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Shayan Mallick

Shayan Mallick

India’s travel technology space has emerged a hotbed of disruptions and innovations. At the same time, the market also remains hugely untapped with considerable future opportunity for the online and offline players in the travel, tourism and hospitality space. While moderating a business session on ‘Travel Technology: Making the Future Perfect’ at the recently concluded SATTE 2022, Ashish Kumar, Founder-Start Up Mentor Board & Co-chairman, FICCI Travel Technology & Digital Committee, noted that it is already a foregone conclusion that the best CEOs of tomorrow are going to be the best CTOs of tomorrow. 

 

Speakers on the panel consisted of Aditya Sanghi, CEO & Co-Founder, Hotelogix India; Manish Rathi, Co-founder & CEO, IntrCity; Anirudh Gupta, Founder & CEO, Tripoto and Ankush Nijhawan, Co-founder, TBO.com. 

 

‘Technology’ Kumar said, is no more a department in the company that one goes to. “Technology is your company. If you are a CEO with the knowledge of a CTO than you are the best driver of the business. There was a time when we said, oh to be a good CEO I must be a Chartered Accountant or must be an MBA and those were great qualification to have. But today if you are rolled into a good CTO and CEO of tomorrow, you will be running the most profitable businesses. Look today and see how tech savvy and driven promoters nowadays are,” he added. 

 

However, these changes and advances haven’t come overnight and to deliver better future value in the travel technology space it is important to understand how the changes have come about. Kumar points out to four watershed moments that have led to the travel technology market space reach where it is today. 

 

The first was year 1999 when FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act) was abolished, and FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) was brought into business by the Reserve Bank of India making it possible to buy expensive outbound travel products and remit in INR which was not possible earlier. The second defining moment was in early 2000 when internet made the entry, completely transforming the way travel business was conducted and today what you see is the result of that defining moment. 

 

The third defining moment was the removal of airline commission from 9 to 7 to 5 to 3 per cent and then to zero bringing a fundamental shift in travel industry’s approach that they are not working for the airlines anymore, but for the customers and that their services to the customers need to be charged, especially in the light of zero commission regime. And the fourth and last key defining moment is Covid. “It is very difficult to make people change. People don’t change because they want to change. People change because they have to change, and I think Covid is driving that change. Covid has now already been the chief technology and the chief transformation officer in this space. Whether it is artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, payment by bitcoin; these are again no more topics of discussion. It is only a question of when and how, and how fast we can adopt into our daily life,” said Kumar. 

 

He also drew attention to the fact that given the Covid uncertainty the next couple of years are given and invited panel to do some futuristic crystal ball gazing in the travel technology space, especially around how and where the industry be in the medium term by around 2030 and in the long term, by 2047 when India completes a hundred years of independence. Ashish said that the long-term vision can be aligned with the Government of India’s vision of ‘digital tourism roadmap’ driven by IT and Tourism ministries and these vision documents can be rolled out anytime soon. 

 

Market & Opportunity 

 

There remains huge opportunity in the travel market space for innovation and disruptions. And talking about that TBO.com Co-founder, Ankush Nijhawan argues that there is huge potential for all kind of players in the travel market space. He drew attention to the big travel industry economy worldwide that many big and small travel players and businesses can chew from across online and offline travel platforms. “The market size is so large. US$ 9 trillion is the size of the travel economy in the world. The largest players in the world control 5 per cent which is Expedia. Where are the rest? They are with OTAs and offline travel agents,” Nijhawan said drawing attention to the huge market and opportunity for the stakeholders. 

 

A leading tech driven long-distance travel enabler in India helping the asset owners (Bus owners) get a better value off their assets, IntrCity is leveraging technology to provide easy and seamless travel to travellers in the country. Rathi, it’s Co-founder, while highlighting the opportunity in long distance road travel by busses, pointed out that there are primarily two modes of transport available for the ‘majority’ of Indians and those are trains and busses generally costing about an average of Rs. 2 per kilometers vis-à-vis air or private taxis that comes at an average cost of about Rs. 15 per kilometers and therefore have limited reach unlike trains and busses. 

 

New capacity addition in travel trains have not kept pace with the growth in travel, whereas the Indian roads have seen significant investment in road infrastructure probably making India the fastest kilometers adders in roads in the world. “Average distance travelled by long distance trains comes to about 600-650 kilometers whereas for the bus it is around 400-450 kilometers. If roadways are growing, we need to extend the reach of the busses too. That’s where we see technology coming in to play a bigger role. Busses have their limitations but if you can enhance the value of those busses to travel longer distance, provide better comfort, better services, we believe that people will have to move across to the road travel more and more than train travel because train is not going to take across the capacity at which the travel is increasing in India,” stressed Rathi. 

 

He further added that the technology comes to play in making sure that the safety, punctuality, security, services on the busses are very well monitored. “That’s where technology helps us a lot. These are the technology which will typically be generally adoptive by the new generation,” he added.

 

Pitching technology as an engine of growth in the travel space, Tripoto’s Gupta pointed that the number of consumers who are buying on e-commerce sites are four to five times bigger than the number of consumers that are transacting online directly for travel products. Tripoto is a consumer internet company that boasts of being India’s largest travel community. 

 

“If you put this into context, then travel was actually one of the first industries which went online into e-commerce with air ticketing. So, you understand the gap. Large part of travel market is still offline. And it’s not that these consumers don’t want to buy online because they are already buying online for various electronic products and other stuffs, but the same penetration has not reached travel. It’s not the consumer that is at fault here. As travel industry we need to see that there is a big market of consumers that we are losing that wants to transact online and are not able to. How do we, as an industry, grow and tap into that segment. That I think is an immediate area technology can be used by travel industry and travel businesses,” added Gupta. 

 

Kumar draws attention to the humongous market, and hence opportunity, that has developed beyond the major metros. He says that look at the landscape ahead and we find a very fragmented customer chain. “Our customers are growing from Bilaspur to Bombay. Earlier everybody would be clear that the customers were concentrated in Delhi, Mumbai, etc. But now he is vernacular. We have seen television channels suddenly mushrooming into Hindi, Telegu and all the channels. That has not happened for the love of the language but our advertising bucks. This industry needs to define that there is a vernacular adaptation. There is a reach which is very scattered of the customers,” Kumar noted. 

 

He however also insisted that the travel products are also no less scattered and unorganized. “I have not come across a product chain which is more scattered and unorganized than in the travel industry. There are consolidators but these platforms are still missing a lot of travel suppliers. We have a humongous challenge ahead of us,” he said. 

 

Future Perfect

 

A technology supplier to the hotels, Sanghi said that even if we look at 2047, we have little time for soul searching if we want to bring in technological change. Citing example from the sector he serves, Sanghi said that the hoteliers and developers are quite clear about their spendings on construction, interiors and stuff like that, but there is no convincing answer when asked about technology.

 

 “If we want to make an impact of a delta change and not a small incremental change, the technological make to our businesses, to our customers’ life and the travellers who stay with us; we need to first change our mindset as to how do we look at technology. Whether as a strategic and integral part of our business or do we continue to look at technology as a tactical solution to the problem that we face. These are two different ways of looking at technology. What I am trying to say is that technology has to become an integral part of the roadmap of your hotel business for it to be valued enough to make a sea change in the way it can impact your business,” stressed Sanghi. 

 

The Hotelogix founder also drew attention to the ‘value’ that is put to technology. “Technology is not cheap. To develop good technology is expensive. That is the reason we see the hoteliers in the US are far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology because they understand what investment in R&D means,” he noted. 

