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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

The hospitality education is drastically shaping up in the country. Dilip Puri, Founder & CEO, Indian School of Hospitality speak about the evolution of hospitality and changing dynamics of skill development in the nation.

How do you see the growth of hospitality industry in India over the last couple of years?

After a decade of sluggish growth in large part due to excessive supply of rooms, the industry is now poised for a sustained period of growth fueled by increasing room rates across categories and segments. While Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) helps propel this growth, changing consumer attitudes, and increasing disposable income levels are just a few of the domestic key factors driving growth within India itself. While this type of growth bodes well for the economy, remembering the key driving factor behind the entire landscape is crucial. A factor without which there wouldn’t be an industry in the first place- the people. Growth in the sector is always accompanied by increased opportunities for individuals- which is brilliant news for a country with such a large potential talent scape.

Currently there is a huge crisis of skilled talent in the hospitality industry, how does ISH address this issue? Apart from talent acquisition, talent retention has been a major challenge for the industry, what will be your advice? 

At the Indian School of Hospitality (ISH), we know that the industry is currently fighting a war over talent and not just customers, and it’s crucial to provide skilled, flexible and passionate graduates to the industry to help fuel further growth. We’re changing the way hospitality education is delivered and experienced, the industry stands to benefit from an influx of human capital that is passionate, dedicated and equipped to tackle challenges head on.

ISH is also changing the traditional model of internships, during many of which students would, unfortunately, end up being underutilised and leave without significant knowledge or skills. With our industry placements and partnerships with all the major International and domestic brands, students will get to experience holistic internships that enable them to experience a professional working environment and help them get a head start on their career.  With this approach, we aim to provide graduates that are ready to take on senior positions upon graduating – eliminating the need for companies to spend time and resources retraining graduates, and, in time, helping the industry unlock its further potential.

What is the current hospitality education scenario in the country? Are we at par with international standards? What are the challenges?

There’s no denying that hospitality education is steadily picking up steam within India, parallel to the industry’s steady upward climb. However, it hasn’t always been an easy path, with many institutes and curriculums failing to keep up with the changes and trends of the industry. Today’s students are no longer satisfied with rigid curriculums, outdated teaching practices and lack of practical skills – and they shouldn’t be. Hospitality and its related industries are international, colourful, and rewarding – and the education preparing students for it should be the same.

As hospitality education is slowly starting to warm up to its place in the limelight, now is a more important time than ever to drastically overhaul the entire educational experience to reflect the needs of the millennial student, as well as a rapidly changing industry.

What is the kind of courses that ISH offers? Do you also have advance level courses and add on certifications?

The education structure is aimed at providing the ideal foundation for hospitality skills, managerial and leadership development, strategic thinking, as well as an entrepreneurial outlook - providing a strong foundation for lifelong learning and further skill honing throughout graduates’ careers. To help ensure a truly international standard of hospitality education, ISH has entered into a strategic partnership with Lausanne Hospitality Consulting (LHC), the Swiss knowledge development and management advisory company of Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. ISH has partnered with LHC in preparation for an academic certification by EHL, alongside curriculum development and faculty training. Through this partnership, ISH is developing an Undergraduate Hospitality Management Programme and an Undergraduate Culinary Arts Programme, with several long and short-term programmes in both culinary and executive education to be available in the future.

The government has announced many skill development initiatives, which can be a boon to the hospitality industry, how much has actually translated into reality?

I think it is a work in progress. Some good work has been done and much more needs to be done. Our current focus at ISH is to educate and provide talent for the industry at the management levels. We intend to get into skill development in the next couple of years, but our focus will entirely be on using technology such as VR and AR in the skilling process. We are currently setting up a dedicated VR lab at ISH for our under graduate students to use as a learning tool.

 

Australia & Beyond Holidays, one of Australia’s inbound travel management operator, is all set to tap the Indian market. Earlier this year, the group appointed Blue Square Communications as its India representatives. Australia & Beyond Holidays provides global solutions to Indian travel agents, from both a DMC products and FIT.

