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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Kamat Group of Hotels, is looking on expanding its portfolio in India. The group currently operates hotels under its brand ‘The Orchid’ in Mumbai and Pune, ‘Fort JadhavGadh’ in Pune, Lotus Resorts in Konark, Goa and Murud-Harnai, and Mahodadhi Palace in Puri.

Speaking about the expansion plans, Vishal Kamat, CEO, Kamat Group of Hotels said, “Soon, we will have an Orchid Hotel in Bhubaneswar and also various other locations. We are in talks with a few people. We are looking at steady expansion. We don’t have a pipeline of 100’s of hotels, but we will majorly look at guest satisfaction first. A lot of hotels are interested in tying up with us. We are more bullish on lease; we are also interested in management. Today, there are a lot of players in the management space. We don’t look at operating a very small property; it becomes a challenge for us. We have a lot of backend automation and systems which are not affordable under a certain scale. Also, we are further looking at resorts under the Lotus brand. This brand can comfortably be developed in the 40 room property in the upper mid market segment. We want to develop these resorts near water bodies like river, lake, beach, etc.” The Group is looking at taking over existing hotels in Delhi, Maharashtra and Odisha.

The group has witnessed a good growth in 2018 and is looking ahead with a positive approach. The start of the year was a bit turbulent for the hospitality industry. “The initial start of 2019 was not so good for the hospitality industry due to the elections and the Jet Airways crisis. Tourism and business suffered not only locally but globally. First quarter was affected. The previous year was good and the year forward looks very positive. This was just a temporary phase. We as a group adapted to the changing climate and we find ourselves in a very good position,” Kamat added.

The group operates the first-of-its-kind fort property in Maharashtra named, ‘Fort JadhavGadh’. Today, a lot of states are looking to offer subsidies and incentives to develop heritage properties in those destinations. Speaking about further plans into the heritage segment he said, “In normal hotels we are giving hospitality, in Heritage hotels we are delivering an experience. In business hotel we cater warm convenience, whereas there we have to give memories. So the functioning of both segments is extremely different. Our take on heritage is very limited; it is a very difficult, high capex, personalized kind of product. We are neither bullish on it nor pessimistic on it. If we get a right opportunity and see profitability, we would like to do it. Fort JadhavGadh is a fantastic location and has become a destination on its own. It took a lot of effort to reach this level. Moreover we wanted to showcase our Marathi culture, as most of the heritage is Rajasthani culture. Maharashtra has the maximum number of forts, yet there is no fort property except Rajasthan.”

Kamat group has been one of the pioneers in promoting sustainable hospitality concept. The group is further focusing to make all properties sustainable and also inspire other hospitality chains. “We were determined to promote sustainability. We created sustainable model and established a path for others. Our tagline ‘Friendly eco friendly’ is not trademarked, we want others to follow. Small initiatives which we have done have made us sustainable and it helps in conserving the environment. In orchid we had a STP even before BMC made it a law. We were always ahead of the time in what the world needs,” he added.

Mauritius Tourism has witnessed a stagnant growth from Jan to Aug, 2019 compared to previous year with 52,550 Indian arrivals. The destination has witnessed a slowdown in the MICE segment from India market.

“The growth has been flat for Mauritius Tourism this year. There have been various reasons for this stagnant growth: the airfares have been very high and there has been a slowdown in the economy. There has been a big hit to sectors like real estate and auto sector which further impacts many sectors. MICE groups from all these sectors have disappeared. MICE tourism from India to Mauritius has taken a big hit. FIT is still growing and has done well,” Vivek Anand, Country Manager-India, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), said,

The issue of air connectivity will be eased as Air Mauritius is introducing the third flight from New Delhi in November 2019. Moreover, the airline has also lowered the air fare. MTPA has also announced attractive incentive schemes to reinstate the MICE segment.

“In terms of strategy to further spur demands, Air Mauritius has reduced the air fares for some time. They are also augmenting the supply by introducing its third flight from New Delhi. We are also promoting Golf Tourism in a big way. Golf is a very big segment for us and we are seeing growth for this segment from India market. We have come up with a lot of attractive MICE incentives. We offer VAT refund for a group of more than 100 travellers staying for over three days in Mauritius. The VAT in Mauritius is 15 per cent, which is a good amount.”

Mauritius has also been promoting the weddings and the luxury segment in India for the last few years. The destination has seen a steady growth in luxury segment from India.  “We have also promoted the weddings segment in India for a while now. The growth in this segment is once again stagnant due to similar reasons like high air fares, availability of seats. Also, fewer big weddings are happening in India now due to the slowdown in the economy. We have also been promoting the HNI segment and luxury segment for the last five years. This segment has been steadily growing. The Golf tourism is also a part of this segment which will further increase luxury tourist numbers,” Anand said.

One infrastructure front, Mauritius is set to witness more accommodation options with new properties set to open as well as metro connectivity.

“We are promoting all the activities and products in the India market. We showcase our classic products which can be customised to suit the travellers. We have some activities for every segment. We are now getting a lot of new hotels which will provide various new accommodation options. We also have some villas for rent, which is on a smaller scale. Also, in the beginning of October the first line of the metro will start in Mauritius. This will further provide ease of connectivity,” he informed. 

The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) witnessed consistent performance from its portfolio in India and international markets. The group recently organised its third Sales Mission in Mumbai. This year, 59 IHCL properties participated in the event and interacted with partners in Mumbai.

