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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

GoAir is all set to commence its international flight operations in October. The low cost carrier for the first time will offer direct flights between Mumbai and Delhi to Phuket, Thailand from October 11, 2018. Following the launch, the airline has also announced their second route which will be between Mumbai and Delhi to Male from October 14, 2018.

Speaking about the international debut Cornelis Vrieswijk, CEO, GoAir said, “GoAir will offer the first direct flight for Phuket from Delhi and Mumbai. This will be followed by a direct flight to Male from Mumbai and Delhi. These destinations will also be connected to Bengaluru in the near future. We want tap into the significant growing demand for these leisure destinations. Both these destinations are growing significantly every year from India. There is also a significant demand on the Thailand to India route when it comes to business travel. We will have thrice weekly services to Male and Phuket from Mumbai and twice weekly from Delhi to these destinations. This is the start for us to fly internationally; we will explore more routes in the future.”

He further said that the future plan will be commencing operations from Bengaluru and then increase frequencies from all three destinations.

The airline has deployed the A320 aircrafts for these routes. The airline now flies to 23 destinations with over 1500 weekly flights. Also, the airline will look at aggressive domestic expansion.

Speaking about the growth, Vrieswijik said, “We are operating to 23 destinations in India with around 1500 weekly flights with 2000 connections. We fly over a million passengers every month. In terms of load factors we are high in the 80’s. However the market is extremely competitive, unlike a lot of other markets. The initiative of operating with A320 neos is a blessing for us. Being a low cost carrier, these aircrafts are 80-90 per cent more efficient when it comes to fuel burning. We had a few issues with the engines produced by Pratt and Whitney, but we are working very closely with them to enhance and improvise this. Soon we will get this problems resolved. There are a lot of challenges in operations, as market is competitive. The only way to survive in this market is to be low cost as possible. We are investing a lot in smart technology for cost advantage over our competitors.”

GoAir is also scouting for more international routes to commence operations. The airline is also considering long haul destinations.

Vrieswijik added, “We are also looking at some wide-bodied aircraft options, in future will also look at long haul routes. We are meeting with some of the aircraft manufacturers for initial discussions. We will explore more international routes apart from growing the domestic markets. We will accelerate growth and will look at controlled growth.”

Odisha based hotel chain Swosti Group has announced plans to introduce three new properties in Odisha. Presently, the group owns and operates four properties, two in Bhubaneswar and one each in in Chilika and Gopalpur.

Speaking about the expansion plans, JK Mohanty, CMD, Swosti Group said, “We have land in Puri, Satpara and Bhitarkanika. These are all fairly big in scale. These properties are in pipeline and within four years we will be adding two properties. Bhitarkanika and Satpara will be eco-tourism projects. Puri currently is witnessing 100 per cent occupancy in all the hotels throughout the year. So, we are looking to put up a hotel with 200 rooms in Puri. We are also considering the asset light model for growth. We are also exploring such opportunities within Odisha and outside the state as well.”

Last year, the group introduced the Swosti Chilika Resort, which is currently notching the highest ARR in the state. The resort has also become popular for destination weddings.

Speaking about the overall hospitality trend in Odisha Mohanty said, “The hotel industry in Odisha has been doing very well since last one year. There has been 25 per cent increase in the occupancy in the state. Almost all hotels are doing up to 70 to 80 per cent occupancy year round. Swosti has been doing well. We have got a much better response than what we have expected especially for the Swosti Chilika Resort. It has become a MICE as well as a wedding destination. We have seen people from Mumbai, Jharkhand, Kolkata, etc.. We have already got a series of bookings for the coming season.”

The group is presently welcoming the domestic travellers; to further increase awareness Swosti is promoting the property digitally for international markets. “We have already sold 70 per cent of our inventory for October to January. Within a year, we have organised 12 destination weddings and before March 2019, we expect another 12 weddings to happen. Major source market currently is the domestic market. We are already doing digital marketing internationally. We get a lot of queries from Dubai and Middle East and a section of the travel trade from Germany have already explored our property and have started promoting it.”

Odisha is currently facing a shortage of inventory. The state is organising high profile sporting events like the Hockey World Cup and earlier organised the Asian Championships.

Speaking about the importance of such events Mohanty said, “Our goal has always been to make Odisha a leading tourist destination in the country. We want to educate the people and spread awareness about the destination. This will automatically increase the numbers to the state. Hockey World Cup is a big opportunity for Bhubaneswar to be recognised globally. A lot of publicity will go around. Both our properties are entirely booked by the Hockey teams during the games.  Asian Championships was very well conducted and Swosti was judged as the best property for services by the organising committee. The state Government wants to make Bhubaneswar the sports capital of the county. We require atleast 5,000 rooms more in Odisha currently.”

