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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

CWT has launched a new customer experience (CX) platform. The 360° real-time solution shows where a customer is in their trip, their travel policy and trip history, as well as their channel contacts - via a consumer-grade service screen.

Niklas Andreen, President & Chief Operating Officer, CWT, said, “With customers’ expectations at an all-time high as a result of the pandemic, the need for more personalized content as well as streamlined and concise interactions each and every time customers engaged with us, regardless of channel, became apparent.”

By combining internal data (historical customer bookings, travel policies, channel preferences, personal traveller preferences, contact history etc.) with data from real-time interactions (online search history, in progress or upcoming bookings, real time travel information etc.), CWT’s new CX platform will prioritise the streamlining of email, telephony and messaging channels this year, with all other channels scheduled for platform integration throughout next year.

Key improvements expected include:

Email: using Natural Language Processing (NLP) fielding 16 languages and Artificial Intelligence (AI), inbound email management will become more efficient - whereby the intent and language of each inbound email will be detected. This enables each request to be prioritized, specific to deadline or urgency and fielded to the best counselor in terms of native language and expertise, to process.

Telephony (available across EMEA, APAC and NORAM): with accurate amalgamated customer contact, travel, preference and policy viewable on one consumer-grade service screen, counselors are able to provide truly informed and personalized customer conversations, on every single call.

Messaging (available across 100+ countries where CWT messaging is live): using NLP and AI, customer queries will be categorized, prioritized and effectively addressed by a seamless blend of chatbot & counselor interaction.

John Pelant, EVP Chief Technology Officer, CWT, said, “Having made significant investments in customer channels and data to date, we needed a solution that could operationalize these insights, simplify our existing CX applications & tools, and provide our customers with the most personal and relevant actions at each stage of their journey. Our new CX platform does just that, with one view of the traveler’s journey across all channels, allowing for more dynamic customer conversations.”

Towards the end of 2020, the cruising industry had started gearing up to welcome travellers with all stringent health and safety protocols in place. The cruise players started building confidence amongst their patrons to restart sailing. Destinations across the globe began to ease their travel restrictions and borders started to reopen. The hopes crashed once again with the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic putting a total halt to the tourism industry early this year. However, cruise Liners are now positive about the accelerated vaccination drive globally, that the industry will soon be back on track.

Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director APAC, Norwegian Cruise Line, said, “The second wave has been extremely tough for agents and travellers alike, but with the acceleration of the global vaccination drive and our international return to cruise, we’ve seen renewed optimism, interest and demand. As more people complete their vaccinations and borders begin to open up, there’s a sense in the community that we are slowly getting closer to reaching our ‘new normal’.”

India has been one of the top fly-cruise destinations for majority of the cruise liners. With borders shutting due to rise in covid-19 cases in India, cruise liners have to further wait to tap the Indian outbound cruisers.

Naresh Rawal, Vice President – Sales (India & South Asia), Genting Cruise Line, added, “The second wave of the pandemic in India has indeed led to a suspension and delay in opportunities for the new travel bubbles within region to ignite the travel and cruise industry. However, we are closely monitoring both the local and international situation to identify new and safe opportunities, especially for the Fly-Cruise segment in the near future.”

Despite these challenges, India still remains one of the top potential source markets for cruise liners. Now with newer travel bubbles coming up in the region, opportunities will once again arise for cruise liners.

Rawal said, “India is an important market with immense potential as a cruise hub in the region, including the Fly-Cruise market to neighbouring countries. For Genting Cruise Lines, India has always been close to us, as we had previously homeport and call on the various local ports in the past and also build a healthy Fly-Cruise market. We are optimistic as we continue to monitor the situation and with the rolling out of vaccination, coupled with preventive measures locally, new opportunities for travel bubble will arise in the future that will lead to new viable travel options, including for the cruise sector.”

Norwegian Cruise Line has already started witnessing strong demand for the upcoming years. The cruise line also witnesses guests looking at longer trips. Angell, said, “Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, with the acceleration of the vaccine rollout and our global return to service, we’ve seen a very positive upward trend in the number of bookings and enquiries from India over the past few weeks, which tells us there is significant interest and pent-up demand. We are seeing a good volume of interest from Indian cruisers in the last quarter of 2021, and particularly strong demand for 2022 and 2023. In 2022 and 2023, we are seeing guests plan longer trips, further afield.”

Majority of the businesses across the globe stalled their further expansion plans. On the flipside, cruise lines have re-strategiesed their expansion plans and most of the players have further invested during the lull period.

“In general, our cruise itineraries are depending on the local requirements and evolving pandemic situation. For instance, in Singapore, at present we only offer Super Seacation cruises on the open ocean. In Taiwan previously, we were only offering domestic cruises and soon in Hong Kong, we will similarly be starting off with the Summer Super Seacation cruises. Our fleet deployment will also be fluid as we adapt to the evolving landscape and situation,” Rawal said.