Speaking about the performance of international hotels, Renu Basu, Senior Vice President- Global Sales & Marketing, IHCL said, “In the first quarter, all our international properties performed extremely well. There was a huge demand from India. The Cricket world cup and Wimbledon season boosted our London property. India is a very important source market for most of our international property.”

This year, the roadshow included five international properties including hotels from Sri Lanka, Dubai, Kathmandu, Bhutan, and Langkawi.

“We got an excellent response in last couple of roadshows from customers and hotels. We decided to continue with this format. This year we introduced a lot more interactions and presentations, to strengthen our product awareness. We have launched a lot of hotels which we have promoted through this annual showcase. We have also introduced the Ama Plantation Trails, which we promoted through the event. This year we had 59 properties participating in the event including international properties. In terms of international we have five from Sri Lanka, Dubai, Kathmandu, Bhutan, and Langkawi. India is a very important source market for all these properties,” Basu said.

Last year, IHCL, introduced the SeleQtions brand, these are collection of hotels which have their individual identity. “We launched the SeleQtions brand a few months ago, currently we have 12 hotels. Under this brand we have taken all our hotels which have its own brand equity in their name and are present in key markets. We have properties like Blue Diamond in Pune, President Hotel in Mumbai, The Savoy Ooty, Cidade de Goa. We believe in let these hotels stand out for what they are known as. In January we will launch the Connaught in Delhi under SeleQtions brand,” she informed.

The group has also revamped the brand ‘Ginger’ as a lean luxury and are focusing aggressively to expand this brand. “Our customers always demanded for a hotel in the hills and mountains, so recently we launched two properties in Theog, Himachal Pradesh and Rishikesh. We have also launched Taj Aravali Resort in November last year. We also launched Taj Hotel and Convention centre in Agra; this will offer options for the MICE segment. Ginger is definitely an important focus of our company. We have revisited the concept into lean luxury in the hospitality. It is a great product for the metro markets with an attractive price point. The new design of the hotel is a radical shift from the earlier style. Currently we operate 47 hotels under the Ginger brand, we just launched hotels in Dwarka, Sanand, Noida,” she said.

IHCL is also aggressively focusing on the MICE and weddings segment. The group has witnessed a growth of around 23-24 per cent in the MICE segment compared to previous year. “In 2018-19, we saw a 23-24 per cent growth in terms of MICE compared to the previous year. We have excellent MICE hotels and also infrastructure for weddings. Weddings are a very important segment for us, we have seven palace properties and around five cater to this segment,” she revealed.

Tourism Australia has welcomed 367,000 travellers from India for the year ending May 2019 with a growth of 11 per cent over the previous. India is now the eight largest inbound markets in terms of arrivals for Australia. In May 2019, the destination has welcomed 40,600 travellers form in India with a 6.6 per cent growth which is the highest in any given months.

“India is one of the most important markets for us. We want to continue to grow in this market. Also we want to further connect the aviation and tourism relationship between both the nations. They year 2020 is very important for us as t coincides with the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup, in conjunction with them we are trying to attract more visitors to Australia and we want travelers to go beyond the popular destinations in Australia,” Bob East, Chairman, Tourism Australia, said.

In 2020, Australia is set to host the ICC T20 World Cup, which will be a mega event to draw tourist footfall. The destination has appointed five Indian agencies for selling the match tickets.

Speaking about the plans, Sam Watson, General Manager-Government Relations & Host Cities, ICC T20 World Cup 2020 said, “We are very grateful that Tourism Australia is supporting us to attract more visitors. We want to build a significant attendance from India. It is the first time that we are hosting the T20 World Cup. We will have 68 matches played across 13 venues. Last time, during the Cricket World Cup, we welcomed around 100,000 fans from across the globe, this time we want more numbers. We have appointed 19 tour agents including five agents in India to sell tickets. In India, we have Bharat Army, Game World, Sport World, Fanatic, and Cutting Edge. The packages will be out soon.”

Australia recently organized the 17th edition of its annual trade event, Australia Marketplace India in Kochi. A delegation of 77 Australian Companies participated in the show with 20 new suppliers interacting with 95 Indian buyers.

Speaking about the event, East added, “India is currently one of the fastest growing markets for us and we look to further boost these numbers. Events like Australia Marketplace India provide a fantastic platform for the Australian suppliers to network and do business with the Indian buyers. This gives our industry a chance to capitalize on the potential of India market and ensure increased visitation from this market.”

Earlier, the destination was looking to connect Perth directly to India, which would boost inbound arrivals to the destination. Australia also introduced a campaign, ‘Undiscover Australia’ and also Signature Tours to boost tourism to little known destinations.

“Perth has a lot of new hotels and infrastructure and also we will be hosting a few ICC T20 matches at the new stadium in Perth as well. This destination is now getting a lot more access, we are looking to further connect this market. During the world cup, it will not be a peak travel season, so domestic connections will be easier to book. In terms of new connectivity between India and Perth, we will look at accelerating the Governmental Policies,” East said.

Speaking further about the Signature experiences, Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager-India, Tourism Australia said, “The states in Australia are growing faster than the popular destinations now. The Signature Tours has witnessed a good steady growth. We have also added Cultural experiences this year. During this Australia Marketplace India we have participation of seven states out of the eight and also a lot of new products which shows these states are witnessing growth from this market.”