Speaking about the brand, Simon Bernardi, Director, Australia & Beyond Holidays, said, “India continues to be an important tourism market for Australia, with growth of over 15 per cent in arrivals over last year. We are very strong in the Hong Kong and South East Asian Market. India offers a lot of potential opportunities. Indians are quality travellers and also high spenders. The Indian traveller fits into our model as they are looking for experiences.”

The company is mainly targeting Indian leisure travellers and aims to promote Australia, beyond the usual itinerary. The company is well equipped to cater to the F&B requirement of Indian visitors.

Speaking about the segments, Bernardi said, “Major target segment will be the leisure travel, honeymooners and family. Australia is a family destination; it’s a very safe destination and is popular amongst Indian travellers. We know the Indian market very well and are well equipped to cater to this market. We would like to see Indian travellers go to two destinations for 14-16 days. This will give a better experience and can explore more what the cities have got to offer. What Indians do right now is go to more destinations for a short time. Australia is a repeat destination.”

He further said, “We understand the Indian customer quite well. We cater to Indian dietary requirement. Australia has a lot of Indian restaurants. We want to promote Australia beyond the typical east coast itinerary. We want to promote destinations like Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Perth, Northern Territory, etc. We will offer something different apart from the normal destinations popular amongst the Indians. The most popular itinerary for Indian travellers are three cities; Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland. The itinerary is short as of now for Indians and they explore very quickly.”

Australia & Beyond Holidays has its online Agora booking system that offers land products and hotels worldwide, many with allocations. It is also looking to tap conference groups from India, the group provides customised as well as end to end services to such groups. “We are also looking at the conference groups; we will add value for their trips. We provide end to end services and also customised services. We have an FIT system which is best in market; this has static and dynamic rates. We have contracted hotels in a lot of hotels in Australia,” he added.

Currently, their major source markets are South East Asia and China. India is growing market for the company. Bernardi said, “We want grow strong in this market. Last year we have done 560 series group from Hong Kong, so we would like to see similar growth from this market as well.”

The hospitality industry has gone through a major disruption in the year 2017. One on side of the coin the Government is aggressive to grow the inbound numbers, whereas on the flipside the Government has taken certain steps which are tourism dampeners. The year 2017 opened with the aftershock of demonetisation, which impacted the hospitality industry, like others, for a temporary period. Demonetisation seriously injured the MICE segment than the leisure market. Next move was the Liquor banning within 500 meter range of national and state highways; this once again dampened the hospitality business sentiments in the country.

Post this silence in the industry, the government implemented the GST, which was well received by the nation. But, due to higher bracket taxation it once again came as challenge for the hospitality, only until it was revised. 

Despite, all these challenges hospitality industry witnessed a strong demand. Occupancies were up, Average Daily Rate (ADRs) were up. According to a report by JLL, The strong growth was an outcome of strong demand and a dip in the development and opening of new hotels in 2017...Clearly the positive gap between demand and supply in 2017 resulted in the improved performance of hotels, and this trend is expected to continue in 2018 as well.

Current scenario

In terms of growth, 2017 was a strong year for the hospitality industry. Nationwide, hotels have witnessed robust growth of over 65 per cent in terms of occupancy. Even there has been a slight growth in ARR, but still not up to the mark.

Speaking about the growth S N Srivastava, President & Co-founder, Clarks Inn Group of Hotels, “We have continued to improve in terms of hotel occupancy, ARR and RevPar. Our overall occupancy last year was 68.5 per cent with a healthy ARR and RevPar. Going forward in 2018 we are expecting our overall occupancy to increase by four to five per cent. However, growing ARR can be challenging as the competition grows and new supply are added to the existing inventory. But we are hopeful that our RevPar will improve by 4-5 per cent riding on better occupancy in 2018.”