Norwegian Cruise Line has further invested to refurbish its older fleet apart from constructing new class vessels. “On the contrary, we have invested during this pause in operations to both upgrade our existing ships, as well as construct an entirely new class of vessels. Norwegian Prima is the first of our highly anticipated new Prima Class. We’ll be delivering six new ships in six consecutive years, from 2022 until 2027. Shortly after announcing Norwegian Prima, she became our most in-demand ship ever – the single-best booking day and best initial booking week for any of our newbuild sales in our 54-year history. Meanwhile, Norwegian Epic went through an upgrade of The Haven by Norwegian – our exclusive ship-in-ship concept –at the end of 2020 and now boasts 75 reimagined suites combined with redesigned experiences like the all-new ‘The Haven’ Restaurant and ‘The Haven Courtyard Pool and Sundeck’”, Angell informed.

Rebuilding the consumer confidence will be the priority for the cruise industry. To further tap the India market, cruise liners are unveiling new itineraries and various offers in India market.

Angell said, “We want to grow brand awareness amongst travellers, while working closely with travel agents to optimise their selling potential. Our brand-new ship Norwegian Prima will take centre-stage as we announce more details about her onboard experiences, but we’ll also be showcasing our ships and itineraries in The Mediterranean, Hawaii and Alaska for Indian guests. We’ve launched our most popular promotion in India – known as BOGOHO or Buy One Get One Half Off. For every cruise fare purchased, the second guest in the same stateroom will receive a 50% discount. The offer is available for a limited time only and allows travelers to choose from more than 250 sailings.”

Genting Cruise Line has also been promoting unique products such as thematic cruises in India. “Rebuilding consumers’ confidence on the safety of cruising and providing peace of mind for vacationers will be crucial. As such, we will continue to inform and educate consumers on the enhanced safety and preventive measures that I had previously mentioned, complemented by a series of unique offerings including special and exciting thematic cruises - bringing the world aboard the ship. For instance, we introduced various thematic cruises like Amazing Thailand, Rhythm of Korea and at present Wonders of Japan. Also, for the Singapore deployment, World Dream is the first cruise ship to receive the Vegetarian certification from the GVCS-Global Vegetarian Certification Services,” Rawal added.

Set to lead UFI as President in 2022-23, Michael Duck, EVP - Commercial Development, Informa Markets & Informa Group, shares his perspective about the current scenario of the global exhibition industry and the way forward

The global exhibition industry has witnessed a major setback with the second wave of the pandemic further deterring the industry to get back to normal. Few Governments have been successful in understanding the socio-economic benefits of this industry and assisted the stakeholders to restart exhibitions with stringent protocols. UFI, the global association of the world’s leading tradeshow organisers and fairground owners, is working towards enabling the industry to restart exhibitions, seamlessly.

Covid-19 pandemic has brought down the exhibition industry to a standstill, how is the scenario unfolding in terms of revival of the global exhibition industry?

Well its unfortunately much slower than we all thought it was going to be. Some events have restarted in different geographies such as China, Japan and Korea around six months ago. All of these are domestic exhibitions with domestic exhibitors and domestic buyers, though some International buying offices and international trade offices are attending or exhibiting.

In Dubai as an International hub some major shows have taken place such as Gulfood, ATM, Arab Health with good numbers of international exhibitors and visitors. In Florida, few domestic boat shows have taken place in Miami and Fort Lauderdale over the past few months. Las Vegas, which has been shut for nearly one year, the World of Concrete show took place post re-opening of the city. Let’s all hope that this is a start in having many other cities/ countries and regions to open up.

In some countries, the Delta variant of Covid is causing increasing infection rates which is meaning that yet again some borders to be closed. However, in most countries the vaccination rates have risen, and people are feeling more confident and that those industries like restaurants and other service industries are once again open, albeit slowly.

In India, we all know the Covid numbers a few months ago rose to very high levels and fatalities were sadly much too high. The rates are reducing but we need to bring them down further. Indian vaccination levels are improving markedly which is encouraging.

What situation do you foresee for Indian exhibition industry? What timeframe do you anticipate for physical exhibitions getting back to 2019 levels in India?

I have been involved heavily with the Indian industry especially in the last 15 years and I hope and pray that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. Just at the time when we have excellent exhibition space newly built in Delhi and also in Mumbai, this is the time to grow.

I have no doubt that it will happen. India will be one of the most exciting markets of the future. I am confident that we need to have a “restart date”, possibly January 1, 2022 When we can say the Indian market will take off…. I hope I am right!