In the last decade, cruising as a segment has picked up steam in India market. Princess Cruises, one of the premium international cruise lines, has witnessed a sustainable growth in India over past decade. The cruise line has also witnessed that as the market is maturing there has been a constant demand for mid and long haul cruising.

Speaking about the current scenario of the Indian cruising segment, Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, representative of Princess Cruises in India, said, “Cruise Tourism is probably one of the only segments in travel which has demonstrated consistent growth over last two decades and 2019 was no different. Princess Cruises has had sustainable growth in India over past decade and in 2019 despite the General Elections, which coincided with the summer vacations and affected the travel plans of families, we saw a surge of booking & conversions soon after the election results were declared and have had a busy July & August, which is normally off-season for long haul cruise destinations. We still have another four months to go and we feel that our reservations books are going to be pretty full.”

In the last couple of years, typical Indian cruise travellers selected shorter cruises from mostly the Asian and European homeports. With travellers becoming more matured, cruisers are now looking for more unique itineraries.

Saxena added, “Other than the short-haul popular cruising destinations like Singapore & Dubai, there is a growing demand for mid & long haul destinations like Japan, Australia, Norway, Panama Canal & Antarctica. We strongly feel that over the next five years, while the traditional popular destinations like Alaska, Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mediterranean would continue to grow, there would be fast pace growth in the newer cruising destinations which would be inspired by a rich mix of onboard premium cruising experiences plus itineraries with varied & exotic port contents.”

To further personalise the experience of travellers, Princess Cruises has introduced Ocean Medallion Vacation. This feature will be now available in most all the larger vessels.

Speaking about the new product Saxena said, “Princess Cruises is always at a forefront of new developments and the latest in this is the Ocean Medallion Vacation. Ocean Medallion is like your Personal Concierge onboard Princess Cruises – Princess Cruises has surpassed the highest level of service & personalisation which could be achieved on a large scale on their luxury cruise ships with the introduction of Ocean Medallion Vacations. Available on most of the large ships of Princess Cruises, this first-of-its-kind wearable device elevates every moment before, during and after your Ocean Medallion Vacation. From on-demand food and drinks, interactive gaming, custom entertainment and smart navigation, Medallion makes cruising simpler, and more personal and enjoyable than ever.”

Presently, the entire business of Princess Cruises in India is done through the B2B channels. Speaking about the relevance of the travel trade industry, he further said, “This is a very relevant question – B2B or B2C – in such fast changing market scenario and where everything is decided by the click of a button on the net, there seems to be a very thin line with regards to differential between the two. Our 100 per cent bookings are currently coming through B2B channels except for friends & relatives bookings. We continue to push the passengers back to agencies in case we are approached directly as the agent is able to provide other services too. Traditionally, our strategy has been to use the marketing dollars to reach the consumers and have the fulfilment done through the travel agents but if we need to tweak this strategy to remain relevant, we would keep our options open.”

 

International tourist arrivals in Asia and the Pacific grew six per cent in 2017 to reach 323 million, according to a report by UNWTO/GTERC Asia Tourism Trends. The report further states that Asia and the Pacific has played a defining role in the recent expansion of tourism, accounting for 37 per cent of the world’s international tourism expenditure and nearly one-fourth of global arrivals. Between 2000 and 2017, the region has seen an average seven per cent increase per year in international arrivals, the fastest growth amongst all world regions.

Almost  half  of  all  international  tourist  arrivals  in  Asia  and  the  Pacific  were  recorded  in  North-East  Asian  destinations  in  2017  (160  million  arrivals),  while  37 per cent  were recorded in South-East Asia (120 million), eight per cent in South Asia (27 million) and five per cent in Oceania (17 million).

A rapid economic growth coupled with rising air connectivity, travel facilitation and large infrastructure projects have boosted international travel in the region. This has had a large impact on Asian destinations’ tourism earnings, which have steadily increased from 17 per cent of the world total in 2000 to 29 per cent in 2017, equivalent to US$ 390 billion in tourism receipts, the report says. The region expects to achieve a total of 535 million tourist arrivals by 2030, 30 percent of world total.

According to Mastercard Asia Pacific Destination Index 2017, tourism made up 8.5 percent of Asia Pacific’s GDP and 8.7 percent of its total employment in 2016. In absolute terms this translates to US$2.06 trillion and 156.6 million jobs in 2016, making Asia Pacific’s tourism industry the largest in the world by GDP contribution and employment.

With two of the major outbound tourism giants present in the region namely, China and India, Asia Pacific is the region to watch out for the future tourism growth. By 2030, China and India will dominate both in terms of traveller numbers in the region and in total expenditure. Today, a lot of destinations in the APAC region also understand the benefits of the tourism sector and are opening up to welcome the world.

Current Scenario

The entire region is currently witnessing a similar kind of boom with some countries being far more advanced in the curve. At present, there are a lot of emerging economies in the region and most of them are now prepared to realise the potential of tourism. According to available reports, in 2011, Asia Pacific’s middle class consisted of around 700 million people which will increase to 2.1 billion by 2030 with most of the growth coming from India, China and Indonesia. This will cause a sea change in the distribution of middle-class expenditure globally as large numbers of people cross the $5,000 a year household income threshold, therefore creating a significant increase in discretionary spending.

