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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

India is assuming the Presidency of the G20 in December and there will be a series of large number of meetings at 55 locations in the country which the G20 Secretariat has identified. So, all these locations will come on the global focus, and this is very important for India tourism, Arvind Singh, Secretary – Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India said while speaking as the Chief Guest at the recently concluded Hospitality and Tourism Conclave, organized by the Services and Export Promotion Council (SEPC), an advisory body of the Union Ministry of Commerce. G20 countries account for more than 50% of the world's GDP and are the most important countries in the world. 

“Almost 215 meetings are slotted to be held from January 2023 to September 23 at 55 locations. This will culminate in the Summit which will be held at New Delhi. Each of these meetings will have a large number of audiences. The meetings will have Working Groups in different subjects: Finance, Environment Trade, Labour, Tourism amongst others,” Singh informed.

Elaborating more from tourism perspective, Singh said that tourism itself will have three Working Group meetings and will culminate in the Ministers Conference. “As a part of these large number of side events, G20 will also have advocacy groups and others attending. We are also planning side events on behalf of the tourism industry. A global MICE conference is proposed to be held in the month of April in Bengaluru as a side event of the G20 Summit. We, in the past, have seen that several countries who took the G20 Summit as an opportunity to project the nation to the global community,” Singh said.

Citing example of Saudi Arabia, he said that Saudi was predominantly seen as a religious destination, people were visiting it mainly for Mecca and Medina. Post G20 Presidency, it is open to travelers from Europe and other countries, and we see that happening. “Hence, it is an opportunity that all of us should take care of and truly utilize G20 in 2023. This is an event that we look forward to, the Government of India looks forward to, for positioning and projecting India as an important destination for the rest of the world,” Singh emphasized.

Speaking on the National Tourism Policy, he said that the talks on the new policy have been going on for some time. The last policy was formulated was in 2002. Once the new government took over, there was discussions in Parliament on the need for a new model of Tourism Policy in the last two years in 2018 and 19. But, unfortunately, due to the elections, the process was on the back burner.

“And recently, when our new Minister took over, there has been a rethink and we wanted to go ahead. The fact that we are celebrating 75 years of independence and we have a projection for the next 25 years for the country that all Groups are working and are we are in the group headed by the Commerce Secretary. The vision is that in 2047, tourism should be a $1 trillion sector in the country. So, there is a need for the new Tourism Policy,” he said.

He further said that the policy is at the draft stage. “We are consulting other Central Ministries. We have taken the recommendations from various states, global best practices from organizations such as UNWTO. We also carried out a detailed situational analysis including impact of the COVID-19, future projections for tourism sector with the vision for [email protected] Multiple rounds of consultations and feedback from Central ministries, state governments and industry stakeholders are taking place and the Draft Policy was also published on the website of the Ministry of Tourism for comments from the public,” he said and added that the policy aims at improving the framework for tourism development in the country, supporting tourism industries, strengthening tourism support functions, and developing the sub-sectors.

“It is argued to be key policies around 6 guiding principles, 5 national tourism missions, and 8 strategic pillars, supported by an elaborate institutional and governance framework. The key strategic objectives of the policy are to enhance the contribution of tourism in the Indian economy by increasing visitation, stay and spending, and making India a year-round destination,” Singh said.

He said that the government is taking steps to take care of the infrastructure deficit as far as tourism is concerned. “Several schemes of the government in the tourism places are also already there. We have seen a significant growth in the development of highways, roads, airports, waterways, and other infrastructure which improves connectivity in the country. This helps the sector, and we will be seeing the visible impact of this,” he said.

For instance, unconnected areas have got connected by air, by rail, and that has helped to travel. Highways in some parts of the country are very helpful booster tourism traffic when we saw domestic tourism just started. So once the infrastructure deficit is being taken care of progressively, I am sure we need to have to relook at the strategies that how do we project India as a major tourist destination, Singh said.

He further said that India is growing as an economy, and today is the fifth largest economy in the world. “We are expected to grow higher and become one of the top three economies in the world. We need to make sure that the tourism sector also performs and becomes one of the leading service sectors of the countries,” he said.

On the inbound tourism, Singh said that India remains a winter destination. “Most of the visitors visit during October and stay onwards till March. So, how do we create events and create their demand until India becomes a year-round destination, to create jobs and real opportunities in the tourism sector and ensure the supply of skilled workers. We all know that in areas where manufacturing or agriculture cannot reach, tourism can be the main employing force as it reaches remote areas of the country,” he said.

Also, to enhance the competitiveness of tourism sector and attract private sector investment, we have to make it attractive, remove the compliance burdens, taxation issues, to preserve and enhance the cultural and natural resources of a country. And this is something that India has position to offer. There are 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. Very few countries can talk of such a number of World Heritage Sites. India has ski resorts, desert, beaches, wildlife reserves, lakes, river cruises, everything all in one country,” he said adding that one has to to travel to different countries to get that experience. So, we need to preserve and enhance the cultural and natural resources of the country,” he said.

