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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Buoyed by a healthy load factor between India and Kuwait, Kuwait Airways is looking at enhancing the seat capacity. In India, the airline has Interline agreements with most of the major carriers.

“India is a very important market and it stands at the top of our strategy. The focus is to be the main service provider and reach out to more destinations. India is also important for Kuwaitis as a tourism destination, especially for medical tourism. We witness very healthy load factors from India to Kuwait. The only issue is the capacity, we need to enhance it. There are no seats available for many seasons,” Amin Alhaimy, Director-Sales, Kuwait Airways, said.

Both the Kuwait and Indian governments are in talks to further increase the seats. Currently, Kuwait Airways flies 49 flights a week to seven destinations in India.

“We now have very little capacity to increase seats in India. We are actually operating less than what we use to earlier, after it was decided that we have to share the capacity with other airlines. We have made the point and talks are on between both the governments and Civil Aviation Authorities to try and increase capacity. We are trying to team up with all airlines. We have agreement with Air India, Vistara, and we also in communication with IndiGo. We are trying to work with Indian airlines via such interline agreements,” he added.

The airline has recently undergone a major transformation in terms of technology and software. “Kuwait Airways is in the final stages of undergoing a total transformation, which was really important. This decision was taken up from the government level that the carrier needs to adapt the new era of aviation in the region. We have changed all the IT, software, processes to become more than a fast developing airline. We recently launched a new onboard entertainment system by doubling the content we offer. This year, for the summer, we are opening Malaga, Nice, Larnaca, Baku, Tbilisi and many other new destinations. Guangzhou is planned for later this year. We have big plans for Indian market. There is a community of over a million working in Kuwait and they are very important for us and we want to serve them better,” Alhaimy informed.

In terms of fleet enhancement, the airline has placed order A350 aircrafts and expects to receive it in the next couple of years. “We are now operating on a totally new fleet. It’s the youngest fleet average age in the region. We are receiving additional six aircrafts this year and more aircrafts in the coming year. We are also opening new destinations wherever there is business. This year, we are getting A320s, next year we will get A320s and A330-800. In a couple of years, we will get our first A350,” he added.

The traffic from India to Kuwait is 70 per cent point to point and 30 per cent is beyond Kuwait. Tourism also has now started picking up in Kuwait and the airline is also looking to grow these numbers. “In our strategy, we have decided that Kuwait Airways must become more than just a local airline. Our plan is to be a global airline. As of now Kuwait is slowly opening up for tourism, we want to promote tourism and attract more travellers. We do carry a lot of tourists from India, but majorly points beyond Kuwait,” he said. 

Priya Paul, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, speaks about her visionary move behind reconfiguring simple hotels to boutique hotels

 

With an aim to further expand into various geographies, Paul believes that design is the key differentiator for hotels, which is an integral part of their brand strategy

You being a pioneer in the boutique hotel concept, how has THE Park Hotels grown over the years? Also what are your expansion plans?

The Park is a 50 year old brand and we started developing contemporary boutique hotels in India. Earlier when we had redone our brand architecture, we decided to have The Park Hotels in City Centers. Those are the hotels typically in Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai and these big cities. And then we developed The Park Collections which are usually 20 to 40 room boutique properties located in interesting unique destinations. So, we have two properties in Goa and both are 30 rooms boutique properties. Baga is an adult’s only property so it has its own unique proposition. We also have two heritage properties under this brand which are open now. One in Serampore in the North of Calcutta which was actually probably India's first hotel in the 1700’s when it was operated by the Danish East India Company. This property will be converted into a six suite hotel which will open in the next 2-3 months. Second property is in Chettinad which would be a 21 room palace hotel. Currently, these are going through the whole conservation and restoration. Also at The Park Hotels, we have two management properties and we are opening one in Juhu. This will be our second property in Mumbai area. We are also opening another property later this year in Indore.

What was the strategy behind introducing ‘Zone’ by The Park?

