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This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.
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Speaking at the inaugural function at the recently concluded 36th Annual IATO Convention at Gandhinagar in Gujarat, G Kamala Vardhana Rao, Director General (DG) – Tourism, Government of India, struck an optimistic note predicting a “roaring recovery” for India’s tourism sector in 2022. Rao said that the post-pandemic crisis that has engulfed the tourism sector is under constant vigil and the government is monitoring the situation closely for the first sign to start opening country’s travel and tourism sector and that “the intent is very clear.”
“Hon. Prime Minister has repeatedly been mentioning about the post-pandemic revival of tourism. He spoke about it when he inaugurated Somnath Temple earlier, and recently, when he was in Varanasi and also when he went to Kushinagar to inaugurate the international airport there. So, the intent of government, whether it is the Government of India as a whole or Ministry of Tourism, is very clear,” Rao said underscoring the seriousness that the government at the highest level is attributing to tourism’s recovery in the country.
“As far as this crisis (Recent surge in Omicron cases) is concerned, we are monitoring the situation daily with a view to opening country’s tourism sector. Only two days ago, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has said that our relaxation of international air travel purely depends on the infections from Omicron,” he further added.
“To reach out to you (tourism trade) and interact with you more on day-to-day basis we have already taken up outreach programmes. We have conducted meetings in the North-Eastern states, we have conducted meetings in Ladakh, we have conducted meetings in Kashmir, we have gone to Bengaluru to interact with all of you, all the tour operators there along with the Minister. So, participation in these meetings and discussion and deliberation with the stakeholders on a regular basis is happening to get feedback from all of you, so that we take steps to redress whatever grievances you may have,” he said.
Of course, there are certain pending issues and we are regularly meeting Finance Minister and officials from the Finance Ministry to come out with some kind of mechanism to find solution to the grievances.
Rao also highlighted some of the initiatives of the government that was aimed at providing succor to the tourism sector players. “As far as Ministry of Tourism’s response is concerned, the loan guarantee scheme was announced in 2020, and again in June 2021 another scheme was announced to help the tour operators which had loan guarantee of Rs. 10 lakh,” he said. He also informed about the sops for the tour guides who have been badly affected in the absence of international tourists. “We are waiting to introduce many schemes which Ministry will come forward with and explain later,” he informed.
On the positive side, the DG Tourism pointed that as far as domestic tourism is concerned it has really boomed after the Delta variant driven second wave of Covid-19 pandemic ebbed. “Domestic tourism has really picked up a lot. Everybody started visiting places which they had not visited earlier. Hotel rates were really high, whether in Rajasthan, Goa, Kerala. But people were still visiting,” he noted.
“Tourism is not one particular department but is an amalgamation of various departments, whether it is national highways or rural roads or other sectors, eventually also adds benefits to the tourism sector,” he mentioned. He also spoke about the four-laning of Char Dham that will go a long way in boosting tourism all along the road network. “So, any infrastructure happening in North-Eastern states or Ladakh or Kashmir or in the Southern part of the country, it will give impetus to tourism in those areas,” Rao said.
While concluding the DG said that the important takeaway from today’s event is “confidence and courage.” “These two things we should never lose. Let’s be strong. There are going to be wonderful days ahead. For domestic tourism, there was a big boom. It is gaining. For inbound tourism, we have, unfortunately, lost this season, but we will definitely try to come back stronger next year (2022). People are talking about road to recovery, we will have a roaring recovery in the tourism sector,” he said while ending his address on an optimistic note.
What probably started as a test initiative during the first lockdown in early 2020 has transformed into content-rich world class webinar series.
Mousumi Choudhury, an exciting young talent in ‘Chau Dance’, native to Purulia in West Bengal, has not only defied the conventional by pursuing a passion hitherto a male bastion, but has also helped popularize the folk-dance form that she is an ardent follower of. Choudhury has lent ‘Chau Dance’ a new lease of life and has inspired a generation of girls who have taken up to learning and mastering Chau in Purulia. Her efforts at Chau were recently showcased across India and the world through ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ webinar series being conducted by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. Today, Choudhury is travelling the world showcasing the beautiful dance form to a global audience.
The webinar series ‘Dekho Apna Desh’, started in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic that brought travel and tourism to a screeching halt in March 2020, has not only showcased the popular and known, be it destination, heritage, experiences, arts and crafts and dance forms, but is also bringing off-the-beaten track and lesser-known tourism destinations, products and experiences like ‘Chau dance’ to greater limelight and awareness. What was probably started as a short-term and a test initiative aimed at engaging and educating tourism industry and travellers alike, has, since its launch in April 2020, clocked over 113 webinars and is still going strong. On the other side, the webinar series is being viewed in over 60 countries, sometimes waking up ungodly hours, in different time zones, to catch up with the webinars live.
While introducing the initiative on the eve of the very first webinar conducted on April 14th, 2020 on ‘Delhi: City of Cities’, Add. Director General- Tourism, Govt. of India, Rupinder Brar, had said, “We shall be doing a series of them. In the lockdown days, the frequency will be a bit more. Later, depending on the kind of learnings that we get and inputs that all of you will keep giving us, we hope to make this even more interactive and make it more useful and interesting.” But today, there is little uncertainty about where the webinar series is headed.
Some 20 months later, while speaking at the 36th Annual IATO Convention at Gandhinagar in Gujarat, Brar echoed with great enthusiasm, “When we first spoke about this within the Ministry, there was a little reservation that because there isn’t much to do (Because of the lockdown) so maybe we can do 15-20 episodes. Today, to my heart’s delight that after doing 113 episodes, which is the current roll out, we are still going strong. And despite making all efforts and trying to accommodate as many people as possible who come forth to make their episodes, still have a lot of people complaining about not getting their turn. Its music to my ears when somebody says that they have been asking for their turn for six months and you are still not giving us the opportunity. That’s Incredible India!”