“We need to ensure sustainable, responsible, and inclusive development of tourism in the country. Any tourism that is not sustainable and makes it difficult for the local communities. It's going to be very difficult for the communities to support tourism in the future. We have seen photographs of people driving their jeeps on the lake in Pangong and then they expect the locals to welcome tourists with open arms in the future.  So, we need to be conscious, we need to be responsible travelers also. We also need to promote digitalization, innovation, and technology to support the industry,” Singh said.

Singh said that the government has identified five very important tools and missions that lays down the priorities of how the tourism sector should be in the next decade in the country. “The first is the National Green Tourism Mission. The objective of this mission is to maintain sustainability in the tourism sector, to encourage climate action in the tourism sector, to promote responsible tourism, and align tourism development with the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.

“The second is the National Digital Tourism Mission which will work in development of tourism domain, data development of a unified tourism interface and support to MSMEs for digitalization and enabling smart tourism destinations and IT applications in the sector.

“The third is the Tourism and Hospitality Skill Mission that will work towards providing quality trained manpower to the sector. We have manpower, we have large number of training institutions, both in the public and the private sector. But we need more quality and quantity both.

“The National Mission on Destination Management Organization is the fourth mission. Many of our destinations do not have a very strong destination management organization which will maintain and market the destination. It maintains the assets in that city, coordinate all the functions with that of the state government, the national government, and it also helps in marketing and promoting the destination.

“And fifth, of course, is the National Mission on Tourism MSMEs, where we want to formalize the MSMEs to create awareness about policies, benchmark industrial policies for MSMEs and help create a good ecosystem.”

Singh said that the government lays a greater emphasis on the private sector. “We have proposed the National Tourism Board which will be chaired by the Union Minister of Tourism, with all the tourism ministers of the states, representatives of the ministries, and industry stakeholders, and this board will review the implementation of the policy and the implementation unit will provide secretarial support,” he informed.

He advised to follow an approach by involving the government, both in Centre and states. “We all need to be on the same page. We need to promote ‘Ek Bharat Sreshth Bharat’ where we need to provide greater interaction between the states and the union territories,” he said.

Wyndham is continuously adapting to meet the evolving demands and exciting new developments happening across the industry that will enhance guest, partner and team member experiences.

 

How has the performance been for Wyndham Hotels in India so far this year in terms of occupancy, ARRs and RevPar?

When it comes to our performance, we have observed that leisure hotels have been a remarkable driver of revenues post-covid. However, Wyndham's business hotels have surpassed revenue generation by all other properties since February 2022. We perceive this as an indicator that people are willing to spend more to relish in the comfort and safety of upscale hotels, be it for leisure or business. The bookings have also shot up as high as 700% compared to the same time last year. Pre-bookings (June-December) for room nights have even increased by 650% compared to last year, while room revenue has gone up by 230%. Overall, we have had a fairly successful year in terms of increasing ARR and RevPar.

You have 50 hotels across 6 brands. What is the future expansion plan and which cities are on the radar?

As travel demands continues to soar post covid-19, we look forward to continuing to fulfill our mission of making hotel travel possible for all by adding destinations to our portfolio. Our most recent openings in India include Ramada by Wyndham Katra in Jammu and Kashmir and Ramada by Wyndham Gangtok Deorali Hotel and Casino. We also have a strong development pipeline of approximately 30 hotels expected to open across Eurasia by 2025 with six expected to open in 2022 alone. As we also enter into the busy wedding season, we believe we will see strong demand and an uptick in bookings. 

Which brands are going to see the maximum traction?

Upper upscale hotels are always highly desirable, however with flexible and remote work becoming the norm, we expect there to be demand for economy and mid-scale accommodation offerings as well. Wyndham boasts a strong presence in the economy and mid-scale segment with a large portfolio of Ramada by Wyndham hotels across India, along with other accessible brands such as Ramada Encore by Wyndham and Days Inn by Wyndham. We are anticipating economy brands to continue to attract strong revenues and look forward to bringing even more accommodation offerings across the region.

Are there any plans to introduce new brands in the Indian market?

We are consistently looking for opportunities to expand and grow our portfolio across Eurasia. At Wyndham we are committed to bringing a variety of accommodation offerings to the region to support with our overall mission of making hotel travel possible for all with a strong focus on expanding our presence in tier I and tier II cities.

How do you see the growth potential in the mid and budget segments in India?

Wyndham consistently aims for a better experience for guests who travel within a budget. We understand that these guests desire to travel sustainably and with emphasis on enjoying experiences. As the economy and mid-scale segments have been very fruitful for us, we are continuously looking for new opportunities to provide more offerings in these segments. As previously mentioned, we have seen great success with our Ramada, Ramada Encore and Days Inn by Wyndham brands in India.

How are you integrating technology to enhance customer experience?

Modern technology has always been an integral part of the hospitality industry, which has improved speed, reduced operation time and eliminated risks. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital adoption was accelerated and has become paramount to hotel operations and growth.

Wyndham has time and again used tech-backed solutions to help guests derive a better hospitality experience. For instance, we launched the award-winning Wyndham mobile app to successfully augment customer experience with the help of in-stay functionality as well as touchless features, which came across as an advantage to the everyday traveller. We have also introduced the Oracle Hospitality OPERA Cloud Property Management (PMS), a mobile-enabled application, which helps hotels to enhance customisation for guests, mitigate costs and reform the efficiencies of operations. We have even developed a comprehensive suite of revenue management tools for robust and enhanced visualisation of revenue performance metrics for hotels in EMEA. The same initiative has also resulted in a partnership between Wyndham and a cloud-based intelligence platform - OTA Insight.