We created a new brand, ‘Zone’ by The Park, because we knew our strengths are in food and beverage and we felt that we needed to create something unique for the Tier II & III fast growing cities. We launched it a couple of years ago and we now have 11 properties open under that brand in places such as Raipur, Coimbatore, Bengaluru etc. We also have many other developments in the pipeline. We just recently opened one at New Town in Kolkata. We are opening another property in Jaipur where our focus is mainly on the banqueting and wedding market outside the city and called Zone Palace by The Park as it is a modern heritage property.

With design being your core focus, how important is technology for you? Also do you think technology will be the key differentiator in the future?

Technology is an enabler and it’s fantastic to have technology. Whether you are a traditional or a contemporary hotel, technology is really part of the whole experience but I think technology can only be a differentiator for a short time. Hospitality is all about the human touch. So, that's how a good hotel and not so good hotel differentiates itself.

You started developing design based hotels in the 90s when the market was not even mature, what is the shift which you have seen since then to now?

We have started using design to differentiate ourselves in the 90s and that's what we continue to do and we continue to do it well. This is what our customers value at The Park or at Zone as they look forward to new experiences. I think the trend of looking at design and contemporising it has been done by a lot of the larger companies and some of them looked at it very late because they realised the whole world was changing. For any hotel company to be relevant you have to look at what is the trend around and what do your customers want. If customers are all this young millennial then whether you are a traditional hotel or a brand new company you have to address your market and have to create concepts. So for us, in the 90s, when we reconfigured our hotels we were doing something that was maybe ahead of the market. But it still has value and something that drives us even today.

The world’s first ANGRY BIRDS WORLD entertainment park marked its grand opening at Doha Festival City recently, welcoming guests into Qatar’s unique indoor and outdoor destination. Home to the world-famous Angry Birds flock, the 17,000 square metre nest brings a riot of fun for the whole family.

Following the launch of its indoor section last year, the park extends the same excitement to its enchanting outdoor section, as part of the second phase. New attractions include the 42 metres high Super Slingshot themed around the classic bird-flinging gameplay that catapults guests more than 60 meters into the air, offering a truly heart-pounding experience. The Red’s House offers sand play activities for little ones while the Raft Battle takes visitors on a voyage from the Bird Island to the Piggy Island in an interactive cinematic experience. For a hearty dose of thrill, guests can climb aboard the Angry Coaster or simply head to the park’s City Studio to experience wall climbing, parabolic slides, roller gliders and ropes course.

Once indoors, visitors can enjoy exhilarating rides or a laser tag battle. The park also boasts the world’s first indoor/outdoor karting track and The Big Tree – a multi-level creative playground offering a variety of edutainment workshops for little ones, and exciting challenges such as ropes course and zip line. Visitors can keep the energy soaring at the Trampoline Universe, comprising a basketball court, foam pit and a kids’ court.

With family entertainment at the heart of its offerings, the park is rolling out a host of attractions that will engage and entertain one and all, including an array of F&B outlets with an exclusive angry birds themed menu in addition to private birthday rooms and official merchandise from the cluster of retail stores across the site.  

Rashed AlQurese, Chief Marketing Officer, Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) said, “We continue to deliver on the Next Chapter’s promise of enhancing the Qatar visitor experience and our private sector partners’ support in this regard is of high value to us. Urban and family-oriented entertainment is one of the six areas that we are focusing on for the development of tourism sector. We are pleased to see the Angry Bird World added to the list of Qatar’s unique visitor experiences. Such amazing indoor recreational facilities combined with our calendar of festivals will give tourists more reasons to visit Qatar throughout the year.”

Ali Bin Mohamed Bin Khalifa Al-Attia, Deputy CEO, Leisure, Owner of Trimoo Parks – the company operating the entertainment park said, “We are extremely delighted to open our doors to a first-of-its-kind indoor outdoor destination.  Visitors can enjoy a uniquely immersive experience that will delight the whole family – children and adults alike.”

Over the last couple of years, the Indian hospitality industry has witnessed a slump when it comes to any significant increase in RevPars. The occupancies have gone up but with a little or no movement in the ARRs.

