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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

With a strong pipeline of inventory in the country, Lemon Tree Hotels is set to hit 8,800 rooms milestone by 2021. The Group recently debuted into Mumbai with the launch of the 303 room hotel - Lemon Tree Premier-Mumbai International Airport. This is the second city in Maharashtra, after Pune, with a Lemon Tree Premier and the third city in Maharashtra, after Aurangabad and Pune where the group operates.

“Currently, we are operating 5,525 rooms with 56 operational hotels and another 3,275 rooms with 31 properties are in the pipeline. By 2021, we will have 8,800 rooms with 88 hotels, which mean we will have close to 14 per cent rooms in India,” Patanjali Keswani, Chairman & Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels said and added that the Group is looking to try and consolidate the fragmented segment of hospitality in India. He opined that the opening of hotel in Mumbai is a very strategic move for as it is the financial capital. “Also, this is our first refreshed Lemon Tree Hotel. It took a long time for us to enter Mumbai, as it took time for approvals. Mumbai is a very difficult market to get approvals. It is a deliberately complex process here,” he added.

The Group has 1697 operational rooms with 12 hotels under the Lemon Tree Premier brand and 1684 rooms are in the pipeline with 11 hotels.

The Lemon Tree Premier brand will be their fastest growing brand. “Lemon Tree Premier will be our fastest growing brand, followed by Lemon Tree and Aurika. As of now, we don’t have any international aspirations, but Carnation has signed a few hotels - one each in Dubai and Kathmandu. We are open to go where our customers go, we feel that then we have the ability to make them stay in our hotels. Broadly, Indians go to New York, London, Dubai, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Therefore, wherever we have an opportunity to partner with an asset owner we will consider it.”

The group is set to enter the upscale segment with the introduction of Aurika brand. Currently, the group is slated to open an Aurika in Udaipur and second property in Mumbai.

Detailing about the Aurika, Keswani said, “As a product Aurika will be in the upscale segment with world class service. We have spoken to a few managed hotels for the Aurika brand. But, what we feel is before we go for a pipeline of this brand; we will open the Udaipur property and let people see what we do. This will help us convince a lot of owners about this brand. Next, we will have an Aurika property in Mumbai.”

The group is welcoming over 90 per cent of its guests from the domestic market. Over two million domestic travellers stay at Lemon Tree properties across India. “Over 90 per cent of our customers are from the domestic market. We are much focused that we want to serve the needs of the Indian middle-class, upper Middle-class travellers. The 10 per cent of travellers are from the international market -around a lakh or two lakh, these travellers typically are not looking for five stars,” Keswani said. 

SATTE, South Asia's leading travel show, successfully concluded its roadshows in Ahmedabad, Pune and Surat to create awareness amongst buyers for SATTE 2020. Further, the group is set to organise its roadshow in Indore on August 9. The Indore roadshow is expected to be attended by over 100 travel trade professionals. During the roadshow, Representative of SATTE will explain the benefit it brings for India tourism.

The idea is to promote the recently rolled out SATTE 2020 Buyer programme. The Buyer Programme for SATTE 2020 has been designed in a way that enhances delegates’ business networking opportunities by leaps and bounds. Buyers can interact with the highest number of exhibitors at SATTE 2020.

SATTE 2020 will be held at the state-of-the-art, India Expo Centre, Greater Noida from January 08-10, 2020 and will be spread over 25,000 sq mt.

The Self Drive segment is relatively at the nascent stage in India market. Today, as travellers are looking out for more personalised experiences, this US$35 million segment is set to grow substantially in the next couple of years. Earlier, this segment was majorly dominated by the unorganised self-drive car rental space, which is now changing.