How are hotel franchise models growing in India?

Hotels need to cut through the market competition with dependence on the quality of their product, which is reflected by online reviews, web presence and positive social media interaction. However, the same can be out of affordability for small business owners. Therefore, the franchise model is an equitable alternative for those who want to enhance their visibility and competitiveness.

The franchise model supports with expansions, owner concerns and risk-taking ability. With the franchise model in place, individual owners also stand the chance of joining brands to become more significant players in the market with the help of innovative technology, platform bookings, scale and distribution, training, sales, marketing and quality audits. The owner can leverage the scale and support of a global brand while maintaining control of their day-to-day operations with a brand that guests know and trust.

What measures have you adopted on the sustainability front?

We understand the need to preserve our natural capital and resources in a way that they carry sustainable value in the long term. It is our responsibility to be socially, ethically and environmentally aware of maximising sustainable development in all the key business areas. We have, therefore, implemented a programme called Wyndham Green, curated to reduce emissions, reduce waste, improve energy efficiency, conserve water and supports with biodiversity, which aligns with our strategic vision of fostering a value-driven culture. Wyndham has also been working closely with the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, which makes us one of the 18 world leading hotel companies consistently working towards building a more sustainable and inclusive future for our planet and people. 

Maryam Toorani, Director of Marketing and Promotion, Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA), talks about the Kingdom’s preparedness to welcome tourists as well as India market

 

The Kingdom of Bahrain is keen to grow visitors to the destination from the Indian market. It has seen a year-on-year increase in the number of Indian tourists coming to Bahrain.

With almost all gulf countries are focused on India, what is the overall strategy of Bahrain Tourism for India market?

Bahrain, the island nation, has been promoting itself as a short-haul destination from India with a focus on MICE. Bahrain is home to some of the world’s top-class hotels. These properties are equipped with enormous banquet halls that are capable of hosting intimate to very large events. The hotels here have Indian chefs who can carter to the exact taste for a perfect MICE gala evening.

As a wedding destination, Bahrain has positioned itself as dream destination. Getting married in Bahrain is like home away from home where you can have a grand traditional wedding with Indian cuisine, in an exotic location.

From a leisure point of view, Bahrain has a little of something for every traveler. Bahrain, along with its attractions of natural beauty and historical monuments, also has a list of indoor and outdoor activities to keep tourists involved the whole day.  Our focus is to create a brand recall of Bahrain as the ideal MICE, leisure, and wedding destination.  

How do you see the potential of Indian outbound?

India’s outbound market is considered as one of the emerging and most sought out outbound markets in the world. With the resumption of international flights, the reopening of borders, and the easing of entry rules worldwide, we see a healthy revival in outbound travel from India to Bahrain in the coming years. There is a lot of pent-up demand amongst Indian travelers to travel and explore new locations closer to home. Given the location of the country, Bahrain serves as a perfect hotspot for Indian travellers.

India's outbound tourism market is set to surpass US$40 billion by 2026 with an impressive double-digit growth rate during the forecast period 2021–2026. The growing economy and young population of India makes this market one of the most lucrative outbound tourism markets in the world.

What was the number of Indian tourist arrivals in 2019?

Bahrain is close to India. A little over 6,000 Indian tourists visited Bahrain in 2019—mostly from the wedding and MICE sectors. Through aggressive destination marketing and the promotion of Bahrain as a tourist destination, we hope to triple the number of visitors to Bahrain this year from India. 

How is the situation of air connectivity and visas?

Bahrain and India are well connected by Gulf Air that offers frequent direct flights from important cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Calicut, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram. Additionally, Air India also offers direct flights between Bahrain and India. For tourists to Bahrain, Indian citizens are eligible for e-Visas.

You have recently appointed India rep. Are you planning to have consistent engagement with Indian travel trade? If yes, what are planned activities for B2B and B2C?

Yes, VFS Global Services has been chosen as our representative in the Indian market. VFS Global's responsibilities in this position include establishing business ties with regional stakeholders and promoting the destination through online and offline marketing, including social media and public relations.

In order to provide tourists with an unforgettable vacation experience in Bahrain, we strive to highlight the area's abundance of attractions and range of services. The destination will be promoted through various B2B and B2C activities like sales visits, training, multi-city roadshows, familiarization trips, joint co-ops with various travel agents, a few exciting contests, celebrity/influencer engagements and a slew of other promotional activities in order to maintain a strong growth trajectory in the upcoming months.

Bollywood is one of the channels to draw Indian tourists. You were earlier planned to work with Bollywood. What is the plan now?

As a Tourism Board, we are interested to investigate the role that film tourism plays in promoting a place since we think it is a fascinating niche to work with. We aim to interact and connect with significant people from the major production companies in Bollywood as well as Tollywood in India in the upcoming months.

Any new tourism infrastructure project in the pipeline?

The new convention centre in Bahrain will be the biggest exhibition and convention centre in the Middle East. The massive and brilliant structure is scheduled to open its doors to the public in October 2022. The building will be a cutting-edge venue that can host any event, including huge conventions, exhibits, and even musical performances.