Speaking about the trend Manav Thadani, Chairman, hotelivate said, “The market turned 18 to 24 months ago. The occupancies have been improving over the last couple of years, but there has been hardly any rate movement. But, there has been some level of rate movement in the last six to eight months; therefore RevPars have grown by 8-12 per cent. In the previous cycles when the occupancies cross a threshold like say 70 per cent, the rates would go up by double digits. That is no longer happening. Potentially, as per my opinion, it is not happening as a lot of unorganised brands have now become organised and also a lot of discounting has been taking place by the OTAs. This is kind of holding the industry back.”

The overall supply in India has slowed down when compared to supply 7-8 years ago. But, this slowdown has only been witnessed in the branded space. “The supply has slowed down; it has gone down in the branded segment space. The branded hotel space is only about five per cent of the total accommodation segment. This is very small number, but the trend is the same. Today, there is less supply coming compared to a few years back” he further said.

Hotelivate, with over a year of operation now, has witnessed a 25 per cent up in their overall growth. The group is also now looking to open a office in Jakarta.

“We have had a very nice first year of operations. We closed with 25 per cent higher topline growth. We closed in the month of March and had the highest collection in between HVS and Hotelivate. We are getting good response. We are also a getting a lot more feasibilities, asset management and revenue management related work. We have an office in Singapore and we are planning to open one in Jakarta. We are more focusing on one or two countries rather than entire Asia Pacific. When we started the company, my focus was in some of these larger cities in Asia, but now that focus is changing and rather I will look at couple of smaller countries, grow there and increase our market share. In North America, we have a strategic alliance with LWHA,” Thadani informed.

Recently the group organised its flagship event HICSA in Mumbai which witnessed a great response. This year, Hotelivate is set to organise its THINC Innovate conference in Singapore which was previously held in Bangkok.

 “We continue to do the THINC Conference; we are doing the THINC Indonesia which happens every September. We do THINC Sri Lanka every two years. We also do THINC Innovate which we did in Bangkok and next we will do it in Singapore this year. In Singapore there are a lot more technology based company and THINC Innovate should work better there. We are changing the format,” he informed.

The Industry has witnessed a lot of consolidations over the last couple of years. Major chains are now consolidating its brands and also a lot of rebranding has happened. “Consolidations is the way forward. Samhi did a few consolidations by acquiring the Premier Inn and some Accor portfolio. Now with Brookfield taking over Leela, I think there is consolidation taking place in ownership of hotels. Brand consolidation we have seen in the past and that will also continue to happen. Interestingly, there is a lot more foreign capital that is coming into the hotel sector in India. Whether its Brookfield or investments into Samhi or Lemon Tree, this will increase.”

Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has witnessed a 15 per cent growth in Indian arrivals in 2018 compared to 2017. The destination recently collaborated with Dia Mirza, Bollywood actor and producer to further promote different experiences in Japan.

Speaking about the relationship between India and Japan Ryoji Noda, Consulate-General of Japan in Mumbai said, “The visit by Dia Mirza will have an exclusive impact to promote the cultural exchanges between India and Japan. India and especially Mumbai have been special for us as a global partner. In October, last year Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan and now we have come to a new level of relationship. India is the largest recipient of Japan’s investment. We want to grow tourism relations between both these two nations. The recent trip of Dia Mirza will further help in strengthening tourism ties and increase footfall from India to Japan.”

Japan is promoting the destination under the collaboration with a new campaign named #JapanSurprises! With the new promotion, the destination is showcasing Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, and Kyoto to the Indian travellers.

Speaking about the collaboration Dia Mirza said, “Previously, I have had various collaborations with Japan. But this one is very important. As a destination Japan is a must visit for every Indian travellers. People in Japan are hospitable, polite and disciplined. My trip started with Tokyo, which is one of the most vibrant cities the continued to Kyoto-Higashiyama District, then Osaka and Hokkaido. Also, the destination has a lot of opportunity for film shootings.”