Speaking about the evolution of self drive in India, Aditya Loomba, Jt Managing Director, Eco Rent A Car-EuropCar said, “Self-drive cars, a decade back, could be seen mostly in Goa. Back then, one would contact multiple local car rental providers for the best possible prices. Today, the self-drive industry is emerging rapidly in India. From a US$35 million market today, we expect it to grow to north of US$300 million within the next two years. Being a developing country with infrastructural issues, most of the metro and tier 1 cities in India are still facing issues of traffic congestions and inadequate parking spaces. This has compelled the millennials getting attracted to this idea of car rentals, disregarding the conservative Indian households’ preference of car ownership. Moreover, since a major part of this segment keeps relocating frequently for jobs, the idea of investing in a car does not appeal to them most of the times.”

Internationally, the most popular self drive markets for India are Europe, Thailand, Dubai and Bali. Majority of the Indian outbound travellers prefer the chauffeur driven cars. Now with Self Drive, which provides more flexibility, travellers are looking at this alternative.

“The chauffeur-driven vehicle trend has changed over the years as travelling has evolved from being a family activity to something, which can be done with friends and, in recent times, even solo. Exploring places and freedom to choose where and how to go for Indians has impacted the large chunk of the market. However, chauffeur-driven and self-driven vehicles still have a different set of user’s altogether,” he added.

Eco Rent A Car has invested a lot into technology to enhance the experience of the travellers as well as from the safety aspect. “The foundation of Eco Rent A Car’s innovative services lies on the deployment of its innovative and ground-breaking technology in booking, tracking and paying for the car services. We are using special devices like GPS and OBD (onboard diagnostics) devices to ensure seamless user experience. To be precise, every vehicle has an onboard computer which compiles ample data such as distance travelled, speed, fuel consumption etc. in real time. All this data is captured by the device, decrypted by the software and presented in a comprehensible form to the end user,” he added.

To further establish the self drive segment in India has a few hurdles to be cleared. One of the major challenges is the intrastate border taxes which have to be simplified or relaxed. “For the India market, the greatest challenge is interstate border taxes, which the passenger has to pay whenever they cross any state border in India. Not only is it expensive, but it is also inconvenient for the travellers,” he added.

JB Singh, President and CEO, InterGlobe Hotels speak about the growth and opportunities in the country and challenges which needs to be addressed for growth.

 

With a specific focus to build the Ibis brand in India, IGH currently operates 18 properties and has a pipeline of six more hotels.

How has the joint venture between InterGlobe Hotels and Accor fared over the years?

The partnership between IGH and Accor is currently the most successful joint venture running in the country. We have got multiple relationships with them and we remain committed. Now, we want to build more scale and to get even more efficient and disciplined. We are also working on bringing customer centric products. We have done a bit of that in Kolkata, with a new design. Now, the several other hotels in the pipeline under various stages of development and construction; already six of them will all have the new generation designs. We look at cautious scale, locations and all our locations are AAA locations.

As InterGlobe, we have other relations with Accor apart from Ibis. We have SPVs for Novotel, Pullman for other partners. But as InterGlobe Hotels we would remain committed with developing Ibis in India as India needs this product. There is a market for all segments in India, but the nation needs very high quality brand which is smart and provides value to the growing middle class. We have one Novotel in the portfolio, reason being we got AAA site and the area was near our Ibis in Bangalore and we felt that the properties will complement with each other. We may continue to play with a few more Novotel’s but that only depends on the future and broadly we will look at Ibis.

Do you feel Mid Scale hotels will witness the major chunk of demand?

India is driven by the mid scale brands as there has been a deep void. Industry has not focused on this segment much in the past. So a lot of ground needs to be covered. The upcoming middle class needs high quality hotels and Ibis is a brand which brings it in a right value. Products like ours have set new benchmark in the industry such as safety, hygiene, technology, sleep quality, f&b, etc. Today, sustainability is very important to any business, brands and products. IGH is very efficient on how we manage our resources. We need to build efficiently as land is at paucity in our country. We are environment friendly and low on land consumption.

Do you see any expansion plans outside India, especially in the subcontinent region?