With a growth of around 20 per cent from India market, Australia has welcomed 335,100 travellers from India year ending June. The destination has also witnessed an increase in terms of average spends per traveller. Now, the destination is focusing to attract the high value travellers who can significantly contribute to the overall Nation’s economy.

Speaking about the new strategy Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager, India & Gulf, Tourism Australia said, “Recently, we have moved from demographic targeting to psychographic targeting. We now target a segment called high value travellers who contribute significantly to the Australian economy. The launch of the Signature Experiences of Australia which are products like Great Walks, Luxury Lodges, Wineries, Golf courses are not located in the cities but are in the surrounds. This will increase length of stay and spends per person. We will promote these new products this year. The interest of the states in Australia is growing and they want to drive tourism to their regions. We are interested in travellers who can spend more so we are majorly targeting Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune, and Hyderabad. These eight cities have 80 per cent of the affluent households in the country. These markets will contribute to the tourism growth in future growth.”

Tourism Australia recently organised the 16th edition of India Travel Mission 2018 (ITM2018) in Jaipur. This year’s edition witnessed 75 Australian tourism businesses to meet with 87 travel retailers from India in over 6,500 business appointments over three days. The event witnessed participation from 14 first time seller participants and 20 buyer companies.

Speaking about the event Brent Anderson, Regional General Manager, South & South East Asia, Tourism Australia said, “India is a significant market for Australia and has been seeing a very encouraging growth trend. This is our biggest offshore event in terms of the number of Australian delegation. India is the number one market in terms of growth hitting 335,000 arrivals. In terms of arrivals India is up by 20 per cent and in terms of spend this market is up by 15 per cent. We see a great potential in this market. We are soon launching a new campaign in India which has been localised for this market.”

During this ITM, Tourism Australia introduced Signature Experiences –a collection which offers diverse range of travel options including Australian Wildlife Collection, Great Golf Courses of Australia, Great Walks of Australia, Luxury Lodges of Australia and the Ultimate Winery Experiences of Australia for the Indian market.

The India market has achieved most of its core goals which were set for 2020. Anderson added, “In 2012, Nishant led the development of India 2020 strategy which had three key goals and we are proud that two of those goals have already been hit three years early. The first goal was 300,000 arrivals which has been achieved in December 2017. We now have another internal target which is 500,000 by 2020. 2018 again we will see double digit growth. The second goal for us was to rank in top six for out of region travel for Indians. We achieved this goal in 2016. Our last goal is to achieve spend of AU$ 1.9 billion and we are currently at AU$1.53 billion. So by June 2019, we look to achieve this.”

A decade ago, the sole purpose of a hotel was mere lodging. Travellers then were looking for a decent, hygienic accommodation to catch-up a good sleep or rest after a hectic day at work. Today, the travel community has evolved extensively. Now, travellers are looking for something more even while selecting a particular hotel. To cater to this demand, hotels are now curating various experiences to further increase their market share. Now hotels are majorly focusing to engage their clients through various innovative strategies.

Speaking about the shift, Devesh Rawat, General Manager, Indore Marriott Hotel said, “It is true that the concept of a ‘Hotel’ has evolved over time. It has advanced to how people live, travel around the world, conduct their business, commune with nature and even construct their fantasy lives. The modern hotel not only offers a mere accommodation, but also provides its guests with an escapist experience through its design, sense of spectacle and amenities. The hotels are now becoming a destination within themselves. With the changing demand, we are also bringing in a different style of concepts to keep up with the interests of our guests. We have a designated Experience Specialist who is assigned to each guest.”

Voicing similar opinion, Soumodeep Bhattacharya, Director of Sales & Marketing, Le Meridien Goa Calangute said, “Le Meridien as a brand has captured the essence of the changing audience – our ethos of ‘Destination Unlocked’ is derived from this trend of travellers looking for authentic experiences that are unique and distinct. At Le Meridien Goa, right from the hotel’s design story to the itineraries we help our guests with is rooted in local love and is aimed at helping them discover a side of Goa they have never known before.”

While most of the hotels focus on personalisation to enhance the experience, some of the players are attracting travellers by experiences like shopping, gastronomy, art collection, etc. Speaking about the trends Sanzeev Bhatia, VP & GM, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa said, “To meet the guest expectations and to enable them to have various experiences within the hotel, we primarily focus on innovating and experimenting in areas like F&B, spa, shopping, art, curated events and more. For shopping Experiences – guests have Craft House, a luxury Lifestyle store. For art lovers, our Art Spice is an arts organization and gallery devoted to promoting the visual and performing arts and help perceive art in its totality in an across the board in an interdisciplinary manner.”

