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Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, Chairman, HRH Group of Hotels, one of the pioneers in the heritage hotel space in India speaks about the growth of the segment and challenges.
1. Heritage hotels have been the mainstay for India’s heritage tourism. How would you explain its contribution to tourism growth?
Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur: Not just in India, the world over heritage hospitality has been a major segment of the industry. Living in palaces, forts or castles has the romance of living in a historic past. The lifestyle, F&B, adventures of the past all contribute to the mystique of holiday where Royalty once lived or entertained. In India, heritage hotels especially from Rajasthan have become a part of the international tourism map. It was my respected father, His late Highness Maharana Bhagwat Singh who pioneered heritage hospitality when he 'converted' our summer palace Jag Niwas into the Lake Palace Hotel in the early 1960s. The rest, as they say, is history...Lake Palace Hotel remains the jewel in the crown of the Taj Group. As Udaipur came into the international map of tourism, other heritage cities of Rajasthan also followed the path shown. Today Udaipur is ranked, time and again, as one of 'the best cities in the world to visit'. It is a matter of great pride and honour for us.
2. One of the main positives of Heritage hotels are the conservation of heritage properties: forts, palaces and havelis. However, it remained limited to certain states and pockets. How can we make it pan India phenomena? What challenges are hindering the growth of heritage hotels expansion on pan India level?
Yes, the conservation of the palaces and forts is a tangible outcome and the effort needed to achieve a degree of success needs to be lauded. The former Royal Families of Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner did a phenomenal job and which is why Rajasthan's tourism is identified with heritage hospitality. It is not so in other states of India.
Though I must say that Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala are also offering such tourism products. To make it into a pan-India movement needs a pan-Indian champion! The private hotel chains have done their bit but the way ahead is long and tedious. To create new tourism products is the need of the hour. The government will have to work with the private hotel chains to make this happen. It can be done. It really requires to be nurtured for at least a decade or two.
3. What is the main USPs of your properties? How do you maintain the originality and authenticity?
HRH Group of Hotels, Udaipur, is India’s largest and only chain of heritage palace-hotels and resorts under private ownership. Our guests 'Experience the Original in the Abode of Kings'. It is our USP and our brand-identity. Our palace-hotels and sanctuary-resorts are spread across across Rajasthan.
We offer regal experiences in island-palaces, desert safaris and wildlife sanctuaries. Shiv Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur are classified Grand Heritage Palaces; Jagmandir Island Palace and and Gajner Palace, Gajner (near Bikaner) are 'heritage' hotels which have become iconic. Shikarbadi Hotel, Udaipur; Garden Hotel, Udaipur; The Aodhi, Kumbhalgarh; Fateh Bagh, Ranakpur; Gorbandh Palace, Jaisalmer; Karni Bhawan Palace in Bikaner are 'royal retreats' of our HRH Group. Our hospitality is distinct, warm and personal. We want every guest to feel they are guests of the Royal Family. Yes, to maintain the originality and authenticity is a big challenge: as we refurbish, renovate our properties we are very conscious to retain the spirit of the historic past.
4. Traditionally, inbound tourists were driving the businesses of heritage hotels. Now, domestic market is coming stronger. What is your take on this? What is the percentage of foreign V/s domestic guests at your property?
Undoubtedly the domestic market is growing, and growing vibrantly! Today, there is an equal number of foreign to domestic guests at HRH Group. If you look at our Regal Weddings, the number of Indian families preferring such regal experiences is growing exponentially. Since 1999-2000, we have pioneered Regal Weddings in Udaipur and across Rajasthan. Destination weddings, thus, have become synonymous with Udaipur and its iconic Jagmandir Island Palace, Shiv Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash Palace. Each of these palaces has also won innumerable Ministry of Tourism Awards instituted by the Government of India; as destinations for 'regal weddings', they remain incomparable and unique. We want our guests to make memories in Udaipur, memories that stay for a lifetime. And what better way than the most meticulously and lovingly planned 'regal wedding' celebrations that may last for days and remain etched in the memories of families and friends forever and ever.
5. How has the occupancy and ARRs been for your hotels?
We are a closely-held Group and our occupancy and ARR numbers have been growing steadily. Our sales and marketing teams have been at the forefront of major global and Indian travel marts and expos. The results are showing and we look ahead to interesting times.
6. Of late, heritage hotels are also getting MICE and wedding business. What is the contribution of MICE and weddings at your properties?
Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre was created to successfully cater to the growing MICE market. And I am happy that it has been well appreciated. Conferences and ceremonial events are regularly organised at the Centre.
Our pioneering efforts to transform Udaipur into a wedding-destination have borne fruit over the decades. Better air and road connectivity have made it possible for the heritage-city to host high-profile weddings. Few would believe that the airport of Udaipur, on several occasions during 2005 or 2007, did not have adequate parking bay-areas for private aircrafts that had landed for such events! Bollywood, and the media, have also played a significant role in underscoring Udaipur as a unique wedding destination. What Subhash Ghai’s film Yaadein did in 2001, ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’ achieved once again in 2013: the blockbuster films were scripted around Udaipur and its stunning venues and locations. Now the concept of ‘regal weddings’ had come home.
7. A lot of new hotels also claim to be a heritage hotel. Isn’t it diluting the brand? How can we maintain heritage in true sense?
It is a matter of regulation and the role of a regulatory authority. I am sure governmental agencies will act in due course of time to ensure that a 'heritage palace' is truly one which is preserving its heritage and was not constructed last month.
8. What is the impact of your property on the local economy and community?
Tremendous! Our palace-hotels and resorts are an integral part of the local economy and community. Through direct and indirect employment, we have positively impacted the lives of thousands of families. Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh, Gajner, Jaisalmer have been reliant on tourism and it shows.
9. Do you have a strong focus on environmental sustainability? What measures do you take towards this?
To answer this would require an entire feature in itself! We have safeguarded our eco-heritage through the decades. Be it in terms of water-recycling, air and road anti-pollution measures, we have been setting the trends. Solar power has been harnessed; we had the first solar-powered boats on Lake Pichola way back in the 1990s! Similarly, our water treatment plant at The City Palace, Udaipur, was operational decades ago. Our environmental heritage is equally significant as our built heritage of palaces, forts and temples. That's how our living heritage grows and develops.
Major outbound players in India are of the opinion that the rising purchasing power of Indian middle class, millennial, direct and low fare international flights, quest for exploring new destinations and experiences and easy financing options are driving the growth of Indian outbound travel. Moreover, Indians are also increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and curious to visit places that have not been visited before. Various industry leaders including; Rajesh Magow, CEO India, MakeMyTrip; Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), Yatra; Karan Anand, Head-Relationships, Cox & Kings; Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India); Daniel D’souza, President and Country Head, Leisure at SOTC Travel spoke to T3 about the latest trends in Indian outbound, popular and emerging destinations and changing profile and tastes of outbound travelers. Excerpt:
Q] What trends are you noticing in the ongoing Indian outbound season?