Our arrangement takes us to other countries as well, but right now just the way India is shaping up we dedicate a lot of time to look for opportunities in India. I can’t say we won’t do it but given the opportunity we shall surely launch in other countries.

After all the new policies coming in, how much time does it take to build a hotel in India? Also to reduce the time, will you look at Brownfield projects?

It takes four to seven years for hoteliers to build hotel in India. At IGH, we have perfected this art and we can build hotel less than two years. We maximum take three years with licensing and other procedures and put a 160-170 room hotel ready for operations. We want to do Brownfield projects as it’s faster for us, but we are very focused on brand integrity. We have let projects go as it did not fit into our standards. Secondly, compliances keep us away from Brownfield.

The industry has witnessed significant demand, yet there has been no upward trend in terms of ARRs?

When markets grow there is always a greater demand which grows occupancies and that in turn should bring in more revenue. We have invested a lot in the revenue management systems and the way we sell. Our capacities have grown by 31 per cent, our revenue is growing by 27-28 per cent, and we are tracking a very satisfactory growth. We should get a much better return, the industry needs some demand drivers and products should be sold at the right price. The industry needs convention facilities, sporting events, and other events that boost cities revenue. This year, we will see better ARRs, as the demand seems to have solidified. ARRs should track a high single digit growth if not a double digit. The hotel industry should be brave enough to push the rates. Today, it’s such a hugely overcapitalised industry and the industry is not making money. We are in a good position though.

How is the current pipeline looking for IGH? Which are the regions you are majorly focusing on?

We have a very solid pipeline. Today, we have 19 Ibis in the country and we have six under development. We are constantly looking for new opportunities across the nation. Hopefully, we will start another 2-3 projects this year. We look at our areas in various ways, firstly we look at densification. If we are in Mumbai, we want to put more properties in Mumbai itself in AAA location. We have some 19 cities we look at in our drawing board. But, currently we are focused on the cities where we are present. Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Goa they can take more Ibis properties. Out of the 19 places, a lot are Tier II & III locations.

Are the smaller cities performing well? Also, do you think the new Governmental schemes like UDAN and RCS are helping the industry grow?

A lot of the smaller cities are actually not performing well. Some of them do show acceptable numbers. We have come up with 19 cities to consider. A lot of things need to be done in these cities. Local Governments should boost development. Cities need to get decongested, they will happen for sure. But infrastructure takes time to be developed.

Currently what is the cost to build an Ibis in India?

On an average the way we build, including land building an Ibis in India takes INR 70 lakhs a key. If you want to take out the land, prior to GST we were averaging INR 34-35 lakhs a key, now it’s around INR 38 lakhs. We are very efficient; we are far lower than the industry. The industry at our style is around 30 per cent higher than us.

How has the implementation of GST impacted the industry?

Dynamics of the industry has changed to the negative side after implementation of GST. It has impacted the industry on two parts. It has impacted on the build side, now it will cost you 10 per cent more to build a hotel what used to cost us INR 34 lakhs, now costs INR 38 lakhs. We are not in the real estate business so we feel the pinch. Real Estate industry when they sell the property they get input credit. We can only create input credit on the movable items in the building which is a very small percentage. It has effected on the return of capital. On the operating side, GST is quite high on room. We are under the INR 7500 mark, so we are still better off, yet we are paying 18 per cent. Moreover, any major city has a city tax of 4-7 per cent. More importantly the consumption of these products is for the middle class who are the salaried class. We are trying to build efficiency; we have brought down the building cost by 30 per cent to be hit by a tax policy. The Government needs to look into this.

Maldives continues to ride the wave of growth with increasing number of Indian tourists each year. The island nation witnessed a tremendous growth of 96.4 per cent in tourist arrivals from India from January to May 2019 in comparison to the same period last year. Maldives hosted around 66,265 travellers from Asia's third largest economy till May of 2019.