Similarly, Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru believes that engagement is the key in driving luxury hotel business. Starting from recreational activities, dining experience to relaxation and sensuous activities the property provides it all. Rajan Malhotra, Director of Sales and Marketing at Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru added, “A fine dining experience is more than great food. It starts with the ambience and service that sets the context for what is in store for the guest. Considering the kind of culinary exposure travellers get these days and are becoming cognizant of the unique dining experiences, we also bring international and traditional cuisines in a most authentic way to the city by hosting food promotions.”

A trend which has continued in the last couple of years has been the power of domestic market. Most of the hotels are witnessing a healthy mix of domestic and international travellers, with domestic leading the numbers in certain properties.

Rohit Dar, General Manager, The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace, said, “The Indian tourism and hospitality market is vast in its offerings and demands. Due to the diversity, the market is evolving by the year. Though there is a continuous shift in business, approximately 40 per cent contribution comes from this segment.”

In the case of Indore Marriott Hotel, approximately 91 per cent of the business comes from domestic travellers.

Similarly Bhattacharya said, “We see a healthy mix of domestic tourists all year through contributing to almost 70 per cent of our total business. During October -  February, we have an influx of tourists from UK, Russia and other European countries visit the state.”

Today, technology has become an indispensible part of every industry, with hospitality being no different. Technology has played a key role in personalising services and has shaped the hospitality industry. Even hotels in India are now looking to induct technology in areas that can enhance the overall guest experience.

Speaking about the need for technology in hotels Dar said, “Technology has become an indispensable part of our lives; as it connects us to the world in a split second. India has always been an experimental market; with the Indian dependency on technology, I would say that it is ready for technological innovations.”

On the contrary, Bhatia feels that technology is no doubt advancing rapidly, but India will adapt it after a few years. “Technology has a major role at present for us and everyone else. The growth in online business is multifold. Globally hotels have introduced Chatbots and AI for hotel operations, is India market ready for such innovations? I don’t think our market at present is ready for it but may be after few years we may start using its potential,” he added.

In 2017, hotels have even witnessed a positive growth in terms of occupancy and ARR, which was stagnant in the last couple of years.

Speaking about the growth Dar said, “2017 has been a good year for the hotel, where we saw an increase in our overall revenue as compared to 2016. Occupancy has been four per cent above 2016 and rate has been above two per cent. We are expecting to continue this upbeat approach in 2018 grow RevPar by over five per cent from last year.”

Echoing similar views and speaking about trends in MICE Malhotra said, “We compete with other luxury hotels in Bengaluru and we have shown the maximum growth vis a vis our competition set in 2017 and the trend looks similar for 2018. Bengaluru has a bigger market share of corporates and MICE. Leisure is still in single digit percentage for the majority hotels in the city.”

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has forecasted that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020. This figure is almost double the current size of the Indian outbound. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India in 2016 there were 21.9 million departures by Indian nationals, which includes travel for all purposes such as business, leisure, education, visiting friends & relatives (VFR) and others. It is no secret that today India is the fastest growing outbound market next to China.

The major reasons behind this boom, is that the majority of Indian population fall under the youth segment, who aspire to travel. Also, there is a significant rise in the middle class population who have high disposable income. The new class of Indian travellers are also more experimental when it comes to the choice of destination and activities. If these reasons are not sufficient for destinations to attract Indian travellers, Indians are also known to be one of the highest spenders when it comes to outbound travel.

In the last couple of years a lot of destinations from across the globe have made a beeline in the India market. Some of those destinations earlier never thought of India as a source market. Whereas, a handful of destinations who started promoting themselves a decade or two ago have been extremely successful with this market. According to a report recently published by CAPA India and Expedia release 'The inflection point for India outbound travel’, over 50 per cent of Indian leisure arrivals overseas have been captured by five countries which includes, Dubai, Thailand, France, Singapore and Malaysia. Also, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia (primarily Bali), the US and Switzerland feature in the top 10 and close to 70 per cent of the travel happens to these top 10 markets.

With the evolution of the Indian travellers, these top destinations can no more be complaisant and have to chart a way out to reinvent itself for the fastest growing outbound market.

Speaking about the growth of Indian outbound Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager-India, Tourism Australia said, “The Indian outbound travel market has grown tremendously in the last 10 years with a CAGR of 10 per cent. As the fastest growing economy in the world, with aspirational middle class and rising disposable income, the future outlook of the Indian outbound travel market looks extremely positive, with an estimated 70 million visitors likely to travel overseas by 2035. Looking at the growth potential, we aim to attract a greater share of this segment by stimulating the market demand through sustained marketing activities and partnerships. We also intend to improve the supply offering through tailored product development, and launch of new experiences and destinations. Favourable tourism outcomes will be built by improving cultural literacy and face to face relationships. We will also aim to increase aviation capacity between Australia and India to build tourism and broader economic relationship.”

 

Are they ready?

