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Shayan Mallick

Shayan Mallick

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), India´s as well as the South Asia’s position in the world tourism is increasingly becoming more significant both as a destination and as a source market. Tourism is among one of the leading economic sectors of the world, surpassing 1.4 billion in international arrivals in 2018, two years ahead of the forecasted time. South Asia, which achieved astonishing growth rate of 9 per cent in 2017, has continued to show increase in the first 9 months in 2018, reinforcing its potential as a destination as well as the source market. As 2019’s first international tourism event from the South Asia region, SATTE 2019, that recently concluded in Delhi NCR on January 16-18, has continued to play an integral part in South Asia’s growth as a tourism destination and has helped the global stakeholders develop the source market potential of the region as well.

Speaking at the inaugural function of the event at India Expo Centre, Yogesh Mudra, Managing Director of UBM India, said, “Over the years SATTE has built a reputation of being one of the most comprehensive B2B platforms catering to domestic and international buyers and professional from across the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors along with the national and state tourism boards. This has also enabled professionals to congregate and conduct business, arrive at solutions and innovations to counteract economic uncertainties by promoting inbound, outbound and domestic tourism in India. On our part, we have pulled all socks to celebrate this 26th edition of SATTE and the growth of this sector. This 26th edition of SATTE is the largest SATTE ever, spread over 25,000 square meters of gross area. On behalf of UBM India, I hope we make most of this unique platform that has been created over the years that understands entertains and celebrates all of us.”

Former Union Minister of State for Tourism and currently Union Minister of State for Culture (I/C), Mahesh Sharma, was the Chief Guest at SATTE 2019. Sharma, who represents the Gautam Budh Nagar constituency where the Greater Noida’s India Expo Centre, venue of SATTE 2019, is located, said, “I congratulate everyone involved in bringing the South Asia’s biggest travel and tourism exhibition, the prestigious SATTE to my parliamentary constituency. Other than SATTE and UBM, I am your Chief Co-host too,” he said. 

 

Sharma pointed that being the largest travel and tourism event in the Indian sub-continent, SATTE’s role is integral to taking India’s and the region’s tourism to new heights. He said that the visionary Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi has undertaken great initiatives but impressive results cannot be achieved in isolation unless banners like SATTE is a part of tourism growth story that India and the region wants to script.

 

“The country’s and the region’s tourism will not thrive and grow unless institutions like SATTE are an integral part of that vision. Tourism contributes 6.8 per cent of our GDP. We have seen tourism growth by up to 13 per cent in terms of number of foreign tourists and in financial terms it contributes 1.56 lakh crore of foreign currency that India earns from tourism. We understand the potential,” said Sharma underscoring SATTE’s role in building the story of India tourism envisions.

 

Sri Lanka, one of the emerging tourism hotspot in the region has been participating in SATTE for a long time. Despite a challenging 2018 because of political turmoil in the island nation, Sri Lanka’s travel and tourism industry has witnessed a quantum leap in tourism over the last few years growing at double-digit figures year after year. India is Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism source market contributing over 424,000 in 2018. And as Sri Lanka tourism makes a sprint for 500,000 in Indian visitor arrivals this year, the destination showcase at SATTE at the beginning of the year is key to its target from India as well as from across the world. 

 

Leading a strong delegation of Sri Lankan tourism suppliers to SATTE 2019, “John AE Amaratunga, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, said, “I am extremely pleased to be here participating in South Asia Travel & Tourism Exchange. On behalf of the Sri Lanka Tourism, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all present here. Being held for the 26th consecutive year SATTE has grown from strength to strength over the year to become the South Asia’s leading travel and tourism show.”

 

“As far as last tourism data recorded in Sri Lanka, 20 per cent of all tourists that came to Sri Lanka last year, originated from India. This is the highest ever number of Indians who have visited Sri Lanka in a calendar. It is not secret that India for Sri Lanka is the most important and the biggest tourism market. And we want a close relationship between the two countries to achieve millions of bilateral tourism,” added Amaratunga further, reinforcing SATTE’s growing profile as a platform to showcase to trade buyers from not just India but all over the world in order to grow the country’s tourism interests.

 

Expressing “great pleasure” for Malaysia to take part in SATTE again this year, YB Tuan Muhammad Bakhtiar bin Wan Chik, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia, said, “I am pleased to see the huge interest in Malaysian tourism. India has always been an important tourist market for Malaysia and SATTE is one of the major tourism platforms that we look forward to attending each year. This year we have got a bigger Malaysian tourism delegation to SATTE comprising almost 40 organisations, from travel agencies, hotels and resorts, tourism authorities, tourism product owners to airlines and state governments. We all are excited to be here at SATTE again to kick off another tourism year in a good spirit. I wish to extend my appreciation to the organizer of SATTE for putting together another successful event.”

 

Malaysia has set a target of 30 million international tourist arrivals by 2020, and sees India as one of its key tourism source markets that will help the country achieve its tourism target. It received around 26 million tourists in 2017. The number is expected to be closing in on 27 million international tourists this year. According to provisional figures, shared by the Minister at SATTE, Malaysia is expectedly received close to 600,000 Indian visitors in 2018.

 

Indonesia that has been participating at SATTE year after year witnessed a robust 29 per cent growth in 2017 with close to 500,000 Indian arrivals. And, despite a number of natural calamities, the country has recorded double digit growth in 2018 as well in Indian arrivals. Indonesia was the feature country destination SATTE 2019 and made a big splash showcasing the country’s massive diversity and products at the inaugural dinner that it hosted.

 

Attending SATTE 2019 with a strong Indonesian suppliers’ contingent in order to grow Indian market into a stronger future source market, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Tourism Marketing, Nia Niscaya, said, “It is really good for Indonesia to be a feature destination at SATTE 2019. Indians coming to Indonesia has grown by 11 per cent. This is really great and there is more room to grow. Now, there is direct flight from Mumbai to Bali.” She also pointed that Indonesia is so much more than Bali, which is one of the 17,000 islands the country comprises of. She drew attention to Batang and Bintan islands, among other destinations, which are very close to Singapore, less than an hour ferry, and can be conveniently included in the itinerary of Indians travelling to Singapore at cost as low as SGD 33.

 

Welcoming participants at the 26th edition of SATTE 2019 on behalf of UNWTO, Eunji Tae, Officer, Regional Department for Asia and the Pacific, UNWTO, said, “UNWTO is truly proud to share a long-standing partnership with SATTE and its partners. Together, we share the same concerns and vision in advancing tourism in a global and regional context. As South Asia´s leading travel event, SATTE is indeed an excellent showcase for its tourism industry, not only within the region, but also of the world. As one of the New Year´s first meetings of the international tourism community, SATTE is setting the excellent stage for a year of strong cooperation, dialogue and meaningful advancement in tourism.”

Also speaking on the occasion, Subhash Goyal, Member, National Tourism Advisory Council, said, “Many years ago we wanted to have an exhibition (In India) where the small Indian tour operators who cannot afford to go to ITB or WTM, could showcase their product here in India. And that was the beginning of SATTE and that time I was the president of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). We sat together and we started this South Asian Travel & Tourism Exchange (SATTE) programme. And this is a dream come true that SATTE today has more than 50 countries. We now want the SATTE to be even bigger and better and probably have more than 100 countries at the next SATTE. We want it to be bigger than ITB and WTM, and why not. We can do that by owning SATTE and making it a real success.”  

 

The three-day event witnessed live performances to draw trade buyers’ attention to the exhibitors and their products and offering, destination briefings, business workshops, meetings, awards, networking evenings, rich conferences, among others. SATTE 2019 was attended by over thousand exhibitors from 50 plus countries, 28 Indian states and drawing trade buyers not only from every part of India, but also from the region as well as around 200 international buyers from across the globe.

 

Commemorating the 25th edition of SATTE and the show’s Silver Jubilee celebration that started last year, UBM India this year partnered with Green Yatra, a non-profit organization for a cleaner and greener Delhi NCR region. The initiative is dedicated towards the protection, conservation and betterment of the environment to support the initiative of government for cleaner and healthier Delhi NCR region and enhancing the region as a tourism spot.

 

Thanking all the industry partners, exhibitors, sponsors and the various associations for extending all the support, Pallavi Mehra, Group Director, UBM India and Publisher, Travel Trends Today (T3), said, “SATTE 2019 has seen participation of various new destinations and has welcomed a record number of buyers and exhibitors from across the globe to become the biggest edition thus far.” She also hoped that more and more exhibitors will come back to the SATTE 2020 edition the next year.  