With cutting-edge amenities, the exhibition hall will be more than 95,000 square feet, ensuring the success of any event held here. The centre will include 10 halls with seats for 400–4000 people each. In addition, there are 95 meeting rooms, 10 exposition halls, a 250-seat restaurant, 25 cafes, 3 Majlis, and 8 changing rooms in the centre.

Finally, how prepared you are to cater to the India Market?

Bahrain has finished its opening process and is prepared to receive Indian travellers. Both the ability to enter the country and the ability to hold significant gatherings and festivities are unrestricted. Entry into Bahrain is not subject to a vaccination requirement. No longer are visitors to the Kingdom obliged to undergo quarantine or an on-arrival PCR test.

The last two years have put the spotlight on health and wellness. As the world recovers from Covid-19, it is important to assess various policy issues to kick start the tourism economy. One key pillar is health and wellness tourism.

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, India, with its world-class medical infrastructure catered to those with high disposable income, had attracted patients from Southeast Asia, the African continent and other developing countries. The decline in Covid-19 cases has once again galvanised the Indian government to implement policies to attract medical tourists.

The government has earmarked a national strategy and roadmap for medical and wellness tourism to develop India as a wellness destination.

Disclosing this in Parliament, the Ministry of Tourism has formulated a National Strategy and Roadmap for Medical and Wellness Tourism. It focuses on developing a brand for India as a wellness destination. Strengthen the ecosystem for medical and wellness tourism. Enable digitalization by setting up Online Medical Value Travel (MVT), portal and enhance accessibility for Medical Value Travel.

In order to provide a dedicated institutional framework to take forward the cause of promotion of Medical Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism has constituted a National Medical and Wellness Tourism Board with the Hon'ble Minister (Tourism) as its chairman.

'Medical Visa’ has been introduced, which can be given for specific purposes to foreign travellers coming to India for medical treatment. To promote Medical Tourism in the country, the Government of India is extending the e-medical visa facility to the nationals of 156 countries.

According to a report, the Indian medical tourism industry was valued at US $ 6 billion at the beginning of 2020 and this can only multiply if we focus our attention on formulating policies that will keep all stakeholders in mind.

One of the areas that the government should focus on is organising roadshows across source markets and these should include not only tour operators but also hospitals that can showcase their expertise to select groups of outbound operators from these destinations.

We also need to take into account that India faces competition from other destinations such as Thailand and Singapore for medical tourism and we have to iron out difficulties. It begins with the e-visa for medical tourists. Though the government has liberalised the policies, it should also give leeway for those who recover from their medical condition to travel to tourist destinations to soak in the experiences that the destination has to offer.

Private players, namely hospitals should put forth their wish list to the government and guide the government in framing policies that will help them upgrade the hospital infrastructure. It is not only the premium hospitals that attract medical tourists but also the mid-level hospitals.

Overall, this will be a great step in promoting India as a wellness destination.

 

Sharjah Summer Campaign 2022 turns the spotlight on the innumerable experiences that travellers can enjoy in Sharjah. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) shares his views on the growing stature of Sharjah as a global tourism destination. Excerpts from the interview:  

Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) recently launched Sharjah Summer Campaign 2022. What are your expectations in terms of partnership, number, economic impact, hotel occupancy from this campaign? Which are the focus markets for this campaign?

The Sharjah Summer Campaign is one of our most popular and successful annual activations, and its popularity continues to grow this year as more and more visitors and tourists from across the UAE and the world turn towards our culturally rich and naturally diverse emirate to satiate their passion for experiential travel. Until September 30, we expect to welcome a big turnout of vacationers from the UAE, India, Europe and beyond. We have partnered with 16 top brands to offer our guests and their families all-inclusive leisure and hospitality packages at special discounted rates. We are certainly expecting a positive economic impact from the inflow of visitors, especially since our hotel occupancy rates have been promising thus far.    

 

You recently rolled out a new adventure tourism project in Khorfakkan. What are the salient features of this project? Are you planning to position Sharjah as an adventure tourism destination?

SCTDA’s new adventure tourism project in Sharjah’s breathtaking eastern region of Khorfakkan shines new light on the emirate’s expansive potential for adventure tourism and is being developed on a picturesque site overlooking the serene Luluyah beach. Upon completion in Q4 in 2023, the development will be a haven for adrenaline seekers with its offerings of a zipline, a giant swing, a dry-slide track, hiking tracks, mountain bike tracks, and more.  

What new tourism infrastructure projects are in the pipeline in Sharjah?

Sharjah’s tourism infrastructure is at the heart of the emirate’s overall strategy of economic development and diversification. The new developments in Sharjah's tourism landscape are massive both in terms of the vision of each project and their value. We have some bespoke new projects in the pipeline that will have something new and unique to offer. 

Post Covid, what new elements have you incorporated in your marketing and digital strategy?

With the travel industry slowly getting back on its feet, we are working towards establishing Sharjah as the most-preferred destination for all categories of visitors in both business and leisure sectors. SCTDA’s post Covid-19 marketing, and digital strategies are guided by targeted B2B activities that include trade partnerships, designing of campaigns, participation in global trade shows, and more. We have also adopted an extensive, result-oriented approach to our B2C activities. To generate consumer awareness, we launched targeted activations on key global digital platforms and boosted our visibility via direct traveller targeting on prominent travel community platforms.