With large number of movements outside the country, are the National Tourism Offices (NTOs) and Representatives in India ready to harness the potential? India is sometimes referred not as a country, but a continent. The demands and segmentation changes from region to region. Tourism boards need to understand the needs of different regions and tweak their strategies accordingly. Do these tourism bodies have the bandwidth to do so?

Speaking about the preparedness to tap Indian outbound Ignacio Ducasse, Director and Tourism Counsellor, Tourism Office of Spain, Mumbai said, “It is predicted that by 2020, there will be 35 million outbound travellers from India. To tap this growing Indian outbound market, we are focused especially in developing the segments of corporate incentive travel, destination weddings and luxury travel. Our Convention Bureaus have understood the importance of the Indian MICE market and are focused on working on the unique Indian requirements for venues, catering of vegetarian and Indian food, entertainment options like fusion flamenco, team building activities, etc. It is also seen that more and more Spanish incoming travel companies are interested in collaborating with the Indian market, some directly with the corporate houses while some prefer to work with the tour operators.”

One of the challenges which the long haul destinations face is the air connectivity. Over the last couple of there has been a drastic improvement even in this department.

Speaking about the strategy and improving air connectivity Beena Menon, India Representative, Tourism Ireland said, “India is one of the fastest developing markets for Ireland. We are committed to grow our share in the Indian market in the coming years. In 2018 and beyond, Tourism Ireland will continue to focus on increasing awareness and demand for Ireland. The British Irish Visa Scheme has been extremely successful for the Indian market and has given a significant impetus to travel to Ireland from India. Air access is improving all the time, with airlines like Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways increasing connections between India and Ireland.”

Product innovation

Globally, India has emerged as one of the most lucrative markets for the destination weddings segment. Indian weddings are generally huge and have been a big revenue generator for tourism boards. Today, apart from short haul destinations the far away exotic destinations are looking to capture this segment.

Speaking about the destination weddings Ducasse said, “Spain is an idyllic wedding destination, it has everything to suit different budgets and tastes. From beach resorts to castles and palaces, Spain can cater to small as well as big fat Indian weddings. Destinations such as the Basque Country & Galicia in the North of Spain, Barcelona along the Mediterranean Coast, Ibiza amongst the Balearic Islands, Costa del Sol in the South and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, all of them are perfect for a wedding celebration.”

India has also picking up in the luxury segment. Destinations are eyeing the luxury travellers from this market. Oman is now presenting a mix of luxury along with the local culture and experience for the Indian market. Also in terms of infrastructure a lot of luxury player have invested in Oman in the recent years.

Lubaina Sheerazi, India Representative, Ministry of Tourism, Oman explained, “In keeping with this ambitious target for tourism growth, luxury hoteliers are foreseeing lot of potential in Muscat. With Oman’s flourishing tourism industry, we are positive that the upcoming chains will be a welcome addition to our already extensive portfolio of hotels in Muscat and will offer our tourists a taste of Omani hospitality. We are also looking at developing properties and upgrading the infrastructure beyond Muscat, for travellers to get an experience of different topography like staying at a luxury resort overlooking the mountains, glamping in the desert or makeshift camping experience. To take a break from the city life and experience the beauty and thrill of camping in Oman, the diverse environment of the country allows many options like local Bedouin camping, luxury camping as well as mobile camping. One can choose whether to camp in the deserts of Sharqiyah Sands or the Empty Quarter, on the mountain tops in Jabal Shams (Sun Mountain) or Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain) or on the magnificent beaches across Oman.”

With robust connectivity, Abu Dhabi is emerging as a popular destination amongst the Indian travellers. India primarily is a family travel market where the group consist of travellers with different interests. Abu Dhabi is upgrading itself to become a complete family leisure destination. The destination has recently unveiled the Warner Bros. Park, which they expect will further create interest in the India market.

Speaking about the products Bejan Dinshaw, Country Manager, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi said, “We have always been prepared for the India market and have encouraged visitors to travel to Abu Dhabi. We have superb connectivity from all the major cities in India. Abu Dhabi has a well-planned infrastructure, hotels of all categories, readily available transport facilities etc. In terms of offerings, it has a wonderful connect with Indians. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the most visited attractions among Indians. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld, Al Ain, Corniche beach, Saadiyat Beach have attracted Indians and now with the opening of Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, we are confident that there would rise in the number of Indian travellers to Abu Dhabi. Also, post the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, there had been a dramatic surge in the number of travellers to Abu Dhabi. This is the reason we keep adding new attractions so that the charm of the destination is maintained.”

Currently Trending

The changing demographics of the average Indian traveller have given rise to various travelling trends. Now, Indians are not the usual travellers, who are looking for regular touristic attractions but are exploring beyond.