Rajesh Magow (RM): These are exciting times for India’s tourism industry which is being driven by the increase in domestic spends, internet penetration and availability of smartphones that have helped online travel companies provide the wide array of travel choices while making travel convenient like never before. With the rise of middle class, increase in disposable income, direct and low fare international flights - planning outbound travel has become way easier and far more lucrative. The number of Indians travelling to international destinations has grown phenomenally and we are seeing a good amount of traction coming in from travellers in tier II and III cities across India. From Gen Z to retirees to women-solo travellers, Indians are taking to international travel in very large numbers. Some of the trends that have emerged strong in the outbound travel category include:
• Experiential travel: Travelers today are looking for holidays that meet their specific travel demands and varied interests. Each segment within the tourism community, be it the millennials or the footloose older generation, are looking for customized and differentiated experiences. For instance, instead of a plain vanilla holiday, millennials are looking to satiate their wanderlust by traveling to remote locations, participating in authentic cultural tours like wine trails, culinary walks and adventure sports, and planning bachelorette’s, outside India, among others.Booking patterns suggest that in the coming months, sports-loving Indian travellers will comprise a large part of outbound travel. As ICC Cricket World Cup fever sets in, together with the summer travel season, there is no doubt that Indian travellers will be heading to London, Manchester and Birmingham to watch Team India on the pitch.
• Travelling like a local: While Indian travellers often find themselves choosing between adventure and historical tranquillity, there are many, who spend time on zeroing down their stay property. As travellers look for deeper and richer local experiences, there is an increasing appetite for ‘home-away-from-home’ or alternative accommodations – and this pattern is gaining immense traction on our platform as well.
• Openness to travel financing options: To strike off destinations from their bucket list, travellers are now open to availing travel financing options rolled out by travel-tech companies. At, MakeMyTrip, we’ve seen increasing number of travellers opting for financing solutions that provide them a credit facility looking at their past purchase to help book flights, hotels, or holiday packages - at the opportune time that helps save money and let them plan at leisure.
Karan Anand (KA): A few observations on this score. For Gen Xér or a millennial, travelling to new places, explore new experiences, try out new cuisines and interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds has become an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. We are seeing this trend this summer. Destinations such as Rwanda, South America, Lake Districts in the UK, exploring mountains in Switzerland or Skiing at Mt Chamonix are the latest trends.
Second, they are curious to visit places that have not been visited before. A trip to Antartica or the Galapagos. Similarly, cruising through Norwegian Fjords to reach the remote shores of Svalbard watching the passing shining glaciers and stunning landscapes are all experiences catching the eyes of avid travellers this summer. And finally, walking tours within the cities and at traditional tourist destinations have become the norm. It’s about experiencing all facets of life at the tourist destination. Living like a local, enjoying local cuisine and understanding their culture is part of the whole experience.
Rajeev Kale (RK): Indians are emerging as the new global travellers and with the summer holiday season serving as a customary annual vacation time, Thomas Cook India has witnessed a robust growth for outbound tourism. With trends like ‘switch seasonal vacation’, ‘bucket list travel’ and Instagram-worthy vacations, travel has become a clear status symbol for Indian consumers and this is power driving our Holidays business. Another emerging trend is the ‘Four Square Travel’, where packages are tailor made it to include a series of experiences to cater to the appetite of each member of the family. These cross – generational tour packages can be clubbed with a beach destination along with visits to a neighbouring theme park, a heritage walk, tour to the locale vineyard /wine pressing, pub crawls, and a shopping layover.
Short haul locations with no-visa or easy visa processes have also witnessed a strong uptake this summer with an increase of over 25% to destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bali, Malaysia, Mauritius, Maldives, and Thailand. Additionally, we have observed a strong uptake in demand by the consumers planning their vacations around the World Cup in UK. Apart from attending the World Cup Matches, those visiting the UK are also extending travel to locales like the Lake District, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Windermere, Liverpool, Windsor, Cambridge, and York, among others.
Sharat Dhall (SD): The Indian outbound industry has seen steady growth over the last decade with travelers longing to experience cultures and ethnicities of places across the globe. What is more encouraging is that tier-2 and tier-3 cities are leading the growth this time, widening and deepening the base of holidaymakers. The reason for this growth can be attributed to the rise of low-cost airlines and direct international flights between important tourist destinations further catalyzing the outflow. Indians are increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and are open to staying in hostels and taking pubic commute to save money while holidaying and invest in covering more places and experiencing diverse cultures.
Daniel D’souza (DD): There is a surge of people looking for the meaningful travel experience. The demand for something other than cookie-cutter tours has prompted organisations to explore adding more bespoke travel to their holiday propositions around the world. People increasingly want to travel at the pace they want and with a degree of flexibility. However, there is a large market for travellers who still want pre-screened and handpicked experiences and destinations. The ‘Co-create Initiative’ by SOTC Travel is a platform which invites customers across key markets of India to spell out their most important expectations from a Holiday and allows SOTC to enhance and deliver an enriching holiday experience to meet travellers’ expectations. In keeping with this, our focus has always been being customer centric and this initiative is an extension of that journey. We embarked on this journey by bringing our customers at the centre of our product creation process, involving them at the product planning stage and incorporating their ideas and views, ensuring that each and every aspect of their holiday is taken care of and that we deliver an experience that will be cherished for a lifetime.
Destinations with visa-on-arrival facilities, discounted airfares and accommodation are factors that make holidays more affordable and reasonable for consumers to embark on these leisure journeys.
Many travellers are increasingly seeking new and authentic experiences this summer and prefer mono destinations.
Q] What is the impact of Jet Airways’ fiasco on airfare? Is this impacting the growth of Indian outbound travel?
RM: Tourism sector in India, over the past few months has been influenced by various macro-factors, ranging from capacity issues due to the grounding of Jet Airways to the closure of the airspace in Pakistan leading to an increase in airfares in domestic as well as international travel. As these developments took shape ahead of the busy summer season, we noticed that travellers tweaked their travel plans with many choosing cheaper yet, exotic short-haul international destinations. That said, bookings for outbound travel continues to remain high.
As per booking patterns, there is a growing preference for east-bound travel from India, with consequent rise in travel to untouched landscapes of Bhutan, Singapore, Bali, Thailand, Maldives etc.
KA: Air fares to Europe and USA have definitely gone up as capacity has been vacated due to the temporary closure of Jet Airways. Additional capacity has not been added and this has impacted airfares. This will have an impact on outbound holidays especially to the West. However, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand have not been affected as much. There are numerous Low Cost Carriers operating from India to the region and there has been a rise in bookings to destinations in Asia.
SD: Fares for last minute travel are the ones that have been most impacted by the reduction in seat capacity on account of the closure of Jet Airways. These fares have increase by upwards of 15% compared to the same time last year. We have seen International air fares increase by about 15% on long haul routes and 5-10% on shorter haul routes on account of this reduction in capacity. Other carriers are adding inventory on these routes which is helping to rationalise the increase in fare.