 

Gupta suggested that technology is very expensive to build, and businesses should look at partnering and piggybacking players who have the technology. “There will be some players and businesses who will build technology, at the same time there can be a lot of partners who can leverage that technology to accelerate their business and not necessarily build the technology themselves to grow faster. You can piggybank on other companies or platforms that are building technology that can help you grow faster. I think a lot of businesses could take that route and will take that route because it is faster and more efficient. Why build it when someone ese has already built it, unless you have big ambitions of building technology in a big way and have that lifecycle of five to six years where that money is returned to you. 

 

Market Dynamics

 

Irrespective of technological innovation, disruptions and ingenious new start-up, there are also market dynamics at play which determine their own course. And Nijhawan while hailing technological advances in travel space also draws attention to practical challenges and ever evolving market dynamics that demand interventions often traditional and beyond technology.

 

 “Look at the practical problems. People are complaining about not getting the Visas. Who is going to fix that problem? You can’t even fix a VFS appointment. Also look at the Covid situation. Many customers have suffered, and their FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) today are not simple FAQs but some very poetic questions, like, ‘if this and this happens what will happen?’ or ‘when this happen what will happen?’ No tech companies in the world is going to answer that. And as I am seeing the shift, it is suddenly coming back to the agents again,” said Nijhawan. 

 

He further drew attention to some other practical challenges in Visa, payments, trust in services of the suppliers that consumers don’t know or have never met. “There are many dots in the whole puzzle which needs to be joined before you make every transaction seamless. Last few years everybody has evolved. Today everybody is asking that can I have an API, can I have the white label and six years ago we used to search people to take our API. So, is everybody searching at tbo online? Absolutely Yes. But is every transaction still happening online? No. I think it will take time for 100 per cent transaction to happen because there are so many patches and the roadblocks in the middle.” 

 

“My take is,” said Nijhawan, “Practicality and technology will go parallel that way and I think the practical part is a big challenge right now for us to solve not because of technology, but because the ecosystem is such that it is very-very problematic at the moment.” 

 

Way Forward

 

While concluding, Nijhawan stressed the need for “Constant innovation and adoption” as the key to success for everybody. “People should be very open minded in adopting technology and continuously evolve it. This is something that gives me sleepless night because I don’t know who is going to build the next tbo and out beat me. This is where everybody needs to be on the curve, everybody needs to adopt and make sure that they are adopting this in their daily life,” he said. 

 

Gupta also suggested taking advantage of technology to create more value for once time spent at work. “How can I use technology to put in the same effort, but make more revenue or reduce my effort? How can I increase the value of my own time? Can I make decisions faster? Can I close a ticket in two hours instead of a day due to technology so that I can generate more output in a month? My sales team work on five queries a day. Can I make them work on ten queries with the help of technology that can reduce my cost? Once we start incorporating the cost of our time into the business then we will realize the value of technology and how it can help us grow our business. That’s how we should think of technology and integrate technology and business together,” Gupta said. 

 

Hotelogix’s Sanghi prompted stakeholders to be pro-active if they want to leverage technology to their best of their advantage. “We can’t say that today pandemic has happened and hence we should have contactless technology. Or, oh, I am facing problems with my rooms’ distribution so now I should have a channel manager. It doesn’t work like that. It is all retrospective fittings to problems that you face. That means you are using technology as a tactical solution to your problems. Let’s look at technology as to how you want to imagine your business in order to use it to either drive your strategy or to at least enable your strategy. We need an architectural or soul change to look at technology that can change our lives.” 

Reflecting on his one-line research outcome on the word ‘technology’ from across different online/technology platforms, that is “Technology is a continuously developing results of accumulated knowledge and applications in all techniques, skills, methods and processes used in production and research,” Kumar said and added that there has to be a continuous and ongoing development in technology platform. “It should be a concentration of all the knowledge and experience acquired over the years,” he said. 

Chander Baljee, Chairman & Managing Director, Royal Orchid Hotels, in an exclusive chat, says may be ‘100’ is an objective, but now focus is more on quality than quantity 

Royal Orchid Hotels currently has 75 operational hotels and 16 are in pipeline. Most operational hotels are under Regenta brand while a few are under Royal Orchid. The chain has 12 owned and leased hotels.

Royal Orchid is a leading name in India’s hospitality landscape with a strong portfolio. Let’s talk about the journey so far. 

We started our first hotel in 2001. That time it was Royal Orchid. After 4-5 years, we decided to venture into hotel management area. In 2006, I went for IPO. With the money received from IPO, I decided to build our own hotels. We built critical mass of hotels because having a critical mass is essential to gain competency for a hotel management company. After that we started managing other people’s hotels. So, we started as hotel Management Company in 2009. 

Now we have been ramping up our presence very fast. Earlier we were primarily a south-Indian brand but now we have become a pan-India hotel management company. Now we have hotels from Ladakh to Kamini. We have presence all over India. So, we are expanding in every region of the country. Now we are also focussing in Eastern and Central India.  

What is Royal’s portfolio now and how many of them are owned? 

We already have 75 operational hotels and 16 are in pipeline. Most operational hotels are under Regenta brand while a few are under Royal Orchid. We have 12 owned and leased hotels. Some are franchised hotels. Remaining hotels are under management contract. Regenta Central, which is a 4-star brand, is driving our growth followed by Regenta Place, which is 3-star hotel brand.   

You are targeting 100 operational hotel portfolio by the year end. How are you gear up for that? 

I mentioned earlier, we have already signed 16 hotels. That will take our strength to 91. I also expect that 25 per cent of upcoming hotels may not open this year. But I am sure 12 out of 16 signed hotels will open this year. Now we may have a gap of some 10 odd properties, and I am confident that we have a team that can help add and open 10 more hotels in this year.  

We are very much near our target. You can see the result in the foreseeable future. May be 100 number is an objective, but now focus is more on quality than quantity. I told my guys, yes you may have target of 100, but let’s not get tempted by any and every hotel. Let’s now focus on quality. It doesn’t matter if we have five less hotels. We are a little choosy.

There are whole new ways the hospitality business is being conducted nowadays and those changes have come in the last few years. How are you adopting those changes in the royal Orchid expansion plans? 

We have to be very adoptive. Always! That’s why in our expansion plans under management route, we also have revenue sharing model. Sometimes owners are disappointed with management contracts. They think that hotel management companies make money, and they don’t. So, we have come up with this revenue sharing model. In management contract, management companies may make less money but they never loose. In case of revenue-sharing model, operating companies may lose money, but owners would never lose money.  

Like this hotel, Regenta Suites Gurugram, is under revenue-sharing model. Owners are finding such model a lot more exciting. We started this property two months back and it is receiving the number that is more than what we have expected. When I met the owner, he said that he is very happy with the performance of the hotel, and in future he would like to sign more projects with us. 

Talk about the brand equity that Royal Orchid has as a management company and Regenta as a brand. 

I believe that when you work in this business, you have to take care of the interests of all stakeholders. You can’t say I will make money, but they won’t. They should also make money. Employees should also get their fair share. So, everyone should get their fair share of revenues. They should also be part of the overall growth. That is our philosophy.  

But when an owner signs a foreign hotel management company, it takes certain amount as fee, but such companies are not connected to owners. They take their fees but are not much bothered about owners’ problems. Contracts are very rigid. And if an owner has an issue the concerned foreign management company does not help to solve that. 

We sometimes even help owners in restructuring their loans, shopping their loans. Those are none of our business. But we help owners if they have some problems. There are some banks which told us that you are going to manage a hotel, they are ready fund the development of that hotel. Our association with owners gives confidence to banks that their loans will be secured.  

You have six brands under Royal Orchid. What is their brand specification? 