How challenging it has been for the members of UFI to face the current situation?

It has been very challenging for all members of UFI around the world. All businesses in our exhibition world can only run on positive cash flows. If the organisers have no exhibitions, then the venues have no cash flow and everyone else in the ‘supply Chain’ such as stand contractors, freight forwarders, registration specialists, marketing professionals, food & drink suppliers etc. Also, hotels, restaurants, shops and airlines have dry bank accounts. Hence, there is a need to restart our industry.

How governments across the globe have been facilitating for the growth of exhibition industry?

Some governments are better than others as some understand our business model and what fantastic value flows it brings to cities/ countries/ industries etc.  In Hong Kong, for instance, right from the start of the pandemic, the Government offered to pay for the venue costs. This brought a lot of positive recognition to Hong Kong and helped with confidence and the several B2C shows that have taken place. It then marked Hong Kong as a leading trade fair centre. Others should follow their example.

What would be UFI’s short-mid to long term strategy to revive the exhibition industry? What support is UFI extending to its members?

UFI has done a huge amount of work this past year in information flow to the industry across the world. UFI is also working with international associations and governments in advising how best to restart and relaunch trade fairs in a safe and secure way.

A lot of work is going on from all the UFI offices led by the MD Kai Hattendorf and by the President Anbu Varathan to talk with the highest authorities in each country to assist and help the Trade fair industry.

As the incoming president of UFI, what will be your strategy towards further strengthening the association?

I will be supporting President Anbu Varathan and after November this year President Monica Lee-Müller. Like them, I will be working hard in reopening our industry and also showing all media and governments as to what a fantastic force trade fairs are in restarting economies and especially helping SME’s to grow.

Do you see digital and virtual exhibitions as the way forward or do you foresee pre-covid level demand for physical exhibitions?

I see, as everyone else does as well, that digital is here to stay, but as a part of a hybrid offering. Virtual trade shows for some verticals may well stay, depending on how good the software and databases are. I have no doubt, especially in India that people will be back attending physical trade shows very quickly. That’s the nature of the exciting Indian market.

How UFI plans to support its members on implementing green and sustainable measures?

As the founder of the UFI sustainability committee some 15 years ago, I know that UFI like all other industries are and will keep implementing green and sustainable measures. The United Nations and every country attending the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow soon are leading the way for all of us to follow and ensure we leave the earth in a better state than when we came in. 

Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism speaks to T3 about the current scenario in South Africa and the new developments

India continues to be a priority market for South Africa post pandemic. This year, the destination is set to tap the niche tourists from India market. The Tourism Board also foresees speedy recovery in terms of MICE.

What is the current scenario of the tourism sector in South Africa?

South Africa is currently open to all international tourists. Travellers intending to visit the country will be required to produce a negative PCR test, not older than 72 hours from the time of departure from the country of origin to South Africa.

Concerning the situation on-ground, the National Department of Tourism is currently engaged in a policy review that will look into improving air access, protecting the supply side, value pricing, using technology to advance tourism and conservation. Additionally, the government started a 1.2 billion-rand (US$79.4 million) Tourism Equity Fund aimed at reviving the tourism industry earlier this year. The funds will be used in particular to help black entrepreneurs start and sustain businesses and projects in the sector.

Post-pandemic, do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets?

South Africa was seeing tremendous interest by Indian travellers right before the pandemic  hit the country in March 2020. For the months of January and February 2020, we saw a ~7 per cent YoY increase from the India market with 14,437 business, leisure, and MICE tourists visiting the destination during this period. Prior to the pandemic, India was the 8th largest international market for South African Tourism. India remains a core market for South African Tourism globally and holds much promise in the coming years.

Prior to the pandemic, we announced the rolling out of e-visas for the India market. While pilot runs were ongoing, the pandemic hit us, thus delaying the process. We want to assure Indian travellers that we are focused on issuing e-visas as soon as possible, as we want to make it as easy as possible for Indians to come to South Africa. Given that India is a priority market, we have continued robust investments in this market.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2021?

Our marketing and communication approach is extremely focused and targeted – we are looking at maintaining a consumer-centric approach, while also building trust and aspiration, and instilling confidence in consumers intending to travel. Even before the pandemic, we realized the importance of localized, targeted and relevant content, and thus, increased our digital presence in India.

We launched our Complete Confidence campaign, where we released a series of videos showcasing precautionary measures employed by the destination.

In India, a consumer-oriented campaign targeting the desi audience is in the pipeline. South African Tourism is also working closely with Netflix to ensure that authentic and uniquely South African stories are told to a global audience. This partnership will also play a major role in internationally promoting the country’s must-visit sights through its locally produced series.

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in the destination?