DD: For Indian Travellers, summers vacations are the ideal time to holiday. The crisis did not affect any summer holiday plans since the vacant slots were filled by other airlines by widening their fleets. We would like to reiterate that the safety and well-being of our customers remains our first and foremost priority and, to add, the summer season travel has received a good response.
Q] What sort of growth are you witnessing in bookings for outbound destinations this summer season compared to last season?
KA: Outbound travel has been growing at a steady pace of 20 per cent overall and this season is expected to remain the same.
RK: Thomas Cook India has observed a strong uptake of 22% in bookings with significant new trends coming to the fore and growing demand for international destinations. With bookings for international destinations outpacing its demand by 30% as compared to last year, Thomas Cook India’s data shows that travellers have also become more experimental towards globetrotting to distant and unusual destinations. Some of the unique destinations with a strong demand this season are Japan, South America’s Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Bora Bora, Zimbabwe, Belize and Miami.
SD: Airfares on key short haul outbound routes have not seen a significant increase compared to last year as there has been an increase in LCC flights to destinations within Asia and the Middle East. On the other hand, long haul routes to Europe, North America and United Kingdom have seen a major price increases of between 15-20%. The rise on the UK route of over 36% as compared to last year, can be attributed to the start of cricket world cup from June 1. Travelers are also advised to book as early as possible as fares will only rise further as we move closer to travel dates.
Q] Which destinations are wooing maximum Indian travelers? Are new destinations/countries are becoming popular in India?
RM: Western Europe has been one of the favourite destinations for Indian travellers, however, in the recent times, Eastern Europe has witnessed a significant surge with more than 100% growth in bookings, on a year-on-year basis. While Prague, Vienna and Budapest continue to remain top favourite cities to visit in the region - Croatian coastline is catching interest of travellers. Hungary, too, for instance, registered over 150% growth closely followed by Serbia, Russia & Estonia, last year.
Data from already booked packages and enquires on MakeMyTrip indicate that Indians are largely traveling to short-haul destinations like Bali in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and till recently Sri Lanka in South East Asia. New destinations added to the bucket list of travellers include the heritage city of Istanbul, skiing ranges in Kazakhstan, architectural marvels in Belarus and the historical cities of Armenia.
KA: Northern Western Europe is the flavour of the season. UK, already popular among Indians, tops the chart this year also because of the ICC World Cup 2019 starting from May. A large number of travellers are also attracted to France, Netherlands, Iceland, Norway and Finland. South American cities such as Buenos Aires, Iguassu and Rio de Janeiro are catching the eyeballs of affluent travellers for the famous Copacabana Beach, the iconic monuments and exciting lifestyle. South Africa & Kenya, the all-time favourite destinations of wildlife lovers are also receiving a good traction for Aberdare National Park, Lake Bogoria National Park and Masai Mara.
RK: While Europe has been an all-time favourite showing a consistent growth of 26%, some of the destinations which are high in demand are Italy, Spain, Greece, New Zealand, Singapore, Scandinavia’s Finland and Rovaniemi, Russia and Ireland. Families are also opting for ‘bucket list travel’ to exotic and brag-worthy destinations like Iceland, Finland and Antarctica which has further seen a hike in demand by over 30%.
SD: International destinations such as Europe, Australia, US, South East Asian countries, Dubai and Bali witness maximum tourist inflow from India where individuals book their tickets in advance to opt for a budget friendly trip. In the pan India survey conducted by Yatra.com, it was reported that travelers are also showing keen interest in booking their trips to unexplored destinations for an exhilarating experience, while keeping budget in check. We at Yatra.com are receiving booking inquires for unexplored destinations such as Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Georgia, Bolivia, Ethiopia among others.
DD: There is a wide range of destinations that are gaining momentum. Popular ones being Europe, USA, South East Asia, Japan (owing to the cherry blossom season from March to May) and Vietnam. The desire to do something different and to tread a lesser known path has led to emergence of these destinations as preferred destinations for tourism.
Among domestic destination Bhutan and Andaman are preferred.
Q] Have you noticed change in Indian traveller’s itineraries and profile?
RM: If not changed, profile of Indian travellers has definitely evolved, over the years. And, what’s interesting to note is that the tourism industry is in step with the changing profiles.
As the younger generation becomes more independent and economically empowered, we’ve noticed that the travel preferences of this cohort are distinctly different from how most others prefer to explore new places. There is a lot of focus on spending time and money on experiences over indulgence on property and the type of flight class one takes to travel. These travellers are seen choosing solo, women-only or adults-only holidays, over the traditional forms of traveling with family or in large groups. It’s also encouraging to see how young Indian travellers are more experimental and quite comfortable with making Europe their first international experience - making bolder choices, when compared to the older generation.
RK: Today’s travellers want to be the protagonist of their holidays, and are increasingly looking for highly personalized experiences. To cater to this high potential segment of personalized holiday makers, Thomas Cook India launched Voyager, an innovative technology platform. Voyager empowers Thomas Cook India’s front line teams (across its call centers, branches and franchise partners) with the ability to build, price and book personalized travel packages that include key elements of flights, hotels, ground transport and sightseeing experiences/attractions- instantly.
With an increase in disposable incomes and the propensity to spend, millennial Indian travellers want to spend their money on experiences over traditional sightseeing. More and more millennial travellers are demanding unusual, exotic experiences as a part of their itineraries and are willing to spend more on these experiences.
For India’s digital natives, short and long haul destinations with popular social media handles along with Instagram-worthy holidays is gaining ground; properties like Facebook live and Fb story allows showcasing unique/fun experiences. There has been a significant growth in the bookings for Cruise holidays as well. Apart from families, Thomas Cook India has been getting bookings from DINKS, Ad-hoc groups, women travellers and Gen S. With the introduction of the specially curated women tour packages, Ladies First, we have been getting overwhelming queries for ‘mother – daughter vacations’ and kitty party groups especially to explore unique destinations and experiences via cruise cum land packages.
SD: Over the years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women travelers booking their tickets to international destinations to seek experience and explore culture of these places. As experiential travel is a rising trend among Indians, they are booking their tickets for destinations where they can delve into culture, history, food, environment, people and focus on knowing a country, city or particular place more closely. These changes in the itineraries of individual travelers are made keeping in mind the allocated budget and for the same reason backpacking around international destination have become a rage amongst solo and group travelers especially women.
DD: The new-age traveller is well-read, discerning and is keen to explore mono destinations at a slow pace so that the traveller can enjoy the local cuisine, culture and the attractions. Mono destination holidays are therefore gaining popularity with Indian travellers wherein they prefer to explore one destination at leisure instead of clubbing multiple destinations.