The rising disposable income of the middle class has aided exponential growth in the inbound tourism and narrowed the gap between the lean and peak time further strengthening the demand and gap supply. Speaking about the trend, Vimal Singh, MD, Golden Tulip Hotels and Resorts stated, “There has been an overall increase in the occupancy and ARR across the Industry, the nationwide occupancy crossed the 65 per cent mark for the first time since 2007/2008 and the occupancy was further complimented by an increase in the average rate. There are other drivers that fuel the growth of the Indian hospitality market such as India as medical tourism destination, steady growth of MICE segment and the increase in the young travellers. We closed our yearly occupancy with 81per cent which was higher by three per cent over previous year, this came at an ADR which was higher by five per cent over last year. We are expecting 2018 to further consolidate our occupancy and are projecting an increase of 3-4 per cent with an ADR raise of two per cent.”

 

Mid-scaling up

In the last couple of years, India has witnessed a lot of growth in terms of new hospitality brand forays and expansion. This trend is set to continue and will only become more intense. But, as per industry experts the core growth area today is the mid market hotels segment. Global chains are today eyeing India for this particular segment. A lot of global chains have in the recent announced major expansion plans in India. This is the segment where our Indian regional chains are strong at. Indian chains, if not more, are equally on an expansion spree.

Speaking about the trend in the mid market segment, P R Bansal, Chief Operating Officer, Lords Hotels & Resort said, “Without the mid-market segment, the new traveller class wouldn’t have a choice in decent, budget accommodations. A major section of travellers today, both international and domestic are price sensitive or rather are more value conscious. With the frequency of travel increasing one does become cost conscious after a while and does not always have the liberty to splurge. There has to be a cost-effective option which also satisfies the ambience quotient and the mid-market segment of hotels offers just that. This segment is the driving growth of the hospitality sector and we foresee that it will remain in the driving seat for at least the next two decades.”

No doubt the demand for this segment has started to burgeon, but even the hoteliers have a keen interest as the midscale segment is one of the most profitable areas.

Suhail Kannampilly, COO, The Fern Hotels & Resorts said, “Absolutely the profitability margins are better in midscale, primarily since the luxury market in India is selling at midscale rates and not able to drive profit to the developers, my take on this is clear India is a huge market, there's room for all categories of Inventory to flourish. Our A category cities can still cater to many new upscale and luxury hotel and they will soon move the needle upwards with their rates and drive bottom line margins. The B &C category  towns can all take midscale inventory.”

Singh feels that the rising purchasing power of the middle class, surge in the domestic travel, the fading line between the peak and the lean time are few factors that are fuelling the growth of the mid market sector. The industry is witnessing a lot of opportunity in the mid market segment and now international chains are tapping these untapped markets with the launch of their budget  properties in Tier II and III cities.  He further said, “We see a great potential for bread and breakfast concept in India in both budget and mid market sector and hence we are working very closely with our parent chain to bring Campanile, Premiere Class and Kyriad in India.” 

Robust pipeline

In the coming couple of years, the market is set to witness an upsurge in terms of expansion. Last year, due to many challenges greenfield developments witnessed a stunted growth. Indian chains like The Fern Hotels are betting big in this market with a target of 100 hotels by 2020.

Speaking about the pipeline Kannampilly said, “We currently have 54 hotels in operation, with 32 hotels signed to open in the next 2 years. In the current financial year we are opening 15 hotels. Our target for 2020 is 100 hotels.”

Today, Indian chains are carving their own niche by expanding into unexplored territories. Lords Hotels & Resorts are one of the groups who are exploring religious destinations for expansion. The group is aiming to become a 40 property group by 2020.

Bansal explained, “Today we are operating 27 hotel properties and there are 10 more in the pipeline which will become operational later this year. We are aiming at becoming a 40 properties hotel chain by the year 2020. From here we are hoping for the brand to go into auto-pilot and the development and franchise opportunities to grow organically. However while we are entrenched in the West and to an extent in the North and South, we are yet to step foot in the Eastern markets. We are making efforts to penetrate this region and have identified potential entry points in Kolkata, West Bengal and Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Many of our hotel properties have found resonance with guests as great hotels for pilgrimage tourists. We want to build on that reputation and capitalise on the pilgrimage tourist market. We are also focusing on adding hotels in Katra, Mathura, and Vrindavan among others. While we may be an affordable mid-market chain, our services are best in its class and so to maintain the balance and not dilute the value proposition, our properties are limited to 60 – 90 keys per hotel.”