How do you plan to position Sharjah in the India market?

India has been a key source market for Sharjah, and we continue to maintain our appeal for Indian visitors through well-researched and aggressive marketing campaigns designed specifically to appeal to the sensibilities of Indian tourists and investors. Most Indian travellers value experiential and cultural travel experiences the most and a family-friendly destination is high on their list of priorities when they travel. Sharjah offers all the above and even within these offerings we create bespoke itineraries and experiences for our Indian guests.

We continue to position Sharjah as a one-stop holiday destination, perfect for a short haul, easily accessible from India and the most affordable family destination in the region for wholesome, world-class experiences.

What sort of marketing and promotional activities have you planned for the India market?

Aimed at growing a stronger foothold in the country, generating demand and consumer pull, and to support trade sentiment, we have worked on a holistic plan including a strategic mix of PR and marketing activities. On the B2C front, in particular, we are heavily focusing on digital promotions as it is an effective medium for the large-scale proliferation and outreach of our promotional activities across Indian markets. SCTDA has strategic plans in place to engage India’s digitally active audience which has grown multifold since Covid-19.

You have also been focussed on sustainable tourism. What initiatives have you taken/planned on the sustainability front?

Modern travellers are conscious about their environmental footprint and are increasingly looking to invest in vacations that are authentic and leave the least environmental impact. It is heartening to see the transformation of the concept of ‘responsible tourism’ from theory to reality as all of the sector's stakeholders - businesses and consumers - actively champion sustainable tourism. 

With projects like the ‘Sharjah Collection’ brand of luxury heritage inspired and eco-retreats, for instance, amongst several others, our emirate is undoubtedly leading the sustainable tourism drive in the UAE and the region. To facilitate eco-tourism growth, we are working hand-in-hand with all our partners to ensure that potential visitors are fully informed of the array of wonderful sustainable attractions, hospitality options and cultural activities that our emirate has to offer every category of traveller.

Air connectivity is coming back to normal. What is the status of connectivity between India and Sharjah?

The India-Sharjah air traffic has already gone back to its pre-Covid-19 levels. This is mainly since our emirate is connected to not just the Tier 1 cities in India but also to most Tier 2 cities via a number of short, non-stop flight options. Among 13 Indian cities from where passengers can take direct flights to Sharjah, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai currently top the charts in terms of tourist arrivals to the emirate. Now, with travel restrictions easing up, especially that fully vaccinated travellers don’t even have to take an RT-PCR test, and with multiple flight options available, travelling to Sharjah from India is a breeze.

Which segments of tourism and travellers are focussing on the India market?

Sharjah maintains its unrivalled international reputation as one of the most attractive destinations in the family tourism segment. Additionally, the fact that the emirate is home to a large community of Indian expats, Sharjah attracts a large number of visitors from the subcontinent in the VFR (Visiting friends and relatives) category.

The announcement by Singapore Airlines (SIA), to restore their pre-Covid 19 schedules in the India market by October 30th 2022 is a validation that air travel has picked up and airlines expect demand from India to grow in the months ahead. 

This follows close on the heels of Emirates, which restored their capacity to India to pre-Covid levels in April this year. With this, Emirates now operates 170 flights per week from different points in India. 

 From the beginning of 2022, airlines that see India as a big opportunity have gradually increased their capacity in the Indian market. The Indian market holds a huge opportunity for global airlines. Indians travel across the world for education, VFR, business and leisure. 

According to consulting firm RedSeer, which published a report last year, the number of Indian students opting for higher education abroad grew from 440,000 in 2016 to 770,000 in 2019 and is set to grow further to approximately 1.8 million by 2024. This along with the VFR traffic associated with this segment provides airlines with a compelling opportunity to focus on the Indian market. 

Many more airlines have announced plans to operate flights from India and this augurs well for the travel and tourism industry. In a few months, the Indian inbound season is set to begin and large captive markets in Europe and the Far East with its airline connectivity will enable us to attract traffic to the Indian subcontinent. 

The world is seeing inflation rising to levels not seen in decades. Due to limited capacity, airfares in the India sector were quite high and this discouraged many people from travelling to India. The restoration of air services is bound to make travel to and from India affordable and encourage the growth of traffic. 

The Indian MICE segment is another big opportunity for the outbound sector. This market is price sensitive and they depend on competitive airfares and reasonably priced destinations. The increase in air seat capacity to the Middle East and the Far East will encourage corporates to reward their top performers with a valuable holiday that was missing from their bucket list for two years. 

Revenge travel is here to stay for some time. Airlines have understood the immense potential that India has to offer in this regard. China for instance is going through its Covid-19 waves and is reluctant to open its borders fully. This is an opportunity for airlines to focus on India. 

In India, the government has made it clear that Indian carriers such as Air India, Indigo and others will be given preference when it comes to renegotiation of bilaterals. This will strengthen Indian carriers and also provide direct connectivity from key Indian destinations to long-haul points in the USA and Europe. 