We are witnessing an increase in demand for short haul and long weekend tour packages from the current Gen Z. Vacationing in places off the usual travel checklist is gaining momentum and the trend of taking ‘the road less travelled’ has emerged. Millennials are bucking the age-old trend and choosing convenience over cost to completely enjoy and enthral in their expeditions.
Q] Are Indians opting for more experiential trips?
KA: Experiential travel is growing amongst the Free Individual Travellers (FITs). That’s one of the reasons why the market continues to grow by over 20 per cent.
The regular tour packages may not be able to match up to their expectations. As the focus of travellers is shifting to experience oriented vacations, there is an increase in the demand for unconventional destinations and itineraries more attuned to local culture and earthy experiences. Culinary journeys, cultural expeditions, yoga/ health tourism, wildlife safaris, festivals and carnivals are all part of experiential journeys. Experiential travellers make sure to go beyond the usual destinations and must-see attractions to seek authentic experiences rooted deep into the culture of land they visit.
In the near future, that’s going to be the norm and tour operators who are well versed with a destination and have a deep understanding about what to offer the new generation of clientele will stand to gain.
RK: The Indian consumer no longer looks at only a destination, but the experiences that are on offer as well. Indian tourists are becoming more experimental and are often looking to explore exotic destinations such as Antarctica, Iceland, Tunisia and opting for eclectic experiences like dining in a volcano in Fiji or on a private Island in Australia, living in an igloo in Finland or a tree house in Malaysia, chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada or driving a supercar in Singapore, so that they can narrate a compelling story to their friends. With a surge of approximately 28%, we have observed that outdoor and adventure experiences like white/black water rafting, scuba diving; adrenalin highs of sky diving/bungee jumping/zorbing/Abseiling are gaining popularity amongst the travellers.
SD: Experiential travel has gained popularity among Indian travelers where there has been growth in demand for culinary travel, cultural exploration, and activity-based travel. Travelers allocate their budget accordingly where they take control of each element of a trip, and personalize it into a completely unique experience. While we first saw a spike of booking inquiries from millennials, with growth in new technologies and services from various travel companies, there is a rise in number of older travelers as well where they are comfortable innovating and altering their packages and trips, hence elevating their travel experience.
DD: Experiential travel is preferred by today’s travellers seeking new experiences wherein they can explore different cultures, cuisines and crafts. Travel is now becoming more of an amalgamation of an experience-driven adventure and exploring new surroundings. With more awareness generated with the help of social media, greater ability to spend and the curiosity to know more, the Indian globe trotter wants to go beyond the mundane beaten tourist forms of travel and is attracted towards experiencing the spirit of a local culture.
A considerable percentage of today’s Indian travellers no longer want to be controlled by what they see or do on a trip. Travel experiences to them is all about visiting sites not found in most guidebooks, eating at a restaurant favoured by residents and staying at a local guesthouse instead of choosing big chain hotels.
After a successful outdoor campaign in India, Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) has decided to launch its online campaign for destination marketing and promotion in India. “We did a lot of outdoor campaign at airports, shopping malls, highways and movie theatres after the announcement of our ambitious ‘2 20:20’ strategy towards the end of 2018 to bring awareness among Indian outbound travelers. Now, we have to convert this awareness into purchasing power. So, the next campaign will be online which will roll out in July,” Trust HJ Lin, Director, Taiwan Tourism Bureau (Singapore office), said during a media interaction in New Delhi. Taiwan’s ‘2 20:20’ strategy aims at tapping the top 2 per cent of the high-end leisure traffic from India to Taiwan to attain 20 per cent growth in Indian outbound to Taiwan by 2020. The reason we go to top 2 per cent as they are looking at newer destinations, Lin informed.
Divulging more details about the online campaign, Lin said that the Bureau is in talks with MakeMyTrip. “It’s a great idea to partner with OTAs as they have very huge market share. Most of their employees are IT professionals and for us it is very easy to communicate as Taiwan is an IT destination. Right now, we are just talking with MakeMyTrip but we will talk with others such as search engines and SEOs as well. Hopefully, we will start our online campaign in July-August,” Lin said and added that the outdoor campaign brought very good result for us. He made it clear that the Bureau is not going to put all budgets with OTAs in the online campaign. “We will keep some budget for online media as we will have tour packages to sell and at the same time we will also have to increase our awareness,” he added. TTB will continue to work with traditional travel agents as well.
Lin said that the outdoor campaign which was launched in November last year resulted into very encouraging results for us. “We started our outdoor campaign last November and we also partnered with Cox&Kings. In February 2019, we had 41 per cent growth from India. In May, we received 350 pax group incentive tours from India,” he informed.
With the online campaign, Lin wants to create awareness about Taiwan’s visa system which is quite easy but Indian travelers are not much aware about this. Travellers who have a valid visa for US, Japan, Korea, schengen and Australia are eligible for a free e-visa in Taiwan. “We find that OTAs can put visa process on their portal and it saves a lot of time in educating about visas,” he said.
Replying to a question over promoting Taiwan through cruise tourism, Lin said that Taiwan is the number 2 cruise destination in Asia after China. “The Princess Cruise or Star Cruise use Taiwan as mother port. The cruise market is very popular and we would like to leverage to this advantage. We have to find someone to sell it in India and we can sell it through OTAs,” he said.
Taiwan welcomed 40,000 Indian visitors in 2018, reflecting a 9.8 per cent growth in 2018 making India one of the fastest growing markets. He said that approximately 40 per cent of the Indian visitors are business travelers. In 2018, Taiwan received 11 million inbound visitors. Buoyed by this growth, the Bureau has increased marketing budget for India from US$1.02 million to 2 million in 2019.
Consistent GDP growth and a growing business environment are fuelling the overall performance of hotels globally. Various industry experts including Parmeet Singh Nayar, General Manager, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi; Dilawar Singh Nindra, General Manager, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi; Vaibhav Sagar, Director of Sales & Marketing, Crowne Plaza Greater Noida spoke to T3 magazine exclusively on the current scenario, future outlook and challenges. Excerpt:
Q] How would you explain the current scenario of Indian hotel industry?
Parmeet Singh Nayar (PN): The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth for the services sector in India. Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) and domestic traffic (leisure & MICE) has increased considerably over past few years and attracted huge Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Considering this growth potential, a lot of International hotel chains are increasing their presence in the country. Quite recently, even the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India has started investing in events that can help establish India as an attractive tourist destination for the untouched markets. We recently collaborated with India Tourism Mart to showcase our hotel.
Dilawar Singh Nindra (DN): The current scenario of Indian hospitality is still very volatile and dynamic. The Indian market with infusion of digital tools has been successful in opening gates for the digitally-advanced traveller. These tools help in planning, booking and enhancing the entire experience journey. We can also observe that the end user has moved away from the shackles of making bookings via the traditional methods and rely on the new age solutions. It is imperative to be equipped with all online portals so that inventory can be updated on real time basis. Also, efforts need to be made to understand the customer journey from the time the booking is made till the time he/ she checks out. In order to capitalize on the repeat visits of guests, it is vital that their previous feedbacks, expectations and complaints are addressed to on time.