Presently, Tier II and III cities are the engine for growth for hospitality chains. These markets have a comparatively lesser real estate cost, operational cost and also yield good returns. Golden Tulip hotels which currently operates 26 hotels in the country is eyeing for expansion in the smaller markets.

Singh stated, “We currently operate 26 hotels in the country, we recently opened Golden Tulip in Khajurao and signed up over 8-10 Golden Tulip hotels in various cities. Currently we are planning to increase our foot prints in Jeolikot (Nainital), Khajuraho, Kota, Rajkot, among others. Our expansion plans are aggressive and we aim to open 10-12 hotels in next two years. We are further working to introduce three more brands in India- Premiere Classe, a limited service budget hotel that focuses on comfort, connectivity and convenience. Campanile and Kyriad are other mid-market brand that we plan to bring to the region soon.”

Similar Srivastava said, “Clarks Inn Group of Hotels is one of India’s fastest growing hotel companies with a country-wide presence in the mid-market and budget segments. The company boasts of an overall portfolio of 87 hotels, including 47 in operation, spread across 18 states in India and one in Kathmandu Nepal.”

Disruption and alternate accommodation

In the recent years, the hospitality industry has witnessed severe disruption in the changing accommodation game. Players like airbnb, Oyo and other players have clearly pumped in inventory into the market. Players like airbnb have introduced the concept of shared accommodation, whereas Oyo has been streamlining the unorganised hospitality players.

Speaking about the competition with these players, Singh said, “We see them as aggregators and now we don’t see them as threats as they are tapping the unorganised market that we can’t tap as some of these smaller hotels cannot be converted to our standards, some might not come into our brand for cost reasons while for some the cost-to-conversion would be too high.”

Some of the hoteliers believe that these players are not a threat to traditional hoteliers as long as they are on a level playing field. The government regulations should be applicable for these players as well. Bansal stated, “While online booking site offer accommodations, they aren’t really part of the hospitality segment. These stays are supposed to be a room and a roof at a stranger’s house with breakfast option. However, under the garb of such house sharing model of accommodations, some are operating like full-fledged hotels. This is unfair for the organised hotel industry that pays taxes, obtains and renews licences to operate, maintains security and follows compliances as laid down by the law. So when such disruptors disrupt, they are managing to do so by circumventing the rules, regulations and costs that a hotel has to invest in. We don’t perceive any competition as threat so long as it’s playing on a level field.”

Echoing similar opinion Kannampilly, “I always maintained, not seeing them as a threat is just denial. However, unlike Oyo who is creating very little new inventory, Airbnb is bringing otherwise unused inventory into the foray, they are also doing this under every category from Budget to Luxury. I do believe that we need to be on par in term of government regulations & licensing.”

Apart from the disruptors, today alternate accommodations like service apartments are making a mark in the country. Service apartments are not only economical but also suitable for long stay guests. Currently, there is a shortage of 190,000 rooms in the entire nation; such alternate accommodation can complement this shortfall.

Negating the fact that it won’t complement the requirement, Bansal said, “Service apartments are more cost effective especially for long stays. But it can’t complement overall room supply in India since service apartments follow fixed pricing while hotels have a dynamic pricing system. Also it’s easy to book a room in a hotel and the risk is limited in terms of stay, and in terms of amenities hotels have certain amenities like swimming pool, gym, health centre which serviced apartments don’t.”

Some of the hospitality players like Golden Tulip have themselves invested into this segment. Singh feels that due to the globalisation, there has been a rise in the expatriates coming to India for long stays, as the duration of these stays are longer- it makes sense for them to stay in Service apartments than the hotels. He further said, “We believe it’s a profitable market to focus on, we have recently launched our brand Golden Tulip Suites- that has 106 rooms, out of which 74 are suites with kitchenette, specially designed for long staying guests.”