Maldives, which is home to numerous beaches, coral reefs and nature reserves, has become increasingly popular among Indians with free tourist visa facility and good connectivity from most of the cities in India, including Delhi and Mumbai.

Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director, Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) said, “We are happy to witness the tremendous increase in arrivals from India this year. India is an extremely important market to us, showing potential for further growth as increased direct connections have made it easily accessible to travel to Maldives. We are working closely with the industry partners to promote Maldives as the ideal holiday destination among luxury travellers, while also promoting other segments such as local island tourism and liveaboards. We hope that our continued efforts to promote the destination will result in keeping a steady growth in arrivals from the market.”

Indian market holds 3rd place in terms of arrivals to the Maldives with a market share of 8.8 per cent till May 2019. Moreover, as India ranks within the top five, with great accessibility to the Maldives, Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) plans to further strengthen the market with additional activities throughout the year.

MMPRC is entering into partnerships with key tour operators and online tour agencies in India. Apart from this, it is looking forward to collaborate with Indian celebrities which are followed by a large number of travel takers in India. MMPRC is also working closely with the Indian travel trade, media and influencers to showcase various facets of Maldivian touristic offerings with aim to promote the destination to consumers directly.

MMPRC recently conducted “Journey to the Sunny Side” roadshow in India with promising success. The event took place in five cities – Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi and Chandigarh – over five days with a travel and tour operator turnout of over 100 in each city.

Between July 15 and September 15, 2019, tourists under the age of 18 years will qualify for visa fee exemption when travelling with their parent(s) on a tourist visa to Dubai. This UAE-wide initiative offers great savings for families looking to enjoy Dubai’s host of theme parks, water parks, retail and other world-class experiences.

The cost of a visa, as well as the cost of travel is often a key deciding factor for families while choosing their next holiday destination, and this initiative aims to encourage families to choose Dubai as their summer holiday destination, as they benefit from visa exemption. The visa exemption is applicable to all children under the age of 18 years, provided they are accompanied by one or both of their parents, who are travelling on a tourist visa. The parent’s visa may be either short or long stay. Available to tourists of all nationalities, the visa exemption must be applied for in advance via UAE National Carriers or licenced Travel Agencies. Indian passport holders with a US visa or UK/ EU residence visa can also apply online at www.ica.gov.ae

Major General Saeed Rakan Al Rashidi, Acting Director General for Foreigners’ Affairs and Ports at ICA said, “These facilities contribute to supporting UAE competitiveness as a leading destination in family tourism and attracting visitors and families from all over the world to enjoy historical monuments, heritage, and cultural and entertainment activities and fascinating beaches, as well as the world class hotel and tourist services, and sports, artistic and family events throughout the year.”

Dubai has a wide array of exciting and thrilling experiences to offer to a variety of audiences. Thanks to its numerous beaches, architectural marvels, epic attractions, capacious malls, and endless options for fine dining; it is the perfect destination for a family getaway. And now families can enjoy all Dubai has to offer for less with this visa fee exemption for children this summer.

Dream Cruises, a luxury cruise ship operated by Genting Cruise Lines which has gained popularity over the years in the Indian market, is now witnessing growth from the smaller cities. Indian travellers are now looking at alternate holiday segments.

Speaking about the Indian market, Naresh Rawal, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Genting Cruise lines said, “Up until June, the year has been very positive for Genting Cruise Lines across all our segments of cruises. Through the years, we have noticed that India as a cruising market has really matured and is now welcoming the idea of cruising as an alternate holiday destination. We have seen a steady growth of passengers from across Tier I & II cities patronising our services. While, Tier I markets always had a matured travel audience, it’s really motivating to see the acceptance we have received from Tier II markets.”

Cruises from Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, where Dream Cruises is home ported, are popular cruising destinations for India market due to its proximity. With lucrative visa offerings, enhanced connectivity from smaller markets, Hong Kong and Singapore attracts a significant chunk of these cruise travellers.