Vaibhav Sagar (VS): Indian hotel industry is booming with more and more International players expanding portfolios in the country. Leisure (domestic & inbound travel) and business travel segments are witnessing major growth, with most hotels opening in Tier 2 & 3 cities. For a business & conferencing hotel like Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, we are experiencing increased demand from all segments resulting in promising revenue figures and profit margins.
Q] We have been witnessing a lot of disruptors like OYO, Airbnb and others consolidating in the market. What is the impact of these on the organized hotel sector?
PN: It’s good to see these new hospitality companies grow as they are eventually helping to organize the fragmented market which was operating in a very unstructured and unorganized manner so far. While they will certainly create competition for organized budget and mid-segment hotel chains, consolidation of the long tail business will help standardize the offerings and benefit the end consumer.
DN: Disruptors being referred are not a direct competition for a 5 star hotel chain like ours. They may have snatched a small chunk of revenue from the organized sector but, their clientele was never a part of our target segment.
VS: Brands like OYO and Airbnb are preferred by leisure travelers while our target audience is business and MICE. Also these brands do impact the mid segment but does not have a major effect on the 5 star or premium hotel segments as the facilities and amenities offered are world apart.
Q] Most of the development is taking place in mid market segment. What is the impact on ARRs?
PN: The mid-market segment is growing fast on account of heavy demand coming in recent times. There are a range of factors that have bolstered the mid-market brands in India - a surge in middle class segment to an increase in business and leisure travel, urbanization, higher economic growth and the doubling of air travel over the past seven years. The price point and target audience for mid-market segment and luxury segment are completely different hence there is not much of impact on the ARRs for luxury hotels like us.
DN: We can observe that the ARRs have started to increase, however to reach its actual expected stage one has to be patient for the next 2 to 3 more years at least. The current ARR patterns are still 30 to 40% lesser in comparison to statistics from 10 years back.
VS: It is true that the branded, mid-market hotel segment is steadily growing particularly in Tier 2 and 3 cities. ARRs continue to grow but the growth pace has comparatively slowed down.
Q] How was 2018 for you in terms ARR, occupancy and RevPar? Have you noticed any change on these parameters over 2017?
PN: In 2018, we had a great opportunity to showcase our refreshed product including new rooms and a spectacular Horizon Club Lounge located on the 19th floor of the hotel, offering views of the bustling New Delhi and the most iconic landmarks of the city, including India Gate, Lotus Temple and Jantar Mantar. Our success story reflected not only in the numbers but also in various awards that we won last year like ‘Best Business Hotel’ award by Travel + Leisure and Business Traveller Asia Pacific, ‘Best Employer Brand’ by World HRD Congress, Responsible Business Hotel, etc. To sum up, we witnessed an increase in all the areas - ARR, Occupancy, RevPar and customer satisfaction over 2017.
DN: The ARR was constant for FY 17-18 and 18-19, whereas the occupancy and RevPar both saw a marginal dip.
VS: At Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, we witnessed double digit growth across all these revenue indicators last year.
Q] MICE is emerging as one of the main contributors for hotels in Delhi –NCR. What is the contribution of MICE in your total room bookings?
PN: MICE indeed has become one of the key contributors for hotels across Delhi & NCR. Personally for us MICE contributes approximately 13% to the overall hotel business and our focus remains to only cater to chic MICE business where we can help offer personalized, creative and thematic meetings that truly reflects luxury.
DN: MICE is one of the major revenue generating streams and the steady growth of business has helped us in capitalizing on this growing segment of business. The MICE sector is growing over the last one year as a significant part of the overall business and we expect this to continue in the coming years as well. We offer varied range of services for meetings, incentives, conferences and events. Our team helps in planning a customized event as per the requirement & budget of the client – from suggesting the apt venue to being flexible with the menu to planning some out of the box activities to surprise as well as help they unwind during long meeting hours – thus, providing end-to-end services. MICE contributes almost 10-15% of the total market share
VS: As a leading business and conferencing hotel in Delhi NCR, MICE is a major contributor for Crowne Plaza Greater Noida with 25% contribution to total revenue.
Q] F&B has gradually been emerging as a major revenue earner for hotels. What is the contribution of MICE & business travel, F&B and leisure in your overall business?
PN: As traditionally noted, creative F&B has been a DNA for success of hotels. Our key focus has been to offer authentic cuisine curated by the expat chefs from the region that we wanted to showcase. We brought in some famous dining concepts like a 47-year old legacy, the 39th Shang Palace in the World, Sorrento - the Italian restaurant certified with Golden Q from Ospitalita Italiana and world on a platter concept restaurant Tamra that keep us in the limelight. Launching unique food and beverage pop-ups and curating special dining offers and experiences through our dining programme called ‘The Table’ helped us with great positioning in the market. Business travel without wellness is incomplete and therefore our focus has been to develop our wellness facility ‘Chi, The Spa’ as a personal space for our guests to take a break and de-stress themselves. We have a good mix of MICE, business travel and leisure business.
DN: F&B is the backbone in terms of revenue contribution. It has a constant share of 50 percent in the overall business. As far as MICE & Business Travel go, one third of the business is derived from these segments.
VS: F&B including C&E contributes about 29% to total revenue, off this 65% is contributed by conferences and events segment/; 25% contribution from MICE and approx. 5% contribution from leisure segment.
Q] What is the ratio of foreign V/s domestic guests in your occupancy?
PN: Our hotel experiences an influx of foreigner guests who are travelling on business as well as leisure while from India, there are majorly business travelers staying with us from key metros. Situated close to the Presidential Estate, shopping and business districts in downtown, Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi is at the beating heart of the bustling capital. With the City centre location, our guests stay easily connected to the best of the city.
DN: Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi has an optimum mix of foreign and Indian nations being, 45 % and 55 % respectively.
Q] Despite the prevalence of OTAs, Indian market is still driven by B2B. What percentage of bookings you get from online channels?
PN: Our company drives large share from e-direct channels that is the hotel website and the mobile app, of course supplemented by our partner OTAs. Our focus remains to maintain rate parity.
DN: OTA have captured a major chunk of the revenue of the entire market for hotel business. We are in direct connection with guests which help us in ensuring personalization and attention to detail to guarantee repeat visits.
VS: OTA contribution to our business is about 27%. This includes OTA, brand website and GDS bookings.
Q] What sort of CSR activities you are involved with?