Japan is eyeing to attract 200,000 Indian travellers in 2019. The destination has also witnessed an increase in connectivity. Recently, All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced the first direct flight from Japan to Chennai. Also, Japan Airlines has announced that it will launch a new non-stop service between Tokyo and Bengaluru in 2020.

Speaking about the growth Kenichi Takano, Executive Director, JNTO Delhi Office said, “We have received 154,000 Indian travellers in 2018 with a growth rate of 15 per cent compared to 2017. It is a very good increase. In 2019 we are looking at attracting 200,000 Indian travellers. With a new flight which we are starting between Tokyo and Chennai and next fiscal year from Tokyo to Bengaluru, the tourism between India and Japan will increase dramatically. During the recent promotion, Dia Mirza went to Hokkaido, which is already popular for international tourists. From this year we will promote this destination more in India market. We have partnered with Dia to promote the destination in India.”

Also, Tokyo is all set to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. The destination is looking to harness the potential of this event to attract sports enthusiasts.

Takano added, “We have received some enquiry from sports management companies for sports tourism. In 2020 Olympics, we expect a lot of Indian travellers going to Japan to cheer their team.”

Speaking about the MICE and Weddings segment he said, “Also, MICE is a very big market for us. Even from India we are aggressively looking to attract MICE travellers and big MICE events. We are keenly looking at destination weddings segment. We will take a few wedding planners to Japan this year. This trip will be organised by Okinawa Prefecture. Wedding is one of the most growing segments and we would like to tap this. We have all facilities and perfect settings for Indian weddings.”

In a bid to further attract tourism to the Provence region, Atout France recently organised its 14th edition of Rendez-vous en France in Marseille. The annual showcase welcomed 915 tour operators and 35 international journalists from across 73 countries; to not only showcase the new French products and attraction but also the culture, attractions, gastronomy, etc of the Provence Region which still has potential to grow further. The delegation included a large contingent of 32 Travel Agents and Tour operators from India, which is today one of the most important markets for France.

Speaking about the event Sheetal Munshaw Director-India, Atout France said, “We have got 32 travel agents and tour operators, majority from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Ahmadabad. We choose the cities based on the potential and we have seen a major growth in these cities. Mumbai is our key market in terms of number of visas applied, followed by Delhi, and Bangalore. Chennai is now gaining a lot more of prominence after the opening of the Jet airways flight. Ahmadabad is an extension of Mumbai and has contributed about 18 per cent of the outbound overall.”

The destination organised pre and post fam trips to showcase the unexplored regions to the tour operators. In 2019, the destinations in the trade show's 13 partner regions received 560 prescribers on 60 familiarisation trips The Provence, Alpes and Côte d'Azur regions alone are running 26 programmes. India market has now matured over the years and travellers are looking for unique experiences.

Munshaw said, “More Indians are now looking at offbeat destinations in France. This year in the pre tour of Rendezvous, travel trade selected very new destinations. This is a clear indication of where Indians are looking to travel. These regions have a lot of potential. Paris still remains the undisputed leader as far as India goes. We have south of France, Cote d’Azur, Rhone Alps, Occitanie, Northern France are definitely picking up from India market. We have also seen a lot of growth in the FIT in the last couple of years. We have groups which gives us stability. In terms of FITs growth is phenomenal and also they have longer stays and that helps us to showcase multiple regions and experiences.”

France has a vision to reach the 100 million visitor numbers by 2020, and India has been one of the important markets in their strategy. The destination has witnessed positive growth from India over the last five years.

Speaking about India Munshaw said, “India is a priority market for France. Globally all destination knows that Asia Pacific is the region from where the growth will come. India has been important for us and we have deployed more staff in India as well and increase the budgets. 2018 has been a very good year when we look at the stats of the airport arrivals and also the visa stats. Our official figures are not yet out as we release them in the summers. The trend is very positive and once again we are set to witness growth this year. We have seen a positive growth from the last five years. In terms of spending pattern, the FITs are high spenders and have longer length of stay. The quality of travellers from India has also improved a lot. We see this through the evolution of taste in travellers. Indians are looking at boutique properties, apartments, Relais & Châteaux. We see that travellers are evolving a lot.”