Talking about the current tourism situation in the region, Arzan Khambatta, Head of Macao Government Tourist Office (MGTO) India, states, “Asia Pacific has become one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world with tremendous GDP growth rate, increase in the middle-class population and rise in the per capita disposable income. These factors have helped in growing the tourism industry on the whole. The travel marketers are also working constantly to cope up with the existing market by using innovative new ways and approaches to meet up with the demands and expectations of the consumers who are highly influenced with the growing awareness through various means of social media.”

Various trends picked up in the Asia Pacific region in recent years offering a newer model to world. One of the key factors for this significant increase in tourism in the region is the rise of Low Cost Carriers (LCCs). Today, even small unexplored destinations are connected with major cities, which were once difficult to access. This topped up with sharing economy has created an excellent value proposition and has increased the number of travel. India is no stranger to these changing scenarios.

“The millennials are embracing the sharing economy model introduced by Airbnb and Uber. The value seeking Indian traveller doesn’t really mind travelling on a LCC - a segment that is today dominating the Indian domestic aviation industry. We’ve observed that the first generation of Indian families (our parents) took their first international holiday at the age of 55. The second generation (we) embarked on our first outbound sojourn at the age of 25 whereas the third generation (our kids) are enjoying their first overseas vacation at the age of five. As India has a youthful demography, young India is travelling at a much younger age, and this is the primary driver of the Indian outbound travel market,” Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager – India & Gulf, Tourism Australia informs.

India as a source market

With Indian outbound expected to touch 28 million marks, India is expected to fuel the tourism growth across the region. Today, the Indian outbound is growing with 9.5 per cent annually (Economic Survey 2019) and most of the international destinations are looking to harness this potential. Within the region, India has been in the top 10 source markets for most of the major destinations.

The Mastercard Asia Pacific Destination Index 2017 ranks Bangkok, the capital of Thailand,  as top city in terms of international overnights arrivals. “India is one of our key markets which is evolving every year as the Indian travellers are now opening up to travel differently. The new age travelers are seeking adventurous and experiential modes of vacationing and Thailand as a destination can cater different arrays of activities and experiences to choose from. India is now one of the fastest growing outbound tourism markets in the world, second only to China,” Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai, informs and says that arrivals from India in 2018 up by 12.84 per cent to 1.596 million. The preliminary statistic from January-July, 2019 has shown the growth of +22.7 percent in number of Indian visitors (approximately 1,127,000 visitors) to Thailand over the same period as last year. India is currently holding the 6th position in the ranking of primary source markets for Thailand,” Siddhivarn reveals.

Japan currently contributes to fourth highest number of total nights and the fourth highest expenditure to Asia Pacific. Although the contribution of Japanese market to India is low but the growth rate is quite high. Japan witnessed 14.6 per cent growth in Indian tourist arrivals with 1.54 lakh travellers visiting the country in 2018. Keeping up with this growth trajectory, Japan has already witnessed a 14.3 per cent increase in the period of January to July 2019 with 106,200 Indian visitors to Japan in comparison to 92,937 during the same period in 2018. “Last year, 1.5 lakh Indian travelers visited Japan. India is a huge Nation; people are now travelling more than ever. So we now want to grow the Indian arrivals in Japan. We are doing a lot of B2B and B2C promotions in India. This year we will also organize five familiarization trips to Japan. We are also promoting new itineraries in India market. From India we witnessed a 14.6 per cent growth. From January to July we witnessed a 14.3 per cent growth from India market. We witness an average 15 per cent growth year on year, but we need to increase these numbers,” Yusuke Yamamoto, Executive Director- India, Japan National Tourist Office, says.

Another important destination, Australia attracted 9.3 million short-term international visitors in the year ending December 2018, according to data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Countries in the region accounted for 11 of its top 15 tourism markets, and 5.7 million sightseers in 2018. The number of arrivals from these 11 markets has grown by 8.5 per cent per year over the past five years and now accounts for 61 per cent of total overseas tourist arrivals in Australia. India has also been emerging as a major growth market for Australia.

“India has always been a priority market for Australia. In fact, it is one of our fastest growing inbound markets with five consecutive years of double-digit growth. The total Indian visitor arrivals to Australia for the year ended May 2019 were 367,000, which is an increase of 11 percent relative to the same period the previous year. This makes India the 8th largest inbound market for us. We have also registered approximately Rs 8,300 crores in spends by Indian visitors for the year ended March 2019, thereby recording a 12 per cent increase over the previous year. This makes India the 6th largest source market for us in terms of expenditure,” adds Kashikar.

Tweaking marketing strategy

Today, as travelers are looking for more than mere sightseeing, destinations are striving to create story and experiences to woo arrivals. “Macao’s tagline is ‘Experience Macao your own style’ and it truly lives to this tagline. Given the geographical location, Macao is not only easily accessible but also offers a plethora of unique experiences. Macao has something to offer for everyone who visits the city,” Khambatta says adding that MGTO plans to reach out to newer cities in 2019 and expanding its reach in tier 2 and 3 cities. “We are expecting an increase in MICE movement as Macao is a visa free destination ideal for MICE. With excellent air connectivity, world class hotels and availability of Indian food, Macao is a perfect destination to conduct corporate events. We are also focused on consumers and conducted several activities that help us reach our direct target audience,” Khambatta adds.