 

The event also witnessed participation of several leading captains of the industry and associations like Indian Association of Tour Operators, Travel Agents Association of India, Federation of Hotels and Restaurant Association of India, IATA Agents Association of India, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India; Travel Agents Federation of India; Enterprising Travel Agents Association; Skal International and India, PATA, Cruise Line International Association, TOFT Tigers, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India; Network Of Indian MICE Agents, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Indian Tourist Transporters Association, India Golf Tourism Association; Outbound Tour Operators Association of India; Ecotourism Society of India, among others.

In 2017, at 2378, Japan received the highest number of port calls in Asia by cruise liners followed by China (1156 port calls), South Korea (747 port call) making up the top three destination by the number cruise vessels port calls. Indonesia, with 187 port calls, rounds up the top 10 destination in Asia. World’s second largest country in terms of population, seventh largest by area and one of the most endowed regions of the world in terms of its tourism attractiveness, India (128 port calls) doesn’t figure in the top ten in her continent – Asia in terms of cruise lines’ port calls.

The recently concluded SATTE 2018 Conference brought together an eclectic discussions with an international panel that discussed “Cruise Tourism - Untapped potential: Global Perspective & India” putting cruise tourism potential for India in the spotlight, while also discussing India’s potential as a cruise source market.

The panel discussion was moderated by Vinod Zutshi, Former Tourism Secretary, Govt. of India with Peter Kollar, Head of International Training & Development, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); Sean Treacy, Managing Director – Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean International; Naresh Rawal, VP Sales- India, South Asia, Russia, Middle East & South Africa, Star Cruises; Felix Chan, Vice President of Sales - Asia, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN Travel Marketing and Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, as the speakers.

India & Cruising: Overview

The policy on cruise shipping in India came as early as 2008 but significant little moved on this front in the later years. According to Zutshi, the current government that came in May 2014 had immediately swung into action to grow country’s cruise tourism. “In June 2014, a month after the new government took over Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself addressed the issue of cruise tourism in India and how to harness the potential,” he says.

Ever since, a high level Task Force has been constituted involving the two Union Ministries of Tourism and Shipping and Bermello Ajamil & Partners has been appointed as consultants to prepare a viable plan for cruise operation in India. The Task Force has conducted several rounds of meeting with travel trade, cruise professionals, custom officials, Home Ministry and other stakeholders to accelerate the process of bringing in cruise tourism in India.

A work in progress for a few years now, a new cruise tourism policy, with the main thrust to increasing the cruise line traffic to 700 vessels a year, is expected to see the light of the day soon. Other developments on this front include cruise hubs to be developed in Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, Kochi and Chennai, a 30 per cent rebate on all cruise vessels related charge, number of the days a cruise ship can dock to be raised from one to three, foreign flag vessels, as part of cabotage reform, carrying passengers have been allowed to call at Indian ports without securing a license from the Director General of Shipping, eVisa facility for Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, Chennai and New Mangalore ports have already been initiated and foundation stone for a new 300 crore international cruise terminal at Mumbai that is expected to be ready by June 2019.

India’s untapped cruise potential is enormous. Rawal says that India’s strong reputation as an enchanting, exotic, historic and beautiful destination would have an immediate advantage in catapulting India as one of the leading cruise destination. “Long and scenic coastline, with access to many ports, several natural spots and breathtaking destination like Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, Andaman, among others, creates natural advantage for the country to attract more international cruise lines,” he says.

Besides, India has certain strategic advantages in the area that it can exploit. As Chaddha says, “India is in a very strategic positioning today. Unlike China and other parts of the world, India is the only country that allows people with multiple port experience and that is a huge advantage for us. If you look at China, it’s a turnaround port. It’s the same with other parts in Europe, it’s the same in the US. But in India, you are doing multiple ports. So we need to take advantage of that.”

Cruising Windfall

According to Zutshi, Bermello in their initial report has pointed that India is sitting on a gold mine of cruise tourism with a direct cruise revenue benefit to the government to the tune of Rs. 35,500 crore (US $5.5 billion) as against current Rs. 712 crore (Around US $110 million), clearly showing that there is massive untapped potential to grow the current size to a staggering 50 times more from the revenue point of view!

According to CLIA statistics, in 2017 India had a mere 128 cruise calls, whereas Thailand and Malaysia in the region get about 500 cruise calls a year. “There is a real opportunity if India can get to the number of calls that Malaysia or Thailand is getting. We are talking about say 400-500 per cent increase in calls,” says Treacy. He also pointed that with 94 ships on order by the global cruise line industry; there is also significant employment opportunity that India can take advantage of. “The industry is looking at 80,000 employees that will be hired,” he pointed.

Furthermore, he said that in terms of passenger destination days India only does 140,000 compared to over 4.3 million of Japan. “The economic impact is significant when we look at the number of visits. With over 8 million visits in North Asia (Japan, China, South Korea and HK), the direct expenditure through cruise tourism was to the tune of US $ 3.23 billion,” he informed.

Challenges & Way Forward

So how do we get the cruise liners into India and grow the market? It is important to prove to the cruise line decision makers that India is also a profitable region to bring their ships to, deploy and to invest in for long term benefits and profitability. To meet India’s untapped cruise potential, Treacy highlighted five key fundamentals- Government cooperation, infrastructure to accommodate today’s cruise ships, stable and consistent operating conditions, collaboration with all the stakeholders like travel agents, tour operators, developers of infrastructure and all other stakeholders and profitability, as key to building cruise industry in India. He particularly highlighted that stable and consistent regulations and operating conditions is very important as companies typically plan two to three years ahead and therefore need to know that the basic conditions of operating are easy to predict.

Chaddha says, “The fundamental problem at the moment remains that something else is discussed at the top level but it is not percolating down to the grass root level. There are so many agencies that one need to co-ordinate with. We need to get all stakeholders from the government side on the same page. What happens in Goa may not be in conjunction with what we have already discussed in Delhi. And that is where cruise lines are facing challenges because every day is a new day. We can’t have that kind of scenario. We need to be easy to do business with and there should be one window approach for all our issues. Although the SOPs are in place based on our recommendations but the implementation is not there yet.” 

Rawal advocated the need to develop international standard accessible, convenient and well equipped port infrastructure with passenger services, linkages and security, fast immigration and transit passage through ports and cruise terminals, especially at port cities like Mumbai, Goa and Cochin that will be key to developing cruise tourism in India. He also said that it is crucial to develop more such ports in India at Porbandar and Kandla on the West Coast and Vishakhapatnam, Kolkata and Paradip on the East Coast to create new cruising opportunities for the country and cruise liners. He also stressed the need of skilling cruise personnel through training programmes, developing their awareness on tourism, safety and security, among others, and for the cruise lines and authorities to have regular and ongoing dialogues to decide attractive cruise circuits.

Kollar drew attention to other markets that have had similar challenges and have succeeded. “One of the best examples is Australia that has the highest penetration rate in the world at 5.3 per cent that means one in 19 Australians cruise every year today. Firstly it started by selling to capacity the odd ships that did arrive in Australian waters. It started by selling more close-to-home cruises so the passenger counts from Australia grew. This drew the attention of the cruise lines and so few more ships came which was also sold out. And this started a boom with big companies all of a sudden deploying in Australian waters full time. In fact we were the first nation to have a cruise line ship based perennially year round outside of the US market,” Kollar said.

Similar to what Kollar said, Saxena also pointed that a vast coastline may not essentially be an advantage. He said, “Instead India should focus on developing one or two ports and make good examples of successfully handling cruise ships and then replicate the modal elsewhere in the country, that way cruise companies will have more confidence in bringing their ships.

India: A Cruising Source Market

The global cruise industry is growing rapidly. It grew from 10 million in the year 2000 to more than 25 million in 2017. And with 94 ships on order today, the number of cruise passengers is projected to reach 40 million by 2025. With India’s overall outbound travel growing at a robust pace year-on-year and being estimated to be a 50 million outbound travel market by 2020, cruise industry is keen to develop this largely untapped and hitherto a very small cruise source market.

While pointing at India’s growing economic clout on the world stage, Treacy says, “If we look at the World Bank statistics, India is projected to surpass Germany as the fourth largest economy over the next 12 to 15 years. We are looking at population that will afford to travel on cruise abroad greater than that of US. So when we look at cruise passenger numbers of 130,000, to let’s say we get 200,000 this year (2018); it’s still quite small compared to the 14 million that we are seeing out of US, or over one million that we are seeing out of Australia. There is untapped potential but there is a lot work to do.” 

Chan pointed that as a source market India should be viewed in terms of the number of cruise passengers that it is generating against the total outbound leisure travel. “We may have about 26 million Indians that travelled abroad in 2017, but less than 150,000 people going on cruising,” he said alluding that there is lot more that travel agents can to do to grow the numbers.