“The air connectivity to these cities from even Tier 2 markets have improved spells and bounds over the last couple of years. Hong Kong and Singapore are really hotbeds when it comes to Indian tourists due to their economical airfares, simplified visa process and amazing last mile connectivity from the airport to the cruising terminal. We have seen amazing response to our Singapore – Surabaya – North Bali itinerary on board Genting Dream and also have seen a rise in the number of travellers patronizing the Hong Kong – Miyakojima – Naha itinerary on board World Dream. This is not taking from the fact that all our itineraries due our unmatched hospitality and Indian centric service are very popular amongst the Indian audience,” Rawal revealed.

Genting is also witnessing a growth in demand for luxury products from India market. Travellers are now looking for premium cabins and exclusive experiences while cruising. Dream Cruises offers Dream Palace, which is a ‘Ship within a Ship’ concept. The world class butler service, access to exclusive dine in restaurants, priority booking at entertainment has witnessed many Indian takers.

Speaking about the demand, he further said, “The steep rise in the number of bookings we have seen in our Dream Palace offerings over the past couple of years, shows there is a demand for luxury. Indians have now understood the definition of luxury and are already aligned with the expectations when we say luxurious offerings. Indians are now the leading travellers across the world and have matured enough due to their travels to understand and appreciate our quality of services. With every travel of theirs to an international destination, Indians grow as travellers and are now asking highly informed questions when it comes to luxury cruising.”

Recently, Genting Cruise Line announced the launch of Explorer Dream. The new itineraries are now picking up in India market. “The recent launch of Explorer Dream is the introduction of our Australia and New Zealand itineraries. As a part of the winter sailings, Explorer Dream would be positioned in Sydney and Auckland while sailing to the picturesque ports of Dunedin, Wellington, Gisborne, Sunshine Coast and New Castle in these countries. Through Explorer Dream, we are looking at hosting the thrill seeking, adventurous and mature travellers from India to sail on an expedition of a lifetime with us. These destinations are now upcoming locations for the new age Indian traveller and this is what we would like to tap. Australia and New Zealand have always been on the to-do lists of DINKs (Double Income No Kids) travellers. Many of these travellers have been to these two countries; however what we would like to sell to them is the truly mesmerizing experience of witnessing these countries through a cruise ship sailing,” Rawal added.

Cygnett Hotels & Resorts, which operates over 35 hotels in India and two overseas, is eyeing South Asian markets for expansion. The group has witnessed significant growth in India market over the last couple of years.

Speaking about the expansion plans, Sarbendra Sarkar, Founder & MD, Cygnett Hotels & Resorts said, “Cygnett is on a steady growth trajectory and we are opening /signing hotels in double-digits every year. This year, we are planning to operate 35+ hotels in India and are planning to venture into the international waters as well. On India specific plans, we are enamoured by the untouched beauty of the Northeast and have a presence in two of the seven sisters of NE India. We will be opening two more hotels in that region this year. With the number of leisure travelers going up every year, we are looking to have a presence at leisure destinations such as Nainital, Jim Corbett, Ranthambore, Srinagar and more; we are also expanding our portfolio in the metro and urban cities. All these expansion measures will help grow our Cygnett Resort, Cygnett Park, and Cygnett Inn brands. On the international front, we are already operating in Nepal and we would be making forays into some territories in the South Asian countries.”

Being in the mid-market segment, the group is witnessing a healthy average occupancy of around 73 per cent. Sarkar feels 2019 to be a good year for the hospitality industry.

“The hotel industry experienced an inflection point in the year 2018 in many ways. Average rates grew by approximately 6.25 per cent in 2018, unlike in 2017 and 2016, where occupancy was the main driver of growth in RevPAR. We achieved an ARR of Rs 3000 with 73 per cent average occupancy and RevPAR around 2150. 2019 should be a positive year as there is a gap in demand and supply. The need for rooms is scaling the graph at a pace higher than the supply. Also, economic stability in the country would again be a favourable trigger for growth.”