Speaking about the changing trends Menon said, “Over the years, it’s been observed that Indians are widely opting to travel to unexplored destinations and have been quite experimental with their travelling choices. With an increasingly young population, youths between the age group of 18-24 are travelling and, have moved from fixed itineraries to flexible holidays that offer them the opportunity to immerse into the local culture and tradition. Another trend is the increase in demand for self-drive holidays that allows flexibility and ease of travel. There has been a growth in the number of people moving beyond city experiences and venturing into the surrounds, which offer a variety of experiences including food and drink, nature and adventure activities, amongst others. We have also witnessed an increase in demand for food tours.”

Destinations like Australia have witnessed that Indians are not shying away from exploring new segments such as gastronomy, art, architecture, history, travelling like a local, self-drive, adventure, among many other segments are now gaining significance. Kashikar explained, “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. The modern Indian traveller has now come to age. The ‘ticking the check-list tourist’ has matured to an ‘immersive and experiential traveller’. The escorted group tour segment is now giving way to more personalised and bespoke itineraries. The young traveller demands freedom and seeks independence.”

 

Visa regime

Earlier, the Indian passport holder could only enjoy a few destinations which offered visa free access or visa on arrival schemes. With the changing dynamics of the market, the mainstream destinations are now looking to relax their visa policies so as to attract more numbers from this market.

One of the most recent examples of visa relaxation has been done by the Omani Government. Sheerazi said, “To bring momentum to the tourism growth and to encourage more travellers to visit the country, the Royal Oman Police has recently announced a new short-term tourist visa at five Omani Riyal to visit the Sultanate for a period of 10 days. Which means, Indians who hold a valid visa to any one of these countries – United States of America, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan and Schengen States can avail the Oman visa through an e-visa process and make the payment on checkout, whereas other Indian travellers can get a sponsored visa by paying five OMR plus processing fee through their tour operators. This is in addition to the existing e-visa for Oman which is available at 20 OMR with a validity of one month. India is one of the key markets for Oman and we are certain that this proactive initiative by the Ministry will drive a lot of footfalls.”

UAE has taken initiatives to make entry into the nation seamless. Recently, there has been an introduction of free transit visa for 48 hours, which is a huge step to promote tourism. Also, VAT charges will be refunded by fourth quarter of the year.

Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary, Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi said, “After the implementation of this directive by the UAE Cabinet in the fourth quarter of this year, the refund of VAT charges for tourists will provide further impetus to our strategy of positioning Abu Dhabi as a visitor-friendly destination of distinction. The UAE in general, and Abu Dhabi specifically, will now have this added significant attraction to all types of tourists and business travellers, reinforcing the emirate’s position as a ‘go-to’ destination and further boosting potential visitor numbers. This new directive in is line with the UAE’s efforts to implement an efficient tax system in the Emirates, and will directly support the growth of our tourism sector. It will also work in concert with the recently announced reduction in tourism and municipality fees, which means that accommodation costs will be reduced across the emirate.”

The Goods and Service Tax (GST) regime implemented on July 1, 2017 has recently completed a year. During the initial months of implementation, the industry faced various challenges right from understanding the norms to integration. Today after a year the tourism and hospitality industry has accepted it, but still trying to cope up with the move. Majority of the industry players feel that the GST is anything but simple.

Speaking about the impact on hospitality industry Dilip Datwani, President, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) said, “Initially GST came as a shock for the industry due to the variable tax bracket based on the hotel room tariffs. The tax rate for eating out at restaurants too was formerly declared at 18 per cent but was later resolved and brought down to five per cent but without Input Tax Credit (ITC), which remains a concern. The non-availability of ITC is a big issue for enterprises since they can no longer set off expenditures on capital investments and rentals which are huge especially in a city like Mumbai. There were many grey areas which caused uncertainties but were clarified and resolved over time by the GST Council.”

Key industry players are very much upbeat about the decision and implementation, but feel that the process should be made more efficient and simpler. Businesses haven’t taken a hit, but the tedious structures are a big turn off.

Mahesh Iyer, CEO, Thomas Cook India said, “While the road to 'One Nation-One Tax' has been a challenging one, the significant achievement must be acknowledged in this year of GST implementation- the Government having put in strong efforts to address various issues including frequent amendments, clarifications and IT related concerns. Considerable intervention is yet required to bring GST to its full efficiency as GST continues to evolve as the law, procedures and rates are modified to suit the complex Indian market. There still seems to be a long way to go in attaining a simplified GST regime. Despite the multiple continuing challenges of adapting to GST across the eco system and the cumbersome compliance process due system challenges from GSTN, our core travel businesses have delivered strong results, thanks to our focused initiatives - to not just grow volumes & productivity, but also protect and enhance margins. Although the process of implementing the GST was complex, it did not have a massive impact on our business.”

On the customer’s front, the process has become too simple now with a unified tax. Earlier, with multiple taxes customers were puzzled with the system, which has changed with GST implementation.