Japan Tourism is now promoting beyond its traditional and popular itinerary in India. As per the new marketing strategy, the destination is focused to promote MICE and weddings segment in India market. Speaking about the new strategy for India market, Yamamoto says, “In India, we promote the golden route, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. This is a very popular route for Indians. We are also promoting the Alpine route in the India market. A lot of Indian travelers are looking for such experiences. We are also promoting the Hokkaido and Tohoku in India market.  Indians are also looking out for the Bullet Train experience, as it is comfortable and easily accessible. Indian travelers visit a lot of destination. MICE is a very big market for us, especially Mumbai is a major market for MICE. A lot of companies plan to go for MICE to Japan, we focus on the incentive segment. We are also focused on the destination weddings segment. Today a lot of Indians are organizing their weddings abroad, in Japan we not only have mountains but also beaches which are untouched. Last March, we took wedding planners from India to showcase our destination. We also organized a seminar for wedding planners in July, which witnessed a good response.” 

Expanding product basket

Today, destinations keep constantly upgrading so as to offer something new to the travelers. With the ICC T20 World Cup happening in Australia in 2020, the destination is confident in attracting Indian fans during the event. Also, Australia has introduced a whole array of new attractions.

 “We are constantly coming out with new experiences, and enhancing already existing ones, keeping in mind the evolving needs of our travellers. Today, the high value traveller is seeking travel destinations that deliver unique and authentic experiences which tap into their passion points. To fulfil this need, we have curated outstanding tourism experiences within a variety of niche areas and special interest categories. Branded as ‘Signature Experiences of Australia’, this program offers the finest elements such as luxury lodges, premium wineries, guided walks, fishing adventures, wildlife journeys, golf holidays, cultural attractions, and Aboriginal guided experiences, along with a peak into Australia’s friendly and relaxed culture. In addition to this, Indian travellers visiting Australia for the ICC T20 World Cup can also look forward to curated experiences and special packages so that they can explore the best of what Australia has to offer along with the next big event in cricket,” Kashikar adds.

 Another destination which is very keen on attracting the repeat clientele is Thailand.  India has been one of the major markets for the destination over the years, now Thailand is looking to promote unexplored destinations which will in turn help in boosting the economy of local provinces. “Thailand is one such destination which most Indian outbound travelers have visited and is on the wish-list of travelers who are planning an international trip in the recent future. However, the most visited and anticipated places in Thailand are Bangkok, Phuket and Krabi. It is essential to educate and introduce the consumers on what the country beholds for tourists beyond these above mentioned places. Thus, TAT is aggressively promoting the less explored destinations across its North (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai), East (Trat, Chantaburi, Ko Chang,Rayong), Northeast (Khao Yai)  and Central (Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi,) regions,” Siddhivarn says.

Macao being a comparatively smaller destination, the island focuses on enhancing the experience through various festivals and celebrations. “Macao is set to reach newer heights this year.  2019 will be dedicated to the 20th year anniversary celebrations of the establishment of Macao SAR. Art Macao is a mega international and cultural art festival that begun in June and will culminate in October this year. Art Macao will feature a total of 41 events held at 55 locations, offering new cultural experience for tourists visiting Macao,” Khambatta adds.

Thailand – based Akaryn Hotel Group is expecting a good growth from India market. “India is very important to us, as it is one of the few markets that is currently developing and expanding with a growing middle class and more spending power. I see it as a possible replacement market for China, which is struggling due to its trade war with the US. Historically, Thailand has good ties with India - lots of our citizens have Indian heritage. It is a strong market for weddings, friends and family travel, and Bangkok is a favourite short shopping destination for many well-heeled Indians,” Anchalika Kijkanakorn, Managing Director, Akaryn Hotel Group said.

The group is also looking for small and mid-sized MICE events as well as weddings. “Our hotels and resorts are small and intimate. The largest has 148 rooms but with no conference facilities, so we focus on intimate executive meetings, top management get-togethers and brainstorming retreats. We do lots of weddings; three to four days with 100-plus guests. We can’t do 500-600 guests, but I think that Indian weddings are getting smaller and more intimate nowadays,” she informed.

The year 2019 has been slow for the Thai hospitality industry compared to previous years. Also, Vietnam is emerging as a competition for Thailand with new increased inventory.  “The 2019 low season has not been good for arrivals, due to the warm summer in Europe, the strong Thai baht and the trade war between the US and China. Vietnam is also emerging as a strong competitor with lots of new room supply coming through. I think however, that Thailand will remain strong and will bounce back. We have excellent infrastructure and many great offers, and this is a good time to visit while hotel rates are low - and likely to remain low into high season,” Kijkanakorn added.

The Group is also set to open its first hotel outside Thailand in Vietnam and Indonesia. The group currently operates six hotels in Thailand namely; Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga, Thailand, Aleenta Hua Hin-Pranburi, Thailand, akyra Manor Chiang Mai, Thailand, akyra Beach Club Phuket, Thailand, akyra Thonglor Bangkok, Thailand, akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok, Thailand.

In the coming months, two of the group’s much loved hotel concepts will make their international debuts. Aleenta will be introduced to Bali, Indonesia’s “Island of the Gods”, and akyra, the trend-setting boutique brand, will arrive in Hoi An, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed port town in central Vietnam,” Anchalika Kijkanakorn, Managing Director, Akaryn Hotel Group said.

Aiming to empower the travel agents, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) recently organised a series of knowledge conclaves. The association organised these conclaves in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Indore.