While recalling the germination of the idea that has successfully brought out to the forefront many of the lesser known and untold stories of Incredible India, the ADG said, “The moment the pandemic broke out and we were like thinking, now what to do? We can’t just sit back! The human nature is to bounce back when it is confronted with an adversity, whether in personal life or professional life. Initially you may be scared and stop but after that bouncing back and to survive is intrinsic to human nature. That is where the thought of putting the potential of digital technology to use and manage this beautiful concept and product which is Incredible India with unique content, came.” And thus, followed a very successful ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ webinar series where many still await their turn to showcase what they are passionate about.
A student of history and an avid traveler herself, Brar pointed that the webinar series evolved from ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ with a focus on domestic tourism to also create content that was appealing to the international market. “There is so much to Incredible India that we kind of all go missing sometime. It has left me humbled. ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ is today not only for us in India, but it is for everyone. We want to create global content.”
She also informed that keeping in mind the demands of the industry MoT is also working on subtitles and voice-over for the webinar contents to be available for difference markets and audiences.
Trulyy India Hotels & Resorts (TIHR), a hotel chain of mostly resort properties, is expanding its footprints in its key focus markets of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The company expects to add at least two properties this year and four to six properties in 2022, with hopes pinned at a portfolio size of 17-18 properties in kitty by next year. A major hospitality player in Rajasthan already, the company also boasts of presence in Gujarat and Uttarakhand.
“We are going to add few more properties over the next couple of years. In Gujarat, we are planning to come up with a property at Kevadiya, the site of world’s tallest, Statue of Liberty. We have already taken land there and are going to develop a boutique camp. Besides, the Gujarat Government has recently announced that they are going to develop the beach at Dwarka and we are focusing on that also. This way we will have a small circuit in Gujarat where people can travel all along. By the end of June, we should have another property up and running in Udaipur. It’s a 65 room boutique property in the city,” informed, Naresh Arora, Founder & CEO, TIHR.
According to Arora, “Our main feeder markets are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi NCR & Northern India, reason why we are particularly focusing on expanding and strengthening our presence in Gujarat and Rajasthan. First, we want to complete our circuits in Rajasthan and Gujarat and then look at other markets. That said, we are open for those markets where we see business potential from these source markets that we are strong in.”
TIHR is also eyeing the Goa market and is keen to establish its presence in India’s foremost seaside holiday destination. “Goa is one market where things are particularly heating up as far tourism business is concerned. I think it is at the top amongst all the tourism destinations in the country at the moment,” Arora said.
Although TIHR had a mix of inbound and domestic business, but was particularly strong in the domestic market. “Presently, domestic is the key and we are focusing on that. It is here to stay because inbound will still take some time, another year or so. But the domestic market is going to be the game-changer. Last few months have been very good for us,” he informed.
“The pandemic did disrupt us badly but we are now coming back to business. The uncertainties remains. There is nervousness because of this second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, but I am not expecting total lockdown like before. Although people are baffled at the moment because of the surge in Covid numbers and there are still confusion around pandemic and travel related rules and norms and tests. Some disruptions notwithstanding, things are coming back on track. I am optimistic about the future,” Arora added.
A growing hotel chain, Trully India Hotels & Resorts boasts of a portfolio of 10 properties spread across the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttarakhand. The hotel company has emerged a major player in Rajasthan’s hospitality landscape with as many as eight properties spread across leading destinations in the state such as Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Ranthambhor. Trully’s other two properties are located at Gir in Gujarat and Bhimtal in Uttarakhand.
Despite India being Nepal’s biggest tourism source market, there is little awareness amongst Indian outbound travellers about Nepal’s immense product diversity beyond the famous Pashupatinath Temple or climbing and trekking, feels Dr. Dhanajay Regmi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). In India to attend his first international travel exhibition, SATTE 2021, since taking over the reign of NTB last year, Regmi and his team is keenly engaging the Indian trade with the message that “Nepal is much more than spiritual tourism and the mountains.” NTB is the national tourism organization mandated to develop and market Nepal as an attractive tourism destination.
“We undertook massive preparation, including new product development, towards publicizing and marketing Nepal for the ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020’ that was announced much before the pandemic struck. Focusing on that a number of new tourism activities and new tourism products were introduced, but before we could advertise about these or inform the world about the new developments, the whole world was closed due to the pandemic. We have been looking for opportunity to talk about the new developments. SATTE was the first opportunity that we got since the lockdown,” he said.
“Today, we have most of the top international hotel chains. We have the best of clubs and a very vibrant night life in Nepal. People are even chartering flights to enjoy their weekend and holidays in Nepal. We have come up with many wonderful resorts along the Indo-Nepal border where one can do most of the river activities, enjoy the casinos and these resorts are much more than five-star properties. People don’t know that the tiger population has doubled in Nepal in the last five years. So any national parks that you go to in Nepal, the chances of sighting the tiger is almost 100 per cent. These are but some of the things that the world doesn’t know about Nepal. Especially in the Indian market, people think that Nepal means Pashupatinath and are only going for spiritual, religious and pilgrimage reasons and not for other reasons. This is why we are saying Nepal is much more,” Regmi added.
Drawing attention to the ease of accessibility and travel, especially for the Indian travellers, Regmi said that most of Indian travellers while planning their visit to Nepal only know of air access via Kathmandu which is not true. “Nepal is connected to India from seven custom points and if you include the international airport then there are eight places from where Indian travellers can enter into Nepal,” informed the CEO.
“There is huge opportunity in promoting border tourism. Indians living in the Gangetic plain along the Indo-Nepal border, can be in the hill stations of Nepal at an altitude of 800 meters and above in just one or two hours’ drive. Even for people from Delhi and NCR people do not have to only fly in order to travel to Nepal. Instead people can reach Western Nepal by road in just three and half hour drive. From there on, one can drive through scenic landscape, forests and hills, stopover wherever they want en route to Kathmandu while also visiting National Parks along the way, birthplace of Lord Buddha, religious places like Swargadwari, while also relishing Nepal’s cultural diversity along the way,” he further added.