Travel & Tourism and the hospitality segment today contribute close to 9.8 per cent of the employment. This is one sector which can be the solution to one of India’s major challenges of job creation.

Speaking in a session about ‘Transforming India’, at the HICSA 2019, Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog said, “It is not possible for India to grow without jobs. To achieve high growth for jobs, the answer lies in the travel and hospitality segment. The travel and tourism sector is one of the major creators of jobs in India it accounts for close to 40 million jobs. It accounts for 9.8 per cent of jobs in India direct and indirect. Therefore, travel and tourism is what the politician of India needs to create jobs. We are amidst an election where everybody wants jobs. The travel and tourism industry does everything, but talks about creation of jobs. The focus of this industry must be that it is the biggest creator of jobs in India.”

Further speaking about how India is changing when it comes to development of tourism related policies and infrastructure, he added, “We have opened up the e-Visa regime, with over 150 countries. We have opened up the islands for tourism. We are creating the biggest convention centre to open up the MICE market. We are redoing the entire Pragati maidan (the convention centre in New Delhi). Post election, we will push for opening more than 100 tourism trains. This sector provides the answer to the biggest challenges, challenge to grow with equity, jobs.”

The Government has taken a slew of steps to strengthen the infrastructure in the country. “India is creating world class infrastructure. The only country who is doing 100 smart cities, 50 metros, high speed trains. We are doing 36 km of urban roads, 170 kms of rural roads per day. We are pushing the limits,” he said.

Over the last five years, India has undergone major reforms and changes which have made the country much easier for doing business. “Today, India is growing at about 7.5 per cent per annum. The challenge for India is to grow at much higher rate, which is necessary. 72 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 32, the average age of India is 29. It is the youngest country in the world, and the population will get younger and younger till 2042,” he added.

He suggested that India needs to follow certain steps to grow from 7.5 per cent to around 10 per cent. “Firstly, India was a very complex, complicated and difficult place to do business. But in the last 5 years, doing business in India has been made easy and simple. The government scrapped a set of rules and regulations, procedures, 1300 laws have been removed. We have digitised every single department of the Government. India has now jumped 65 positions in the world rank in ‘Ease of doing Business’. We are confident that next year we will jump more positions and our target is to reach the top 25 in the next two years. We made the states to come up with ease of doing business and we started naming and shaming the states. The first year Gujarat came number 1, next year Andhra Pradesh beat Gujarat, and next Telengana came first. This competition has helped us develop these states. The good thing is Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which are mineral rich states in India had radical reforms and came fourth and fifth. Business in India needs to be easy and simple so that we can give freedom to the investors and India can only grow when private sector will truly flourish.”

Sarovar Hotels & Resorts’ aggressive growth continues with the hotel group announcing the signing of a new hotel in Indore,Madhya Pradesh. One of the fastest growing hotel chains in India with over 80 operational hotels across 50 destinations in India and Africa, the group has signed Sarovar Portico with 88 rooms including suites in Indore.

Anil Madhok, Executive Chairman, Sarovar Hotels & Resorts said, “We are focusing on our expansion plans and the signing of new hotel is a consolidation of our strategic effort to expand the presence of our brands to newer destinations, hitherto unrepresented. With business as well as leisure travel continuing on a spiral growth to this region, we aim to meet the demand for quality accommodation over the coming years. Through our distinctively recognised brands, our effort is to formally establish our hotel brands offering value for money and superior facilities and services to our discerning travellers.”

Gaining popularity in the last couple of years, Ireland recently witnessed a double digit growth from the India market. In 2017, the destination welcomed 38,000 travellers from India.

Speaking about the growth in India market Siobhan McManamy, Director of Markets, Tourism Ireland said, “We witnessed 38,000 Indian visitors in 2017 and we think that will increase by 15-20 per cent in 2018, as we are waiting for the final numbers. We expect a similar double digit growth in 2019 as well. India is a very important market for us and is growing very fast.”