They are not six different brands. They are sub brands. For example, this (Regenta Suites Gurugram) is Regenta Suites, because it’s like a service apartment, which has things like kitchen, larger space, etc. We have Regenta, which is 5-star brand. Then we have Regenta Central, which is a 4-star brand. There is Regenta Place, which is 3-star brand. Besides, we have Rrgenta Inn, which is budget hotel brand. Then, of course, ‘Suites’ get added, ‘Resorts’ get added. Basically, they all are sub-brands, which come under one Regenta Brand. Then of course we have the Royal Orchid brand too.

Odisha’s Swosti Group, a leading name in travel and hospitality business in the state, is building its next hospitality venture, a marquee 13-storey hotel project located in the temple town of Puri’s undulating coast and near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Konark Sun Temple. Swosti Premium Beach Resort Puri is slated to open door in January 2024.

 

“We are building the first five-star deluxe hotel property in Puri. It is also the first building in Puri that has got the permission to build 13 floors. Earlier, as per the CRZ Rules, it was ground plus two floors. Swosti Premium Beach Resort Puri is the first hotel which has got permission for 13 floors. All rooms will be sea facing. Our plan is to open this property in January 2024 and keeping that target date in mind we are working round the clock,” informed JK Mohanty, Chairman & Managing Director of Swosti Group.

One of the key features of the upcoming property will be the massive events and banqueting space that it will boast of. The property will be capable of holding several large events, like weddings, congresses and conferences, at any given time.

“One of the advantages of this property is that it can take at least three large events, like let’s says weddings of 1000 pax each, simultaneously. When it comes to conferences, we can easily take three to four conferences at any given point of time. Or if it is a very large event and client wants a brake up, we have enough space for that too. We have four smaller venues and a larger one for around 1200 pax. All these event venues are also overlooking the Sea with big open-air terraces,” Mohanty informed.

State-of-the-art Spa center, a 120 covers Sea facing Sky Lounge & Bar on the 13th floor with all side open, terrace pool, large parking area, among others, are some of its other luxurious allures. 

Furthermore, likely by 2024 or early 2025, Swosti will also boasts of two properties at Gopalpur on Sea. It currently operates Gopalpur Plam Resort there. Work on a second property in that area is expected to begin by the middle of the next year once Swosti reaches the completion of the civil construction of its 13-storey Sea facing marquee property that is coming up at the temple town of Puri.

“Seeing our commitment to hospitality and tourism, Gov has given us an additional three acres of land in Gopalpur- on- Sea. The land parcel is located just about 300 meters from our existing hotel at Gopalpur. We want to start work on this property after one year. Within one year we will finish work on the Civil Construction of Swosti Premium Beach Resort Puri. And once that happen, the same team, the same architect, will move to develop our second property at Gopalpur,” Mohanty further informed.

Currently operating a portfolio of four properties, two in the state capital Bhubaneshwar and one each at Gopalpur- on- Sea and Chilika Lake; the marquee Swosti Premium Beach Resort Puri will be fifth property under brand Swosti followed by the sixth property that will come up at Gopalpur- on- Sea close to Swosti’s already operation Gopalpur Palm Resort. Furthermore, Swosti has two more hotel properties lined up at Satpurra and Bhitarkanika.

“We are hoping to start work on Satpurra in another two years. Satpurra is one of the most beautiful places not just in Odisha or India, but in the world. It’s a place visited by the Dolphins. It’s a place where seven rivers meet the Sea and that creates a breathtakingly beautiful place,” he said.

Cinemas have always wielded tremendous punch when it comes to destination promotion and marketing. People have thronged to those places in hordes where their favourite movie was shot or the site that was visited by their favourite actors. In order to harness the potential of Cinema tourism, Uttarakhand has launched a slew of schemes aimed at making Uttarakhand an attractive place for movie shoots. Speaking recently at SATTE 2022, the Uttarakhnd Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj shared the details of the new incentives schemes for movies and their their production houses to take advantage of.

The new incentives scheme proposes that if 75 percent of the Hindi films are shot in Uttarakhand, the state government will give 30 percent or upto rupees 1.5 crore of the total production cost. Similarly for regional films, if 75 percent or more of such films are shot in Uttarakhand, the state government will give 30 percent or up to rupees 25 Lakhs of the total production cost. 

Attention to the needs and requirements of the production houses in order to make their shooting experience in the seamless is key part of the scheme, Maharaj said while further adding that proper police arrangements with a minimum of five personnel or more if required, residential accommodation for the crew with state’s tourist guest houses would be given to directors and team at 50 per cent discount. 

We are ready to hand hold, we are ready to offer any help and support, we are ready to make it easy for you to shoot in the state. We want you to make in India and come make in Uttarakhand too. If there are needs of vehicles for shooting purposes, we would provide that without any cost. You will face little bureaucratic hassle for approvals and other such things. You will get your approvals and permissions within seven days through our single window clearance system. We will try to make this proses of approvals and permissions even faster to order to better facilitate production houses’ shoots and schedules. 

“My request to the film fraternity is that today whole country is visiting Uttarakhand and we welcome you too. Come, shoot in Uttarakhand. Just remember to take breaks in between the journey as relaxing could be one of the keys to enjoyment, also for every visitor we will advise to undergo proper medical check-ups. It would greatly compliment your journey and make it safer,” he said. 

“We have many numbers of interesting places one being the Galwan valley, which boasts of being 100 years old and traders from Tibet on yaks and horses would come to trade their products in this region. Badahaat (now Uttarakashi) was one of the important places for trades, the valleys and roads of this area has been restored and familiar sights are now better visible. Contrary to today, we had good relationships with Tibet and Chinese,” he added while informing of the some of the picturesque places in the state. 

During the war of 1964 many towns were vacated due to Chinese aggression, some of being Jadui, Bagolia and Mohba. When we visit this place, it feels like these villages have been frozen in time as every detail of the town have been exactly like when they were vacated during that war. 

“Some of these villages were out of our reach as they were closer to borders but with our due effort some of these villages have been now excluded from inner line permit and can be put to use for tourism. This also helps with the security of the country as more movements in the town will enhance security measures. In the current times this also goes better as we can’t leave our country’s border deserted, and not to forget that they also make for great locations for tourists and film makers alike,” said Maharaj.

The state is also eyeing Timur and Mahadev to be excluded from inner line permit. These villages are also known as the last villages of India situated in Neeti Ghat. Also, there are areas of hills and mountains fully covered with Rodo dandrum and when the time comes for the flower to bloom, it seems the whole forest has been painted red or “goddess Bhagvati has worn her red Saree while sitting atop the hill” as Maharaj said. The sight is so delightful that the visitors feel like they are in heaven.

Furthermore, Maharaj also spoke of upcoming destinations like Rudra Cave that was visited by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for solitude and meditation a few years ago. Today this cave is pre-boooked for months ahead and has emerged as a new tourist hub. 

“When it comes to beauty and religious places to visit to and the fairs and festivals associated with them, Uttarakhand has kind of set the bars high and we have plenty to offer in this regard. Melas and community occasions have got great religious relevance with the likes of Lord Shakracharya and Lord Bhagvati. These stories are wonderfully captured in plays and dramas on various festive or ritualistic occasions. The state has such a deep and affectionate understanding of rituals, gods and plays and knows that in order to let it live you need to re-live those stories and for that to happen you need to include them in every other gathering and congregation as well as travel itineraries,” added Maharaj.

Where does India stand in a market that is projected to be in the region of US $ 1.5 trillion sector globally as per a McKinsey report? We are talking of wellness market. There is tremendous consumer interest in wellness today worldwide and that interest is only growing as is its market size. India’s healthcare market is projected to be in the region of US$ 240 billion, and barely two per cent of this market, or about US$ 4 billion, is estimated to be the share of wellness. However, given the country’s rich legacy and tradition of different medicine systems and wellness practices, from Ayurveda and Yoga to Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, India has few rivals and is well placed to be one of the wellness capitals of the world. To this end, taking right steps is the need of the hour. There have been little efforts made in this direction. But that, it looks like, is changing. 