Commenting on Nepal’s participation at SATTE 2021, Regmi said, “Nepal has taken it as a big opportunity because only a few countries have participated at SATTE this year because of the pandemic. So this is the time we can easily and effectively communicate with the Indian trade, tell them that Nepal is open, inform them about our products and attractions and easy accessibility, not only by air but also by road. Out of those few countries which are open to Indian tourists, Nepal is one of them. But this message unfortunately is not there in the market. Indian travellers can visit Nepal to enjoy great nature, night life, casinos, water based activities, adventure activities.”
Regmi also informed that notwithstanding all the confusion surrounding international travel, Nepal continue to be easily accessible for Indian tourists. “We have greatly simplified it for Indian visitors to come to Nepal. One has to just come with a RT-PCR report and there is no need for another RT-PCR upon arrival. Under the air bubble agreement, you can simply fly into Nepal with a negative report and there is no quarantine upon arrival also. It’s all so safe as our service providers are well equipped with all the pandemic related safety protocols.”
Adventure tourism is hailed as the fastest growing segment of tourism today. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global adventure tourism market size was valued at US $ 586.3 billion in 2018. The sector is further projected to grow to an astonishing US $ 1.626 trillion by 2026 at CAGR of 13.3 per cent every year. Where does India stand today? And importantly, how’s the country placed to take advantage of the growth that the sector foresees?
SATTE 2020 brought together an engrossing panel discussion on ‘Adventure Tourism: Unlocking New Avenues’ to brainstorm and discuss how can India tourism take the much-desired ‘next leap’ as the panel’s moderator Tejbir Singh Anand, Vice President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), puts it. Speakers on the panel included Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB); Sanjay Basu, Chairman, Far Horizon Tours; Vinayak Koul, Director, SnowLion Expeditions; Deepika Sharma, Director, Jammu Tourism and Arun Srivastava, DDG - Niche Tourism, Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Government of India.
Adventure tourism’s benefits are plenty. It is the fastest growing tourism sector with huge potential to shore up foreign exchange earnings, increase community engagement, develop millions of employment opportunities in the remotest part of the country, opportunity to create new brand image for the country and more. However, the sector has its own challenges too, from accessibility and connectivity issues and inadequate marketing to absence of well-practiced safety guidelines, sustainable practices, destinations’ carrying capacity studies and other such measures that’s intrinsic to adventure are areas of concern that needs to be addressed. And more than most ‘adventure tourism’ requires to be viewed and approached differently today.
Initiatives & Challenges
Although the sector is estimated at about US $ 650 billion industry globally today, India’s share is perceived to be disproportionately low. However, there are signs of a change. Infrastructure development, growing road connectivity and air access to newer and far-flung areas, among others, in the last few years have created renewed hope.
Basu says that for long India has lived under the shadow of Taj Mahal and similar attractions and monuments and that needs to change. “MoT needs to put out the message in front of the world that we are the country with the largest portion of the highest mountain chain on earth (Around 74% of the Himalayas lies in India). We are the only country on earth which has silver, golden and high-altitude cold desert and one of the few countries with equatorial and tropical rainforest to Alpine forest. We have seven navigable rivers, 105 smaller white-water rivers, the largest coral island on earth with a functional volcano, 7000 kms of coastline, two seas and an ocean; essentially God has given us everything, but we have not been able to monetize it.”
Expanding the discussion further to ‘natural heritage’, Basu, says that it has basically three major verticals, adventure, eco and cruise tourism. He argues that India being home to one of the greatest ‘natural heritage’ in the world is drawing little from the industry which by 2023 is estimated to be at 1.3 trillion dollars globally.
Some of MoT initiatives in the adventure space, informs Srivastava, have been the launch of ‘Safety Guidelines’ along with ATOAI, pushing the states for adoption and implementation of the guidelines, regular meeting of the adventure tourism task force created in 2016 to deliberate upon ideas and actions to develop adventure tourism.
Furthermore, Srivastava shares that ‘Swadesh Darshan’ also encompasses adventure tourism and such projects have been sanctioned in states like Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand already. Skill development is also being prioritised. MoT, through Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering in Gulmarg, has been organising training courses for snow skiing. MoT has also organised training courses in water skiing, trekking, parasailing, hot-air ballooning, water sports, among others.
Hugely endowed, Jammu has long lived in the shadow of the UT’s other region, Kashmir. But that, says Sharma, is changing as the region is today looking at turnaround in its tourism fortune by putting its adventure tourism offering in the spotlight. Changing perception about Jammu, tapping and diverting Vaishno Devi or Amarnath bound pilgrim traffics by collaborating with tour operators, improving accessibility, reviving various heritage, adventure and trekking trails, white water rafting on Chenab among others, are some of the department’s top tourism priority today.
Sharma says that tourism in the region is already increasing and further marketing and awareness campaigns are part of the plan now. “Paragliding, lake tourism, boating, water sports are adventure activities already under consideration and we are planning to do them one by one. All the four or five projects of Jammu which we have submitted to the MoT come from adventure segment like lake tourism on Ranjit Sagar Dam or water sports activities on Baglihar Dam,” she informs.
The region is also keen to attract investors in developing and promotion of camping experiences in areas like Bhadarwa, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. “Adventure tourism is no more a dream for Jammu & Kashmir,” she stresses.
On the domestic front, travel is now reaching 2 billion visits a year. “There is huge domestic market for adventure tourism right now, but they don’t know where to find the right operators. Marketing, in India or overseas, needs to inform customers where to find the right and responsible operators. There is this disconnect,” Kaul says.
Anand rues that clubbing golf, adventure, medical and other tourism sub-sectors together does not help any segment garner adequate attention and pointed that adventure on its own is huge with as many as 31 activities across land, water and air and clubbing it with other niche segments doesn’t earn ‘adventure’ its due recognition.
Basu says that India is missing out on its share of the US $ 1.6 trillion business opportunity to land on its shores along with what it can capitalise from the domestic market. He says that if the stakeholders come together “India is looking at a minimum business volume of US $ 50 billion within a short window and possibly a US $ 100 billion revenue across adventure, eco and cruise tourism. The sector can generate one million jobs all over the country in the remotest and most deprived parts of our country. This is really a game changer.”