Sharing tips on how to convert land vacationers to cruising, Chan particularly highlighted two key aspects, value-adds and choices. “A lot of guests don’t care whether it is cruise vacations or land vacations. They care about if they want to go to a certain destination, at a certain budget, which form of vacation can offer them the best experience. Over the past three years, Northern Europe has become a very attractive cruising destination because the hotel, dining and transportation is expensive in the Indian market and in Asia. If you compare a cruising vacation to Northern Europe and are telling about having the same experience at much less total cost and value-adds, you will find great value. This is one of the most powerful ways to sell cruise vacations,” he suggested.

Furthermore he suggested that the travel fraternity need to highlight the range of choices a cruise vacation offers. “A lot people in India and Asia have strong perception that there may not be many offerings on a cruise ship. We need to change that perception. Talk about the choices,” he suggested.

Big Bucks for Agencies

Kollar says that it’s a simple fact that without the travel agent, the cruise industry could not survive. “Apparently 80 to 90 per cent of the world’s cruise bookings come from travel agents. The 60 odd cruise lines that are in existence, they have limited reservation capacities to handle 27 million people that will cruise this year and are dependent on travel agencies across the world to fill their inventory. It’s a travel agent who actually recommends a cruise or advises it as an option. Why do America, Germany, Australia and the UK have the highest amount of passengers? Because they also have the highest number of travel agents that believe in cruising and recommend them,” Kollar says.

Drawing travel fraternities’ attention to selling cruise vacations, Saxena said, “When it comes to cruise, that is the easiest package vacations that are available in the world. You talk to one cruise line and you can sell 200-300 destinations over their fleet of vessels. And compare that to any other vacation options or tour packages, the value that you get on cruise is far superior to anything else that you get elsewhere.”

Importantly, he however also drew attention of agencies’ dwindling income in India because of vanishing ticketing commission and warning travel fraternity of the same fate by cruise lines if they fail to grab the cruising opportunity. “Cruise lines are giving a lot of commission away to the travel agents and intermediaries, let that day not come when the cruise lines are forced to reach out to the consumers directly and slowly and gradually the importance of travel agencies fade away. This is the time to wake up. If the travel agencies don’t start supporting, the cruise business is going to get very-very difficult,” warned Saxena.

Ashwani Nayar, Multi-property General Manager, Westin and an IHM Pusa alumnus with 27 year of experience in the hospitality industry recently had his Batch Reunion. He says he could count the number of hoteliers on one hand out of 270 students from his batch. There is widespread concern that the hospitality sector lacks enough quality institution, then there are lack of quality students coming forward for a career in hospitality and tourism sector, and to top it all there is also a gap in hotel graduates’ expectations and the reality on the ground in terms of long working hours, split shift, remuneration and to some extent opportunities as well. No wonder, Nayar could count those from his batch still around in the hospitality sector, on one hand.

Nayar was speaking at a panel discussion on ‘Enhancing employability of hotel graduates’ at SATTE 2018 in Delhi last month. Moderated by K K Pant, Principal, IHM Pusa, other panellists on the session included Swarup Sinha, Principal, ITC, Hospitality Management Division; Chef Vivek Sagar from Tourism & Hospitality Skill Council and Nimisha Seth, faculty with IHM Pusa and also representing National Council of Hotel Management. The panellists delve on a range of issues concerning enhancing of employability of hotel graduates.

Setting the tone of the discussion, Pant said, “We are in a situation where the educational institution and the people who enrolled in those institutions are not really happy. There is a kind of disenchantment in the industry and it is not helping anybody. And, with the kind of ambitious plan that the government has about tourism, if this situation were to continue, I don’t think that the government is ever going to achieve the kind of task it has set out for itself.” 

Outlining key industry issue on talent, employability, grooming and meeting expectations, Nayar said, “In my generation a decade or two ago we in the hospitality industry fought the war on customer acquisition. Now this is the time, especially going ahead, the war is going to be fought on talent acquisition, particularly right talent acquisition for the right job and retention of that talent.” He also said that those days are gone when we were under paying people, and also insisted on students developing the right attitude and behaviour.

Furthermore, he said, “When I look at us serving the millennial as guests today, I definitely need millennial in my team to be serving them. It is very important for industry to understand them, their requirements and what is it that they are seeking, and then selling those expectations right. It can happen at the level when young students pass out of school when we first approach them. That’s when we need to reach out to them and set those expectations right. There are few basics about this industry which are not going to change. Long working hours, hard work, especially in departments like F&B and kitchen is not going to go away.”

Sinha, while outlining what it takes to make the cut for ITC’s Hospitality Management school, one of the top hospitality institute in India, pointed that less than two per cent of boys and girls who are interviewed actually become Management Trainee. “We look at the right service orientation. We not only want you to anticipate the needs of the customer, we also expect you to understand the desires and needs of the customer when they have not asked for it also,” Sinha said.

Furthermore, he advocated a “tsunami of change in Indian education system, especially in hotels and hospitality.” He said that the catering college institutes need to focus on two key aspects. “One is to educate the boys and girls who are just 17-18 year old. A lot of focus also needs to get into the people who are teaching because they also need to be contemporary. If you ask me, like there is internship for boys and girls, there should be permanent internship every year for the faculty with the industry.”

He also advocated the need of reverse mentoring. “We need to look at the youngsters and need to learn from them and then we should guide them. We might be senior by age, but the millennial are much more superior to us with respect to knowledge, IT, social media and they are the future customers for us. So its important for us to listen to them also,” said Sinha. He also drew attention of stakeholders to the fact India is a very young country and now is the time to make use of the “demographic dividend” or the opportunity is lost.

While outlining the course curriculum and system of education, Seth said that the turn off is really seen when the students proceed for their industrial training when they see the industry. “We have seen major trend of students deciding to move off from the industry towards ancillary hospitality units,” she said and added that the technology savvy millennial, with a world of opportunity in front of them, starts looking at all the avenues of opportunities available to them with remuneration considerations, like career in cruise or retail sectors.

Highlighting the role and responsibility of Tourism & Hospitality Skill Council and the various platforms that it is helping develop to meet the demand, especially at the lower end of the pyramid, Sagar informed about the changes being introduced into the courses like Apprenticeship, Hunar Se Rozgar in order to enhance the employability of students enrolled in these courses. 

Sinha also suggested that students should be thorough in their research of the company they are applying to, are well groomed, have the right demeanour with great profile and understanding of the industry and are good at communication skills, especially in English, with right soft skills. Furthermore, as his parting words to the students of hospitality, he said, “The best only comes out when you challenge yourselves. In comfort no good happens.”

Japan has placed tourism at the centre of its growth strategy and inbound tourism has emerged as one of the important engines of economic growth in Japan in recent years. Japan achieved its target of 20 million inbound tourists by 2020 five year early and the revised target stands at 40 million today. In the last three years (2015-2017) it has recorded robust year on year growth of 20 per cent as inbound arrivals grew from 19.7 million to over 24 million and has now reached almost 28.7 million at the end 2017. Japan’s decision to relax its Visa rules for China and its other Asian neighbours has emerged as the biggest reason in the turnaround of its tourism fortune.

In 2016, Indonesia probably came up with one of the most pathbreaking Visa policy in the world as it announced free Visa for citizens from 169 countries, including India, which was hailed by UNWTO as “setting example to the world.” As a consequence to that Indian arrival to Indonesia has grown by 30 per cent in 2017 with about 500,000 Indians visiting the country last year and replacing South Korea to emerge Indonesia’s sixth largest source market. In the wake the two countries have also witnessed significant direct air capacity growth in recent time.

World over Visa reforms have proven to be critical in the growth of travel and tourism as is evident in Japan’s case. Moderated by Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) President Sunil Kumar, the session on ‘Visa Reforms and Growth in Tourism’ at Silver Jubilee edition of SATTE last month included Şakir Özkan Torunlar, Turkish Ambassador to India; Dr Ahmed A R Albanna UAE Ambassador to India; Jagdishwar Goburdhan, High Commissioner of Mauritius to India and Mahendra Vakharia, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI), to delve deep on Visa reforms impact on tourism growth with a view of growing security concerns the world over.

Setting the tone for the discussion Kumar pointed at the burgeoning Indian outbound travel market that is projected to become a 50 million outbound travel market and how amidst increasing recognition of this fastest growing source markets, Indian travellers are being wooed with as many as 58 countries today attracting Indian tourist with Visa free travel, Visa on Arrival or easy access of Visa through eVisa application. He asked the panellist what impact Visa reforms will have on tourism while at the same keeping the security concerns in mind.