 

SATTE 2022 witnessed an engaging business session on ‘Ayurveda & Wellness Tourism: The Big Opportunity for India’ moderated by Vasudha Sondhi, MD, OMPL. Speakers on the panel included Indroneel Das, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of Ayush; Indrani Mahto, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of Ayush; Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India; Dr. KP Khalid, Owner, Au Revoir Resort and Mukut Chakravarti, VP - Sales & Marketing, Tamara Leisure Experiences.

 

 Beyond Ayurveda and popular hotspots 

 

So far Ayurveda has emerged as the India’s mainstay in wellness offering, but there are plenty of other school of wellness tradition. Similar is the case with the wellness hotspots. Just a few places come to the mind recall when we think or speak of wellness tourism.

 

 

While opening the discussion, Sondhi remarked that India is at the cusp of wellness windfall. “The country has traditionally been offering wellness treatments, but it is currently restricted to a few states. Our perception is as such that we associate Rishikesh and Uttarakhand with wellness, or Kerala that’s been associated with wellness since time immemorial, however, there are wellness offerings in many other states of India,” she said. 

 

“One of the things that bothers me about wellness tourism is that it is heavily tilted towards Ayurveda. Whereas every bit of our country has a wellness tradition. It’s only in the last two years that I am even hearing ‘Siddha.’ Now what does this do to your wellness identity? It basically says that you can go just anywhere in India, and you can get an Ayurvedic massage, which is actually quite against the very tradition of wellness. There is a Khasi community that has a great wellness tradition. Siddha is another tradition. We are actually closing our eyes to the beauty and the dynamism of the other products that we have,” Mohan said. 

 

As a continuation of what Mohan said earlier and drawing similarity with the hidden treasure vaults in possession of lakhs of crores worth of gold and precious stones at Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum that was discovered a few years ago, Khalid also stressed that India is home to many wellness traditions barely known and even yet to be discovered with tremendous potential and a crying need to intervene and protect such tradition before they are forever lost and extinct.

 

 

To drive home his point, Khalid mentioned a tribal community in the jungles of Wayanad that he said are capable of treating Piles completely with a single dose of their traditional medicine. He said, “These kinds of things are getting vanished. It has to be the Ministry of AYUSH that should conduct something on it. It has to be researched. It has to be retained, and not just Ayurveda, Siddha and other traditional disciplines.”

 

As a diversification mantra, Mohan further added that ‘forest bathing’ that has its traditional roots in India creates wellness experiences around forest and around nature reserves and that is something nobody talks about. “In all our medicinal streams, we have some very good post-childbirth tradition. These are things we don’t even talk about. There is so much more to explore than just Ayurveda and I am glad that streams like Unani, Siddha and others are being talked about. Wellness as a whole has a lot of traditions and streams. I was in Kerala recently and the most effective wellness centers are actually not known to anyone,” she pointed.  

 

Ministry of AYUSH 

 

Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Sidhdha and Homeopathy) that was formed towards the end of 2014 has a critical role to play if India is to be positioned as a sought-after wellness destination. The Ministry was formed with the vision of reviving the profound knowledge of India’s ancient system of medicine and it is focussed on the traditional forms of medication and study of these systems.  

 

Putting a question to the panel, Sondhi noted, “With a rich tradition of knowledge of such medicine system India is well placed to be the focal point of global health wellness. Today, Ayush is perceived largely as focused on traditional medication. However, there is a crying need for the Ministry to look at building a strong policy framework for the opening of new age wellness centers. How is this being addressed by the Ministry?

 

 Indroneel Das, Manager, Invest India from Ministry of AYUSH, said, “We have been part of a lot of discussion in the last year or so where we have seen the focus shift to hard core medical value travel to wellness travel and Ayush. What has happened is that the wellness tourism industry in India has grown very organically. There has been very little strategic marketing that has happened. There has been very little awareness push that has gone into it. In terms of policy support also it’s been on the sidelines. However, that is changing now. There are schemes that the Ministry is thinking about that will support it from the point of view of information access as well as from the point of view of infrastructure.”

 

 

 Initiatives, Schemes & Policies 

 

Das further informed that at the recent Global AYUSH Innovation and Investment Summit in Gujarat the Prime Minister has spoken of AYUSH Visa that will help facilitate wellness travel. Another initiative that the PM spoke about was multi-thousand crore opportunity in dedicated AYUSH Parks. “These Parks will be hub of manufacturing as well as services that will directly aid the medical wellness travellers coming to India to benefits from the country’s traditional medicinal systems,” he added. 

 

Das said, “It is this lack of umbrella body like Ayush Parks that has kept the industry very fragmented up until now. That is something that the Ministry is looking to change through policy initiatives. We believe that it is only a question of time now given the focus of the Ministry, of the Honourable PM and we are going to see very-very targeted initiative in the years to come and this industry will transform.”

 

To a question posed by Sondhi that how is Ayush accommodating the demands of world-class new age medical wellness centers with the right ambience and wellness retreat like experiences that is in sync with international standards and demand expectations in its policy framework ambit, Mahto informed that there is already a scheme in place that is called the Champion Service Sector Scheme which incentivizes promoters, individual and organisations to open not just Ayush Hospitals but also wellness centers. “The Ministry is also working very hard in terms of expanding the scope of the current scheme so that such wellness centres that you just mentioned are covered,” she informed. 

 

Mahto also pointed that wellness tourist generally come for a longer period of time that could be go up to a couple of months as they might need treatment, therapies or even rejuvenation, that require long stay and therefore the new Ayush Visa is a step in that direction and will address such issues.  

 

She also informed that the Ministry is working to bring standardization of services in this area. “These conversations are at a very preliminary stages but it might not be a very long shot if we also come up with some kind of feedback mechanism for these wellness centers so that when the travellers plan to come to India we have some kind of, let’s say, portal, videos or recommendations and guidance, which they can refer to because otherwise there are all kind of information all over the place. It takes a lot of efforts for anybody to understand what kind of they have or what kind of wellness centers there are that suit their needs.”

 

 Marketing & Opportunity

 

 We must also look at the size of the opportunity in the market today and what are some of those numbers that we are looking at and really see the market for what it is. “We are a country of 138 crore people almost matching China with a population of over 141 crore. The need for healthcare has significantly therefore changed at a 20 per cent CAGR to US$ 240 billion, size of healthcare business in the country. Out of which Ayurveda is valued at about US$ 4 billion, which is barely two per cent of the business. So, if India was to truly achieve their healthcare goals, then they have to manage the preventive or the pre-emptive healthcare which is the healthcare that is to do with dealing with symptoms,” said Chakravarti while drawing attention to the market size and potential new opportunity in the wellness tourism arena. 

 

Mohan pointed at the need to better tap the short vacation wellness tourism market segment which she said is one of the lowest hanging fruits arguing that reason why wellness centers have spas that help in restore and rejuvenation. 

 

Khalid drew attention of the policy makers and stakeholders to new emerging health concerns in the post-Covid world and post-Covid recovery challenges pointing that discipline like Ayurveda and others offer a number of treatments, therapies and detoxification programmes aimed at rejuvenation and blood purifications that help build immunity also amongst people who have been affected by Covid. “We have to market it and promote it like what we have done with Yoga. Today the world knows about Yoga and India. We have, no doubt, done some good campaigns on Yoga. Similarly, we have to bring some good campaigns on post-pandemic and post-Covid treatments through wellness,” stressed Khalid. 

 

So, what has the Government done so far about that? Well not much so far, but there are now ideas, efforts, initiatives and policies and support on the table which is begging to unfold. AYUSH Visa is one example, AYUSH Parks is another. The Government has also, to some degree, says Chakravarti, extended the NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare) Guidelines. 