With an increase in the number of long weekends in the first half of the year, the season has started off with a bang. With more destinations opening up for India market, the aspiration for Indians to travel more has only been boosted topped up with these holidays. The season has been robust for the industry, with a lot of travellers opting for offbeat travel apart from the traditional destinations.

Speaking about the growth this season Karan Anand, Head, relationships, Cox & Kings said, “The season is underway and we are witnessing robust growth in the outbound market. The Indian outbound market is growing at an average of 15-17 per cent and I am of the opinion that with more destinations opening up to the Indian market, there will be many more opportunities for the Indian traveller.”

Today, short haul destinations for the India market are becoming weekend getaways. A lot of repeat clients are considering destinations within five hours of travel times as the new weekend destinations. “The extended weekends has resulted in a significant uptake in domestic and international travel bookings at Travel Tours. Indian travellers are opting for international destinations like Scandinavia and Scotland to embrace the chills and Bali and Maldives to relax and rejuvenate at the scenic beaches. Short-haul and easy-visa destinations such as Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka have also seeing an upswing,” Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions - Indian Subsidiary of Flight Centre Travel Group, Australia said,.

Last month, there was an extended weekend wherein the company has witnessed a 35 per cent growth in bookings. “This weekend has particular been a super busy time to travel owing to summer vacations. As compared to last year, this time, we have seen a rise of 35 per cent in bookings to such destinations,” Desai informed.

With a phenomenal rise in outbound from India; travellers are now looking at quirky and offbeat destinations. Daniel D’souza- Head of Sales, India & NRI Markets & E-Commerce, SOTC Travel said, “SOTC has witnessed the busiest time of the year with peak booking season with queries and bookings for Domestic and International destinations this summer. Indian travellers seek for immersive travel experiences. Popular activities are self drive, adventure & outdoor experiences like white water rafting and scuba diving are seeing huge demand from travellers this season. More and more travellers are seeking new and authentic experiences this summer. Indian Travellers is very value driven and are slowly getting bored with the traditional, readymade package holidays. The new trend is the innovative ‘Dynamic packaged holiday in order to attract more cost-conscious and variety-loving customers.”

Echoing similar opinion Anand said that this year they see a trend where Indians are spending more time at a destination in order to soak in the local culture and experience the local cuisine. He further added, “Europe continues to be the top favourite amongst Indian tourists and we see a significant rise in Indians travelling overseas for a holiday this year. This trend confirms the belief that Indians are now looking for immersive travel experiences without missing out on popular tourist attractions when travelling on a holiday. Apart from regular sightseeing travellers are seeking immersive experiences such as enjoying views of Paris from the River Seine Cruise, exploring Amsterdam through the canals, wandering through the fanciest shopping street in Zurich – Bahnhofstrasse, visit to a malt whisky distillery in Edinburgh and experience Toledo- a cultural melting pot renowned for its harmonious combination of three cultures of Christian, Muslim and Jewish.”

According to D’souza the destinations on the rise for this season has been Hungary and Czech Republic. “Top global destinations include East Europe, Italy, Switzerland, France, South Africa, South America, Australia and Korea. Japan is emerging as an untraditional multigenerational family travel destination. Short haul international destinations like Dubai, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are popular this summer,” he added.

Vistara recently received its 21st aircraft, an Airbus A320neo powered by CFM engines. With this addition to its fleet, Vistara becomes eligible to start international operations. The new aircraft will be deployed to further strengthen the airline’s domestic network.

Leslie Thng, CEO, Vistara said, “There’s great excitement amongst all of us at Vistara, as we prepare ourselves for taking the next leap in our journey to fly international. The arrival of our 21st aircraft makes this phase even more special. It enables us to strengthen our network further, which gives us the opportunity to offer more choices in terms of frequencies to our ever-growing base of loyal customers.”

Vistara’s A320neo aircraft comes in its unique cabin configuration of 158 seats (8 Business Class, 24 Premium Economy and 126 Economy Class) as well as other industry-first features, for which the airline calls it #NotJustAnotherNeo.