We are looking to build on and showcase our 3000+ adventure offerings to the adrenaline-seeking Indian market. This year, we will be specifically targeting niche communities.

A large focus area for us will be mobilizing niche communities in India. We want to invite biking groups to explore the vast, South African terrain. We are also looking at having more runners from India participate in South African ultra-marathons like the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Marathon.

We expect self-drives to be popular with Indian travellers given that South Africa has some of the most beautiful self-drive routes in the world. The fact that Indian licenses are valid in South Africa is a huge bonus.

Travellers are predicted to seek offbeat destinations, with good connectivity and a large number of activities within confined areas. We, hence, anticipate that South Africa’s new regions and geographies will be a hit with Indian travellers in the second half of 2021 as well as in 2022.

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

We expect MICE travel from India to rebound later this year or early next year, albeit with smaller group sizes and hybrid models. However, pan-Africa MICE travel and corporate travel can be expected to bounce back sooner, especially since travel brands across the supply chain are now extremely deliberate about traveller wellbeing and providing safe group experiences.

That being said, it will be crucial to keep our ears to the ground going ahead. Especially within a market as dynamic as India, MICE & corporate packages and promotions for each region will need to be customized and rolled-out, depending on the status of vaccinations and the pandemic.

With a view to explore the tourism potential in the border districts of India and to create awareness about the lesser-known destinations across the country, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) recently launched its Border Tourism webinar series. The first webinar was on Arunachal Pradesh focused on Anjaw district and other destinations like Mechuka, Anini for the promotion of Border Tourism in Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal is exploring opportunities to develop border tourism in the state.

Speaking about the scope of border tourism during the webinar, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said, “Border tourism is of immense interest to the Government of India. The connectivity to these destinations were always not up to the mark which has made it difficult to promote them. The major requirement and the thrust that the government is having is to creating airstrips and also develop road connectivity. Under UDAN 4.0 North East is a major focus for the government.”

She further added, “Capacity building and skill development should be a major focus. The areas we are looking at we should create more homestays and bed & breakfast facilities. Travellers are ready to spend on experiences even in the domestic market. Also, we should not focus on mass tourism as it degrades a destination. Tourism should lead to socio-economic betterment and should not overstep the carbon footprint. In Arunachal the Central ministry has sanctioned a project in Parshuram Kund recently.”

Ayushi Sudan, Deputy Commissioner – Anjaw District, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, said, “Popular destinations in Anjaw district are Walong, Kibithu, Hayuliang, Dong. It shares border with China and Myanmar. Dong is a proper camping site and is a very cruitial for tourism. Anjaw has a history in terms of 1962 war and there are beautiful elements which tells the story. There is also a possibility of Bunker tourism if infrastructure is developed.

“A light and sound show in Walong has been sanctioned in the war memorial. Kaho will be projected as the first village of the country. There is a lot of scope for eco-tourism especially for bird watching. In terms of future development bird watching festival and trails need to be developed as a part of our eco-tourism. There are a few trekking circuits on the Myanmar border as well which needs to be promoted. We also have a great potential for adventure tourism which yet needs to be explored. We have potential for ziplining, river rafting, Paragliding, etc.”

PHDCCI will be organizing a series of 18 webinars to promote Border Tourism across the Nation. India shares borders with seven countries and at present border tourism has been one of the most neglected segments.

Anil Parashar, Chairman – Tourism Committee, PHDCCI, said, “India is the largest country in South Asia with a varied topography and we share borders with seven countries. Despite having such tourism potential, the border areas haven’t seen major development in terms of tourism. There is also a lack of knowledge how border areas can become a tourist destination. PHDCCI will be organizing a series of 18 webinars along with Ministry of Tourism to promote 18 border districts which needs to be developed. Aspirational India has deep desire to travel and due to pandemic, there is a strong domestic market. This is a perfect time to introduce Border tourism.”

Another major destination to be developed in Arunachal Pradesh is Dibang Valley. The destination is looking to create Adventure offerings to woo travellers.

Minga Sherpa, Deputy Commissioner – Dibang Valley District, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, said, “In Dibang valley, we have extreme scope for ethno-tourism village with all modern amenities. We have one of the best and difficult treks in our district. Adventure activities like River rafting, river crossing, zip-lining, Bungee and Para-motoring has a huge scope. We are trying to promote caravan tourism and camping sites. We will look at hosting bloggers, trek meet, etc. to promote the destination. We want to organize bird-watching and butterfly watching event which can be a great success. We are also trying to create minimal tourist infrastructure. We are looking to create a mini adventure park with ATVs ziplining, river-crossing, rock climbing, Burma bridge. We also are looking to create small scale eco-friendly assets like camp, tented, mud, bamboo hut accommodations,” he added. 