Nepal’s strong growth in recent time is testimony to what Basu says. Home to the world’s highest mountain peak, Nepal’s recognition as an adventure tourism brand is reflected in its robust 25 per cent YoY growth in the last four years driven especially by its offering in the adventure tourism segment. It’s number more than doubled from about 539,000 tourists in 2015, to 1.25 million in 2019. The country has been hailed as the fastest growing destination in Asia-Pacific by organisations like UNWTO and PATA.
Joshi says that “the number is growing despite so many limitations” like infrastructure, accessibility etc. because of the initiatives, especially in the adventure tourism segment. Year 2020 has been declared as the ‘Visit Nepal Year’ where the NTB is promoting Nepal as ‘lifetime experience destination’ and for wildlife and adventure activities among others. If ‘The Great Himalayan Trails’ offers tourists and adrenalin junkies a slice of Himalayan adventure, the private sector, supported by a pro-active tourism department is also equally strong and aggressive in promoting these products and activities, says Joshi.
“Adventure is the only tourism vertical that touches the lives in the remotest part of the country and alleviates poverty. It empowers community and creates an economy in places which are days walk from nearby towns” stresses Anand.
Sustainability, Safety & Guidelines
Tourism nevertheless also leaves its adverse footprint. And with adventure segment, both safety and sustainability become an even greater concern. However, the segment is also widely recognized for taking up safety issues as well as driving conservation efforts and best environmental practices. “Strong safety guidelines are key to promoting safe and responsible adventure tourism and despite MoT along with ATOAI launching safety guidelines there are few takers. Kerala is the only state that has taken steps in this direction also taking into consideration the safety guidelines issued by MoT and ATOAI,” Anand says.
According to Kaul, it’s a comprehensive guideline covering virtually every area from safety to back up to insurance and more. “We need to market it well. MoT has already adopted it but it is still a guideline. It needs to become a regulation and law. Also, the states need to strongly come onboard on this and if need be, tweak it a little bit as per their geographical requirements,” Kaul also bats for insurance cover for the adventure tourists that he says can be additional revenue for operators. “The tour operators can make a decent profit at the same time make it safer for their clients and for themselves as well,” he says.
Carrying capacity is another area of concern, especially so because adventure tourism tends go to places which are ecologically sensitive and fragile. Unregulated visits can have long-term adverse impact or even destroy a destination.
Kaul warns that if the carrying capacity studies in ecologically sensitive areas are not done immediately the situation can spiral out of control. He gave example of Stok Kangri, the highest mountain peak located in the Hemis National Park in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region, that has turned into crowded mountaineering and adventure tourism hotspot in the last ten odd years leaving the stakeholders as well as the people in nearby villages worried about the impact. He also pointed that places like high altitude Pangong Lake are also bearing the brunt being swamped with mass tourism and trash.
From conducive tourism policy, involving and partnering with private sector players and rational taxes to joint stakeholders meet and focused marketing, the discussion put forth several areas in the spotlight to unlock the potential of adventure tourism segment.
Basu puts it succinctly when he says, “MoT needs to focus on what is the product organisational developmental requirement that need to be put on the ground. Whether it is accessibility, infrastructure, amenities, accommodation and sustainability. Thereafter, there is a need to create a specific campaign focused on the promotion of the message that India is actually not the fifth greatest natural heritage destination on earth but practically the greatest. This is actually what needs to go all over the world because the mix of what we have in natural heritage, no other country in the world has it. And the world does not know about it.”
The MoT’s current overall marketing budget that includes publicity and overseas marketing is 300 crores. There is no separate budget for marketing India’s adventure offerings. However, Srivastava offers, “Based on the inputs of the industry we finalise a dedicated marketing plan for a particular region (source market) for the product to be marketed there. And if it is adventure tourism product which is to be promoted in any market, we are willing to extend that help based on the input that industry brings to us.”
The panel also argued that the right policy and incentives concerning adventure tourism is key to the success. And taking the cue, Sharma informs that her department is formulating a new tourism policy with incentives component to attract trade and investors and is keen to get it right in order to effectively promote adventure tourism in the region. She also points that the department is keen to partner with trade on fam. tours.
Empowering and closely working with the private sector is one of the reasons behind Nepal’s success in the adventure tourism segment. Nepalese government has authorized Nepal Mountaineering Association to collect royalties for some peaks part of which is in turn used for promoting those destinations through involving and mobilising industry stakeholders and the local community. Also, there is another fee called TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) which is utilized for the safety of the trekkers as well as for the promotion of the destination.
Anand also draws attention to community engagement and sustainability. “One of the main strengths of adventure tourism is conservation and engagement with the local communities. Let the local people be engaged in the tourism development and made custodians of the natural heritage so that there is a sense of belongingness for the region,” he stressed.
According to Anand the first step towards promoting a region or segment is to create the image. “Once you position yourself very well in a traveler’s mind, business and investment flows. Marketing and positioning are an exercise which is not done in just six months or a year or two. It’s done over years,” he says drawing attention to the need of focused marketing. He also indicated that there is need to rebrand Incredible India campaign and revive the ‘777 Days of the Incredible Indian Himalayas’ marketing campaign.
Furthermore, the industry views the current GST slabs high that renders India costly and uncompetitive. “GST rate of 18 per cent on international front is too high for us to charge and especially so when we are talking about increasing our numbers. The industry needs more support in reducing the GST slab,” says Kaul.
Summing up, Basu stresses urgent need for the adventure tourism stakeholders to come together to find the way forward. “The message needs to go from the MoT to every state government and related ministries like Forest & Environment, Civil Aviation, Home and others. Between the governments, the private sector, with the right policy and with the right focus, we can create wonders. We need a meeting of National Adventure Tourism Task Force along with all the ministries and stakeholders to brainstorm and devise the way forward.”
If technology has sprung corporate behemoths like Uber and Airbnb and their likes like Ola and OYO closer home, it has also affected the business of traditional operators of hotels and travel and transportation companies all across the globe. SATTE brought up a discussion on “Global Economic Scenario, Tourism Trends in India” at its recently concluded event that not only put emerging trends in travel in spotlight but also impact of technology on these trends and where does India tourism and its stakeholders stand on adopting technology. The session was astutely moderated by Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels with an illustrious panel that included Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, FAITH; Mandeep Lamba, President (South Asia), HVS Anarock and Sudhir Patil, Managing Director, Veena World.