Speaking about the impact and challenges Vishal Suri, Managing Director, SOTC Travel said, “At SOTC, we observed that the GST tax structure has rationalized and simplified travel costs. This comes as a relief to the travel industry as a whole. Since we were prepared for the roll out of GST, we faced lesser concerns while implementing it.  Our observations from the execution of this tax structure were; Simplicity from a customer perspective, since there is a flat five per cent GST on all tour packages i.e the lowest possible rate in the GST regime. Since travel packages qualify for a five per cent rate without input credit, hassles related to credit availment are minimal. However, there have been challenges as well and a few improvements that must be addressed such as; The filing process is too cumbersome and should be simplified; The tech infrastructure administering GST needs improvement; and The refunds, where applicable, need to come in quicker”

The implementation of GST was also considered as a step which would bring the unorganised players to the organised sector. But certain players feel that the move has not helped to bridge this gap.

Jay Kantawala, Founder, WIYO Travel said, “If we look back the GST Implementation since the past year, the biggest issue the travel industry faces is double taxation, hotels / airlines / car rental companies are all charging GST and a travel company adds their GST to their invoices, which increases the cost to the end consumer. Some of the services have Input tax credit, however the process to avail credit is tedious. Considering the issues the travel industry is facing after GST implementation, it is doubtful that GST will help in decreasing the gap between organised and unorganised sector.”

MSC Cruises is all set to bring MSC Lirica to the Indian waters this December. The cruiseliner has announced a scheduled sailing from Dubai to Mumbai on December 22 and Mumbai to Dubai on December 31.  

Speaking about the sailing Kunal Sampat, General Manager- India, MSC Cruises said, “In February 2015, first time MSC ship touched Indian waters, it was a part of a Grand Voyage. That time the ship was MSC Orchestra. We are very happy to announce that this year we have MSC Lirica, sailing from Dubai to Mumbai and back. The response for these sailings has been good, but when it comes to Indian water no cruise liners have a scheduled sailing. Anytime a cruise liner comes up with an itinerary touching Indian port it does creates a buzz. India is an emerging market for cruising; usually these sailings are more preferred by first time cruisers. We have two itinerary starting from Dubai on December 22 and touching Mumbai and we have a sailing from Mumbai on December 31 going to Dubai, so for us it’s more exciting as it’s a Christmas and New Year sailing. Travellers are quite excited and we have been receiving a lot of queries, knowing India seasonality we expect bookings happening from July after the summer season closure.”

Recently, MSC Cruises added MSC Seaview to its fleet. The new vessel offers 2066 cabins which can accommodate 5331 passengers. Close to 70 per cent of the cabin offers balcony.

Sampat said, “MSC Seaview is a very different prototype, it is the sister ship of MSC Seaside. The design of the after part of the ship is inspired by the Condo apartments in Miami. There is lot of open spaces in this vessel. This cruise is more suited for tropical weather conditions and this is sailing in West Meditaranian region. Once winter sets in this will shift to South America. We hope to see positive bookings out of India market for this cruise as well.”

Last year, MSC has witnessed a hike in individual bookings. Cruising as a segment is now picking up steadily in India market. MSC majorly focuses on travel trade segment for growth.

Speaking about the growth Sampat added, “This season was more encouraging compared to last year. We saw hike in FIT bookings. People are getting more educated that sooner they book better deal they get. We have got bookings for 2019 also. Trade partners and tour operators are now more aggressive on selling cruises. Our strategy is extremely clear that we are not focusing on direct consumer, we focus on B2B.”

In March 2019, one more MSC vessel is set to enter Indian shores.

Sharjah Tourism has kept sustainability at the core in its overall tourism development. “Sharjah prides itself of its sound approach to sustainability as preservation of our rich natural heritage is integral in our development vision for the emirate, in line with the UAE’s overarching goal to promote sustainable tourism to all stakeholders. Eco-tourism plays a strong feature among large-scale projects that are in the pipeline, including key hospitality projects and service companies providing visitors with a richer travel and leisure experience,” Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, said in an e-mail interview to T3.

Detailing about the new initiatives on the sustainable tourism front, Midfa said that the USD 12.3 million Al Badayer Desert Camp project is one of the premium adventure destinations coming up soon as an urban resort and desert lodge set to provide a totally unique Arabian adventure. Another significant development in this segment is the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project featuring Sharjah’s rich geological landscape that dates as far back as 130,000 years ago. The Kalba Eco-tourism project is another major development and the largest among the emirate’s sustainable tourism initiatives. “It is a carefully-designed project within Sharjah’s east coast aimed at promoting biodiversity while providing a fulfilling experience for visitors,” he added.