 

Highlighting the fact that tourism contributes a staggering 18 per cent to UAE’s GDP, Albanna pointed that ease in obtaining UAE Visa figures prominently in the UAE’s plan to further develop tourism and grow the sector’s GDP share in the UAE economy to 25 per cent in the coming years. “Looking at the need to relax the Visa rules for tourism growth, the government has made it possible for the citizens of more than 38 nations to enter UAE without prior Visa. Aside from that the industry itself in terms of airlines, whether Emirates Airlines or Etihad or Air Arabia or flydubai, are able to issue for their own passengers, visit or transit Visa. Similarly the hotel industry is also allowed to issue the required Visa for the different nationals who are visiting the UAE.”

Further adding on Visa reforms he said, “I think it is very important that we control in certain ways, but control does not mean prevention. Control in terms of keeping your own security and making sure that people are safe. But at the same time we open in terms of tourism. The tourism industry is very important.”

 

Recalling how as 19 year old when he obtained his first Greek Visa and could travel as backpack for months without any Visa requirement from any of the remaining countries that he travelled through, Torunlar said, “Today a Turkish Universities student needs to spend weeks to apply and get his Visa for the same countries I travelled to in 1979. Today not only Europe but the entire world has become more conservative in issuing Visas to foreigners.” He however also pointed that the successive Turkish government has always been in favour of Visa free travel. “The nationals of foreign countries who need to get Visa for Turkey are the citizens of the countries whose government prefer to implement Visa on Turkish nationals and restrict them. In such case Turkey acts on the basis of reciprocal system.”

 

Furthermore, he said, “Turkey is one of the top tourism destinations in the world and to make it sustainable Turkey has been implementing eVisa to the nationals of 110 countries, including Indians, who hold valid US, the UK and Schengen Visas. Any applicant who has access to internet may get his Visa in three steps in less than three minutes. The results proved that the number of tourist visiting Turkey has increased by millions.”

 

Goburdhan while informing that Mauritius today offers Visa free travel to more than 114 countries whose citizens can stay for days or months, has also greatly helped Mauritius promote its business and trade along while growing its tourism economy. Furthermore taking tourism and security concerns directly, he said, “Tourism is a wonderful industry, very humanitarian, helping so many countries and helping in countering terrorism. The best thing is for the countries to eliminate Visa in line with the philosophy of ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family).”

 

Referring to a question on the future of travel in regard to Visa, Albanna said, “We need to open up and we need not to prevent. But the control has always to be there. In today’s world lots of things are happening. The limitation has to be there within certain reason and limitations has to be there within certain procedures.”

 

Responding to expectations of a world with minimal or free of Visa requirement, Torunlar said, “I cannot see this happening tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or anytime in the predictable future. We may take 9/11 which has changed the global atmosphere in Visa free travel. Today we are two countries here from the same region where people in neighbouring countries are suffering domestic violence in their countries. They are not travelling to the neighbouring countries for tourism but they are fleeing brutal regimes fleeing from where they were living for generations. On the other hand there are countries who are discussing whether to allow 24 or 48 of these people. All this can also be combined with economic bottlenecks in trade and investment, and the problems that governments are facing in terms of employment. I think this Visa free travel will not happen in my generation or generation of my son.”  

 

Referring to the need to provide the tour operators across centres with consulates or Visa facilitation centre as well as the need of easy Visa access, Vakharia said, “India is a last minute market. So when they decide at the spur of the moment that they want to go on a holiday, countries which have Visa on arrival facilities or countries which have extended the online facilities really get the advantage. Something like this is what encourages tourist to look at a destination or a tour operator to identify destinations and push it through to the client.” Furthermore he advocated the need of dialogue between the embassies and trade to ensure that tourism continues to thrive while at the same time safety and security concerns of the governments are also duly acknowledged by the industry.

 

Taking note of what ambassadors of UAE and Turkey said in terms of air connectivity between India and their respective countries, Kumar pointed that Visa reforms and good air connectivity need to go hand in hand. He said, “Its Visa facility connected with flights. 1070 flights (Number of weekly flights between India and UAE) they get 5 million Indians and 14 (Number of weekly flights between India and Turkey) and they just get about less than 100,000 visitors.”

Las Vegas welcomed 42.2 million visitors in 2017, 19 per cent of which were international visitors that accounted for 31 per cent of direct visitors spending. Today, the city lays claim as the number one trade show destination in North America for the last 23 years. It registered record convention attendance in 2017 as it hosted more than 6.6 million convention attendees. The city is home to some of the largest Convention Centres in the United States. In terms of economic impact, the convention and exhibition segment has become one of the vital segments of Las Vegas’ economy.

Closer home, Singapore, a city-state, is one of the top destinations, both in terms of leisure as well as MICE tourism. This Asian Tiger has often been considered as the financial capital of the South-East Asia. Despite the absence of key tourism attractiveness like great natural beauty, heritage and monuments, Singapore is one of the top tourism destinations in the region, thanks to a very proactive tourism board that undertakes all round promotion of Singapore, as well as a Convention Bureau that promotes Singapore as a MICE destination in particular.

 

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for India that has lagged on both fronts, leisure as well as MICE, despite being so richly endowed with natural beauty, history and heritage, amongst others, and a fair bit of existing MICE related infrastructure that may not be as world class as those in Las Vegas and Singapore but are quite capable of handling a much larger share than it presently does.

 

The role of tourism to jumpstart fledgling economies worldwide has not only been well explored, but well proven. MICE (Meetings Incentives Conventions and Exhibitions) has emerged as the most important sub-sectors of tourism for its greater per capita expenditures compared to leisure tourism, and furthermore its role in growing a destination’s profile as well as incremental traffic through repeat travel for leisure activities in coming years. So much so that it is in fact often considered as a precursor to establishing a destination’s leisure profile. And if that is the case then destinations like Singapore and Dubai do come to mind which have first emerged as the financial capital in the region and have benefitted as a leisure destination soon after.

 

According to Rajeev Kohli, Jt. Managing Director, Creative Travel, who has also led reputed international bodies like Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and India Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB), “It is a fact that no destination in the world really has succeeded effectively in leisure tourism until the business tourism came about. The reason for this is when business tourists come and they also take a day trip to say Agra or some other destinations then they come back to the destination with family for long trips and tell friends about it.”  The research conducted by National Convention Bureau of South Africa states that 40 per cent of all convention delegates attending meetings in South Africa return in the next five years as tourists, further boosting tourism growth and job creation years into the future.

 

India’s standing as a MICE destination:

Around 10 years ago, Indian Institute Management, Bangalore conducted a research on “India as a Global Conventions Destination: Prospects and Strategies” on behalf of ICPB and Ministry of Tourism. The project was taken by the Government of India, quoted in the national budget to sanction two mega convention centres in India that never happened. Of course that is beginning to change, albeit slowly, amidst increasing cry from the industry as well as growing recognition from the government on the merits of developing large MICE infrastructure to cement India’s appeal as a world-class international destination for large scale events like conventions and exhibitions.

 

Following the opening of South Asia’s first world class offering and India’s largest, Hyderabad International Convention Centre, in 2006, few more such infrastructures have come up in places like Greater Noida, Lavasa, Kochi and Ahmadabad among others. Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, host of some of the biggest event is the country is undergoing major redevelopment today. A world class integrated convention infrastructure, and probably one of India’s most ambitious infrastructure projects today, is coming up close to Delhi’s international airport.

 

Besides, with the existing MICE infrastructure and new hotels with large meeting places, the industry today largely believes that India is good to host over 90 per cent of the events taking place today and it is only a matter of time before it catches up on the remaining as well in the coming years.

 

Challenges

“I don’t think we have major challenges in selling India as a MICE destination. We have major challenges in the mindset of us who are promoting and selling the destination and not in terms of infrastructure the way we have been crying about for generations. Meetings will go where business needs takes them. I don’t think meetings are as destination dependent as conferences and conventions,” points Kohli, indicating the problem is more of the perception both, in the government and private sector as well as how the business is approached.

 

According to Madhu Dubey, Executive Director, ICPB : “The nomenclature of MICE tourism that still persists in the government is perhaps misunderstood. The Ministry of Tourism had been looking at tourism as multi-product with MICE as a niche tourism activity. Now, time has come as the Ministry has acknowledged the importance of MICE. There is considerable place for MICE and its growth in the new draft policy of the government. It’s not that we are not promoting ourselves enough, but the fact is that our competitors are doing a far more aggressive job and we can’t afford to be left behind.”

 

There is also a problem of popular perception as well that India as a MICE destination grapples with problems related to logistics. Highlighting the same, Saurabh Bhargava, Associate Vice President – Sales, North India, Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris, said : “India is perceived as a very complex destination to do an event or a congress. From licenses to a music event to a sporting event, it’s just complicated. And then there are last minute surprises too. So people are not ready to bet on India in the long term where they are supposed to put in money. We saw the World Cup Soccer happening which was a great success. But there were lot of hiccups like logistics. The first 4-5 metros are very well connected but how do we open new destinations? How do you go to Coorg or Corbett? When you tell your international delegates that you are flying to Delhi, the next morning we will take you by bus and it takes seven hours to reach a certain destination, it doesn’t work.”