Yoel Razvozov began serving as the Minister for the Israel Minister of Tourism on 15 June 2021. Razvozov, who first entered the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in 2013, having served as Chairperson of the Sports Lobby of the Knesset and Chairperson of the Generation and a Half Lobby since 2015. From 2013-2015, Razvozov was appointed Chairperson of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Minister of Tourism Yoel Razvozov said that he intends to work vigorously to bring the tourism industry back to full operations. “My first task as Minister of Tourism is to build a correct and effective outline for the easing of conditions for tourists to enter Israel - of course, without endangering the citizens of Israel and in cooperation with the professional bodies in the Ministry of Health.” said Minister Razyozov.

Razvozov sponsored laws that encourage urban renewal and laws to lower the cost of living. He has also spearheaded the fight for civil burial, designed to allow for a proper burial for anyone who is not Jewish according to Jewish law or for anyone who wants a burial service that is compatible with the secular lifestyle.

Razvozov has worked to promote the rights of Holocaust refugees and to increase veteran allowances. He has promoted the integration of immigrants in the public health system and education system, and sponsored persistence bonuses to immigrant teachers. Razvozov has also promoted assistance for lone soldiers and worked to integrate immigrants in the job market. He has also worked for harsher punishments for violence in sports, for professional athletes and to promote sport in the community.

Razvozov initiated a revolution in the salaries of Olympic athletes in Israel, in which the salaries of professional athletes and that of athletes with the potential for success was doubled. A million shekels were allocated towards increasing the salaries, and an additional NIS 30 million were added per year to develop infrastructures and to support future athletes in the less popular sports. Just prior to the dissolution of the 19th Knesset, Razvozov passed a law for harsher punishments for violence in sports.

Razvozov is a former Olympian judoka. At the age of 16, he was Israeli champion, and held this title for 10 consecutive years. He served as captain of Israel's national Judo team, winning two silver medals in the European championship, and represented Israel in the 2004 Athens Olympics.  Prior to entering politics, from 2008-2013 Razvozov served as Chairman and Director of the Israel Olympic Committee and held the sports portfolio in the Netanya City Council.

Born in 1980 in Birobidzhan, Russia, Razvozov immigrated to Israel in 1991 at the age of 11. He holds a BA in Business Administration with a specialization in Financing from the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. He is the father of two daughters and a resident of Netanya.

The outgoing Minister of Tourism and the incoming Minister of Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen wished Minister Razvozov success and said, “I entered the Ministry of Tourism in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic.  This is not a period that characterizes tourism ministers, and I felt a very high sense of mission and pushed a lot of things for the industry. Mostly I want to tell the employees of the ministry that we worked under difficult conditions because of the corona pandemic. You entered my heart, I hope you will only succeed.”

The German National Tourist Board (GNTB) is focusing its Knowledge Days 2021 on how digital transformation is shaping the present and future of international tourism. On June 23 and 24, high-profile guest speakers and GNTB experts will present current trends and technological innovations, future scenarios and the practical application of digital tools for its members and sponsors.

Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman, GNTB’s Executive Board, said, “We see leadership in the digital transformation as an opportunity for future challenges. Together with our partners in German tourism, we want to discuss current trends during the Knowledge Days that we believe will shape incoming tourism in the post-corona phase. In this way, we provide practical support to our members and strengthen the position of Destination Germany in the increasingly fierce international competition among destinations.”

As keynote speaker, company founder, tech investor and author Frank Thelen will present his view of digitization as the beginning of the greatest revolution in human history under the title of his bestseller “10xDNA – The Mindset of the Future”.

Under the title ‘Rethink & Unlock: Using Digital Technologies in Tourism’, the Knowledge Days will address, among other things, new developments in conversational marketing, which is already an integral part of the GNTB’s digital strategy with voice recognition systems, AI-supported chatbots or skills for smart speakers. This also includes possible applications and functionality of voice technology in Knowledge Graphs – a direct link to the German tourism industry’s Open Data project, which the GNTB is coordinating. The trend topic ‘Social Listening – digital listening’ leads from social media marketing to the targeted positioning of brands‘.

The strategic GNTB theme of future-oriented and sustainable tourism, which has been established for around a decade, is the focus of the presentation “The Conscious Traveller of Tomorrow: Why travel and sustainability must be thought together in the future”. The topic ‘Recovery & travel data insights’ will focus on possible uses of digital data sources in the tourism industry post Corona.

The Knowledge Days are the central format with which the GNTB annually addresses the latest trends in digital transformation for its members and sponsors, incorporates the expertise of prominent pacemakers from the industry and demonstrates practical applications for tourism marketing in the present and future. The external presenters in 2021 will come from Triple Sense Reply, one of Germany’s most successful digital agencies, Talkwalker, one of the leading providers of social media analytics and monitoring, the Lufthansa Innovation Hub and Google, among others.