 

Tamara Vice President says, “Let’s look at the five big players in the healthcare business per se. There is of course the medical tourism side such as the wellness centers. And then there is products side where 75 per of the US$ 4 billion belongs to products and 25 per cent of the US$ 4 billion belongs to wellness Hospitals and Hotels and things like that. Then there are three major pivots that are sitting at the bottom as sector enabler, namely, Ministry of AYUSH, the insurance sector and lastly the association and other such education bodies in the sector. The one thing that has happen more recently, in 2015 – 2016, is extending insurance to alternative medicine. So that was one element that was brought in.”  

 

Further continuing, he adds, “The second thing was the focus on brand Ayurveda. But really where can we see per cent which Ayurveda claims today and how does it enable total vision of what we are trying to achieve in healthcare as well. I think AYUSH needs to understand that. Do we have an opportunity to really claim this business where I think globally people are moving on to competition? Sri Lanka is owning the origin of Ayurveda. They are saying they are the originator. China is saying this, Acupuncture, is our alternative healthcare system and it’s valid and it works. So, we have to be competitive. We are not owning this (Ayurveda).”  

 

“The US$ 240 billion of healthcare and the fact that Ayuveda is barely two per cent of it, is a massive gap and that’s where this academic discussion has to move to by engaging with more people from four domains – products, services (Wellness centers), accreditation (NABH) and Government. Everyone who is there in the Ayurveda business is in for opportunity,” he stressed.  

 

Sustainability in Wellness 

 

The two are intrinsically linked. Wellness is inherently linked with tree cover, forests and nature as is sustainability.  

 

While noting that the important aspect is that what is the wellness tourism doing in terms of Sustainability, Mohan said, “If you are not tuned in to the sustainability part of wellness, you are not tuned in to the fact that having a healthy ecosystem or having a healthy tree cover contributes to your personal wellness. It is said that your body is a part of nature and here we are completely cutting down tree covers and building large resorts and creating exotic landscapes and we are putting people there and saying that you are going to get well over here. This is my big grouse against the wellness industry.” 

 

According to Mohan, “One of the important things to do is to highlight five or six wellness tradition from across the country. Otherwise, it puts a huge pressure not only on Ayurveda, but also on the products used in Ayurvedic treatment. As you know that the products used in Ayurvedic treatment come from forests, it puts a huge amount of stress on forest and other productive areas for these things.”

One of the most popular destination cities in the world, Almaty recently came calling to India at SATTE 2022 to showcase its appeal and attractions and various tourism offerings to the Indian market. 

The biggest city of Kazakhstan and the financial capital of the country, Almaty is fast emerging as a popular destination with Indian outbound travellers for its lovely year-round weather, especially for Indian visitors who are exposed to much warmer climate, beautiful city setting surrounded by mountains, lakes, pristine nature and trees, big entertainment offerings, clubs, shopping malls and value-for-money buys, ski and mountain resorts and so much more. 

And not to forget that it’s highly competitive. A five night – six day all inclusive, accommodation in four-star hotel, programme can start from as low as a mere US$ 360.

Almaty is directly connected to Delhi via thrice weekly flights operated by Air Astana. Almaty welcomed around 33,000 Indian visitors in 2019. However, that number plummeted to 7,000 Indian arrivals in 2020 and a mere 5,000 in 2021, because of the halt in international travel and tourism following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. 

In India to attend SATTE 2022 and showcase Almaty to the Indian and international buyers, Izenay Dilara, Chief Specialist of Tourism Promotion Division, Tourism Department of Almaty City, expressed confidence that 2022 will mark the turnaround in tourist arrival to Almaty.

Dilara said that India is one of the fastest growing outbound tourism source market and a new destination for Almaty that they want to develop more and grow arrivals. “At the same time, we are a new destination that we want to introduce to the Indian and the global market and attract tourists. Indians have been travelling to Thailand, Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia and European countries. They have not much explored Central Asia. Our tourism is just starting. We are value for money and there is so much to explore and enjoy in Almaty or for that matter across the country as well,” she stressed. 

Commenting on the source market development initiatives for the Indian market, Izenay Dilara, Chief Specialist of Tourism Promotion Division, Tourism Department of Almaty City, said, “After Covid we are studying our promotion again for the Indian market. We have already done two road shows in Mumbai and Delhi. We have invited local tour companies, tour agencies, who are interested in inbound to Almaty. We have made destination presentations in order to address the awareness issues as well. Furthermore, we will do some fam. trips for local (Indian) tour companies as well as road shows. We are participating at SATTE, and we hope to be back for some other shows as well.”

In the last few years Almaty has been picking up in terms of finding itself increasingly on Indian travellers’ itineraries. Not only is Almaty much cheaper than Europe but also packs a tremendous punch as a destination. There is increasing MICE movement, particularly ‘Incentives’, from India to Almaty lately and it is only growing.

One of the major tourism destinations in India, Rajasthan has been strengthening its tourism offering and promotion in order to find new ways to stimulate both, the industry within the state as well as the market. 

The State Government has allocated Rs 1,000 crore for tourism in the Budget and the department is keen to utilize this budget properly to give a new trajectory to the state’s tourism industry. The government is redefining the accommodation and guest stay experience going beyond hotels and revitalizing the more experiential B&B offerings and the relatively new guest house scheme that’s a somewhat between B&B and a full-fledged hotel but nevertheless a sure shot recipe of experiential and immersive experiences bringing tourists closer to more authentic ways of Rajasthani lifestyle and food.

“We have got very good state budget of Rs 600 crore for infrastructure development and another Rs 400 crore for marketing. This is a huge budget and remarkable for us also. When you have a good budget, you can do many things on different fronts. Under the infrastructure budget, we have different types of work that we are going to undertake. These are related to renovation, new developments, construction of missing road links and last mile connectivity and upgradation of tourist facilities at the monuments and other such sites and pilgrimage centres. These are areas where we are planning to spend the money,” informed Pawan Kumar Jain, Joint Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Rajasthan, while interacting on the sidelines of the recently concluded SATTE last month.

As for the Rs 400 crore marketing budget, Jain informed that his department is doing an all-round marketing campaign, including TV, radio, print as well as outdoor media. Rajasthan Tourism is also doing social media campaigns and media buying, among others, to reach out to large number of people across the country. 

Additionally, the state tourism department has launched many other schemes, in the state, all aimed at facilitating tourism in the state. One such scheme is Heritage Certification Scheme. “Under the scheme, we give heritage certificate to heritage properties. It is given only to those properties which were constructed before 1950. The State Government gives such properties bar license at a subsidized rate. So, suppose the annual fee is of Rs. X amount, then such properties have to pay X/2 as the bar license fee. Besides, they get many other benefits also like some parts of the property can be used as commercial parts also and they are converted free of cost,” informed Jain.

The other scheme is the Guest House Scheme, under which one can operate anywhere from six to twenty lettable rooms as Guest House in ones’ residential house. These houses are required to be located on at least 30 feet wide road. Under the scheme, the Guest House owners are allowed to operate a professionally run restaurant also, but only for the in-house guests. Besides, they can also run a shop in the premises. “More than 22 properties have already registered under the scheme across the state, especially at tourism hotspots like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, among others. We want to reach more than 50 properties by the end of this year under the scheme and I am sure we can accomplish this target,” said Jain. 

The State’s B&B Scheme is no less exciting, Jain said. Under the scheme, one to five lettable rooms can be rented to guests or tourists. But what is different about the scheme viz-a-viz B&B schemes declared by other states is that the Rajasthan allows such facilities on the basis of self-declaration. “Suppose I want my residence to be opened as a B&B establishment, then I have to declare that I will run it as B&B and I will stay in the premises and based on this we issue the certificate. So, we have made it more simplified.” 