 

“The other thing is most of the people that we speak to say that India is not a fashionable destination for MICE. It’s a fashionable destination for a leisure visit or a holiday. Incredible India took ten years to reach where it is to get that leisure traveller into India. We need a sustained campaign, a sustained effort by the government and all of us to change that perception about India. And to tell everybody that a MICE delegate spends 1.4 times of what a leisure traveller will spend in the country so there is more money to be made in the MICE,” Bhargava further added.

 

Touching upon both exhibitions and conferences, Sudeep Sarcar, Vice President, India Expo Mart & Centre, said that the exhibition industry has today understood the revenue model and how to earn money out of an exhibition. He pointed out that the same cannot be said for the conferences and it is one of the sector’s bigger challenges. “There are a lot of conferences happening, but it seems that the revenue model is not very clear to most of us in the conferences industry. Unless and until we do not makes conferences a viable and sustainable revenue model and can feel that we can make money out of this table or this event, the main (other) challenges cannot be overcome.”

 

Furthermore, he said that there are venues of various sizes that can accommodate 1000 pax or 5000 pax in various cities but the challenge is for the association or PCO to understand the viable and sustainable revenue model for all associated stakeholders.  “If that happens, I am sure everybody is going to jump on the train to bring in more and more conferences,” he stressed.

 

Drawing a cinematic analogy, Amit Saroj, Director, Attitude Events, a PCO, said, “India needs a MICE story which needs to be built in a big way. For that, we need a producer and the director which has to be the Government of India. We also need a lead character for that story as well which I think has to be CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) or ICPB, in its current form or maybe the new constitution that is being formed, which has to play the lead role in the story. The other change that is necessary is to bring the industry in the supporting role and let the Convention Bureau take the lead role. That’s the change that is required that according to me is the biggest challenge in the industry right now.

 

Furthermore, sharing his learning from an unsuccessful bid for a World Congress that he attempted with ICPB in the lead last year, he pointed that despite some hard-selling for venue and with the government here and pitching India as a culture and knowledge destination in the bid, there were some practical challenges that came out of the interaction with the event organisers, like tax issues, getting the tax credit for their spend in India, hotels proximity to the venue, as well as grants that the eventual winner Abu Dhabi offered to the event.

 

Sarcar also drew attention to big domestic industry with large national conferences that is not being showcased to global event organisers. “The gap here is that the organisers of these domestic events are not coming together in their own sphere and bringing in the related stakeholders and joining hands with the international events in order to throw out a large platform for the international conferences or events to come in and witness what we already have. We have to augment our own associations and all stakeholders together, come with a revenue model, and then pitch to the international organisers to show them what is already on the platter, come and join us. We are already 5000, if you join we will like 10,000. This needs to happen, maybe by Government of India, by ICPB or by all the stakeholders,” he said.

 

Way Forward

Dubey points that since the ‘Incredible India’ campaign launched in 2002, government’s thrust has been to promote India as a multi-product round-the-year leisure destination and now the need of the hour is also to create focussed and aggressive MICE marketing and promotion plans for the country.

 

“MICE by itself was a small component of that promotions, which today in ICPB I realise requires focussed marketing with a creative tagline along with ‘Incredible India’ campaign to bring out our strength as a MICE destination. We cannot get lost as a leisure destination, hoping that people will perceive us as a MICE destination too. Thankfully the ‘Incredible India’ campaign which is one of the most recognised Indian brands now will be our strength in promoting India as a MICE destination.”

 

Not that large events are not taking place in India. India Expo Centre in Greater Noida today plays host to over fifteen events that is spread over more than 100,000 square metres. Out of these, there are at least four events that are the largest in the world. So there are large events taking place, at least in the exhibition space, while at the same time there are challenges to be addressed in moving forward, especially in bringing the industry under some rules and guidelines in order to avoid unhealthy competition.

 

However, Sarcar lamented that on the contrary what also frequently happens is that whenever there is a large event that comes up there are some other parallel events that comes along and brings down the 5000 pax conference to 2000 pax. “The moment there is a success story, there is a parallel event that has stood. If you look at events in Germany or the UK or US, the events that have become large have not become large in a day’s time or in a year’s time. They have kept that event married to that particular venue or the region for years. At IMTEX (Indian Metal Forming Exhibition) in Bengaluru, it took us 17 years to make it one of the world’s largest Machine Tools show. If this event is happening here today, there has to be some regulation that this does not get repeated very soon in other part of the country. There need to be some regulation by ICPB, by Indian Exhibition Industry Association in force.”

 

Concurring with Sarcar, Bhargava also opined, “There is business for all of us. We don’t need to fight. We don’t need to compete with each other. There is enough to keep all of us happy. So the joint pitch is going as a nodal body with a little blessing from the government saying that yes this is legitimate bid, these are legitimate people, who can deliver what they are promising.”

 

Bhargava also pointed that there are also challenges that come unannounced like demonetisation and liquor ban. “All these things impact tourism, impact MICE. You may not see the impact in the next 45 days but you will see the impact over the next 12 or 15 months. And this year we are seeing the pipeline which is not as strong as the last year.”

 

Highlighting the high taxes in the sector, he also pointed out that when you compete you are not only competing with various other hotels or cities, but you are also competing with various other destinations. So you look at a Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, or in the region at  Singapore. We are one of the highest tax paying nations and that also deters the potential MICE organisers to come to the country.  

Niche tourism is cherished for its authentic and exclusive experiences. However, one of the key challenges for players operating in the segment is to market their products right. And though there is a consensus that there is no one way to market niche tourism, detailing and differentiation of products are very important. Besides one must also have a compelling story to tell.

A panel discussion on ' Niche Tourism: Harnessing the potential of local experiences' was held in SATTE 2018 in New Delhi. Moderated by Shoba Mohan, Partner, RARE India, the panellist included Baby Mathew, Founder Managing Director, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group; Steve Borgia, Chairman & Managing Director, Indeco Leisure Hotel; Sangram Gaikwad, Indian Revenue Services (IRS) Officer, government of India; Sriram Vaidya, Head of Experiences South East Asia and India, Airbnb and Rajeev Nangia, COO, TRAC Representations.

Well established in their respective niche, the panellists brought to the discussion some riveting success stories of carving their own niches and what it takes to market niche products. Initiating the discussion, Shoba Mohan, Partner, RARE India said that she is not very fond of the term called niche tourism, which narrows down the scope of the whole subject. Before the term niche tourism came into use, the concept was called special interest tourism.

Baby Mathew, Founder MD, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group and one of the leading players in Ayurveda & Wellness in Kerala, started the concept of Ayurveda tourism 30 years ago in order to offer niche Ayurveda experience. Recounting the early days of his Ayurveda venture Mathew said, "That time there was no such Ayurveda resort in the world. A normal Ayurveda hospital those days used to be just a small concrete building without many facilities. We started a resort like Ayurveda hospital where we maintained nature. No concrete building was built there. We just put small huts and provided facilities of high-end standard in rooms and bathrooms."  Mathew said that his concept was to make an Ayurveda hospital that gives a new impression of Ayurveda. "Those days Ayurveda was very famous in Kerala but it was not well known in other countries. We wanted to promote Ayurveda in other countries as well. So it became a successful wellness tourism product.”

 

Steve Borgia, CMD, Indeco Leisure Hotel, narrated his own success story. He said that he wanted to promote India in its unique and original form. Shoba Mohan described him as one of the foremost people who converted a small and beautiful home at Swamimalai in Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu, into a big hotel.

Speaking about homestay segment, Sangram Gaikwad, IRS Officer, who is conducting a government-sponsored study on homestay facilities, said that at present, homestay segment is quite unstructured and unorganised, therefore the government is preparing guidelines for standardization and accreditation of homestay facilities. Gaikwad informed that guidelines will have four categories of homestays. "We have seen that homestays have a lot of potential in remote areas where no other accommodation options are available, in the ecologically sensitive and fragile areas where there are restrictions for other players. Homestay owners are small players not having required capacity. There is a lot of requirement of investment of energy in capacity building for homestay players who are in rural areas and remote areas,” said Gaikwad. He added that genuine homestays are those where host is staying with guests and are located in remote areas. “There is immense scope for capacity building, and opportunities for start-ups, who can avail support from flagship schemes of government of India such as skill India, Start-up India and Mudra scheme,” said Gaikwad, adding that these players can come to help homestay owners upgrade their facilities to make them market ready and online players like Airbnb will come in picture only if these facilities become market ready.