The GNTB is organizing the Knowledge Days 2021 as a virtual event.

The Second bout of covid-19 pandemic has not only further devastated the hospitality industry, but also put a major question on the timeline for revival. In 2020, the industry witnessed some momentum towards the end of the year and early this year. Despite the nightmare for the sector, hotels have once again supported the nation in fight with the COVID-19 by offering rooms as quarantine facility, helping the stranded travellers, converting rooms into workstations for corporates, etc. With shortage of hospital beds and facilities during the second wave, hoteliers have fulfilled this void to an extent.

Speaking about the support to governments, Rattan Keswani, Deputy Managing Director, Lemon Tree Hotels and Director, Carnation Hotels, said, “We have been supporting the national and state government needs for quarantining guests, and for hospitals to assist health workers. We have partnered with state governments to convert a number of our hotels into quarantine centers for Indians returning from outside the country. Also, recently, Lemon Tree has offered hotels to various hospitals across India who will provide early care to mild/asymptomatic Covid patients. The admission to these facilities is purely at the discretion of the relevant hospital and the SOPs for these hotels have been redefined on guidelines from WHO, MHA and the specific state government or hospital we have partnered with.”

Hotels have also been involved in community services such as providing food for the needy and also helping the front-line workers. Pushpendra Bansal, COO, Lords Hotels and Resorts, said, “Our hotels have been providing accommodation to front line workers at various locations. At some locations we have a tie up with hospitals where we are offering self-isolation packages. Hygienically packed meals have also been provided to the needy as a part of our community service.”

Serving the community

Besides these special services, more and more hotel chains are now drafting annual CSR policies which are region or country specific. With covid-19 pandemic, groups have tweaked their policies.

Speaking about the CSR policy for Ibis Hotels in India, Sylvain Laroche, Director of Operations, ibis & ibis Styles, India, said, “ibis has joined hands with the Robin Hood Army to extend support to the community and deliver meals to the needy in many cities across the country. In addition to this, many of our hotels have come forward and tied up with local NGOs to offer its services to frontline workers, healthcare professionals and people in need.”

Similarly, a lot of corporates have now diverted their CSR budget into vaccinating their own staff and families. Bansal added, “Vaccination of our staff and their family members is our priority and steps have been taken at various hotels to ensure 100% vaccination of all our team members. Masks have been distributed free of cost to the needy and social awareness campaign on covid protocol has been run by us at public places and also on digital platforms.”

Another major transformation which the hospitality industry has witnessed over the years is being sustainable. Hotels are now focusing on various levels of sustainability and moving towards reducing carbon footprints. Keswani added, “Lemon Tree continues its sustainability focus within the company even during the pandemic year. This includes diversity and inclusion; adoption of renewable energy; reduction, recycling and reuse of water; a new waste management policy; green building certification and more. Our CSR policy i.e. two per cent of profits as per the Company’s Act also continues, and we have donated the defined amount to NGOs working in the space of skilling Person With Disability for mainstream employment. This cuts across different disabilities like deaf, physical handicap, intellectual and developmental disability, Down Syndrome, autism, visually impaired/low vision.”

Revival of MICE & business travel

A majority of the mid-scale hotel chains in India were fairly dependent on the MICE and business travel. This segment witnessing a significant decline due to various factors including; introduction of more tech-driven solutions, reduction of corporate budgets, etc.

Sharing his views on the revival of this segment, Kesawani, opined, “The revival of corporate travel and MICE will take around six to nine months, and it will be restricted to the absolutely necessary. MSME/SME travel may start earlier, in three to four months, and larger corporates by the mid or end of the third quarter, as large corporates have announced their intentions to open their office spaces by September or October, albeit in a phased manner and depending on the vaccination status of their employees.”

Despite this dip, hotels are witnessing a positive spike in the weddings and small meetings segment.   Laroche, added, “The pandemic has led to the emergence of small and intimate weddings after the lockdown restrictions lifted last year. It is also encouraging to see small businesses or individuals looking for safe meeting options that found our meeting rooms and hotels perfect for the safety and office setup that we offer.”

Alternate revenue for survival

To further negate the impact of the pandemic, hotels are looking at other sources of revenue to survive. Hotels have come up with innovative ancillary solutions which have been successful in helping maintain cash flow.

Speaking about the alternative revenue, Bansal, said, “We are offering tailormade staycations and workcations packages on our brand website for leisure and business traveller. We are also concentrating on ancillary services like co working spaces, food delivery, facility management for offices to generate revenue. With restaurants forced to close during lockdown food delivery has become a lifeline to ensure continuation of business. Our restaurants have reported huge surge in order volumes.”