“The TAAI Conclave in Mumbai has been a huge success. We had over 175 delegates from the agencies in the Western India. It’s a huge success after New Delhi did well. The conclave is aimed at supporting travel companies, review their business models, understand their trends and update themselves with the new happenings of the travel and tourism industry. We are looking to encourage our members to evolve,” Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI said.

The conclave witnessed eminent speakers disusing various key topics which also addressed major industry challenges. “The speakers are not merely consultants, but they are from the industry and most of the speakers are ones who have successfully led large travel organisations. When they share experiences and interaction takes place, that mutual learning makes the conclave a rewarding experience,” he added.

Also, TAAI is soon set to announce its 66th Convention & Exhibition date and venue. The Association is most likely set to organise this year’s convention in Mauritius. “We are now working on the annual convention. We will soon get some responses. Hopefully, we are looking at an airline partner who can carry 500-600 delegates at a very industry price. We have a couple of destinations in mind; Mauritius is shortlisted to be one of the key destinations. But then they are ready to support us, but the other part is we arriving into Mauritius.”

The travel industry is not excited with the Annual Budget. The industry was further looking for more announcements which were missing. “The industry is not happy with the Union Budget. It clearly reflects that the Government is not considering travel as a priority. The industry must get recognised and acknowledged by the Government as an important revenue earner. It is a large and growing industry.”

Apart from the conclave, TAAI has also organised various roadshows for destinations. The association has recently signed an agreement with Destination Canada for a series of roadshow. “We have been successful in doing roadshows for destinations. We have done it for Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Destination Canada, Turkey, Malaysia, etc. The advantage of doing a roadshow with TAAI is, when we organise we get an audience who are majorly the owners or key decision makers. In the other roadshows, there is more of frontline staff.”

Wellness tourism has the potential of being the top most driver of the growth of the Indian tourism industry. In a consistently growing economy where people are facing a fast changing life, wellness tourism becomes even more important as it rejuvenates the body, mind and soul by detoxification provided by various healthcare therapies. India is perceived as one of the true spiritual homes of the modern wellness movement globally with its ancient practices of ayurveda, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, naturopathy, panchakarma and holistic health are among the experiences sought by wellness travellers in India.

Globally, wellness tourism is growing with 6.5 per cent annually, more than twice as fast as tourism overall (3.2 per cent), and it was worth US$639 billion market in 2017. This segment is forecasted to grow even faster through 2022 (7.5 per cent yearly), to reach US$919 billion, according to Global Wellness Tourism Economy report by Global Wellness Institute.

Looking at these lucrative figures, destinations are today creating wellness products to draw more travellers. India is known as a pioneer in the wellness segment in the world. Also, it is a known fact that India is the land of the much acclaimed ‘ayurveda’. In the recent years, India has started showcasing yoga as a form of wellness, which has been trending globally. Despite this first mover’s advantage, India is yet to realise the potential of this segment when it comes to tourism. With a vast array of products which has been present through ages, India can be termed as a goldmine of wellness tourism, which needs to be explored by the global market.

The concept of wellness tourism refers to travelling for activities planned for health and well-being as top priority. Typical wellness trips include healthy food, spa treatments, exercise, and opportunities for spiritual and creative development.

The Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in the last few years has charted various plans to further boost this segment. Moreover, luxury hotel chains and standalone boutique players have invested significantly in developing experiential wellness products to further attract travellers. With these efforts, India can soon become a high value wellness tourism hub.

Current Scenario

In 2017, India ranked 7th in the top 20 wellness tourism markets, and 10th among the top 20 spa markets in the world, while ranking 3rd in both the top 10 wellness tourism markets and top 10 spa markets in Asia Pacific. According to reports, Indians made 56 million wellness-related trips, both domestic and international, in 2017 (a growth of 45 per cent over 2015), which included expenditures worth $16.3 billion. Also, India ranked 2nd in terms of leading growth markets for wellness tourism, depicting an average annual growth rate of 20.3 per cent from 2015 to 2017, adding a little over 17 million wellness trips in the same period.

Earlier, known to be a very niche concept, today with a drastic change in people’s lifestyle, wellness tourism is set to become the mainstream.

“Wellness industry continued to emerge from niche lifestyle concept into a mainstream commodity with high growth prospects. Wellness industry estimated to be worth over US$3.72 trillion, representing more than five per cent of all global economic output. As per recent estimates of Ernst and Young, Indian wellness industry is estimated to grow at a CAGR of nearly 12 per cent for the next five years and is expected to reach Rs.1.5 trillion by 2020, rising disposable incomes, change lifestyle etc. or some important facts driving the growth of wellness services,” Sunirmol Ghosh, Director- IndoAsia Hotels, said.

The Indian wellness tourism industry thrives majorly on the key segments like ayurveda, yoga, meditation and rejuvenation amongst others. As per industry speculations, Indian wellness tourism is set to reach US$ 9 billion by 2020.

If we go by studies, it is said that India will touch great heights in the wellness tourism industry in the coming years, said Abhilash K Ramesh, Executive Director, Kairali Ayurvedic Group. “Year 2017 can be seen as a benchmark year for the Industry where Indian wellness tourism set tremendous standards for itself with overall volume of the Industry boomed at a CAGR of 20 per cent index. It is evident from the previous year result that the earlier made prediction will prove to be right and medical and wellness tourism is likely going to touch US$ 9 billion mark by 2020. For Kairali, the year brought major increase in revenue witnessing major growth in the profit centres of the company,” Ramesh added.