According to him, travelers nowadays have increased awareness on mindful travelling which is why these projects are at the core of our initiatives, to help create awareness across all sections of society on the value of nature conservation and the importance of maintaining a healthy and sustainable business. “This has been at the heart of many policies and regulations across Sharjah to keep up with the growing trend not only on nature destinations but also on sustainable cities.This approach creates a stronger leverage for unique destinations like Sharjah to continue attracting visitors – both for business and leisure across the emirate and contribute to economic growth,” he added.

Sharjah has been getting business travelers and VFRs from India and the focus was to woo family travelers and MICE from India. “Sharjah offers the growing holidaymakers from India multiple ways to enjoy the emirate. With a growing number of travel-savvy Indian millennials, our family-friendly communities offer an ideal setting to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities which makes Sharjah a destination of choice for them especially the uniquely Arabian desert landscapes, water sports activities, historical and archaeological sites, as well as parks and nature reserves. There is also an increasing trend for ‘glamping’ activities where visitors explore nature while not missing out on the modern luxury and convenience of staying outdoors,” Midfa said.

As for business travelers, Sharjah capitalizes on its leisure tourism advantages coupled with the developments in infrastructure that caters to the MICE sector such as dedicated Expo Centre Sharjah for huge exhibitions as well as the Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre for events focused on training, business forum and conferences. “Major developments in the hospitality sector also support the growing number of business visitors in Sharjah. Sharjah has recently expanded into the business hotel market with the Novotel Hotel Sharjah which will feature 120 rooms and suites. The hotel is close to Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  In addition, the Pullman hotel has 188 rooms and suites  The emirate offers very competitive platforms for Indian businesses as their launchpad to reach out to regional markets,” he revealed.  

Sharjah maintains its reputation as a global destination for families and is widely positioned as the cultural capital in the region for its rich heritage. “However, in recent years, the increasing interest among nature-seekers prompted the sector to tap ways to further capitalize our natural sceneries and create a distinctive experience for visitors. We have also increased activities such as desert adventures, including trekking, stargazing, and camping, as well as international water sports competitions and events that promote adventure for the young market and we consistently develop these portfolios through partnership with the private sector,’ Midfa informed.

Talking about the Indian arrivals, Midfa said that the number of Indian visitors who stay in Sharjah hotel establishments is steadily increasing – from 110,400 in 2016 to 138,000 in 2017. “A large composition of travelers come from the VFRs. Young travelers are also increasing, coupled with a constant mix of business tourists. There is also growing interest among travelers in value shopping, health and fitness, sports, and technologies, among others,” he said.

Sharjah Tourism has been tapping the potential of those cities that are connected directly to India by Air Arabia. However, it is now expanding its reach in India market. “Sharjah’s direct flights to 13 Indian cities cater to the large Indian community within the emirate. However, we are always looking to expand our reach to include new cities. It is important for us to develop new market reach through partnerships with key travel players located in India. Apart from that, we are constantly developing strategic initiatives that would facilitate the travel experiences of these sectors,” he said.

On marketing and promotional fronts, the Authority has already initiated numerous activities throughout the years such as organizing meetings and workshops, familiarization trips and participation in key exhibitions across India such as the SATTE Exhibition. “We will continue to boost these efforts including advertisements in key markets and optimizing our social media presence to increase engagement. We also have established our India Representative Office to facilitate our efforts and strategically sustain our campaigns,” he added. 

Sandeep Shastri, Regional Director, South Asia, Sabre Travel Network speaks about the growth and dominance of the brand in India market.

 

With significant investment in the technology, Sabre is set to bring more innovations, than before, into the travel and hospitality vertical. The group recently partnered with Microsoft and is also set to introduce novel products for the India market.

Sabre has been in India since 2005. How has the journey been so far?

Sabre has a long history in India, being present in the market since 2005 (previously operated as Abacus, until it was acquired by Sabre in 2015). For over 13 years, Sabre has supported the development of the India travel market by providing innovative solutions that help to move the travel industry forward, in the most efficient and profitable ways. Providing new technology solutions that support agency productivity, giving access to more content to supplement market activations, and developing intelligent platforms that answer to our partner’s needs, Sabre helps agents, travellers and airlines alike, in their pursuit of success.

How would you explain the present scale of your business in India? What is the outlook you have for your business in the next couple of years?

As the Indian market continues to grow, travel partners will be on the look-out for new, automated mobile tools, to support expanding their operations.

With a solid network of agents and long-term local partners, Sabre currently is the leading Global Distribution System in APAC, and powers more than 450,000 agents in 144 countries around the world. We are committed to further anchoring our leadership throughout India.

What new products are you looking to unveil in 2018? How do these help in improving the productivity and quality?

We recently announced a long-term strategic agreement with Microsoft. As part of this new agreement, Microsoft will empower the migration of Sabre’s commercial applications to Microsoft Azure by investing cloud development expertise and services in support of Sabre’s vision to lead an industry evolution in retailing, distribution and fulfilment.