PN: I personally believe that CSR and sustainability initiatives are the heart of Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi. Driven by our core values, the areas of CSR that we work within are Our People, Our Business, Our Environment and Our Communities. Some big initiatives have been taken to drive a socially responsible business. As a group wide initiative, the company has decided to ban single use plastics straws and stirrers at our properties in 2019. We joined hands with our embrace partner Noida Deaf Society back in 2010 to contribute in improving the lives of deaf students from all across the country, by providing them vocational skills and enhancing their overall confidence so they can face the world with élan. We have employed 6 people from NDS who are working with us. We have developed a property called ‘Reviving the ‘Shangri-La’ of Delhi’ and we aim to plan multiple events around this. The importance of Delhi’s cultural heritage is diminishing and we have taken a step towards keeping it alive. In January we took kids from an NGO to a famous historical site ‘Humayun’s Tomb’ as our step to educate them on the importance of our culture and history and ultimately Reviving the ‘Shangri-La’ of Delhi.
DN: We believe ‘doing social good is a social responsibility of every business organization’. We like giving back to the community by taking initiatives of the likes: organizing event for the differently abled children or orphans. Special food delicacies & gifts are offered to children and various interesting activities are organized. We organize ‘Camps’ where clothes and other basic amenities are shared with the needy. We also supply water to SDMC on monthly basis for conservation and horticulture purposes.
VS: At Crowne Plaza Greater Noida we support a local school in the area engaged in the work of educating underprivileged kids. Apart from this, we regularly engage in community activities like road safety week, tree plantations etc. in
The New Distribution Capability (NDC), an XML-based data transmission standard promoted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that enhances the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents, is currently buzzword for the global airline industry. Although in nascent stage in many parts of the world, airlines are putting all their efforts to educate the travel agents and other stakeholders about the benefit of the NDC. Lufthansa Group, one of the pioneering advocates of the NDC, has been working on this since 2015 and currently received IATA’s level 4 certification on NDC.
Detailing about the benefits of the NDC for the industry and end customers, George Ettiyil, Senior Director, Lufthansa Group, said that NDC is bringing 3 main elements of travel to the fore: transparency, customization and a seamless shopping experience for the industry as well as air travellers. “Transparency is the key disruptive element of travel for the past 10 years which was not offered by the GDSs. Consumers do not know what is he paying and why is he paying the huge cost. Moreover, there are high technical limitations on the old technology to actually unbundle the services. Consumers have become very choosy because of customization which is the second very important disruptive element for travel. Transparency and high degree of customization has become need of the any airline and it is continuously increasing. Shopping experience was also not possible with old technology. New consumers are used to much more professional shopping experience and the old technology is not just fit for this,” Ettiyil said.
Replying to a question on the need of NDC while so many other distribution channels already exist in the market, he opined that GDSs could not scale up their technology and the distribution cost of the airlines went up. Going back to the history, Ettiyil detailed that airlines traditionally have always had a challenge of distributing their seats and making these available globally. “Looking 40 years back, there was no advanced IT technology like today. Starting from end 70s or early 80s, several airlines got together and created companies that could distribute their content or inventory. As a result, Sabre was started by several US carriers in the USA and several European carriers including Lufthansa started Amadeus in mid 80s. It was revolutionary on those days as GDSs were created by airlines to make a quantum leap. Looking 30-40 years later now, that technology still exists today. However, it is very expensive as it is based on old technology. From an airline point of view, the commercial agreements that were made on those days have become burden to the airlines. The distribution cost is very high when it is based on old technology and the cost is passed to the end consumer,” he said and added that the onset of low cost carriers showed the industry way that distribution cost can be lower down. “LCCS started delivering their content purely on their own direct platforms. LCCs in Europe started with internet only so there was no distribution cost. They were able to challenge the classic airlines because of their low cost in every way including distribution cost which was tremendously lower than classic IATA airline,” he briefed.
This is the reason that IATA started NDC which is providing standard for XML based APIs. “Now, every airline or any other travel service providers can actually follow the standard. IATA is also promoting ‘One Order’ offering shopping experience. Payment is also becoming future disruption which GDSs cannot be able to offer. Hence, there was a need for new technology. That’s why NDC has become so relevant,” he added.
Talking about Lufthansa’s adoption of NDC, he said that the Group has been creating an API based on NDC standard since the last 5 years. “Over the last years, our APIs have been developed to highest standard created by IATA. On old technology, our airline was not able to offer wifi. With new technology, it is offered now. So, there are developments which is possible with NDC today and are not possible with GDSs as it requires huge investment that does not justify the outcome,” he said adding the GDS system has restrictions of 26 booking classes.
Explaining it further, he said that when it comes to pricing it is limited by the number of alphabets that exits. The NDC is removing the cap from the 26-booking class restriction and by starting with the bid price or market fare generated in the system, pricing logic is applied earlier in the process and without the limitations of the 26-bucket problem. The airline then has more opportunity to fine-tune a customized offer, which can be further discounted, bundled, or promoted. This means that an airline-controlled Pricing Engine that can operate such a linear pricing model unlocks considerable more opportunity for airlines to earn more revenue and delight their customers. “NDC is opening up the whole new world. It is highly disruptive proposition in the airline and travel industry which will revolutionize the way end consumer experience the commercial aspects of aviation. Lufthansa is the first airline to go ahead with this kind of disruption and other airlines have also joined. More and more airlines are reaching to certain level standards,” he said and added that the GDS companies have actually also decided to participate in the new NDC space and we are happy they will also come with new solutions. “Other players are also coming,” he added.
Replying to a question over 80 per cent of content will come from non NDC channels for the next 4-5 years thus making the system more complex, he agreed and argued that airlines will try to bring the low cost cheap etc content through NDC. “They are forced to as they have no choice. Otherwise they cannot survive as competition is just too high. So, the more premium (premium classes of travel) the offer is, it will be probably on more traditional channels. Intermediaries will remain there. I do not think that a end consumer always going to get what he wants to on airline website. Many will get on airline websites but other will want the additional services which airlines do not offer and they will look for intermediaries who can package as per the customers need. Also, people do not want to spend much time on these. If they have trust on travel professionals, they will take their services,” he said and opined that either traditional intermediaries will change or transform or new players will also get added that are technically strong.
Coming to the complexity part, he said, I think complexity will increase. “I see complexities increasing in every domain. How these platforms are competing with each other will create further complexity. It is still to be seen that what will be the dynamics of the new space that is coming up,” he opined.
So, what should be the business model for NDC? “We as Lufthansa feel that we have the clear picture for the next few years to go forward. Because we have the clear picture, we started off a program called the NDC Partner program. In the NDC Partner program, we actually offer very clear spectrum of the commercial aspects. Our API is provided by Farelogix which provides front end known as SPRK. Through SPARK, any IATA agents can enroll and immediately access our NDC content which is not just 16 Euro cheaper but we even have price differential ranging between Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 for economy class and going upto 5000 for business class. SPRK is our entry offer. The next one we promote is our direct API that can feed the agents front end system like online booking tool. We have another model of using intermediaries that we call ‘travel tech provider’ which can be classic GDS and many of the new ones that are coming and let them provide you with the API because they have booked on our API and if you have an API with them they can also be already fed by the travel tech providers. Many travel agencies today are already selling LCC content. These models are existing and we are just providing our content over there. We have commercial offer for all these. We pay incentives for all models. For model II, we invest together with our partners in to the technological change that is required,” he said.