Today, India is majorly driven by the domestic tourists for the wellness segment. Rise in disposable income and consumers desire to enhance their mental, as well as physical wellbeing, has favoured the demand for these services. Furthermore, increasing hectic lifestyles characterised by work-related stress has been augmenting the market growth across the globe.

Speaking about the key factors, Rijesh Purakkal, Spa Head, Alila Fort Bishangarh stated, “The wellness industry is rapidly growing in India and has a tremendous scope. In this new era of health consciousness, individuals want to know more and willing to spend on living a full life, wellbeing as a service will emerge as a major industry. People are looking for destinations where more authentic wellness experiences can be found.”

Source markets

Due to the lack of focussed and directed publicity of wellness tourism, the major source market for India still remains the domestic market. In the last five years, the Government has taken keen interest in promoting this segment. The Tourism Ministry has offered 50:50 financial assistance to parties to up to Rs 10 lakh for participating in fairs and events approved by the tourism ministry in overseas markets under the Marketing Development Assistance (MDA) scheme. The ministry has also offered financial assistance of up to Rs 25 lakh for stakeholders participating in tourism promotion shows. It additionally also offers financial support for training courses on skill providing.

Speaking about the major source market for wellness tourism, Nikhil Kapur, Founder and Managing Director at Atmatnan Wellness Centre said, “The domestic market is our largest client base. It has always been considered that Westerners travel for health but things have changed. Indians are mindful about where they spend their holidays and look at holidays as opportunities to rejuvenate, heal and come back stronger to their regular lives. We have many guests who come to us more than two times in a year and this includes guests from Tier II & III cities. Health Holidays are becoming mainstreams for Indians. Some of the other markets which have mature wellness travellers include Americas, UK, Germany and now CIS and China is added to this list. At a property level, our share of overseas business is going up and in three years from now will be 40 per cent of the top line.”

The Indian wellness tourism players are now looking to develop novel source markets. Similar to the Indian outbound growth story, today many Asian countries are witnessing similar trends. This can create more wellness source markets from within Asia-Pacific region.

The traditional source markets are still stable and growing which are mainly German speaking markets Russia along with CIS and North America. What we are seeing changing is the growth from South East Asia and China and expect them to surpass some traditional markets by 2025,” Ramesh added.

In terms of the traveller’s profile, millennial travellers are the one who have always broken the norms and explored newer experiences. “The Millennials constitute the major travelling population in the world. Millennials have incredible spending power, and they seek for cultural vibrancy and authentic experiences. They like to indulge themselves in many holistic programs with spa gateway, detoxing cleansing with food, and fostering emotional, life-changing wellness journey. They like to share their experiences of wellness moments on social media,” Purakkal said.

Popular experiences

It’s a no brainer that being the birthplace of Ayurveda, it has to be the major driver for wellness tourism. But interesting to be noted, today travellers are opting wellness tourism for various serious health complications.

Speaking about the popular therapies, Hemanth Bagga, CEO, Fazlani Natures Nest stated, “We have found that ayurveda treatments like shirodhara, pizhichil and navarakizhi have been very popular among the weekend guests while the naturopathy therapies like deep tissue massage, acupressure and hydrotherapy have been very successful. However, we are witnessing a growing trend of patients seeking solutions and treatments for spondylitis, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and ulcers.”

Today one of the major challenges globally has been the rapid increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, infertility, etc. Indian wellness players are catering to these issues successfully and are curating customised treatments. “Our guests come to us for many reasons such as detox, weight management, medicinal reversal (diabetes, hypertension), illness-management, rehabilitation, emotional healing, fitness, ayurvedic panchakarma. Our expertise lies in our multi-dimensional approach where we integrate various sciences and modalities to give the maximum result to our guests. So besides treatments, the components of nutrition, mental health, improve sleep quality and a positive environment is a must for a successful wellness destination. Pranic healing (energy healing), Chi Nei Tsang (tao school of healing), and amongst ayurvedic treatments - udwartanam (using medicated powder, improves blood circulation and mobilisation of fat) and navrakizhi (with medicated rice from Kerala, fantastic for rejuvenation) are some of the popular therapies,” Kapur added.

Echoing similar opinion, Ramesh said, “Ayurveda has always been focused on preventive care as well as treatments, and with the last five years data what we have noticed is that the most sought or prescribed programme was the panchakarma programme by our in house doctors. Second to that were the customised solutions as each person is an individual and all the treatment plans are based on the patient’s body type. The maximum ailments we treatment were for obesity, infertility, psoriasis and eczema and bone disorders such as arthritis etc. and in the preventive aspect is has been rejuvenation and destress programme.”

Role of ‘AYUSH’ Ministry

The year 2014 has been a milestone year for the wellness industry as the Government of India set up the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). This has been a major step in not only increasing the awareness about the various practices, but also to bring regulation in these sectors.

Lauding the work done by the Ministry of AYUSH, Ramesh stated, “The Ministry of Ayush has definitely been a great support for the industry and will continue to do so, with a more pragmatic and targeted approach towards marketing and promoting AYUSH industry, we will definitely see a growth and we estimate a growth of at least 15 per cent to 25 per cent.”