Adopt or Perish
Discussing the emerging trends and technology’s role in it, Anand points that India with all its tourism attractiveness and inheritances is still far from realising its potential in this space, as is the industry in adopting technology and translating that into business for themselves, and as a result, for the country.
“I cringe when I hear that India has everything and I cringe because if India has everything than the only thing that we don’t have is tourist. If we have everything then logically it should reflect into the number of tourists coming to the country which is obviously not happening. The travel trade in India, both inbound and domestic, are way behind in adopting technology for their businesses. On one hand technology is going to impact our lives while on the other hand the trade is not ready at all,” says Anand.
An industry veteran, Goyal stressed the need for the industry to accept and adopt technology sooner than later, warning, “Technology is the future. Travel agents will become obsolete unless he adapts himself to the changing environment. The dinosaurs, one of the most powerful mammals to have ever walked the earth, could not exist because it did not adapt to change, so would travel agents, if they don’t cease the opportunity.”
He also added that there is a need for agents and operators to better understand technology, artificial intelligence, social media, digital marketing. He however also pointed that, albeit slowly, there are companies adopting technology, but warned companies of learning the lesson the hard way by dithering and delaying the inevitable.
Lamba says that it’s a decade that belongs to technology and innovation. “This decade that we have just embarked on (2020-2029) is going to be the most impactful decade on travel and tourism ever. It’s because the way and the speed with which things are changing and it is technology which is driving the change. So, expect to see many-many different things happening, both in the way people travel and in the tourism offerings. Technology will continue to play a greater role and will only strengthen their hold to this market.”
Veena World’s Patil brings to notice new and evolving sectors that brings to the industry new opportunities. “Seniors are getting younger and they have a lot of energy to travel. Events, like exhibitions, based travel and ‘shorter tours’ in place of ‘longer tours’ because a trend is developing where people are taking holidays every six months, or more frequently than before, are areas of opportunity,” Patil says. He also said that there will be growth in country-side travel, concluding that the changing trends will help develop “lot of scope for tourism in this decade.”
Highlighting some of the other emerging trends in travel, Lamba says, “While globally we see trends picking up on things like ‘space travel, DNA travel etc., closer home the standard destination is now becoming passé. Everybody wants to explore new locations new destinations and therefore we are likely to see the advent of travel to smaller lesser known destinations than we have done in the past. This is also going to be helped by the fact that we have more airports now, better road connectivity than we had in the past. Besides, the younger traveler is now looking at experiential travel. For them, it’s all about experiences, no longer about extended stay.”
Goyal says find your niche and intersperse that with technology in order to find your way to success. “There is need to specialise in one field or the other as well as innovate. Those who will specialise and innovate will survive. Agencies need to create unique and immersive experiences around health and wellness tourism, Ayurveda and massages, wildlife and safari, sports, dance form and cultural tourism where tourists can be involved in activities because ultimately man is a social animal. Those who will adapt himself to change will survive. And those who will use technology as an instrument to market, as an instrument to distribute their product and as an instrument to provide and spread information are the ones who will survive,” Goyal says.
Goyal also cautioned against uncertainty and unforeseen events. “Keep trying for the best, but always have a contingency plan and be prepared for the worst,” he warned.
Sharing his own learning and experiences at Veena World, Patil says that when the company started operation six years ago it was faced with the question of whether to grow online or offline. “Adopting technology creates more opportunity for various other services, but one of the questions that confronts is how much to spend on technology and when is it required. Our experience is that we need to increase the surrounding infrastructure that helps in accepting technological change effectively and doesn’t interfere with business or guest relation,” Patil said. He pointed that a couple of years ago riding on technology when his company tried to desist clients from coming to office, it led to guest complains and the company learning a lesson on personalized and face to face interaction.
“Ultimately what we learnt is that it is all about marketing and messaging. It is very important for the tour operators is to learn to maintain synergy and balance in their offline and online services. It is very-very important to understand where to stop technology and start personalised interaction,” Patil says.
Safety Concerns, evolving supply, manpower
As technology brings in new changes, determine new trends in travel, the demography that it is affecting is not only influencing guests’ preferences but also suppliers’ offerings. And all of this happening in times and a world where turmoil and epidemic is the new norm. While there is a growing concern on tourists’ safety, there is also prediction of continued growth in the coming years as was in the last decade.
Patil says that the growing concern on safety and security is real and is affecting travel behavior. “My greatest concern is safety and security in the coming decade. And that will bring us, travel agents and tour operators, to give trustworthy and personalized services to the guests. This is key to the growth of tourism per se,” he says laying emphasis on personalized guest services, messaging and responsibility as necessity to attract travelers and to grow.
Hotels are probably the most important suppliers when it comes to tourism, but, says Lamba, “standard hotels is passe” and no more the new norm. “Hotels will have to change the way they run their businesses. You can see differentiated hotel which are smaller, more boutique, more experiential and even larger hotel companies will find a way of branding these hotels to soft brands. It is already happening globally, and we see some of those trends happening closer home as well,” he said.
Furthermore, grooming and retaining talent is key to any business. Lamba says “Managing workforce is going to change dramatically. The workforce that we have today is much younger than what we had in the past and it is only getting younger. The needs of the younger workforce are very different from the workforce of the era gone by. So, employers, hoteliers, travel agents, tourism bodies will have to look at how to retain good talent. They are going to have to look at managing the workforce.”
The year 2019 was a good year for Maldives tourism. Maldives received its target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals in 2019 well ahead in November with the total year end arrivals surpassing 1.7 million. The robust growth has come driven by India that jumped several places in source market ranking to second position, contributing almost 10 per cent in visitor share, from under 6 per cent the previous year.