With MICE and F&B emerging as a good contributor for Delhi-NCR hotels, hotels in the region is now increasingly focused on these segments. “MICE indeed has become one of the key contributors for hotels across Delhi & NCR. For Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi, MICE contributes approximately 13 per cent to the overall hotel business and our focus remains to only cater to chic MICE business where we can help offer personalized, creative and thematic meetings that truly reflects luxury,” Parmeet Singh Nayar, General Manager, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi.
According to Nayar, creative F&B has been a DNA for success of hotels. “Our key focus has been to offer authentic cuisine curated by the expat chefs from the region that we wanted to showcase. We have a good mix of MICE, business travel and leisure business,” Nayar added.
MICE and F&B also contribute significantly for The Park New Delhi. “MICE segment is showing an annual growth around 20 per cent year on year and as of now it stands at 9 to 10 per cent of our total room bookings,” Rohit Arora, Area General Manager, The Park New Delhi said and added that MICE contribution towards F&B is around 25 per cent and business and leisure traveller contributes 20 per cent each in hotel’s overall business.
For Crowne Plaza Greater Noida which is closer to the India Expo Centre, Greater Noida, MICE contributes almost 1/4th of the hotel’s revenue. “As a leading business and conferencing hotel in Delhi NCR, MICE is a major contributor for Crowne Plaza Greater Noida with 25 per cent contribution to total revenue. F&B including conferences and events contributes about 29 per cent to total revenue of Shangri-La. “Off this 65 percent is contributed by conferences and events segment and 25 per cent contribution from MICE and approx. five per cent contribution is from leisure segment,” Vaibhav Sagar, Director of Sales & Marketing, Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, said.
Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi also gets a good business from MICE and F&B segments. “MICE is one of the major revenue generating streams and the steady growth of business has helped us in capitalizing on this growing segment of business. The MICE sector is growing over the last one year as a significant part of the overall business and we expect this to continue in the coming years as well. MICE contributes almost 10-15 per cent of the total market share. F&B is the backbone in terms of revenue contribution. It has a constant share of 50 percent in the overall business. As far as MICE & Business Travel go, one third of the business is derived from these segments,” said Dilawar Singh Nindra, General Manager, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi.
However, The ARR was constant for FY 17-18 and 18-19 for Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi whereas the occupancy and RevPar both saw a marginal dip. Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi witnessed an increase in ARR, occupancy, RevPar and customer satisfaction in 2018 over 2017. The Park New Delhi also witnessed a growth in performance in 2018. “The ARR and RevPar overall has seen an about 5 per cent to 7 per cent increase as compared to year 2017. In fact, the industry has seen an upward trend in the past 2 years with 2018 showing a greater increase. Our strong brand appeal and our Anything But Ordinary experiences have definitely caught the eye of the consumer,” Arora said. Crowne Plaza Greater Noida witnessed double digit growth in ARR, occupancy and RevPar in 2018.
ARRs could have grown up more but the massive growth in mid-market hotels hindered the growth. “We can observe that the ARRs have started to increase, however to reach its actual expected stage one has to be patient for the next 2 to 3 more years at least. The current ARR patterns are still 30 to 40% lesser in comparison to statistics from 10 years back,” Nindra said.
Nayar, however, does not see much impact on ARRs due to the growth in mid-market segment. “The mid-market segment is growing fast on account of heavy demand coming in recent times. The price point and target audience for mid-market segment and luxury segment are completely different hence there is not much of impact on the ARRs for luxury hotels like us,” Nayar opined.
The recently concluded PATA Annual Summit 2019, under the theme ‘Progress with a Purpose’, in Cebu, Philippines saw the presence of 383 delegates from 194 organisations and 43 destinations including student chapter representatives from 21 educational institutions hailing from eighteen destinations.
Hosted by the Department of Tourism, Philippines, the event included the Association’s executive and advisory board meetings, annual general meeting (AGM), PATA Youth Symposium, PATA Insights Lounge, the UNWTO/PATA Leaders Debate and a one-day conference that highlighted the fundamental challenges, issues and opportunities of the travel and tourism industry and how the industry working together can bring about actionable change for a better future.
“The need for demonstrated leadership in the travel and tourism industry has never been more critical. As an industry, we are grappling with large scale global and regional challenges including climate change, overtourism and the resulting strain on infrastructure, as well as and social and economic inequality in many destinations, which will require a new type of leadership from truly progressive entities,” Mario Hardy, CEO, PATA. “This year’s PATA Annual Summit, with the theme ‘Progress with a Purpose’ not only examined the issues and challenges affecting our industry but also challenged our delegates to take action and address these problems directly.”
Delegates were given the unique opportunity to hear from Airbnb Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chairman of Airbnb China, Nathan Blecharczyk, who sat down for a special one-on-one interview with BBC World News Presenter, Rico Hizon.
Sponsored by the Global Tourism Economy Forum (GTEF), the opening keynote on the ‘State of the World Economy’ was delivered by Andrew Staples, Global Editorial Director at The Economist Corporate Network. He shared the latest macroeconomic forecasts for the global economy from The Economist Intelligence Unit before identifying the longer-term opportunities and challenges facing the Asia Pacific region.
Moran Birger, Acting Head of Sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, British Airways talks British Airways centenary celebrations as well as its performance in India market
British Airways is hosting a range of activities and events to celebrate its centenary year. The airline is also hosting BA 2119 – a programme that will lead the debate on the future of flying and explore the future of sustainable aviation fuels.
British Airways celebrates its centenary this year. Apart from heritage liveries and a star -studded campaign, what sorts of activities are planned for the centenary?
A key focus area of British Airways activity this year will be on the future of flying, demonstrating that the airline is forward-looking and will continue to innovate and evolve over the next 100 years. We are working on interesting campaigns for 2019 that will revolve around the same theme. One such initiative is BA Magic 100 where we are looking forward to surprise many of our customers with gestures that add magic to their flying experience. In December 2018, British Airways made Christmas special for a group of children, by taking them on a trip of a lifetime to New York City to ‘live like Kevin’, inspired by the adventures of Kevin in the festive family favourite, Home Alone 2.
On International Women’s Day, we invited 100 young women to the Global Learning Academy to inspire them to become commercial airline pilots. Believing in empowering the youth to pursue career opportunities in aviation, hundreds of apprentices enjoyed a flying start to their career with British Airways through a Cabin Crew Apprenticeship programme in the UK – with this, we aim to employ around 2,000 cabin crew this year.
British Airways also recently launched a brand campaign featuring a love letter to Britain brought to life by some of Britain’s biggest names. This campaign is about thanking the amazing people who fly, work and partner with us.
British Airways is also hosting BA 2119. Could you please detail us on this?