Ibis Hotels is now looking to enter the cloud kitchen segment in a few cities. The hotels have been used as workstations by a few corporates.

Laroche, explained, “[email protected] that was introduced last year, aims to provide efficient and functional solutions to meet businesses of all sizes, an alternate office space solution. Our hotels are also delivering ‘Good Mood Food at your doorstep’ while ensuring our guest’s well-being and convenience at the same time. Our hotels have extended to a pet-friendly environment offering all the pet parents the joy to spend time with their furry friends. Additionally, we are also launching dark/cloud kitchen facilities in a few cities to deliver the best of ibis.”

Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO, Destination DC speaks about the latest developments and plans to further develop India market

On May 21, Washington DC lifted majority of the covid-19 restrictions in place, which was a major boost for domestic tourism. With an array of novel attractions in place, the destination is all the more promoting to attract visitations.

What is the current scenario of the tourism sector in Washington, DC?

Our hospitality community has been hit hard but we’re resilient – and we’re ready to welcome visitors back with lots to do in the city this summer. Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, investment continues in Washington, DC with US$10.3 billion in development including major openings and renovations expected in the next several years. As of June 2021, the city has 19 new hotels and almost 4,300 additional rooms in the pipeline.

We’re optimistic about the future of travel to the U.S. and domestic travel returning to Washington, DC. Many of our members are seeing transient bookings increase for the summer and our customer service phones are ringing. We continue to work closely with U.S Travel to urge officials to provide a clear plan for when current international travel-related restrictions will be eased and help create a pathway for international travel to reopen.

As most of the restrictions have been lifted in Washington DC, effective May 21, how do you plan to reopen the tourism sector?

In partnership with Events DC, Destination DC will launch a domestic leisure recovery advertising campaign focused on the local, drive market and a limited national audience. We recognize there is lots of competition to win visitors back, but Washington, DC’s unique offerings including all our free attractions, Michelin-rated dining scene, diverse neighborhoods and waterfront activities make it an attractive destination.

While we recognise overseas visitation to the U.S. is not expected to fully rebound until 2025 (Source: Tourism Economics), we also know there is pent up travel demand, so we remain engaged in our top markets, including India, with support from our teams around the world.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2021 for India market?

We’ll continue working closely with our in-market representation, Indvia Marketing, to navigate the travel trends for the India market while remaining engaged with the travel trade and the media for long lead inspiration.

This spring, we participated in a webinar hosted by Brand USA where we shared new itinerary suggestions to the Indian travel agents. We also hosted a virtual media event for 20 travel and trade journalists for the India market. We discussed upcoming development including new hotels and attractions, key events with hybrid programming and culinary trends. The Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building also presented celebration plans around their 175th anniversary this year.

This summer, we will be hosting an educational virtual event for tour operators, with our colleagues in New York City, to discuss the latest developments in our iconic U.S. destinations. We will also host key meetings with top accounts to discuss market strategy and new opportunities.

Post Pandemic, do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets? Please provide some light on this.

As we look at recovery, international tourism will continue to be extremely important for Washington, DC. Though overseas visitors only represent seven percent of the total number of visitors to DC, international visitors [overseas visitors plus visitors from Canada and Mexico] represented 27 percent of visitor spending for 2019.

Prior to COVID-19, India was Washington, DC’s third overseas market, according to visitation data from 2019. We hope to continue the momentum we’ve been building with the market over the past several years.

There is also a strong VRF (visiting relatives and friends) market coming from India so we hope Indian nationals will continue travelling to Washington, DC and the surrounding areas to visit their family while also taking the opportunity to explore the city’s many activities through a multi-generational trip.

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in Washington DC?

Washington DC’s airports continue to see improvements:

Dulles Metrorail Project – Silver Line: Construction is nearing completion on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, connecting Washington Dulles International Airport to downtown DC. Operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the 11-mile extension, which includes 11 new stations, will undergo testing later this year and is expected to open in early 2022. 

Reagan National Airport’s Project Journey: Construction on the US$1 billon renovation at Reagan National Airport is progressing towards completion in 2021. The new 14-gate concourse recently opened to passengers on April 20 with the additional checkpoints becoming operational later this year.  

We’ve seen several hotels open this year already including Hotel Madera and The Ven at Embassy Row and Lyle in Dupont Circle and the Cambria Hotel Washington D.C. Capitol Riverfront. There are an additional three hotels expected to open before the end of the year including Kimpton Banneker Hotel in Logan Circle.