The opening up and the confidence that global carriers have in India is an endorsement of the potential in the country. 

 

Over 900 Indigo flights delayed on the July 2nd weekend as the crew went for a job interview’, according to sources, screamed the headline in a prominent newspaper. While the reasons may be anecdotal, the issue at hand is the scramble for talent across the aviation and travel industry.

Globally, flights have been cancelled and many rescheduled as airlines and airport operators are finding it difficult to hire personnel to service the return of passengers post Covid-19.

In Europe and USA, the shortage of baggage loaders across airports has led to a huge pile-up of luggage at airports and social media was flooded with images of unclaimed baggage at various airports. The situation is so dire that airlines across the developed world are offering a 50 per cent hike in wages for employees and wooing potential employees with sweetened salary packages.

According to a Reuters report, Fabio Gamba, Director of the Airport Services Association, a trade group for the independent ground and air cargo handling industry, estimated that in 2019 there were roughly 220,000 to 240,000 people in ground handling in Europe. Around 2020, there were fewer than 100,000, as ground handlers sought more stable jobs in other industries with better pay and working conditions.

In India, the situation may not be that dire, but there is a genuine shortage of skilled personnel in the travel industry.

Indian aviation is also facing similar challenges. When the lockdown was announced in 2020, airlines had to let go of employees as aircraft were parked and lying idle. The ground staff and cabin crew took a hit and employees were laid off. What has changed for India is the sale of Air India to the Tata group, the revival of Jet Airways and the launch of Akasa Air. This has led to an increase in demand for trained airline personnel, be it ground staff or cabin crew. Pilots are also back in demand after the Covid lull.

For quite some time there have been rumblings among airline staff as they felt short-changed, and their salaries were stagnant with no scope for growth. This has changed with these new developments.

The next few months will see a fierce hunt for talent as the three carriers go on an expansion spree and would like to hire the best.

A similar situation is playing out in the travel industry. During the lockdown, there were mass layoffs and companies sacked staff indiscriminately. Over 60 per cent of the staff found suitable employment in other fields over the course of the last 30 months and they are not keen to return as they feel that life in the travel industry is uncertain.

The industry will now have to invest to get the next set of personnel trained to spearhead the travel industry.

Fiji is building on the positive momentum post its successful reopening. Tourism Fiji recently partnered with Havas to execute the next phase of our strategic plan. Tourism Fiji recently launched Corporate Plan 2022-2024 targeting US$1.4 billion visitor revenue by 2024 

How is Fiji gearing up to revive tourism post-pandemic?

Fiji has one of the safest programs in the world as the ‘Care Fiji Commitment’. When we opened last December there was a requirement for every operator to be part of the Care Fiji Commitment. So, in terms of the product on the ground, that readiness is 100% ready.

Fiji was so resilient over the years in preparing to revive the tourism post pandemic. Tourism in Fiji is slowly recovering. We are here in India to connect with our partners again and also to tell them that Fiji is ready to welcome Indian guests. We're picking up the low-hanging fruits with our partners who usually sell Australia in New Zealand because Fiji is an easy add-up from there. Ultimately, when things are totally restored, we'll be pushing our sort of mono destination in Singapore, Hong Kong etc.

Tourism Fiji recently launched Corporate Plan 2022-2024 targeting US$1.4 billion visitor revenue by 2024. What are the main elements of the plan and how confident you are to achieve the target?

The Corporate Plan 2022-2024 was initiated by our CEO. As a strategy, Tourism Fiji is looking to reach 2019 tourist numbers in 2024. And one of the key drivers for that is to sustainably develop the destination. We are not only just targeting business to Fiji but ensuring that our on-ground infrastructure and support is able to support that. Because, initially when we opened, not all the operators were open. We are developing accessibility and supporting the ground component to complement it. We are totally focused on growing tourism sustainably.

You aim to achieve 447,000 International visitors in 2022. Where do you stand today i.e in the first 6 months of 2022?

I think we are close to that. So far, we've been hitting our monthly targets which is really good. We just look forward to growing constantly and continuously.

What is the new marketing and promotional strategy?

we also just appointed Havas as a global and media and creative agency. We just made the announcement literally just this week.  The agency will support Fiji’s post pandemic recovery as a destination, and implementation of Tourism Fiji’s strategic plan. The scope of work includes evolving Tourism Fiji’s ‘Where Happiness Finds you’ brand platform, supporting its strategic focus on sustainability, and leading on global media strategy and buying. The team will also help to build digital capabilities across the Tourism Fiji team and develop digital experiences across the visitor booking journey.  There are a couple of exciting things coming. It may head towards a new look and feel for the destination and our brand. So that should be happening really soon.

How do you see India as a market and what is your expectation from India in short-mid to long term? 

India has always been one of the strategic markets for us. Our short-haul markets will always provide the volume. So, all our long-haul markets will be the partners to hopefully provide volume but also yield for the destination. We obviously will always hope for healthy growth. But it'll depend on the market conditions also.

How are you positioning Fiji in India post-pandemic?