Sriram Vaidya, Head of Experiences South East Asia and India, Airbnb said that his organization wants people to feel like they can go and belong to anywhere. “It is very simple but at the same time very powerful concept. We want people to feel that they can visit any city and stay there like locals. They can stay in someone's home and experience something new,” said Vaidya. He informed that over a million Indians have already used Airbnb products to travel all over the world. They have experienced genuine and great experience while traveling outside India and staying with Airbnb.

One of the key challenges before niche tourism players is to market their products. Shoba Mohan said that her company RARE India represents some unique boutique hotels, lodges and homestay facilities across India, Nepal and Bhutan. She said that marketing such niche tourism products is the most difficult things to do. When it comes to marketing niche tourism, detailing is everything, said Baby Mathew. He added, "When I started, marketing Ayurveda was the most difficult thing. Even today Ayurveda has not been approved in many other countries. So imagine the situation of 30 years ago. Mathew initially used his link in Germany to market his product. He invited journalists, writers and TV channels to promote his Ayurveda Centre located in Kerala.

Talking about his marketing experience, Borgia said that he had a passion and that he wanted to do something different. "I wanted to do something but I had no prior knowledge or experience. I think if you don't know anything, you do it your own way,” he said.  “The first thing to do is that you need to be unique.” Borgia said that when he came to know that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was to visit South India, he invited him to stay in his resort. “Gandhi came along with his 60-70 friends from Europe, which gave us huge exposure. He told that he also invited a few leading travel agents of that time including Ram Kohli of Creative Travel and Inder Sharma of Sita World Travel. “They were competitors, but they visited us together. They taught us how to sell the hotel. Since then I never looked back,” said Borgia. “I think there is no formal way to market niche tourism. You need a story to tell, your need to be connected to history. Marketing is all about how unique you are, how you can be a part of your product and how you can relate to history.

Throwing light on the role of cinema in marketing a destination, Rajeev Nangia, COO, TRAC Representations, said that a film can turn around a destination for sure but it is very important to get the script right. “You can always find a financer for your movie but if you don’t get a right script for your destination, you will not be able to promote your destination with movie. He cited Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara movie filmed in Spain and how successfully it turned around the destination. La Tomatina Festival became a benchmark attraction for Indians who started visiting Spain to experience throwing tomatoes at each other,” said Nagia, adding that there are many other stories offilms turning around destinations. Many destinations have experienced filming in their destinations and got very healthy results, but getting the right script and right people to shoot a film at a destination is very important when your aim is to promote the destination.          

As for marketing homestay facilities, Gaikwad said that most of the genuine homestay owners are small players who don’t have resources for marketing and branding. “There should be some companies who can help them market and brand their homestay facilities. Besides online aggregator, there is need to have some players like homestay management companies which can help owners in marketing and capacity building,” said Gaikwad.

 

Vaidya of Airbnb remarked that for his organisation marketing is just another tool to serve it broader purpose. Through its trip and experience business Airbnb is creating marketplace for nice tourism entrepreneurs, he informed.

Tourism is one of the biggest engines of growth and development as well as job opportunities in most of the world; for some destinations and countries it’s more than others.’ The industry contributes about 10 per cent to the global GDP and about the same number in terms of employment. However, in the absence of Sustainability concerns, tourism can do more harm than good in the long run. Growing population, climate change, rampant industrialisation, emissions, deforestation, depleting glaciers, rising sea levels, fast depleting marine biodiversity, wildlife and water bodies, are all ringing alarm bells of Sustainability and more so in the tourism sector that earns out of environment, wildlife and biodiversity etc.

Growing population, increasing wealth and disposable income and billions of people undertaking air travel and through other transport system are today leaving behind huge environmental footprint much of which is irreversible and is taking its toll on destinations, right from ecologically sensitive areas that are tourism attractions to monuments. Add to that, the government apathy towards Sustainability and environmental concerns, poor policy implementation and absence of checks and balances have added considerably to the current woes. The concern is, and there is no debating that, that whether we would leave behind what we have inherited for our future generations. There are many who feel that we are already past the nature’s deadline!

The United Nation World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has developed a comprehensive system, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that aims to build knowledge, and empower and inspire the tourism stakeholders to take necessary action in order to accelerate the process towards a more sustainable tourism sector by aligning policies, business operations and investments with SDGs by 2030. In summary, that effectively means finding answer to, “How to realise effective collaboration between stakeholders for sustainable tourism? How can we achieve the successful journey to 2030?” that was also the topic of panel discussion at the Silver Jubilee edition of SATTE in New Delhi recently.

The discussion brought together an eclectic mix of panellists in Neemrana Hotels’ Chairman Aman Nath, a crusader in his own right who salvages dilapidated monuments of national importance converting them into amazing hotels; renowned Tiger conservationist and popularly known as “The Tiger Man of India” Julian Mathews of the UK based TOFT (Travel Operators for Tigers) Tigers; Bo Keun Choi, Senior Officer, Regional Programme for Asia and the Pacific, UNWTO and Damcho Rinzin of Marketing and Promotion Division, Tourism Council of Bhutan. The session was moderated by one of tourism industry’s top sustainability crusaders in India, Mandip Singh Soin, Founder & Managing Director, Ibex Expeditions & Founder President of Ecotourism Society of India.      

Big picture

The world population, currently around 7.6 billion, is estimated to be adding 83 million people every year, that is, one Germany, the 16th most populous country on earth. By 2030 it is estimated to reach 8.6 billion. Year 2017 witnessed an estimated 4 billion air travels worldwide. In India, a country of 1.32 billion people, an estimated 1.8 billion domestic travels took place. Globally, UNWTO estimates International tourist arrivals to have crossed 1.3 billion in 2017 recording its eight consecutive year of growth. By 2030 UNWTO estimates international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion.  

These are huge numbers and present a challenge that may be very difficult to surmount given the challenges the policy makers are faced with in terms of creating new employment opportunity and development for the country. And that brings us to the question of where are we headed in tourism sustainability, specifically in India that the panellists discussed and what should be our expectation sustainable tourism development.

UNWTO’s Choi says, “The aim of Sustainable tourism is to secure the continuous growth of the tourism industry without compromising the environmental, social and cultural viability of a tourist destination. That is, striking a balance between sustainable growth from the prospect of the tourism market and the SDGs in the side of environmental, social and cultural aspects.” Furthermore, he said that the role of public sector, the centre and regional governments, is very important. At the international level UNWTO has that kind of role about sharing information, knowledge and good practices.

Challenges

While setting the tone of the discussion, Soin opined, “I think the time for aspirational goals and aspirations are probably now behind us. We need to task ourselves to see how do we actually make sure that things on the ground happen in the right way because that is the biggest challenge and need of the hour. I personally think that unless you don’t have a carrot and stick approach, there are not too many good guys who will have the best of planet earth at heart. We are all driven by moolah.” 

Drawing attention to government apathy, Nath said, “When we talk of carrot and stick, it’s not just for the private sector. I think the stick is very important for the government too. It is just that the private sector can’t beat the government because they are the ones who first don’t set the standards in time, then when there is huge mess, they make use of the mess to make money, when it gets much worse then they start to think about it. I think we have lost a lot of time and it’s not that we didn’t know about it.”

He also pointed that India has brilliant minds but they are never really involved in policy matters. “The people who lay the policy are not the ones who are entrepreneurs, they are not the ones who face difficulties. So I find that eventually you have to do everything yourself. You are reinventing the wheel in whichever way,” he rued.

Concurring with Nath, TOFT Tigers’ Mathews gave an interesting take highlighting poor policy implementation. He said, “The UNWTO put out a environmental sustainability index in 2015 and India in the index was at the very bottom. Interestingly enough, in the most recent Economist’s Sustainable Tourism Index, India is pretty much in the middle. Now to me that’s the difference between reality and the policies. The policies are there but none are applied, none are monitored. Guidelines are there but unless you put them into law, unless you have systems and organisations that actually monitor them and operate them in individual state, that’s how it has to happen. Otherwise, sustainability will never happen.”

Measuring Sustainability

UNWTO is developing a statistical framework for measuring sustainable tourism. This project is very important and challenging. Without proper measurement of sustainable tourism we cannot identify the evidence to support policies and track progress. Once in place we can compare tourism services, facilities and a destination competitiveness by using this statistical framework. This task will be finished by 2020, informed Choi.

Soin also highlighted the need to be pro-active in managing carrying capacity. “Would it not be possible to actually have destination measured for their carrying capacity and then not come to a crisis and then fix it. If we know where we are headed why can’t we help?” he wondered. Furthermore and importantly, Soin pointed that there is no modal to conduct carrying capacity studies, and suggested UNWTO and WTTC to consider developing a modal to measure carrying capacity that industry worldwide can adopt and follow.