He said that the percentage of contribution to the revenue from the MICE segment has grown. “Because of substantial presence of food aggregators, there have been some challenges in boosting the F&B as people are finding home deliveries more comfortable. Still, room occupancy has been the major contributor to the overall performance of the units,” he added.

The group is looking to tap markets where the branded hotel segment is still at a very nascent stage. “Most of our current operations are in tier II &tier III cities. This segment has been our strategic focus because these markets are devoid of branded chains and we intend to establish our brands and capture the target audiences’ mind space with our brands. Consequent to this, we are planning to capture more territories in the same. Smaller cities are experiencing a surge in travel and are attracting tourists because of various economic initiatives.  The main challenges are to deliver the same brand message across and meeting the expectations of the people,” he added.

National Tourism Organisation of Serbia has appointed Beautiful Planet Destination Marketing to expand its tourism activities in India. As part of the mandate, Beautiful Planet will be responsible for organising roadshows in Mumbai and Delhi and a group media familiarisation visit to Serbia.

In a move to promote border free tourism, the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the decision on visa exemption for Indian nationals in September 2017.

Marija Labovic, Acting Director, National Tourism Organisation of Serbia said, “Beautiful Planet has an excellent track record in destination representation. Outbound tourism from India is on a growth trajectory and we would like to be part of the growth story. Serbia has everything to offer the discerning travellers and we are geared up to cater to the needs and demands of the Indian market.”

Huzan Fraser and Beena Menon, Directors, Beautiful Planet Destination Marketing said, “We are absolutely delighted to be chosen as the India representative for the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia to market this new and exciting destination in the Balkans.  We would like to enhance the visibility and image of the destination using the culture, history and diversity, to uniquely position the same in the market.”

Some of the features that make Serbia an incredibly attractive tourism destination include: UNESCO World Heritage Sites; National Parks; Adventure Sports like white water rafting, free climbing, flying, orienteering; diverse Fauna; Nature Parks; Sports and Recreating Activities like hiking, bicycling, walking and hiking; Mountain Resorts and Spa & Health Resorts; Monasteries and Museums.

The Bahrain Tourism & Exhibitions Authority has officially announced the successful submersion of its 70-metre long decommissioned Boeing 747. The plane will become the centrepiece to the world’s largest underwater theme park, set to open in August. Located off the north coast of mainland Bahrain, 30 kilometres from the Amwaj islands, the underwater spectacle sits approximately 20 metres deep.

Now in its desired location, the plane will soon play host to an exceptional new diving experience and international attraction in Bahrain, fostering new coral growth and providing a safe haven for marine life. More items are set to be fabricated and submerged alongside the plane, including a 900-square metre traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house.

With a specialist team, required procedures and preparations were put in place, ensuring the project’s strict compliance with international environmental and safety standards. Such events included dismantling and reassembling the aircraft’s wings, removing wires, hydraulic, aerial and fuel systems, adhesive, plastic, rubber, chemical materials, and all possibly toxic substances to preserve the marine environment.

Fully decontaminated from toxic substances, every effort has been taken to limit the project’s environmental footprint and to ensure delivery in the most environmentally sound manner, working in favour of wildlife preservation and research into marine ecology.

Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani, Minister of industry, commerce and tourism and chairman of BTEA board said, “We are proud to launch this unique eco-friendly project in partnership with local diving companies, the Supreme Council for Environment and the private sector. The new theme park will undoubtedly emerge as a global tourist attraction. The world-class project covers an extensive area, and will provide an unforgettable experience for both tourists and diving enthusiasts alike.”

The near-to-complete project is in line with BTEA’s long-term tourism strategy, embodying the Kingdom’s wider vision to generate future opportunities for tourism and drive full economic growth by 2030.

 

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