Today more than 800 B&B facilities are already registered with state government from across Rajasthan. The Rajasthan Department of Tourism provides them with publicity, promotion and business access support, among others. 

Desaru Coast, a world class international integrated destination resort located in the South-East of Malaysia, was recently making news for shelling out as much as over Rs 12 million incentives package to woo the Indian travellers. 

Roslina Arbak, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Desaru Development Holdings One Sdn Bhd, puts it, Desaru is keen to dig deep in the Indian market at position itself as the preferred holiday destinations for the Indian travellers. 

“The importance of the Indian market is undeniable for us at Desaru Coast. This is our fourth time presenting at SATTE and this year, we come as a fully operational destination resort with all six world-class resorts and attractions and connectivity infrastructure – the Desaru Coast Ferry Terminal, completed. Our priority now is to re-engage and reintroduce our destination to our Indian partners. We are here to demonstrate Desaru Coast’s diverse offerings, infrastructure and readiness to welcome more Indian travellers to our destination, Arbak said. 

Desaru Coasts boasts of four international brand hotels, Hard Rock, Westin, Anantara and the ultra-luxurious One&Only. It has two Golf Courses with a total of 45 holes and we are going to be a paradise for the Golfers. Besides, Desaru is home to a fantastic Adventure Water Park and that is Asia’s largest Wave Pool! And also, by virtue of its location, the integrated destination resort spans on a 17-kilometer beach front and boasts of a number of eco-tourism activities that it has curated for its guests.

“Desaru Coast is a perfect getaway for an extended holiday for guests coming into Singapore or to even Kuala Lumpur. It is a good four days –three nights stay with enough activities across the whole spectrum of the market segments. We provide guests with end-to-end experiences where there is something for everyone, whether you are coming to Desaru as a family or whether you are coming as a young couple or coming with three generations of a family. There is something for everyone at different levels and different types of accommodation offerings,” Arbak said.

Explaining more the Rs 12 million incentives package, Arbak said: “Our incentives cuts across all segments; leisure travellers, MICE groups of all sizes as well as the Indian wedding segment,” she said and added that Desaru Coast is introducing its popular luxury stay packages at affordable prices starting at approximately Rs 6,600 per person for the leisure market. The total incentive offered to the leisure market amounts to Rs 5 million. 

For the MICE segment, under its signature MICE Reinvented, the destination will be offering incentives valued up to Rs 2.1 million for events and groups. For every group booking, Desaru Coast is offering an incentive of Rs 1100 per person for the Gala Dinner. Additionally, the destination will provide complimentary pocket show activities and cultural shows for the gala dinner. 

To attract Indian weddings, a Rs 4.4 million incentive will be presented to the first five weddings booked at the destination, which translates to approximately INR880,000 per wedding. Incentives can be redeemed for in areas of connectivity, themed receptions and wedding photography package among others.

The destination is a mere three and half hours’ drive from Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Alternately, Desaru is also easily accessible via Singapore. Via road it takes under two hours to reach Desaru from Singapore and soon it will also boast of under two-hour ferry connectivity from Singapore. The ferry service is expected to begin in the second half of the year.

“Connectivity wise we are actually in the perfect place and location, just over three hours from Kuala Lumpur and under two hours from Singapore. And if the visitors are coming via Singapore by ferry, it is an added experience and not to forget that it connects directly to Desaru as the ferry terminal is located within the resort,” added Arbak. 

“Why we call it an integrated resort is that even though we have different operators, but at the end of the day we own the destination. So, we have formed a destination concierge where we can coordinate a package for both, experiences within the destination (Desaru Coast) as well as outside the destination. So, some of the experiences like eco-tourism activities, it goes beyond our Desaru Coast area. So, we can take guests outside of Desaru Coast and we package it all in,” she added. 

SATTE 2021 was the first major international tourism event that was organised last year in March, since the countries worldwide started imposing lockdowns starting February 2020. Despite fewer exhibitors, the event garnered tremendous response from buyers from across India, and some international too, who, despite the air travel and other restrictions, still managed to attend the event. 

The aisles were teaming with buyers, and exhibitors were swearing by their enthusiasm and eagerness to ink new deals and contracts. SATTE 2022, if anything, was at least twice as vociferous. The show recorded more than 120 per cent growth over the previous edition despite a very challenging national and international travel landscape in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic reaching very close to the pre-pandemic size and scale. 

The 29th edition was a massive statement on India and the South Asia region’s potential for domestic, regional and global tourism, underpinning UNWTO’s data showing the region as one of the fastest growing tourism markets as well as source market for destinations across the globe. For the domestic tourism in India, exhibitors from every corner of India, from Kashmir to Kerala and India’s western most states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the country’s North East, were in attendance along with their regions’ leading DMCs, hotels and other suppliers to showcase their products, offerings and destinations to buyers. 

Internationally, some 300 international suppliers and 25 countries were in attendance from every single continent, from as far as The Americas to Oceania and Africa, vying for a slice of India and the region’s outbound potential. Azerbaijan that debuted in the Indian market in the late 2018, made its destination launch at SATTE 2019 and swears by expo’s potential to drive incremental traffic. Not only India is the fastest growing source market for Azerbaijan today but is also among its top producing markets, a feat achieved in a space of just about two to three years. 

This year it was Saudi Arabia, shrouded in mystery and antiquity and some ambitious new developments aimed at transforming country’s future economic landscape, the country organised its first major destination launch in India at SATTE this year. The land of Mecca and Medina, two of the holiest sites of Islam, Saudi Arabia was the premier partner of the event this year. 

While inaugurating SATTE 2022, Chief Guest of the event, Shripad Yesso Naik, Minister of State for Tourism, Govt. of India, said, “Travel and tourism is among one of the world’s largest economic sector creating export and prosperity around the world, and SATTE, South Asia Travel & Tourism Exchange, offers a comprehensive platform to domestic and international buyers and professionals from across the travel, tourism and hospitality industry along with the national (NTOs) and state (STBs) tourism boards. For over two decades, SATTE is recognized as one of the leading travel and tourism exhibitions in the country which conducts business, share knowledge, exchange ideas in order to arrive at solutions.” 

The Minister also pointed that SATTE is well supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, national and international tourism boards, Indian and international travel and tourism associations and stakeholders of the industry. 

While exuding confidence in the event, he further said, “This year it is the 29th edition of SATTE. The show has participation of 25 foreign and 25+ states along with private sector players from aviation, cruise, theme parks, attractions, etc. A travel mart of this magnitude is happening in India after a gap of two years. I am happy to see such a large participation of foreign tourism boards, international and domestic travel and tourism stakeholders, state tourism delegates, they are all present here today. I hope the event will facilitate a number of business deals in the value chain of travel and tourism industry.”

Earlier, while welcoming the delegates at SATTE 2022, Yogesh Mudras, Managing Director, Informa Markets – India, said, “Informa Market in India has been an integral part of travel and tourism trade for more than two decades now with SATTE entering its 29th edition. As the travel sector is beginning to see the momentum with the opening of international flights, SATTE 2022 will be a major platform for discussion and dialogues for the revival of national and international travel industry. SATTE has always worked towards developing a roadmap for the lucrative future of this industry.”

“We are extremely pleased to host around 30,000 attendees who are expected to attend this edition of SATTE. We have 1000 plus exhibitors on the floor, so it’s a full-fledged edition of SATTE back again after the gap of a year. There are 25 states tourism boards as well as 25 international destinations (NTOs) who are participating this year. Altogether we have over 300 international participants at the show this year,” Mudras informed.   