Speaking on the sidelines of the recently concluded SATTE 2020, Fathimath Raheel, Director – Procurement, Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation (MMPRC), informed, “We have reached 1.7 million visitors at the end of 2019 which is a great achievement. The other good news is that India has taken the second position in visitor numbers. Last year, we received over 166,000 Indian travelers, reflecting a growth of almost 90 per cent over 2018.” Maldives witnessed 8 per cent growth from India in 2018.
“India is very important source market. India is very close to the Maldives in terms of connectivity. We had issue in the past with regard to connectivity but today we have lots of budget airlines now flying and we have good connection through SriLankan Airlines also. We have seen a lot of growth due to enhanced connectivity,” Raheel said. Maldives has particularly found favours from segments like honeymooners, family as well as millennial. Honeymooners are visiting the island nation in much larger numbers now.
Social and digital media platforms will be key to Maldives tourism outreach in the Indian market in 2020 as well as elsewhere. “We have done lot of destination marketing and promotion and now we are planning to do more. For 2020, we are trying to lay more focus on social and digital media promotion. People have become so dependent on technology and almost everyone has mobile phone. Besides, we are planning joint promotions with the tour operators as well,” Raheel said,
Maldives is now eying the 2 million visitors in 2020. “We are hoping to mark 2 million arrivals in 2020 and we hope that India will grow more. We are talking to the airlines to increase air connectivity from other major Indian cities as well and not only from Delhi and Mumbai,” she said. China and India are now Maldives top two tourism source markets. Other key source markets are Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Russia, Japan, among others.
Addressing the perception about Maldives being an expensive destination, Raheel said, “There is this perception that Maldives is an expensive destination, but we want to highlight the fact that Maldives is affordable to everyone. There is something for everyone, from luxury resorts and villas to affordable accommodation in our guest houses.”
Maldives is growing its guest houses offerings at islands inhabited by the locals. These well-equipped guest houses are targeted at providing more affordable accommodation to tourists and options to stay amidst the Maldivians. “You can do everything that you do staying at a resort, but at a more affordable price points,” she points.
Maldives is continuing to add new products and attraction in order to cater to the increasing arrivals. Several international brands like Hard Rock Café, Saii Lagoon Maldives, part of Crossroads Maldives integrated resort project with shopping, hotels and resorts etc., have opened doors in recent times and are further expanding their offerings to international tourists.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is keen to grow it destination footprint in the Indian market. The island nation in the Persian Gulf in Middle East is expecting around 11 million international tourists in 2019, but its share from India is small, just over 6,000 tourists majorly from weddings and MICE segment.
Speaking recently on the sidelines of SATTE 2020 in Delhi, Ali Hassan Follad, Advisor, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA), said, “There is a lot to say about the historical relationship between Bahrain and India. Bahrain was the focal point between the East and the West for hundreds of years. The East was India, the West was Europe, and Bahrain was in the middle and that improved and developed the relationship between India and Bahrain from hundreds of years ago. We used to export pear and import gold from India. In addition to that our traditional values, foods, words and many other things are our shared heritage today. And therefore Indian feel at home in Bahrain. We have a vibrant Indian community in Bahrain which is part of our social fabric. We have the oldest Hindu temple of the whole region.”
BTEA tryst with the Indian market started a few years ago promoting Bahrain as a wedding destination. “We became very successful in our effort to first promote Bahrain as a wedding destination in India. This opened the other aspects of the Indian tourism market for us which is MICE. There is big potential to exploit India’s MICE segment. We are getting orders and enquiries, on a weekly basis, from the corporates through their agents as well as for groups and leisure. When Indian families, weddings and their guests or MICE groups come to Bahrain they feel at home and they become our tourism ambassador once back,” said Follad.
He opined that there is big potential for Bahrain to capture a large share of tourism market in India. “India is very important for Bahrain. Our number will jump from India thanks to the wedding and MICE segments as well as groups and leisure. We are trying our best,” said Follad.
Highlighting the headwinds that favours Bahrain as a destination of choice for the Indian travelers, Follad said, “Gulf Air, our national carrier, serves many cities in India. So connectivity is not an issue as we have direct connectivity from many cities in India which is very important. Visa facilitation is very efficient and supportive. We are very close with the Indian companies through our office in India. For leisure or individual, we have an efficient e-Visa that can be applied online and conveniently.” Gulf Air operates some 75 weekly flights from its Manama hub to eights Indian cities namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Cochin, Calicut and Thiruvananthapuram.
“We have the top class international hotel chains present in Bahrain, with beach access, city hotels and with different categories five, four, three or two star. We are in the process to have allocated public as well as private beaches. Indian food is easily available and there is no need to bring your own chefs, unless it is required. The restaurants, nightlife, shopping and so on, it’s all there,” he added.
There are three UNESCO recognised world heritage sites in Bahrain. Besides, there are many forts, mosques, the historical Bahrain Gateway, old souk, the Krishna temple and many attractions and things related to the Indian flavours.
Films, television shows and serials and web series and the likes are the biggest influencer today. India produces the highest number of films in the world and Indian appetite for a good story is legendary, from movies in cinema halls to never ending television serials or through the next generation internet platforms, we lap it all. And with tourism boards, states or national, forever looking at newer ways to reach out to large Indian audience to showcase their destination, films, TV shows and serials as well as web series etc. have emerged platforms that can provide tremendous visibility in a very short span of time.
Switzerland and the UK are probably the top countries that come to mind when we think of Bollywood’s role in promoting destinations. There are road and streets, even train coaches, named after Bollywood personalities in these countries. And while the two countries continue to be hot with Bollywood film makers, their relative dominance in attracting Bollywood has been challenged with many new countries in competition now.
Tourism promotion videos done by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Bulgaria while they were shooting for ‘Dilwale’ a few years ago generated millions of viewership contributing to the huge destination visibility in the Indian market. ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain and Tomatino Festival a household name in India.
SATTE 2020 brought together top Indian and International tourism industry professionals to discuss and understand the impact of cinema and shows through an engrossing panel discussion titled ‘Small Screen, Big Impact.’ Moderated by Rajan Sehgal, Co- Founder, Passionals and a Film Tourism Expert, the panelists in the discussion included Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board and Secretary Tourism, Govt of Madhya Pradesh; Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority; Elisa Robles Fraga, Director, Tourism Office of Spain in Mumbai, India; G.B Srithar, Regional Director, South Asia & Middle East, Singapore Tourism Board and Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism.