BA 2119 will lead the debate on the future of flying and explore the future of sustainable aviation fuels, the aviation careers and the customer experience of the future. In collaboration with Cranfield University, this initiative aims at challenging academics from across UK, to develop a sustainable alternative fuel which could power a commercial aircraft on a long-haul flight, carrying up to 300 customers with zero net emissions. The winning team will receive funding for further research and the chance to work alongside industry leaders to develop their concept. British Airways is the first airline in Europe to invest in building a plant to generate renewable jet fuel from household waste.
You have launched a £6.5bn investment programme. What is the latest development on this plan?
We started this year with the £6.5bn investment programme, an initiative to enhance customer proposition on ground and in the air by introducing new aircraft, new cabins, new lounges, new food and new technology including Wi-Fi.
We have recently announced significant changes to our onboard product and service in our First cabin. The new look and feel are set to take to the skies from March 31 and will include new bedding, amenities and menus that would not look out of place in a revered five-star British hotel. Also, very recently, British Airways has announced its brand new A350 aircraft that will arrive in July this year with a highly anticipated Club Suite.
How has the performance been of British Airways on Indian routes in 2018?
India is British Airways’ second largest market after the US and we are committed to invest and offer exceptional travel experience to more and more customers. The popularity of our daily services from several Indian cities to UK reflects the demand from travellers wishing to fly to UK.
Are you looking at any new routes in India or increase frequency? How is your codeshare with Vistara going on?
We are happy with the current schedule of 53 flights a week from India. In fact, last year, we expanded our network in the region by having Vistara on board as a codeshare partner and currently we are focusing on the same.
Our codeshare with Vistara has been good so far. With this partnership, we have spread our wings by connecting 13 new destinations across the region, opening cities such as Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Goa, Kolkata, Kochi, and Pune that have previously been more difficult to access from the UK. In fact, British Airways’ customers travelling on the codeshare flights can check-in their bags straight to their destination and both airlines use the same terminals at Delhi and Mumbai airports, making it even easier for customers to connect on to domestic services.
What is the travellers profile out of India?
Travellers in India are constantly evolving; their profiles have changed too with more Indians opting for International holidays. From corporate to leisure travellers, the average Indian travelling abroad is now more likely to be young and prefers travelling solo. We have also seen an increase in women travellers – both solo and in group, stepping ahead of their comfort zones and unveiling the travel experience. With our extensive global route network, and with new destinations launching all the time, we hope that we can enable and inspire adventurous travellers to continue exploring without limit.
How important is b2b travel agents for you?
B2B travel agencies play a crucial role in widening our customer reach. We work very closely with the travel communities especially in India, as there are many markets where agents are the primary choice for bookings.
“T” for “Tourism” was of one of the 5Ts of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2014. We have completed 5 years and the dates for the next election is announced and a new government will be in place in May. And while the debate rages in the industry about whether the government lived up to the industry’s expectation, a careful analysis of the growth in tourism in the last 5 years depicts a mixed picture.
The industry was far too enthused and hopeful of a change in the country’s tourism fortune towards the beginning of the Modi government’s term in 2014, that expectation has seen some correction over the last five years. The inbound growth for 2014-2018 period for India is definitely more than the international growth. However, most of this growth has been driven by a single market, Bangladesh. Diversifying sources markets and growing the existing markets at a consistent and healthy rate remains a work in progress.
During the first two years of the government, we have had PM Modi talking about tourism on every national and international platform. He accorded the utmost importance to tourism in the ASEAN meet giving a hope that regional tourism could start off. His thrust on Buddhist Tourism also created hope in the market. However, this hope could not continue to last longer even as the Prime Minister gave his best shot to establish India as a popular tourism destination.
Statistics suggests that the inbound arrival was 6.97 million in 2013 which rose to 10.55 million in 2018, reflecting a growth of 5.2 per over 2017. Bangladesh has emerged as the standout performer. The country accounted for 524,923 foreign visitors in 2013 with a share of 7.53 per cent in total inbound arrivals and ranked 3rd as source country. This number increased to 2.15 million, a share of 21.49 per cent of FTA to India by 2017. The country has emerged as the top source market of India followed by the US and the UK, whose market share have dropped to 13.72 per cent and 9.82 per cent in 2017 from 15.52 per cent and 11.62 per cent in 2013. However, the arrivals have increased from both of these markets, albeit not as strongly as from Bangladesh.
At an industry meet recently, representatives of inbound trade suggested a dip in inbound tourism to a tune of 10 per cent. However, that may not be true but it definitely calls for introspection. Many of the top source markets (200,000 plus arrivals) like the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Sri Lanka have shown below-par single-digit growth in 2016 and 2017 that calls for attention.
NYC & Company, New York City’s official destination marketing organization, recently conducted an eight city India showcase to create awareness in the market about their upcoming iconic tourism products. The delegation, led by Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC & Company, presented a new global initiative—'2019: A Monumental Year’ describing about new openings and development taking place in the city.
“We are going to see the opening of Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s far west side—the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States; The Shed, a multi-arts centre dedicated to global displays of visual art, design, media; and Vessel, a climbable urban landmark and museum of modern art amongst others,” Dixon said.
New York welcomed 373,000 Indian visitors in 2018. “We are expecting India market to grow in 2019 by about 6 per cent. India has grown by 60 per cent over the last 5 years. So, it is showing very good momentum going forward and we are very optimistic about India,” he said.
Replying to a question over further building up on this high growth, he said that it is always a challenge but we need to always innovate and come up with new ways to stimulate the market. “One of the most exciting things about Indian market is youth which offers a great future opportunity here. Also, with some expanded promotion from members of the trade with us and the dynamic growth in this market, we will continue the momentum,” he added.
Talking about segments in the India market, he said that VFR is the large component from India due to the presence of huge Indian community in New York, followed by business travel, MICE as well. “We are going to be more looking into the meetings and incentives space. The real opportunity on the leisure side is probably going to be in the FIT segment. A lot of new hotels brands like Aman, Six Senses are opening their hotels in New York and these will bring new interest from luxury travelers,” he opined. He said that India has a huge youth population and people are certainly looking for experiences. “New York is well suited for the future growth,” he said.
He also informed that New York is investing an enormous amount in number of areas including airports. “An amount of US$23 billion is going to be invested in the redevelopment of all the airport specially JFK, New York and LaGuardia. We needed expanded airports and it is coming. We are also investing heavily in our train stations,” he said and added New York city ferry launched last year and it is growing and very popular with locals and visitors. “So, we are going to see more this kind of development is happening than before,” he said.
Replying to a question over air connectivity between India and New York, he said that this is an area where we need more investment. “We are hoping to see more attention going forward. Middle East carriers and United have done wonderful job. As the market grows, we do need the more capacity,” he informed.
New York City welcomed a record 65.2 million visitors in 2018, the City’s ninth consecutive year for tourism growth, with 49.7 million domestic and 13.1 million international visitors.
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