Bhutan that lives by its philosophy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ is one destination on the Indian sub-continent that is rated highly for putting environmental concerns before anything else. Highlighting the Bhutanese modal here, Rinzin said, “We are very mindful of the carrying capacity. If we realise that we are getting lots of people coming to Bhutan, we increase the cost. So there is an indirect way of managing the numbers. However, one of our challenges is to spread tourists to all part of the country. For example, eastern and southern Bhutan do not get lots of tourists. Looking at the numbers, we have to find a way to come up with strategy to spread the tourists.”

Sustainability future/ Way Forward

A joint effort by UNWTO, UNDP on “SDG – Journey to 2030” points to some important guidelines for future sustainable tourism development. The public sector needs to develop more inclusive and integrating tourism policies and also needs to assess and monitor tourism’s contribution to SDGs. In case of private sector sharing experiences and good practices are important. Purchasing local goods and services will help increase value chain of tourism. The report also addressed the issue of financing by suggesting investment in tourism as a priority sector towards achieving SDGs. Based on these suggestions UNWTO is working on establishing a wide range of initiatives for sustainable tourism at the international level.

According to Mathews, “You have to set down very strict carrying capacity rules and you have also got to do hell of a lot pre planning because the only way we can be sustainable is by putting in time and resources. What we need in India specifically is same resources and skills and funds to go into things like smart forest. We have smart cities and we do lots of investment in them. We need to look at forest in much the same way. We need to planning long term for their future, their conservation, we need to be planning for the community that are both, in them and around them.

Soin, pointed at the need of global organisations like UNWTO and WTTC to be more pro-active. “What would be nice is to have a strategy on how do we walk the talk. Because, that to me, is missing on the ground,” he said.

Rigzin said that as far as Bhutan is concerned the rules and regulations are also passed on to other stakeholders like tour guides and ownership of people and making them understand of what is important in terms of sustainability and value of tourism. “You can have strongest of the rules but if people don’t believe in it, they are not involved, it doesn’t go well. We can’t move forward in sustainable tourism development.”

Furthermore he said that Bhutan has this policy of “High value low impact.” “We are looking at getting bigger value from tourist coming to Bhutan. I admit it’s a challenge but at the same time good value for our people and not at the cost of environment and culture. While at the same time when we have the right kind of people coming to Bhutan the negative impact is less,” he argued.

Nath again pointed at the need to have functional rule of law and that it should be applied to all. “Regulations should be applied to all. There are regulations for us, as hotels, on sewage but not for the village in the vicinity. Is the government not responsible for the village or the municipality?” he questioned. He also said that the Government can’t enforce sitting in Delhi, instead he suggested that there should be strict rules and deadlines and people should confirm to them.

Involving Stakeholders

The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development last year aimed to raise awareness of sustainable tourism, mobilise all stakeholders along the tourism value chain and force the change in policies and practices in both the public and the private sectors. Choi says that some of the key learning were that partnership is key to the sustainable development and that the goals of sustainable development cannot be achieved in a very short time but should be managed from long term perspective.

Sharing information on Bhutanese approach to Sustainability, Rinzin said, “Let’s be honest. The private sector is looking at making lots of money, whereas the public sector is looking at the long term goals. We need to strike a balance for sustainable tourism development. So as public organisation we set rule for the industry but more than the rule letting the private sector understand, making them a stakeholder in where we are heading to in terms of Sustainable tourism and what are the requirements of being a sustainable destination. That is very important.”

Nath also highlighted the importance of localising the experience. “We employ the local people and they are so quick to learn. And they actually run the place like it is their own and also bring a lot of local flavour to tourists experiences.

In Conclusion

 

In India particularly what has been found to ail most is the lack of coherent and practical approach instead of archaic and tedious tourism policies and the need to pro-actively deal with sustainability issue in tourism. Experts on the panel were also of the opinion that there is need to devise mechanism to ‘measure’ sustainability implementation by stakeholders as well as carrying capacity in a destination. Sharing information on best sustainability practices and greater sensitisation amongst the both public and private sector were also put in spotlight.

Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest and fastest growing airlines on the continent, is planning to expand its operations in India. The carrier is currently operating 28 weekly passenger flights in double dailies from Delhi and Mumbai to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. The airline also operates four weekly cargo flights to India.

“But we are planning to expand frequency and destinations in India. In addition to Delhi and Mumbai, we will have some more Indian destinations on our network very soon. It will happen this year,” said, Kirubel Shitahun, Traffic & Sales Manager – North India, Ethiopian Airlines. Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Chennai are the likely destinations expected to come on Ethiopians’ India network, he informs.

With 55 destinations on its African network from its hub in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian boasts of the biggest market share for Africa out of India. “Because we have the best connectivity in Africa. Besides, Ethiopia is geographically located at the centre of the world and that means we can cover the whole world in 10 hrs flight, every direction. That is one of our competitive advantages. So we are the best in terms of offering connectivity to not only Africa but also the rest of the world,” Shitahun said.

With the largest network presence on the African continent to boast of, the airline has also positioned itself as the network carrier and is eyeing to grow its share of Indian traffic for its onward network from its hub in Addis Ababa. “We are dedicatedly working on growing network traffic. Ethiopian Airlines is the gateway for Indians to Africa. We have to cover whole of India by all means,” he said indicating the Ethiopian’s anticipated network expansion in the coming months will make it even more attractive to Indian passengers. Currently its primary access to passengers from other India cities is through codeshare with Indian Airlines. Both are also members of Star Alliance.

Ethiopian is the largest airline in Africa. With a fleet size of 100 aircrafts, the airline currently flies to more than 100 destinations worldwide including 20 domestic destinations and 55 destinations on the African continent where it boasts of the largest network presence. Outside of the African continent, Ethiopian flies to about 25 international destinations in Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

The airline is also readying to commence operation to ten new destinations in the coming months, informs Shitahun. Earlier this week the airline announced to commence operation to Chicago, US from Addis Ababa from June 2, 2018. Chicago will be the fourth destination on Ethiopian’s US network. Los Angeles, New York and Washington are other destinations that Ethiopia currently flies to on its US network.

Speaking at the inaugural function of the Silver Jubilee edition of SATTE, Uttarakhand Chief Minister T S Rawat made an impassioned plea to the Indian and international dignitaries in the audience to put the picturesque Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in greater tourism spotlight. He took the opportunity to highlight some of Uttarakhand key tourism attraction and also promised red-carpet welcome to those interested in investing state’s burgeoning tourism and hospitality sectors. The Chief Minister particularly highlighted opportunities in the religious and spiritual tourism, nature, wildlife, Aventure tourism, water based activities

“Uttarakhand, known as the Devbhoomi (Abode of God), is home to a number of prominent religious places like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Hemkunth Sahib, Jageshwar, Bageshwar, Panch Badri, Panch Kedar, Panch Prayag. This is where Mahabharata and Vedas were written. The state boasts of a long tradition of nurturing India’s culture and heritage and is one of the finest destinations for spiritual quest and cleansing,” Rawat said.

Rawat also highlighted the scope of wildlife and nature tourism. “Jim Corbett National Park boasts of the second largest Tiger population in India, 71.5 per cent of the state is under forest cover, the great Himalayas whose peak are covered in snow at all time of the year, there are more than hundred year-round rivers making the state ideal for water based adventure activities like river rafting,” he said. He also pointed that Uttarakhand is a great winter tourism destination with its beautiful nature and pristine destinations.

Furthermore, he informed, “If you want to explore the myriad colour of nature, the Nelong Valley in Uttarkashi shows nature in all its hues. The mountains, valleys and the stones in them are multi-coloured and can be seen in bronze, yellow, golden, green, silver colours. Nelong shows different colours of nature and if you have visited here once you would want to come again and again. Auli is another breathtakingly magical destination that makes you feel as if you can feel the beautiful sky above with your hands, with Nandadevi, India’s highest peak, setting its background. It’s a destination for all, for kids, for adrenalin junkies, or elderly who are on a spiritual quest.”  

The Chief Minister also used the occasion to make a pitch to potential investor in the state’s tourism and hospitality sector. “You can also come as an investor in the state’s tourism sector. If somebody wants to come forward to invest in the state’s tourism and hospitality sector or in wellness and adventure tourism, we would extend red carpet welcome for them. This is our policy,” he said.

Some of the destinations he drew attention to for potential investments were Tehri Lake and other big water bodies in Uttarkashi and in Srinagar Garhwal on the way to Badrinath. About Tehri, he said is a 60 kilometres long lake on Bhagirathi and Bhilangna rivers and a great destination for water based activities and potential investment in tourism infrastructure there.