What the NTOs doing?
Indian travellers love to follow in the footsteps of their cine idols, or destinations featured on their favourite shows, from television to web series on the internet. About 20 years ago, Sehagal discovered a large group from Sikar, a sleepy small town in Rajasthan, exploring Interlaken and other destinations in Switzerland following in the footsteps of a Govinda-Karisma Kapoor starrer movie that was shot in the area.
South Africa is attributing attracting Bollywood to the country one of its top priorities. Close on the heels of an impressive showcase at SATTE 2020 early last month, the South African Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was in India the following week on a two-day tourism roadshow in Mumbai, meeting Bollywood producers and film makers along with travel trade and others. Nkani says that today Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood and others have imploded in South Africa, whereas places like Sun City and Cape Town have become some of the most visited destinations by Indians because of Bollywood.
STB’s Srithar says that it is important for Singapore to establish the ‘emotional connect’ with the source markets and movies, TV shows and serials and web series are the perfect way of communicating that connect. “When we were working with the Dharma Production on ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya’, we were very clear that we need to make Singapore look good and bring it closer to the hearts and minds of Indian travellers. Singapore must have an ‘emotion connect’ because tourism is all about emotional connect. Nobody visits a city because they have seen a photograph of a particular architecture,” he argues.
Bundhun says that Mauritius is not just a sun and sand destination, but a melting cauldron of culture, religion, ethnicity, gastronomy. “Besides the pristine beaches and turquoise water, we have the insides of Mauritius which are great and that’s one of the reasons which triggered us to contemplate of inviting a number of production houses last year from India to come and visit the country. We have a sort of educational tour of major production houses from India and that is slowly reaping the fruit of success,” he says. Holiday, a Indian web series, is currently being shot in the island nation.
There are more than 75 movies that have been shot in the state of Madhya Pradesh and a greater number of film makers are zeroing in on the state for filming. ‘Stree’, a 2018 release and a major commercial success starring Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao shot in Madhya Pradesh, gives an eye-opening example on film’s impact on the destination.
“Stree was shot in this small sleepy little town that had annual tourist visit of 2,000. It shot up to 50,000 that year and has crossed more than 80,000 last year. So much so that it is very difficult for the infrastructure to cope up with such arrivals. But that’s what it has done to a small town. It has changed the economy, Kidwai informs. The state is today attracting production houses from Hollywood as well. A Hollywood production house is shooting a series on Gregory David Roberts’ acclaimed novel ‘Shantaram’ in the capital Bhopal.
Mauritius tryst with Indian cinema started way back in the 1970s. However, it was the 80s Rajesh Khanna’s starrer blockbuster ‘Soutan’ that first popularised Mauritius in India. “Film tourism has had catalytic effect on the development of tourism in Mauritius and especially from Bollywood. Ever since ‘Soutan’ was shot we have seen the numbers growing because we have got a lot of web series and the likes being shot in Mauritius. Today MTPA, in collaboration with Economic Development Board in Mauritius, is promoting Mauritius as a film destination. Actually, Mauritius embarked on the scheme around two years back and last year we had the pleasure of hosting totally integral film shot in Mauritius from Hollywood which was called ‘Serenity,’” says Bundhun.
Similarly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a turning point, says Elisa. It was shot all over Spain, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Andalusia, Seville and many more locations with top Bollywood actors. “It is clear that film shooting in any destination has an impact on to tourism. Tourism from India increased a lot. We also have TV shows and their impact is also increasing. ‘Game of Thrones’ that was shot in Spain and other parts of Europe have influenced and increased tourism to these countries the television show was shot in. The impact of shooting films, TV shows or any kind of shows for internet is very good for our business.
Singapore receives over 1.5 million Indian visitors annually and Srithar admits that Bollywood and Tollywood movies have contributed to the success of Singapore emerging a key destination with the Indian travelers. It all started with 1960 Shammi Kapoor hit movie titled ‘Singapore.’ “Since then Bollywood movies have been a very important way for us to communicate with the Indian audience. Movies, films, TV series have given a lot of visitation to Singapore and making India the third largest source market for Singapore today.”
Citing his interaction with Yashraj Films’ President Ashish Singh at a Film Tourism Conclave last year, Sehgal suggested that Indian states need to actively engage with production houses. He said that State Tourism Boards should ask for small video clips from the lead actors on and about the destination and its tourism attractiveness and also things like opening scene of the movie showing the destination, in exchange of the various shooting related facilitation and incentives that the states offer.
Kidwai highlights three key points. “Filmmakers require is ease of clearances as they don’t want to waste time in too much of red tape because it costs them a lot. Second is scenic locations with lots of history, culture, architecture, heritage and wildlife and the third is least interference during the shoot.”
He further informs that the state is developing a comprehensive policy that provides subsidy linked incentives, ease of permission, discounts at shooting locations and part reimbursement of the cost that filmmakers incur. “What we believe in is that a film is not only a film for the audience but has a big benefit for the local economy not only in terms of revenue but also consequently when any destination is popularized and thereby helping develop long term economy in the area”
‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain a household name in India. The NTO is keen to enhance Spain’s attractiveness amongst the film making community further. “We have lots of plans. For us, India is a dream of its kind and collaborating with Bollywood is very important. We are taking initiatives to make it easy and attractive for Bollywood to shoot in the country,” says Elisa. She informs that not only Tourism office of Spain offers various assistance related to visa, negotiation of deals with hotels and transports and tax incentives but also there is a network of film commissions all over Spain, national and regional level, to help producers and filmmakers with locations, film shoots, permissions and more.
