to San Francisco.

 

The US is one of Etihad Airways’ largest markets, with 203,515 passengers flying to the US from Abu Dhabi between January and April this year. This was up by 13,157 passengers for the same period in 2016.

Air Canada has launched non-stop flights between Toronto and Mumbai. The four-times weekly service will be operated year-round with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The aircraft features 30 International Business Class lie-flat suites, 21 Premium Economy and 247 Economy Class seats, with in-flight entertainment at every seat throughout the aircraft.

Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada said, “Air Canada is always excited to launch a new route and this is particularly gratifying given Mumbai is India's largest city and regarded as its financial, commercial and entertainment capital. This flight is the third route we have started to India in less than two years, demonstrating our commitment to this vibrant market as well to our continuing international expansion strategy. This is the only non-stop service between Canada and Mumbai and positions Air Canada as offering the best coverage of any carrier operating between Canada and India.”

With the new Toronto-Mumbai route, Air Canada now offers three Boeing 787 Dreamliner routes between Canada and India, including year-round daily Toronto-Delhi service and seasonal Vancouver-Delhi service, which resumes in October and will be expanded to up to five times weekly this winter from three-times weekly last winter.

 

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