As the highest-rated Indian airline on SkyTrax and TripAdvisor, and winner of numerous “Best in Industry” awards, Vistara has consistently raised the bar in the Indian aviation industry and made flying an experience to look forward to again. Vistara has flown over nine million customers, and today serves 22 destinations with over 800 flights a week.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is all set to introduce a new brand in June 2018. The major focus for this new brand is to convert existing hotels in the same segment into an IHG branded hotel. The brand will be less stringent in the hardware side but will focus on soft segment.

Speaking about the new brand Rajit Sukumaran, Chief Development Officer, EMEAA, IHG said, “We are rolling out a new brand. This brand is more convergent friendly and we will be more focused on converting hotels. We will be rolling out this brand in June. This brand has huge potential in India, as if you look at this market the upscale and upper upscale segment has a lot of local unaffiliated hotels and this brand will have less stringent standards to convert. We will mainly be looking at Brownfield conversions.”

Last year, IHG signed 20 new deals in the India market, majorly driven by the Holiday Inn family brands. “We had a fantastic year globally. India was another exceptional year for us. The market has turned better over the last few years. In 2017, we recorded a comparable RevPar growth by 11.2 per cent Y-o-Y. From a growth perspective, we did 20 new deals totalling more than 3000 rooms. This is the largest number of deals ever done in India. The Holiday Inn Brand family globally accounts for over 80 per cent of our signings every year. We do see growth in other brands too. Even in India, the majority will be driven by the Holiday Inn family, i.e. the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express,” Sukumaran added,

The group has signed a deal with Samhi group to expand its Holiday Inn Express brand. “The partnership is one of the reasons for the record number of signings. Last year, we signed a deal with Samhi Hotels for 14 hotels. Out of 14, 10 are existing and operating assets and three of the Brownfield projects are almost completed and one is Greenfield asset. Of 14, we will open eight hotels this year. This partnership will help us showcase in the Tier I key cities,” he added.

The company has in the recent year’s shows interest to expand in the luxury space. Recently the group acquired 51 per cent stakes in Regent Hotels & Resorts, the deal is set to be closed in June. With this acquisition, the group is also set to introduce a separate luxury team. “We want to have a bigger presence in luxury. The Regent Hotels acquisition is expected to close in June and we will now have three brands in luxury space, Intercontinental Hotels, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Regent Hotels & Resorts. Regent fills a space which was previously unoccupied as it comes in the upper end of luxury. It is rich in tradition and heritage and has a lot of recognition. By June, we will acquire 51 per cent and will be spearheading growth and operations. We will be setting up a focused luxury team to run this brand. Luxury has always resonated very well with the India market and this market has a huge potential to grow. Now with Regent being added we have more opportunity to grow, it’s important to have a presence in India.”

As per the long term strategy, the group is looking to open 150 hotels in the next 10 years in India. “In South West Asia itself, we have 32 hotels opened. We have 48 hotels in the pipeline which will open in the next five years in India. We are growing at quite a fast pace for the next five years. We are well on track to open 150 hotels in the next 10 years in India. The bulk of the growth will come from the Holiday Inn family. But we are getting good traction in the Crowne Plaza space; we are getting traction in the luxury space too. We have 12 Crowne Plaza hotels and another five in the pipeline,” he added.

With a portfolio of 90 operational hotels in India, Radisson Hotel Group aims to reach 200 properties by 2020 in this market. Earlier this year, the hospitality group got rebranded to Radisson Hotel Group from the earlier Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. Presently, the group aims to be one of the top three operators globally in the next five years.

Speaking about the development Katerina Giannouka, President, Asia Pacific, Radisson Hotel Group said, “Earlier we had two companies, Carlson and Rezidor, with this new brand we have realigned both the companies. We are now one integrated global company. The strategy was to bring in the name of our most powerful brand into the corporate name which signals that we will be able to drive better value for our owners. Our vision is to be one of the top three operators in the next five years.”

In the India market, the group currently has a total of 140 hotels with 90 operational. This year, the group is also set to launch the first Radisson Red property in India and recently introduced Radisson Collection in India. The group also sees potential in the religious destinations for growth.