Fiji is always going to be the most experiential destination. Fiji offers you more serene and more homely island experience. People think Fiji is just one island, but they don't understand we have 333 islands. There are different personalities and different charms of the island. So, when you come to Fiji, don't come to expect to be like shopping. It's not a commercial, you need to literally come to Fiji to disconnect and reconnect with yourself and your family. We are a safe, visa-free destination. That's a big deal for us. We are positioning Fiji as an experiential destination in the India market.

Which segments of the India market you are planning to tap?

Primarily, our targets have always been honeymooners and couples. Before pandemic, we saw kind of demand from families and MICE. We want to revive the family and the MICE business again. We've spoken to few partners to renew this. We are established now in honeymoon and couples’ segments and need to expand in families and MICE.

Amit Mehta, Country Manager, South Asia, Malaysia Airlines, talks about the latest development and India market

Malaysia Airlines progressively ramping up our capacity and introducing strategic route expansion in view of the reopening of borders to international destinations, as we anticipate travel demand for international travel to pick up.

Last decade had been quite challenging for Malaysia Airlines (MH). Then the impact of Covid -19 for airlines globally. How is MH coming back to normalcy? 

Malaysia Airlines has come a long way amidst unfortunate circumstances. However, our agility and the way we adapt to the changing climate will allow us to be better prepared as an organisation to better serve our customers and mitigate any future shocks to the organisation. Whilst the pandemic resulted in a full-scale global transportation crisis, it also allowed us the opportunity to reset our balance sheet.

Now, as nations progressively reopen their borders and approaching a sense of normalcy, we are seeing a strong pent-up demand among travellers.

This year, we have launched three new routes, including a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur - Doha and the upcoming Kuala Lumpur - Haneda beginning August 2022. We have also established an agreement with the Uzbek government to operate charter flights between the two countries: expanding our presence beyond our current network through smart partnerships. 

Our priority remains the safety of our passengers, and we are committed to facilitating safe, seamless and memorable journeys so guests can continue to Fly Confidently with Malaysia Airlines.

While we are bullish for 2022, we remain cautious of the environments and will deploy fleet and network expansion opportunistically during peak periods to service high demand/capacity sectors.

What is the current operational profile of MH in India? Are you planning to increase the frequency in the near future in India? Any new Indian destination on the radar for connectivity? 

Malaysia Airlines currently operates 29 weekly flights from India from five major cities in India, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai. In early 2020 we were flying to six destinations (including Kochi) with 60 times weekly flights.  We will be gradually increasing these frequencies by year-end to cater to growing demands and will add new routes when opportunity arises.

What is the response, current load factor and yield from India market? By when are you expecting to come to the pre-pandemic level? 

Current load factor for the market has been encouraging with up to 70% load factor on these flights and forecasted forward load factor of up to 80% by 2022.

There is a strong pent-up demand in India to travel again leading us to increase frequencies and upgrading to wide-body aircraft on certain flights/routes. We are expecting closer or short-haul destinations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore to see a strong uptick in the next few quarters, among the first-time international leisure travellers. We are also seeing lot of demand coming in for Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and other Asia Pacific destinations on our network from India.

We are bullish for 2022 and are looking at achieving pre-pandemic capacity back for India by end of the year.

Earlier, MH was getting a lot of Indian traffic who used to fly beyond KL hub. How is the situation now and which destinations?

As a member of the oneworld alliance and through our extensive codeshare partnerships with global airlines, we are striving to develop Kuala Lumpur as a leading aviation hub in the Southeast Asia region by seamlessly connecting Malaysia to the world. To further encourage travel, the airline has also extended its previously launched ‘Bonus Side Trip’ programme to India, allowing passengers to add an extra leg to their journey and explore cultural gems at minimal costs, as well as extending its MHflypass programme to ASEAN destinations.

What is your marketing, promotional and trade engagement plan for India?

We have an excellent relationship with our trade partners. In terms of our marketing strategy, we have deployed curated campaigns and product offerings to stimulate and cater to the growing demands in local markets. This includes joint consumer promotions with local OTAs to attract the leisure consumers; roadshows with Tourism Boards; corporate travel programmes through MHBiz Pro and MHBiz Plus; MHexplorer platform for students; attractive flight and holiday package deals via MHholidays, and other fare products to suit different traveller needs.

You recently operated your first SAF powered flight. What other initiatives MH is planning on sustainability and green front? 

One of Malaysia Airlines' top priorities is to operate in a sustainable manner. As an airline under the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), it will focus on four near-term priorities in the journey to net-zero emissions: aircraft efficiency, technological enhancements to aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), as well as carbon offsets. The MAG Sustainability Blueprint sets the course for Malaysia Airlines and its subsidiaries to play its role in a net zero carbon emissions future by 2050 and we are proud to be taking tangible steps towards that goal.

As a pioneer for the use of SAF in Malaysian aviation, we have conducted the country’s first cargo and passenger flights using SAF. In December of last year, Malaysia Airlines flew the country’s first registered commercial aircraft using SAF from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and recently completed its first passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore powered by SAF.

Anything more you would like to add?

Customer behaviour and demand patterns will continue to change, as more will demand flexibility as a core service attribute to account for unforeseen travel circumstances. With a certain level of uncertainty still prevailing, customers are on the lookout for bookings and fares that meet their requirements.