Immediately after the introduction of the Ministry, the next major step was the introduction of ‘World Yoga Day’, which has again helped in promoting the ancient form of wellbeing.

“The government is promoting AYUSH and with the initiative taken on International Yoga Day that turned into global event recognised by United Nations, which helped creating awareness at the international platform about yoga and wellness in India. Yoga has been promoted as a therapy for physical and mental ailments, and this is what the customers look for during their vacations,” Purakkal added.

With such commendable steps by the Ministry, the industry now expects further introduction of incentives and relaxations.

Kapur stated, “I am hoping that they announce certain incentives or schemes which make it for feasible and attractive for entrepreneurs to develop wellness centres in India. However, in the meanwhile, AYUSH has been creating a lot of awareness about benefits of a good lifestyle and has been promoting Indian sciences like Ayurveda, Yoga etc”

Another major challenge is there is no proper focused promotion for the wellness tourism in the international markets. This segment has been usually promoted as an add-on to the normal vacations.

Ghosh added, “We as a nation have failed to leverage on our advantage of being the home of Ayurveda and Yoga. There are very few destinations in India that has been sold purely as a wellness destination and most others have been marketed as tourist destinations with wellness thrown in. The need of the hour is to market some destinations as pure wellness centres which could cater to tourists who seek rejuvenation and not a regular vacation.”

Challenges

Initially, one of the major challenges in this sector was to maintain the quality and authenticity of service providers. The Government has taken a very crucial leap of introducing quality management with the help of Quality Council of India to extend the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Wellness Centres (NABH) certification for spa and wellness centres. Despite this initiative, the government needs to look at various other challenges to further boost this segment.

“Safety and security which is a challenge, tourism is a fragile dedicated industry and wellness tourist will only come to visit our destinations for peace, calm, meditation, yoga, health, well being therefore the first foremost issue will be safety and security of the tourist because of presents of the fear because which we cannot promote,” Ghosh opined.

Lack of infrastructure remains another challenge which affects this segment. Kapur also feels that improving the brand image of India will help them promote the segment tremendously. “Our travel partners in Europe frequently tell us that their lady clients don't want to travel to India because it’s highly unsafe. Wellness destinations don't belong in the big cities but in tranquil and calm natural surroundings. But who is working towards improving the commute to these destinations. Unfortunately, the ground situation is quite pathetic.”

Another noteworthy challenge which the industry is facing is the lack of talent. Today, the supply of qualified personnel is depleting. “The supply of doctors and qualified personnel in the field of ayurveda and naturopathy has been dropping over the years. Moreover, there are segment of medical practitioners that are currently adamant to only converse in the local medium. Presently there is a lot of awareness to build up the language base to include international languages as well,” Bagga said. 

Being one of the most successful cruise-liner to be home ported out of Mumbai, Costa Cruises has announced the fourth season of scheduled cruising out of Mumbai. This November, the cruise-liner is set to deploy Costa Victoria, a 2300 passenger capacity ship. “We are the only international cruiseliner to be returning for an India deployment for the fourth Season. In November 2019, we will be deploying Costa Victoria, a 2300 passenger capacity ship and bigger than Costa neoRiviera & Costa neoClassicas,” Nalini Gupta, Head, Costa Cruise India, informed and added that Costa Cruises witnessed a YoY growth of 50 per cent since it launched Mumbai – Maldives sailing in December 2016. Interestingly, Costa Cruises is the cruiseliner to start home-porting ships to offer cruises from Mumbai to Maldives.

 Gupta further added that Costa Cruises is currently the only cruiseliner to offer cruises from Mumbai to Cochin, Cochin to Maldives, Mumbai to Maldives and Maldives to Mumbai. “We saw passengers coming back to us with their friends and family to either repeat the experience or explore our other cruising itineraries from Dubai, Europe, Far East, etc.,” Gupta revealed.

Talking about the market trends, she said that clients are adding cruises as an important bucket list item for every Indian traveller. “However, even with the growing numbers, the market size of Indian cruisers is estimated at around only 180,000 which is a small drop in the large ocean of outbound Indian travellers and global cruise numbers. Presently, India contributes to not even one per cent of the global cruising numbers, which are estimated to reach 30 million in 2019, as per reports by CLIA. As more cruise companies like us homeport ships from ports in India, bringing the cruising concept closer to the Indian traveller, the number of Indian cruisers is estimated to grow by leaps and bounds,” she opined.

Costa Cruises is now looking to aggressively tap the weddings segment from India market. “We were the first cruiseliner to have had an Indian wedding on our Europe sailing, with over 2000 guests travelling to Milan to embark on the cruise. Cruises are in fact one of the most cost effective wedding options, as cruises provide all inclusive wedding packages, with accommodation, entertainment activities to keep guests and kids engaged, multiple venue options that can even accommodate 1000 guests and unlimited beverage packages, all on the ship and at all-inclusive rate. For most of the venue options onboard the ship, unlike hotels, we give the lounges for the different wedding events at a minimal or no extra charge,” she said.

She said that the travel trade segment is the key for Costa Cruise in developing the segment. “We currently take almost about 90 per cent of our bookings from the B2B market. Since cruising is still in its nascent stages of growth, most customers still feel more comfortable booking their cruise through a travel agent, who also many times combines the flight and land package. However, as customers become more aware, it will be important for travel agents to be proactive, know more and serve these knowledgeable customers,” she informed.

 

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