Sharing India expansion plan, Raj Rana, CEO, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group said, “The 200 hotels will be in the next five years including those under development. So, around 130 will be operational and 70 will be in the pipeline. We have a Joint Venture (JV) with Bestech for building and operating 49 Park Inn by Radisson and Radisson Red hotels in North and Central India.  The JV is progressing very well. As part of the JV, we will be opening our first Radisson Red in Mohali, Chandigarh later this year. One of our core strategies is to grow in religious destinations. We are finding these destinations stable for us, such as Haridwar, Varanasi, Katra, Tirupati and we will plan in more destinations.”

As per the five year strategy, in the Asia Pacific region the group aims to double its existing keys and also employees. The group is also investing in the technology segment to launch a new platform. “Asia Pacific is one of the most energetic regions in the world. India within Asia Pacific is one of our most important markets. India is one of our largest markets currently in Asia Pacific and we have about 18000 hotel rooms across this region and we look to double that in the next five years. In terms of employees, we have close to 25000 employees across the region and we will be doubling these figures in the next five years. Technology is a key focus and we are investing a lot into it. We are building a new platform which will give more value to our owners and make it easier to book a hotel,” Giannouka said.

She further said that there is a huge scope in the India market for the midscale brands. “We see most of our growth in upscale and the mid segment brands. We have launched the Radisson Collection brand in India in affordable luxury segment. As the market matures in India, we will look to open more brands here. At the entry level, we have a brand called Prizeotel an economy product with a very strong design. Currently, this brand is in Europe and possibly this could be a brand which we will look to open in India. Our next five year strategy is to finely sharpen our brand architecture. We are looking more at the lifestyle segment, Radisson Red will be that brand,” Giannouka added.

In India the expansion of the group is based on the hub and spoke model. “We follow the Hub and Spoke strategy in India. This plays into expanding our portfolio reach into all markets within two to three hours drive to the major markets. As the highways are improving in India, opening hotels along the highways is a key part of our strategy in the India market,” Rana said.

With a network of 135 flights per week from 14 cities, Sri Lankan Airlines now looks to maximise on these routes in 2018. Last year, the airline introduced three new routes namely, Vishakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Coimbatore. Till September 2017, Sri Lankan Airlines has ferried 1,840,611 passengers from India.

Speaking about the growth Udeni Perera, Manager- Western India, Sri Lankan Airlines said, “We just completed our previous financial year; we have a significant growth in the business. One of the main reason is we have visa on arrival and also there is similarity in the culture and tradition. Adjoining to Sri Lanka, we have Maldives which is again very popular amongst the Indians. Sri Lankan Airlines is the best connection for Maldives; this is again a big market for us. Compared to previous year, we have grown by around 20 per cent.”

The 14 markets include Delhi, Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam, Chennai, Coimbatore, Trivandrum Kolkata, Kochi, Bangalore, Varanasi, Gaya, Trichy, Madurai and Hyderabad. The group has no plans to expand this year, but the next destination which is airline looks at is Ahmedabad.

“Last year, we added new destinations like Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam and Coimbatore and we also increased frequencies to Mumbai and Delhi. All these flights are popular and product is growing. Mumbai flights up to last financial year we were reaching up to 80 per cent seat factor. Our Mumbai flights are ideal for both leisure and MICE. Overall in India, we are maintaining a load factor of over 75 per cent in all our flights. Compared to previous years, our seat factor on the Business class cabin is up to around 60 to 62 per cent, earlier it was 50-55 per cent. This is a significant increase,” Perera added.

Further speaking about expansion plans he said, “Since we have expanded our operations last year, this year we will try and maximise on our existing routes. We will maximise our existing routes on the 14 destinations and look to increase the load factor this year. However, our next potential destination is Ahmadabad. But, there is no concrete plans or decided date as of now.”

The airline is also looking to increase the onward traffic share from India market. Currently, Sri Lankan Airlines provides connectivity to Maldives and Melbourne from India. “From India, a lot of travellers like to take Sri Lankan Airlines beyond Colombo. Maldives is a very popular destination for Indians. We also have good connectivity to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong which are very popular with competitive rate. Passengers also travel to Middle East with us. Recently, we added Jakarta and Dhaka. Our most demanded destination is also Melbourne which was started last year. From Mumbai, the connecting time for Melbourne is not even an hour.”