We have also seen several new attractions open over the past year that have yet to be experienced by Indian travelers. They include:

Planet Word: Opened in early 2020, the revolutionary museum dedicated to the power, beauty and fun of language and how words shape the human experience. Planet Word is the world’s first voice-activated museum.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial: Opened in September 2020, the memorial honors the 34th president of the U.S and spans a four-acre park on the National Mall featuring a one-of-a-kind stainless-steel tapestry and heroic-sized bronze sculptures.

National Native American Veterans Memorial: Established by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the grounds of the museum on the National Mall, the memorial opened on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020.

Earlier most of the travellers combined several destinations across U.S. in their itinerary. With protocols and safety in the picture, do you see majority travellers looking at limited destinations in their travel plans?

Industry data tells us that travelers will be looking to spend more time in a destination, so we’re hoping this will lead to longer stays in Washington, DC during their East Coast itinerary.

Over the years, Washington, DC has established itself as a MICE and events destination. With MICE and corporate travel market being the worst hit, what is your recovery plan?

In partnership with Events DC, the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C. and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, Destination DC is leading an industry-wide effort to support customers meeting in the nation’s capital. The Still Connected approach is two-fold: first, is a focus on health standards, and second is a focus on Washington, DC’s exclusive benefits that facilitate commerce thriving in the city.

Being one of the most recent entrants in the global tourism offerings, AlUla, a natural heritage destination in Saudi Arabia is all set to tap the Indian outbound potential. In the last one year, the destination has aggressively promoted its unique offering to Indian market. Speaking about the India market, Beena Menon, India Representative, Royal Commission for AlUla, said, “India is a very important and big source market for AlUla. We believe it will attract a large number of travellers for leisure and MICE. AlUla is a place of extraordinary human and natural heritage. Located in northwest of Saudi Arabia, AlUla is certainly a new destination for Indian travellers. AlUla is a rich heritage and art & cultural destination for affluent travellers. We expect as soon as the borders open, AlUla will be an interesting destination to explore due to the vast open spaces, natural beauty, outstanding landscape, and highest standard of visitor experience.”

Speaking about the potential segment,  Menon said, “AlUla is a destination for leisure and MICE travel. As far leisure is concerned it is an ideal destination for family, adventure seekers, couples, and honeymooners. AlUla’s vast open landscapes provide the perfect backdrop for great outdoor activities like zipline, hiking trails, cycling trails, a bike park, and horse treks. There is something to do every day, and night in AlUla. Extraordinary sand stones in remote desert land create some of the world’s most enviable dark skies, making AlUla an idyllic locale for stargazing.”

In terms of MICE offerings, AlUla is home to Maraya, the world’s largest mirrored building according to Guinness World Records. She added, “AlUla is a great destination for MICE travel and boasts of a state-of-the-art multi-purpose conference and entertainment venue, Maraya. A glass structure covered in mirrored panels reflecting AlUla’s beauty.”

She further added, “India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and is the third largest market for Umrah. We will leverage the strong affinity and connection that Indian Muslims have for Saudi Arabia. Besides the high value leisure travellers, we will tap the Umrah segment and promote AlUla as an extension to an Umrah tour. We are bullish about AlUla and see great potential to promote tourism to AlUla from India.”

The destination is also seamlessly connected to all the major Indian cities. Pre-pandemic Saudia operated 68 flights a week from various cities in India. Also, travellers can explore the destination with self-drive options from all major cities in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking about the connectivity, Menon said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has great flight connections from Indian cities. Besides Saudia, Air India, Spice Jet, Indigo, Oman Air, Emirates, Etihad were also well connected from India to Saudia Arabia. There are 4 weekly flights from Riyadh and 2 weekly flights from Jeddah to AlUla. These are short distance flights being operated by Saudia. AlUla international airport is located around 35 kms southeast of AlUla. Private jets and international charters can also land at AlUla international airport.”

She further added, “AlUla has a great self-drive option to AlUla from major cities in Saudi Arabia and also within AlUla. AlUla is a 10-hour drive from Riyadh, 7-hour drive from Jeddah, 3.5-hours drive from Medina. It is also only a 2.5-hours drive to the Red Sea which visitors can add on to their trip.”

The destination also offers a range of accommodation for every kind of traveller. Also, it is an ideal destination for the luxury market with the development of various high-end hotels with luxury spas and gourmet restaurants. In addition, there are many new hotels scheduled to open to keep up with the demand that is expected once the borders open and flights resume.

Menon added, “Five-star luxury brand Habitas will open an eco-friendly luxury accommodation in the Ashar Valley by September 2021. The resort has been designed to blend with the landscape and will immerse the guest in the environment, heritage and people of the AlUla region, through a variety of culturally engaging, authentic experiences. International hotel brands like Aman Resorts, Four Seasons are in the pipeline and expected to open in the couple of years. The famous French architect Jean Nouvel will be opening Sharaan by Jean Nouvel by 2023.”



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