Attending his first major tourism expo since assuming tourism portfolio, M. Mathiventhan, Minister for Tourism, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, pointed that it is thanks to the mass vaccination programme that now tourism industry is out of Covid mayhem. “With Covid-19 pandemic receding people are rushing back to the tourism spots. Needless to say, that our country, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, is filled with diversity and tourism. Each state has distinct culture, tradition, food, topography and many other diversities,” he said, while also adding “We see Tamil Nadu now well poised for a giant leap in the sector. When it comes to our state, Tamil Nadu, led by our Honourable Chief Minister M K Stalin, is taking many measures to promote tourism.” 

The Minister particularly pointed out state’s first of its kind ‘Tourism Destination Development Scheme’ that he said is a milestone scheme that will help the state identify and develop whole new set of destinations to give fillip to the state’s tourism sector and also boost employment. He further said that there are several other new programmes in tourism aimed at uplifting state’s tourism sector. “Tamil Nadu is also coming up with new Tourism Policy that will seek to provide industry status to the tourism sector. New guidelines are being formulated in order to develop Caravan Tourism, Eco-camping sites and such activities. The state is also organizing its private sector in tourism bringing all the agents and operators under a single umbrella and providing them with the required registrations and accreditions,” informed Mathiventhan.

Paying glowing tributes to SATTE for bringing together such a huge gathering of international tourism fraternity for three-days of business meetings and networking in the sweltering May heat and in the new post-pandemic normal, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General (Tourism), Govt. of India, also highlighted India’s massive movement of vaccination that has given tremendous confidence to travel and tourism industry and every other sector and has made events like SATTE with such large gathering possible. She said, “What we want to say in a very loud voice to the world is that we are ready to welcome you, the trade is all set to welcome you” while also adding that “Please don’t just visit India in virtual space, instead travel to India.”

Brar urged the delegates and attendees to talk about India and its growing tourism stories to people in order to whet their appetite for the wanderlust. She said, “You have 114 airports within India to plan your travels to and the number of destinations that we can talk about is endless. ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ is the experience which is unending. So, when I say ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ to see my country, it not only refers to us as Indians, but it’s an experience, it’s a process that is for anyone and everyone coming into India.” 

She also explained that while tourists are welcome to explore and visit the country, India at the same time is a much-evolved experience that global travellers should seek, whether in terms of wellness, culture and heritage, adventure, rural or eco-tourism experiences or whether one is textiles or music lover, the list is endless, and therefore should be accordingly encouraged to explore these myriad facets of the country.

Congratulating Informa Market in India on the successful organization of the 29th edition of SATTE, Jyoti Mayal, Vice Chairperson of FAITH said, “SATTE is famous in the travel fraternity as South Asia’s leading travel show and has carved a niche of itself in its 29 years of journey. I have been a part of this journey and I have grown with it. It has become a premier show to network and conduct tourism business in the region.” “SATTE being a platform to connect entire Asia, I wish to convey that we at FAITH along with all our ten partner associations are working tirelessly to promote and encash global and regional tourism opportunities which indeed is the need of the hour, to strengthen multilateral, bilateral relations and enhance trade and tourism and make travellers experience entire Asia and the globe,” she further added.

Furthermore, highlighting the role of tourism and the role that premier events like SATTE play in the socio-economic development of a country or region, Mayal said, “Tourism has a very steady growth. It is over 6 per cent CAGR over the last 50 years and the main source of foreign exchange earnings for one-third of the developing countries. Tourism employment opportunities have outperformed other major industries. Importantly, women account for 54 per cent of the employment in the sector compared to 39 per cent to the global economy.”  

With the revival of travel and tourism top of the agenda, also speaking on the occasion, Rajiv Mehra, Hony. Secretary, FAITH said, “The contribution of tourism to employment, foreign exchange earnings and to the GDP is known to all. The pandemic brought this vibrant sector to a sudden halt. Now with sky opened and over 192 crore vaccinated, the Incredible India is all set to welcome tourists from across the world.” 

Speaking further, Mehra drew attention to bring back the eVisa facilities for all the countries as earlier and also to extend the five-lakh free tourist Visa scheme to future date in order for the industry and the country to take advantage of the scheme. Mehra also drew attention to the opportunities and challenges in the Buddhist sector that encompasses a vast territory, from Bengal and Bihar in the East to all the way to Ladakh, the Northern most territory of India. He also took the opportunity to ask for Infrastructure status for the tourism industry in order for the industry to attract greater investment. Mehra also offered key recommendations concerning marketing and promotion of the country in the overseas source markets that included suggestions related to overseas road shows, website improvements, tax rationalization on ATF, among others.

Industry veteran Subhash Goyal, Member, National Advisory Council, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, while recalling SATTE from the days when it was first conceived, said, “SATTE is not any ordinary exhibition. It was conceived as a platform for the Indian tourism industry to bring the buyers and sellers from all over the world together. And I am happy today that SATTE is a dream come true, that over a thousand exhibitors are participating in this year’s SATTE. As somebody who has attended all the SATTE, I think this edition is already a grand success. What I want to say is take full advantage of SATTE, network and meet as many people as possible as this is one of the first events after a long time and so well attended.” 

Masks, sanitisers, social distancing, greater safety and hygiene, not to forget, the vaccinations, are the new normal. As destinations across the world open to travel and tourism and start afresh their destination marketing and recoup the lost business, how should India Tourism, inbound or domestic, chart its course is going to be interesting.

 

The recently concluded SATTE organised an engaging session of the topic ‘India Tourism: The Road Ahead’ to develop some ideas on the need of the hour, tourism revival and road it needs to walk to regain its share of travel and tourism and further build from there. The session was moderated by Aashish Gupta, CEO of FAITH. Speakers in the panel included Rupinder Brar, ADG, Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Government of India; Rajiv Mehra, President of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO); Sudhir Patil, Founder & Director, Veena World; Robert Oblogogiani, Executive Vice President of AviaReps and Karnesh Sharma, Director – Tourism & Culture Affairs, Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion.   

  

Initiating the session on ‘India Tourism: Road ahead, Gupta remarked that India’s tourism industry has had the toughest survival in the past two years. “If any industry has been hugely impacted, it has been travel & tourism industry. If in any industry, employment has immensely impacted it has been travel and tourism industry. If any industry’s revenues were impacted badly, it has been travel and tourism industry, but now is time for all of us to bounce back,” said Gupta.

 

“I think this is time to relook at where we are and how we can move forward from here,” said Gupta. He noted that tourism contributes a significant share to India’s GDP. Tourism is the only industry which creates employment across the country. Tourism is the only sector which generates foreign exchange. Tourism is the only sector which creates infrastructure. It is only sector that creates international goodwill.

 

Inbound Scenario 

 

So, the question is how we as a country are placed to address the issues of tourism in post-Covid era. And are we in a condition today to not only capture what we had but also build on what we had in the pre-covid era. Let’s start with two key verticals that India Tourism has: inbound vertical and domestic vertical. In the year 2019, Indian received 11million inbound tourists. It also includes people visiting friends and families here. If we look at on the percentage basis, India has 1% share in international tourist market in pre-Covid period.

 

How soon and how ready is India to regain its 1 % share of international tourist market? Gupta asked this question to Rupinder Brar, ADG, the Ministry of Tourism, who was present as a panellist. Answering Gupta’s question, Brar said, “If we look at where we are right now, surrounded by thousands of people, that sends a strong message to the world that we are ready, we are ready to welcome tourists.” She added that Visa has been fully opened in middle of March. Regular International flights have already started. We worked closely with the industry to ensure that the whole industry is fully vaccinated on priority basis. That sends a sound message that whoever is attending a tourist at airport or elsewhere is fully vaccinated. 