South Africa is also wooing Indian film makers in several ways. “We turn visa in three days for production houses which otherwise normally takes seven days. The most important thing for us is eliminating bureaucracy. Nobody wants to go to a country where it will take you 30 to 40 days to do visa. Second, we provide one-point access for film permits. Our accommodations are next to none. A four-star hotel in South Africa is a five star of Europe. Our infrastructure and road are phenomenal, better than some of the first world countries. There is ease of access into our country, ease of accessing locations, ease of accessing decision makers, ease of accessing production houses, we come in and we facilitate the suppliers,” Nkani informs.
Nkani is keen to give Indian filmmakers first-hand experience of destination and is planning to host producers later this year. And why so? “Seeing is believing. I cannot sell something to somebody if they do not know. You got to know my country. You are going to fall in love with my country. And I know that in 18 months from the time we have shown South Africa and made sure that those who are in this industry get a sense, smell and the feel of South Africa, the next big movie will be done in South Africa. Our priority this year is to host film producers from India,” she said.
We want to make it all easy, says Srithar. “No production house goes to a country unless the story demands it. And then a production house goes to a country because it is easy to make a movie in that country. In Singapore, we have always been very supportive of Indian movies. STB is a one stop center for facilitating movies and it is not always about financial perks, it is also about making it easy.
Furthermore, Singapore has also put up a scheme where 20 million Singaporean Dollar grant have been set aside for any collaboration where a foreign production house collaborates with a Singapore production house.
So how is subsidy structured by Indian states? Kidwai says by and large there are a couple of ways that the states have structured their incentives and subsidies to attract producers and filmmakers. “States require the filmmakers to shoot a certain percentage of the film in the state. It doesn’t matter how big or small the budget is. If you have shot, let’s say, 50 per cent of your film in the state you are entitled to the subsidy and if you have shot more than 50 per cent there is a higher subsidy that you are entitled to,” he says.
Furthermore, he informs that Madhya Pradesh has added another provision in its policy that state tourism department is bringing out. Even if you have shot less than 50 per cent of the film in the state, but you are giving us a certain percentage of the screen time, let’s say about 10 per cent of the screen time, then again you are entitled to the same kind of help and subsidy. It doesn’t matter what the film’s budget is. Along with films, we have included web series, TV serials etc. also,” Kidwai informed.
Content for phones
Sehgal suggests that whenever a film is shot at a destination, Indian or international, tourism boards should request for small two-three minute clips about the destination by lead actors, who are followed by millions of fans through various social media platforms, mostly through mobile phones. These contents are viewed by millions of people and help create enhanced visibility and promotion of tourism.
Srithar also draws attention to internet-based platforms. “A lot of content today is consumed on the mobile phones. India todays is probably a market which is mobile first and then everything else. So, web series, OTT platform, TV series are all very important and all of these help bring any destination closer to Indian travelers because video consumption is very high. It is super high on mobile platform and OTT platform is getting a lot of traction in the market.”
In agreement with Srithar, Elisa added that mobile platform is becoming more and more important be it watching HBO, Netflix or programmes such as Games of Throne or others and is an opportunity to take advantage of.
Mauritius is pinning its hope on 2020 for a rebound in tourism numbers and has lined up a number of exciting incentives programme that’s set to catch industry attention. There is an estimated drop of 10 per cent in tourist arrivals from India last year. Mauritius is expecting around 80,000 Indian tourists in 2019, down from around 88,000 a year before. However, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) is confident that its slew of marketing and promotion initiatives lined up for the year will have the travel industry and tourists interested in Mauritius in 2020.
In an interview on the sidelines of SATTE 2020, Arvind Bundhun, Director, MTPA, said, “2019 was quite a challenging year for Mauritius. The Indian market which is one of the major reservoirs for Mauritius has dropped slightly. We have registered up till now a decrease of around 10 per cent.” Bundhum pointed at the competition from the emerging destinations as lot of Indians have started travelling to countries like Vietnam and other parts of Asia. “One of the reasons that we reaffirm our presence in SATTE to meet old partners to work hand-in-hand with them so that we can reverse the trend in 2020,” he said.
MTPA has launched a slew of marketing campaigns to recoup its share and grow. It has already put in place some attractive incentive schemes targeted at various segments of travelers. “We are offering certain incentives for MICE travel agents. For MICE groups of minimum 100 pax and three-night stay, the agent is entitled for a cash incentive of around 100,000 Mauritian Rupee (About INR 200,000) once the booking is confirmed. If the group size is 250 pax with a minimum of three-night stay, the agent is entitled for a cash incentive of 200,000 Mauritian Rupee which is around INR 400,000,” he informed.
“On top of this, we are targeting weddings and groups. We have loads of incentives that we have put in place to attract big fat Indian weddings to Mauritius. We offer a VAT refund of 15 per cent on accommodation for three nights. There are duty free facilities. There are loads of incentives that are being provided,” he informed.
He said that the MTPA is planning to launch a big visibility campaign in March 2020 across several major cities in India to target the high season in May. “We are also working a lot on social media and trying to develop film induced tourism. Last year, we have welcomed around ten big production houses from India to Mauritius and it is already reaping the fruits of success. We have a web series right now which is called ‘Holiday’, totally shot in Mauritius and is being broadcasted in India,” he informed.
Internationally, Mauritius welcomed around 1.4 million tourists. Numbers in 2018 and 2019 have been around the same level. “Last year, we have had some challenges with airlifts as well. Air seat capacity has decreased from our traditional markets,” Bundhun informed. The Authority is keen to recover and grow its arrival numbers. “The objective is to reposition the destination as a luxury and classy destination and to be on the top of the mind of Indian travelers,” Bundhun said. France is Mauritius’ top source market with close to 300,000 annual visitors, whereas Indian ranks sixth on the chart.
India is not only one of Mauritius’ top source markets but is also strategic in various other ways that helps the local tourism sector in more ways than others. “Indian travelers travel during our low season. Secondly, there is historical ties that tie Mauritius with India as 52 per cent of the Mauritian population is of Indian origin. So, in terms of culture, in terms of eating habit, Mauritius is well adapted to the needs of Indian clientele. Indians always look for new sources of adrenaline and it helps us in increasing tourism. We really want Indian tourism to be resilient, to be inquisitive, so that it becomes an even better industry for us.”
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