The fastest growing economy amongst the larger economies of the world, India is recording double digit growths across all travel segments. Outbound travel from India has surpassed 23 million in 2017 and has continued to growth in double digits in the last few years. Inbound arrival has recorded a robust over 15 per cent growth in 2017. Domestic travel has recorded a staggering 1.8 billion travels and is expected to surpass 3 billion mark by 2025.

And celebrating its Silver Jubilee edition in 2018, SATTE has emerged as the undisputed premier market place in the entire South Asia region for the businesses in travel, tourism and hospitality arena from both, India and overseas, to grow their travel business interest from this phenomenally growing market as the Silver Jubilee edition attracted over 30000 trade visitors to shop at over 1000 suppliers and exhibitors from 50 countries from across the globe and 80 cities in India.

Welcoming the delegates at the 25th edition of SATTE, Michael Duck, Executive Vice President, UBM Asia, hailed SATTE as one of Asia’s leading travel trade shows and India’s most important travel, tourism and hospitality meeting place. “Indian tourism is growing at double - digit growth rate on inbound, outbound and domestic fronts and it has been the constant endeavour of UBM India to offer the best platform to all segments of the industry through SATTE and T3 mediums thus meeting the larger industry needs from India. Being the most important and truly the only composite travel and tourism show in this part of the world, SATTE provides a platform for domestic and international buyers and professionals from across the travel, tourism and hospitality domain.”

Informing that SATTE’s buyer programme is well supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India (MoT, GoI), Duck said, “We are proud to partner with MoT, all major travel and tourism associations in India, State Tourism Boards and NTOs, all sectors of hospitality and travel trade, PATA, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA); SKAL, UFTAA and UNWTO. Together we are poised to raise benchmarks and fuel growth in the travel and tourism industry.”

KJ Alphons, Minister for Tourism (I/C), Govt of India, who graced the occasion as the Chief Guest of SATTE 2018 inaugural function, informed that last year India crossed 10 million mark in foreign arrivals for the first time, which when combined with the number of arrivals of Indians settled abroad totalled approximately 16 million.

He also used the occasion to appeal SATTE and the captains of the industry to pave way for incremental international tourist numbers for the country. Furthermore, he appealed SATTE to focus on growing the domestic tourism market segment as there are many unexplored destinations like India’s North East that people are yet to discover. He drew attention to the fact the a whopping 1.8 billion domestic travels took place last year that can be better harnessed in growing destinations, tourist traffic, employment across different social spectrums all over the country.

Widely recognised as one of most ingenious tourism minds of the country and credited with some of finest tourism slogans like “Incredible India” and “God’s Own Country” marketing campaigns, NITI Aayog (National Institution for Transforming India) CEO, Amitabh Kant credited SATTE for developing his tourism insights and learning of the industry during his initial days in the sector while he was with Kerala Tourism many years ago.

“I started my career with travel and tourism industry many-many years back in the state of Kerala. Amongst the first few events that I attended then was SATTE in Delhi. It was a wonderful event because I met so many product owners and I met lots of travel agents and tour operators and with that began my knowledge and learning of the world of travel and tourism. And I went back to Kerala and amongst the many things that we did, we started new products based on experiences that SATTE told me. We moved away from everything that the West did. We started backwaters, traditional martial arts, Ayurveda, houseboats, traditional houses, we did everything that was experiential.”

Furthermore, Kant also revealed that it was SATTE that played a great role in inspiring the idea of Kerala Travel Mart that is today the most successful travel marts organised by a state. “One of the first few things that we did later was collaboration to start a Kerala Travel Mart. Many of you don’t know that Kerala Travel Mart drew on our learning from SATTE. From SATTE we learnt the art of doing this great event Kerala Travel Mart and we built Kerala’s great brand and became a resounding success story,” he revealed.

Also speaking on the occasion, Faiyaz Koya, Fiji’s Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, informed that Fiji has been participating in SATTE each year for the last seven years and has every year seen a significant growth in interests from buyers and travel media resulting in growth of visitor arrivals from this market.

Further, congratulating SATTE on its Silver Jubilee edition and for providing a platform to destinations like Fiji to meet and network with key players from tourism and travel industry and maximise opportunity in order to grow tourist number from this market, Koya said, “India continues to be an important source market for Fiji and we have not only started exploring opportunities in the MICE market but we understand that post an event of this magnitude, the largest tourism and trade show in the region, there is no stopping us to transform the same. We hope to draw from your expertise and take that key learning to assist us in facilitating the MICE market back home.”  

Hailing SATTE as the most prestigious event in the region and the biggest tourism fair in India that has continued to offer platform to destination like Indonesia to showcase itself in all its hues to the Indian trade buyers, I Gde Pitana, Deputy Minister for International Marketing Development, Indonesia Tourism, drew attention to the fact that his country, beyond just Bali, offers an incredible range of destinations and products to cater to every kind of travellers.

Furthermore, he said, “India is an important to Indonesia, especially in tourism ties. Indonesia is rich in tourism resources, both in nature and cultural fronts. Besides, we have shared centuries of cultural ties between our two countries.” He also informed that close to half a million Indians visited Indonesia last year.

Also speaking on the occasion, Bo Keun Choi, Senior Officer, Regional Programme for Asia and the Pacific, UNWTO, highlighted the consecutive year-on-year growth that international and Indian tourism has record in the past years. Furthermore, he said, “I am truly appreciative of the pledge campaign for sustainable tourism that SATTE is conducting this year and I have no doubt this will be a valuable addition towards the better future of international tourism. Together, UNWTO and India can play a key role in making sure tourism achieves its global responsibility for social, environmental and economic development. And I have every confidence that we will witness the continued growth of tourism in South Asia and SATTE will put into act as a landmark of tourism along with the Incredible India campaign.”

SATTE was established way back in 1994. Navin Berry, who established the show 25 years ago, while offering a glimpse of how the idea of the show was born those many years ago, further added, “Over the 18 years that I was running the show we hosted 4500 international tour operators. That’s the kind of legacy we gave over those years. And I am proud to say that that legacy has continued. Good 25,000 square meters of exhibition space at the event, it’s a very proud moment. I think there isn’t a comparable number two event in the country today and currently its one of the biggest shows in Asia.

Furthermore, in reference to the growing travel and tourism industry and businesses like travel exhibitions, he said that in India we have only starting to scratch the surface of travel and tourism industry. “The road is so vast. This industry is going to grow phenomenally. And I see SATTE doubling up in the next few years. I would like to see SATTE as the Davos for the travel and tourism industry in this part of the world,” Berry said.

Subhash Goyal, Member, National Tourism Advisory Council, who has attended every edition of SATTE and whose association with the event dates back to the time when the idea about the event was beginning to take shape, while recalling some of the challenges in the initial days, said, “This (SATTE) is an idea that created a revolution and I congratulate UBM for giving it the dimension and the vision which was needed and the support that was needed to make it a truly international Indian event.”

Earlier, while expressing his delight on Silver Jubilee edition of SATTE, Yogesh Mudras, Managing Director, UBM India said, “We are proud to organise the 25th edition of SATTE supported by MoT, Govt of India, all major Indian travel and tourism associations, the State Tourism Boards as well as the NTOs from across the world, hotels, airlines, cruise liners, theme parks and UNWTO of course.”

Mudras pointed that SATTE in the last 25 years has truly evolved as an institution playing the role of a catalyst in facilitating travel and tourism business for the global and India travel industries. “It is a comprehensive show in the tourism industry with participation from states, international tourism boards, hospitality companies, DMCs, OTAs, start-ups and other tourism products as well as exhibitors who are attending the event for the first time this year. This year we are glad to host the biggest SATTE ever with over 1000 exhibitors from over 35 countries. SATTE 2018 will provide domestic and international buyers excellent opportunity to do business. Altogether we have exhibitors and buyers from over 50 countries and 80 cities in India,” he informed.

He also informed that keeping the interest of industry in mind SATTE 2018 again provides a platform to start-ups and has come up with a start-up pavilion for new businesses in the travel and tourism industry. In her vote of thanks, Pallavi Mehra, Group Director, UBM India thanked the travel and tourism fraternity from across the globe for their overwhelming response and interest in SATTE 2018. 

The event also witnessed participation of several leading captains of the industry that included Pronab Sarkar, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators; Sunil Kumar, President, Travel Agents association of India; PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India; Praveen Chugh, President, Travel Agents Federation of India; Peter Koller, Head of International Training & Development, Cruise Line International Association; Julian Thomas, Founder, TOFT Tigers; Capt. Swadesh Kumar, President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India; Jagat Mehta, President, Enterprising Travel Agent's Association; Biji Eapen, President, IATA Agents Association of India; Rajan Sehgal, President, India Golf Tourism Association; Mahendra Vakharia, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India; Mandip Singh Soin, Founder President, Ecotourism Society of India, among many others luminaries and captains of travel and tourism industry from India and abroad.

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