The British-Irish Visa Scheme has also played a key role in the increased visitor numbers to Ireland. Also, this scheme will be beneficial during the upcoming Cricket World Cup which is set to happen in UK.

McManamy added, “The UK Northern Ireland joint visa scheme has been great and we have seen a lot of growth. We are also seeing tour operators putting a lot of Ireland only itineraries now. One of the tour operators recently launched an 11 days Ireland only programme which is really great for us. The length of stay and spending has increased from the India market. Cricket is getting very popular in Ireland. We think that people who will attend the world cup will spend a few days in Ireland as well either before or after. It’s just a short flight so we look for an increase in numbers during the World Cup.”

The destination recently organised its sales mission in India to promote new attractions and offerings. One of the new offerings for the India market is the popular Guinness Storehouse tour. Speaking about the experience Paul Carty, Managing Director, Guinness Storehouse said, “We have a tour which takes about two hours and we take travellers around the building and the tour is very informative. We also teach the history and the heritage of the family. We also have restaurants in the building, where we also teach how to pair beer with food. We are Ireland’s number one tourist attraction with a footfall of 1.7 million visitors last year. We hope to welcome many more Indians for our tours.”

Also, in the recent years Ireland has gained popularity as a film shooting destination. “The Game of Thrones, Star wars was filmed in Ireland, we have had two Bollywood productions as well previously and we would love to have more. Film Ireland looks after the film shootings in Ireland and they provide some attractive incentives for film makers to shoot here. We are seeing a lot of interests from producers. We have iconic and historic locations to offer for any kind of Bollywood movies,” McManamy added.

Ireland is also now looking to promote festival tourism on a larger scale. “Halloween is a festival from Ireland, so we are planning and developing this in a big way. We will have the festival whole month around November and in various sites. Over the next five years we want to make it a really world renowned festival and want to attract travellers specifically to celebrate Halloween in Ireland. St. Patrick is our current big celebration and apart from Dublin this year we will have big celebrations in five other cities as well,” McManamy added. 

La Vallée Village, luxury shopping outlet in Paris, has witnessed a double digit growth from the India market in the last couple of years. It is looking to attract the high end travellers from the India market along with FITs, families, corporate and MICE travellers.

“Indian market is now ranking in top 20 amongst all nationalities at the Vallée Village. We have more than 175 nationalities coming into the Village. Since last 4-5 years, we have seen a double digit growth from the Indian market. In 2018, we had a growth of 40 per cent from the India. We know the potential is huge, regarding the population of India and their interest for shopping for the brands and this is the reason we keep investing in promoting in the India market. For us, the most important to understand in the India market was to reach the right audience. Since, we target the FITs, corporate and some of the MICE groups, we see people sending huge money. In our Village, people can save a lot of money while shopping the big brands,” Patrick Allais, Business Development Manager, La Vallée Village said.

The Village is aggressively looking at the MICE and offers discounts and other services. “In India, MICE activity is very dynamic. Every year we see Indian companies sending huge groups as big as 600 travellers visiting Paris. MICE groups need one or half day for shopping. This segment is important as they are high spending. In our villages except from the prices and experiences we offer, we provide extra services like VIP cards and more discounts. For the MICE group and corporate we have special offer which we call MICE offer, where approximately 45 brands give extra offers on the reduced prices. We can also make personalised signages and customised offers for MICE groups. We can arrange for meet and greet for groups. We work a lot with MICE from many countries. South East Asia, China and India are very strong MICE markets for us,” Allais said.

The Village has introduced more boutiques and also various F&B offerings and offers over 120 shopping boutiques and various vegetarian options for the India market. “Inside the Village, every month we have new boutiques coming. We have all the iconic brands with new brands as well. We have introduced one brand specifically for Skiing. In India skiing is getting more popular. We hope n the coming years we have an extension of the Village. We now have 120 boutiques in the Village. Since we sell experience, F&B becomes a very important aspect for us. In the Village, we have different options right from fast food to fine dine. We also have an ample of option for vegetarian travellers,” Allais added. 

 

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