 

She mentioned that the MoT has closely been working with the industry for preparing many more itineraries to widen India’s offerings to the world. “This is where I see a lot of changes happening. People are moving away from standard things that were previously offered; especially in the post-Covid times, we need to take tourists to open places, green places, wellness places, etc. In terms of these attractions, India has lots to offer to tourists. Brar referred to India’s achievement in improving connectivity in recent years. She said that this would come very handy now when the world is bouncing back, and tourism is reopening. “For those who may not be aware, India has 140 airports, 20 of them have capacity for international take-off and landing. The country has second largest network of roads after the US. 36 km roads are constructed every single day,” said Brar. “From industry perspective, I see lots of innovations, lots of user technologies coming in, all by our private sector, which will take India a long way,” she said. Brar admitted that in the last two years it has been extremely tough journey in for everyone involved in travel and tourism industry.

 

Speaking on the occasion, Rajeev Mehra, President, IATO said, the MoT, the Government of India and IATO have been working very closely with each other for the last two years, on various issues. Starting from the Covid period to now, the MoT has been very helpful.

 

“As far as inbound tourism is concerned, we are all set for that. I expect October onwards 30 to 40 % business of what we had in the pre-Covid times coming to India. At the same we have lots of problems in hand. One of the problems is that cost of tour packages for India post Covid-19 has grown up by 25 to 30 per cent because of increase in fuel prices, transport cost and hotel rates have gone up. Domestic flights in India are costly,” said Mehra.

 

He added, “What we expect from the government of India is that it should bring Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) under GST so that cost of ATF comes down. We have been requesting the Tourism Minister and the PM that promotion of India in overseas market has to start now.” According to Mehra, “We are not promoting our country the way our neighbours are promoting themselves in overseas markets. We are not participating in overseas roadshows, except for ATM Dubai which took place recently. It is very important that the Ministry of Tourism, the Government of India along with private operators should promote the country overseas and let the world know that we are still there, and we mean business.”

 

Mehra feels that roadshows need to be done urgently. They should have been done already, but it is better late than never. “We must start now. We request the government to start these things immediately.” According to Mehra, there is need to promote tourism in right spirit so that dream of the honourable Prime minister is fulfilled.

 

Gupta commented that it is really a worrying time. Prices are very high. And India is becoming an expensive destination. Another worry is the inflation which is driving up the cost. He also echoed Mehra on pushing for visibility in the international source markets as any more delay can cost India in terms of slow and prolonged recovery of its market share.

 

Domestic Tourism

 

As a sub-continental country, India’s diversity in terms of destinations, people, language, culture and food, landscape and topography are second to none. And the fact that it’s a huge country, both in terms of size and population, makes domestic tourism a potential engine of growth and development in the country. While the topic, domestic tourism, came up for discussion on the occasion, Gupta pointed that pre-Covid the number of domestic tourist visits in Indian is around 2.3 billion which is almost one-and-half visits per person making India the second highest market for domestic visits. But when compared with the US and China, the number of visits per person was almost six for US citizens and almost four for the Chinese domestic visits. While number of domestic tourists in India is high, the value and average expenditure by tourist is low, he pointed.

 

Speaking about domestic tourism, Sudhir Patil, Founder & Director, Veena World, said, “Everyone is saying that domestic tourism is very high, it is booming but there are issues as well.” At the outset, Patil said that our Prime Minister is the Ambassador of our domestic tourism. Wherever he goes to, there is immediate increase in demand from there.”

 

Coming to issues that India’s domestic tourism is facing, Patil said that low service standard is a concern in domestic tourism. Because of this, according to Patil, for an Indian tourist, visiting a domestic destination has high opportunity cost and that is killing domestic tourism. It is important to improve service standards for domestic tourism, Patil said. He added that while promoting domestic tourism, it is important that India should also avoid doing over marketing of its certain destinations because such places will not be able to sustain the overload of too much tourism and everyone in the industry will collapse. Currently, it is important to focus on tourism that is sustainable.

 

“Onus should be on all travel service providers that they do not take undue advantage of situation. They should give value for money to their customers,” said Patil. He further said, “Many incoming flights are empty. I am outbound operator. I want more inventories in airlines but that is not possible due to lack of inbound traffic. For more inventories there is need of synergy between outbound and inbound tourism.”

 

While admitting that the trade and industry need to be pro-active, aggressive and show innovation, he also drew attention that the Center and State need to do better hand holding for the promotion of destinations in the domestic tourism market space. He said that India Tourism needs to work with the State Tourism bodies in a proper synchronised way for promotion which is unique and region specific. 

 

Commenting on the right synergy between the Centre and State Governments, Karnesh Sharma, Director – Tourism & Culture Affairs, Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion, pointed that two entities, Centre and State, greatly complement each other’s efforts in the development of tourism through infrastructure creation and marketing and promotion of the destination through various events and mediums. Sharma also pointed that there are many destinations in the states that are often off the tourism radar but have high tourism potential and can be developed through Centre and States funding and help diversify a state’s tourism offerings. To drive home his point, he mentioned that there are many high potential destinations in Punjab, both known and lesser known that can be developed through Centre’s help. “There are so many places in Punjab where one can visit but we have to develop and promote them. Adjoining Gurdaspur, there is a place called Kalanur where Akbar’s coronation was done. Similarly, there are sites in Kapurthala, Rupnagar district and others. There are so many places to develop, promote and visit but we have to make our presence felt,” he added.

 

Sharma also informed about the new initiatives of the State Governments towards developing Punjab’s tourism profile, especially for the domestic market that he pointed that has become key driver of tourism as well as economy in the post-Covid normal. He also assured of all the help and support from his department for any industry efforts towards promoting tourism in Punjab.

 

Take Home

 

Malaysia announced the opening of its border on April 1st earlier this year after imposing a little over two years of strict restrictions on international travel. In just about a fortnight, the Malaysia Tourism  was in India conducting a six-city road show to build confidence amongst the trade and travellers, sending a message on safety and its Covid preparedness, to re-engage with the trade on new product updates and education, and importantly, to also tell that it understand that the pandemic was devastating for the trade and industry and hence is willing to hand hold the trade with joints collaborative marketing initiatives and incentives.

 

On the other hand, some of the leading players in the Malaysian tourism industry, like for example the integrated Resort destination Desaru Coast, have also put on the table some attractive ‘incentives’ scheme to make it even more attractive for the Indian outbound tourism trade, especially the likes of MICE operators and wedding planners, to promote Malaysia in the Indian market. There is a lot we can learn here.

 

Similarly, given India’s strategic and inherent advantages, domestic tourism is tremendous opportunity. However, there are issues that needs to be addressed and challenges that need to be ironed out in order to exploit the potential opportunities that the sector offers in India. The sector, say industry experts, continues to grapple with poor service standards, safety and hygiene issues, low level investment in marketing and promotion and lack of funding for many promising and potential sites.

 

Commenting on the industry best practices, Robert Oblogogiani, Executive Vice President of AviaReps, a leading international General Sales Agent (GSA) of Airlines and a tourism marketing and representation company, said, “We as a destination need to understand how to sell, position and present our destination in nowadays reality, in the new normal. I hear very often that we are going back to normal. It is not going back to normal. This is going to be the reality. We need to understand that we have found a new world.”

 

Furthermore, he added that given its diversity, India is a unique country and so it cannot just copy a promotional strategy from anyone, but it can learn and imbibe good practices in destination marketing and promotion. He suggested that the country should work on short-, medium- and long-term clear objectives and persist with well-crafted strategies for the source market developments. “India should be brave enough to take some very-very fresh approach, very brave approach, change the strategy, bringing in some extraordinary professionals in order to lay out right modals, in the right place and at the right time to position and sell India,” he added.

 

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