Understanding this need, Malaysia Airlines offers customers a flexible fare based on their travel needs, preferences, priorities and purchasing capabilities through the Horizontal Fare Family (HFF). It is a fare brand name which consists of Lite, Basic and Flex where each fare family has different benefits such as baggage allowance, seat selections, priority services. These fare brands also offer different flexibility in terms of refunds and rebooking.

Deepak Rajawat, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara shares his perspectives on the status of the Indian aviation industry as well as performance of Vistara.

Full-service carrier Vistara currently has a fleet of 53 aircraft, including 41 Airbus A320, five Airbus A321neo, five Boeing 737-800NG and two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline is on course to ramp up its fleet to strengthen its network globally and expects to take the number to 70 aircraft by 2023. Excerpts from interview: 

 

How would you explain the unfolding scenario of the Indian aviation industry?

India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), India has become the third largest domestic aviation market globally and is expected to overtake UK to become the third largest air passenger (International and Domestic) market by 2024.

The Indian aviation industry is showing signs of strong recovery with domestic travel witnessing a consistent increase in the number of passengers. There has also been a consistent surge in demand on international routes since the resumption of scheduled international operations. The demand is mainly driven by visiting friends & relatives (VFR) and leisure travellers, along with a gradual return in corporate travel.

How have the performance been for Vistara during the Jan - May 2022?

The demand has been reasonably good. We have also scaled up frequencies on several of our international routes, including Delhi-London, Mumbai-Singapore, Delhi-Singapore and Delhi-Bangkok to daily flights.

We are currently operating flights to/from nine international destinations including Paris, Frankfurt, London, Kathmandu, Singapore, Dubai, Dhaka, Male and Bangkok. We are also starting operations between Mumbai and Jeddah with effect from 2 August 2022 and bolstered our connectivity to Thailand with 5x weekly flights from Mumbai.

In our domestic network, we launched Coimbatore as the 31st domestic destination, connecting it with Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and have introduced several new routes like Mumbai-Srinagar, Bengaluru-Indore, Mumbai-Indore, Mumbai-Bhubaneshwar, Mumbai-Dehradun, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, etc.

What is your domestic and international expansion plan?

While we hope the demand continues to grow, the industry has entered the weakest quarter (historically) for domestic operations i.e. July to September, and we will have to see how the market performs. We are focussed on increasing frequencies where we already fly to and look at other commercially viable destinations around the world. We remain committed to densifying our domestic network while introducing new routes and viable destinations to expand our presence across the country.

The recent hike in ATF prices is becoming a damper for the industry. How is this impacting the overall performance of airlines in India?

ATF is one of the key determinants when it comes to aviation economics. Jet fuel makes up to 35-40% of an airline’s operational cost, and at present, it is at a record high price. While it has a significant impact on the airfares, it is not possible to pass on the complete incremental cost to customers in a price sensitive market like India.

TATA Group has now Air India, Vistara and Air Asia India under its fold. How do you see synergy shaping up amongst the three?

While the acquisition of Air India by Tata Group is a positive development and has been one of the biggest events in the industry, our plans remain unchanged as we continue to focus on our organic growth, until we are told otherwise by our parent organisations. Vistara continues to operate as an independent entity, in competition with all other Indian carriers and both our parent companies remain invested in our growth and expansion plans.

What new elements do you plan to incorporate into your service offerings?

Vistara has always tried to differentiate itself in the market through intuitively thoughtful offerings like introduction of Premium Economy, serving freshly brewed Starbucks coffee, mood lighting, value-based loyalty program – Club Vistara and much more. Keeping in mind the preferences of today’s highly health-conscious traveller, we have made a conscious effort to add healthier options in the menu such as a selection of thoughtfully crafted salads enriched with whole foods, superfoods, and protein and raw pressed juices. 

As a customer centric airline, we are always aiming for customer delight, consistently working towards introducing new enhancements at various customer touchpoints to offer a world-class flying experience. We are on course to introduce a slew of new wellness offerings on board to ensure our customers have an elevated flying experience with us.

How important is b2b travel agents for you? Currently, what is the percentage ratio of your bookings coming through offline and online?

Just like for other airlines, B2B agents are one of the oldest and key contributors in sales for Vistara as well. 70% of our bookings can be attributed to online channels and 30% to offline.

What measures are you taking on sustainability fronts?

We are moving towards carbon neutrality by reducing emissions through operational efficiencies.  One of our strengths is our young fleet of aircraft. Vistara had decided to invest in modern and advanced aircraft with fuel efficient engines from the very beginning. The current fleet of A320NEO, A321NEO and B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft are powered by leading edge technologies and advanced systems, resulting in reduction in engine noise as well as nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Using new generation aircraft contributes significantly towards keeping CO2 levels low and achieving better fuel efficiency. Vistara was also recognised for having Asia's 3rd Youngest Aircraft Fleet Award 2022 by ch-aviation.

This World Environment Day, we launched the Vistara Green Miles initiative under which, we organized a tree plantation drive across our network that aims at increasing the green cover in the country. We also activated an e-waste recycling initiative, where the IT team has been instrumental in streamlining an effective e-waste management process in a bid to overcome the challenge of safely discarding Vistara’s electronic devices.

We are incessantly looking for improved ways to do business, and sustainability takes center stage among those innovations.

 

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