The new Sabre Red Workspace (NSRW) is also significant area of focus for us, and offers a lot of potential for development and personalisation from one agent to the next. Based on our online APIs, the NSRW provides travel consultants with the latest shopping technology.  It uses some of the latest intelligent search APIs, new to online agencies, that can identify similar destinations for the same or even lower price than what was searched, and help recommend when is the best time to travel.

SynXis is your flagship products. How many hotels in India are on this platform?

Reply by Frank Trampert, Managing Director & Chief Commercial Officer, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, Asia Pacific

Sabre Hospitality Solutions enables hoteliers to enhance the guest experience, identify cost savings, and increase revenue. The cloud-based, SaaS solutions powered by the SynXis Enterprise Platform, used by more than 39,000 hotels, resorts and chains, provides unlimited scalability to manage all distribution, operations and retailing needs across every touch-point of the guest’s journey.  In India, several brands work with Sabre’s SynXis platform, including Taj, Lemon Tree, Pride, Sarovar, Concept, and many others. We offer distribution to all channels using the SynXis Central Reservations, the industry’s most flexible and easy to use reservation and distribution solution. 

The Govt recently launched the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) to connect tier-II & III cities. How Sabre India is going to tap this potential?

Improved connectivity between tier-II and tier-III cities can only help Sabre to further strengthen its presence in the India travel market, and propel the adoption of our plug and play solutions and training opportunities across the whole of India.

Many airlines are going directly to consumer and put a nominal fee if the booking is done through GDSs. How do you see the future of GDSs?

GDSs have and will continue to deliver tremendous value to the travel ecosystem in our role as well-established, wide-scale content aggregators. We manage shopping of fares and schedules, low fare efficacy, best fares with ancillaries/fare brands and duty of care. GDS-based distribution facilitates agency operations, both brick-and-mortar and OTAs, by providing the ability to perform comparison shopping, enables efficient workflows and consolidates content in one place for easy consumption. Most importantly, we provide agents with the content they need to power their operations and give their clients the personalised experience they are looking for.

Are disruptors creating value additions to GDSs?

Successful retailers understand that the key to delivering curated experiences lies in catering to distinct buying personas. This requires a robust data-sciences approach to maximise individual consumer engagement as well as end-to-end profitability. If anything, disruptors are increasing Sabre’s global relevance by placing personalisation at the heart of consumer needs.

How are you creating awareness about your products in tier II and III cities?

Sabre is a leading travel provider with an established name in the market. With the support of our on-site teams in India, and our ongoing sales and marketing efforts, Sabre has developed a rich network of agents across the country, contributing to increased Sabre brand recognition across the market.

Vistara, a joint venture of Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, has agreed to place firm orders with Airbus for 13 aircraft from the A320neo family and with Boeing for six 787-9 Dreamliner. Together, the deals are valued at US$ 3.1 billion, based on published list prices.

The letter of intent signed with Airbus comprises 13 firm-ordered A320neo and A321neo aircraft, as well as options for seven more aircraft from the A320neo family. In addition, Vistara will lease another 37 new A320neo-family aircraft from leasing companies. Together, Vistara will be adding a total of 50 A320neo-family aircraft into its existing fleet.

Vistara has selected the LEAP 1-A engines from CFM International to power the A320neo and A321neo aircraft, which will be due for delivery between 2019 and 2023. Vistara will use these aircraft to densify its domestic network and to support its international operations planned for later this year.

The letter of intent signed with Boeing comprises six firm-ordered 787-9 Dreamliner and Purchase Rights for four more aircraft from the 787 Dreamliner family. Vistara has selected the General Electric GEnx-1B engines to power the aircraft, which are scheduled to be delivered between 2020 and 2021. The 787-9s are intended for use on medium-haul and long-haul international routes.

Leslie Thng, CEO, Vistara said, “India’s position as the world’s fastest growing domestic aviation market and its impressive growth in air passenger traffic that has more than doubled over the last decade, makes us confident of our aggressive plans for domestic expansion and international foray. These orders are a landmark step in Vistara’s journey and demonstrate our deep-rooted commitment to contributing to the rise of the Indian aviation industry and to offering more choices to our customers. We are delighted to further deepen our relationship with Airbus and to join hands with Boeing to strengthen our modern and fuel-efficient fleet that will help achieve our thought-through ambitions.”

The addition of the new aircraft will complement Vistara’s existing fleet of 13 Airbus A320ceo and 8 A320neo aircraft that have enabled the airline thus far to achieve operational excellence. From the initial order, Vistara has an impending delivery for one A320neo which is due in September 2018.

Vistara today serves 22 destinations with over 800 flights a week and fleet of 21 aircraft. In a short span of time since starting operations in 2015, the airline has redefined the air travel experience for travellers in India, and has already flown 10 million happy customers.

 

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