Sharing his perspective on India market and plans for codeshares, Perera said that the airline already has codeshares with Jet Airways, Air India and Vistara. “India is one of the largest in the aviation world, in terms of internal aviation market there is a huge scope and there are a lot of orders by the low cost carriers. This market is developing on a daily basis. Sri Lankan Airlines is also always eyeing for expansion in this market as it has a huge potential,” 

Launched in 2017, MSC Meraviglia, the company’s largest operational vessel till date has witnessed a grand response from India market. With guest capacity of 5,714, MSC Meraviglia is both the biggest ship to ever be built by a European ship owner – MSC Cruises - and the biggest to come into service in 2017. To further promote the cruise, MSC recently organised its first ever fam trip for tour operators in India market.

Speaking about the India market Kunal Sampat, General Manager- India, MSC Cruises said, “The response from India market has been quite encouraging for MSC Meraviglia, considering it’s a new ship. The trend has been changing in India for the cruise holiday segment. In the last two years a lot of the cruise liners have been coming out with their new ships. In 2017, we launched MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside, this year we are launching MSC Seaview and next year we are launching MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa. As per our expansion plans we are practically launching a new ship every year till 2026. Our aim is to triple our capacity by 2026. We are promoting all our sailings in India and have got good bookings. Looking forward the way India is evolving; it is an emerging market for cruise holidays. Last couple of years has been pretty encouraging for all the cruise players in India.”

During the recently organised fam trip, MSC Cruises invited 16 tour operators to experience the cruise which was a short sailing between Barcelona, Spain and Genoa, Italy. The tour operators got a firsthand experience of the cruise along with some knowledge on premium products including the Yacht Club experience, which is promoted as a ship within a ship. The Yacht Club is a private experience where travellers can have exclusive privileges, like access to exclusive areas, butler service, private swimming pool, etc. With the evolution of the Indian cruise market, travellers are now looking towards premium experiences.

Speaking about the cruise Rishabh Shah, Business Head- Outbound, Touristers said, “During the summer a lot of Mediterranean cruising happens from India. Cruising is definitely a value product. MSC has picked up since the last three years, and they are very aggressive in promoting the products. MSC Meraviglia is a fantastic product. The rooms are very good along with the amenities. The cruise has something for everyone. In terms of F&B the cruise has various options, even for vegetarians. Also, Indian food can be served on demand which is an added benefit.”

Falguni Parekh, Partner, Sanskruti Vacations added, “MSC Cruises is known to offer its guests Mediterranean and modern lifestyle at a good price. MSC Meraviglia is the flagship of MSC's new cruise. It has a sophisticated state -of art technology, bold design and extraordinary features. It is this cutting -edge extraordinary features that make MSC Meraviglia ideal for cruising in summer and winter, including wide dining options and entertainment choices, stunning open spaces, a large theatre and a spectacular amusement park with an outdoor aqua park. The picturesque Promenade Deck includes the ship's shopping arcade, various bars, specialty restaurants, ample seating. The whole area is covered by a huge LED-screen that displays various images, vistas and special-effects.”

Jyot Jhaveri, Director, Sunday Pure Holidays said, “Cruising segment has grown rapidly in the last couple of years. This cruise has an ample of amenities for every kind of traveller. Even this vessel is ideal for celebrations and weddings. MSC understands the Indian need which is very important. Cruising is an affordable luxury, the Yacht Club is a premium product which gives exclusivity for the travellers and is not expensive but is an experience.”

Sampat said, “The interest is growing as travellers have started understanding the value that a family can get from a cruise vacation. We have got a great support for MSC Meraviglia and MSC Seaside. This year we have already started getting bookings for MSC Seaview. India has always been a market where people look at premium products, people look for value. We have the Yacht Club and Auria packages which are well received in India market. We need to educate the consumers in the right way to sell the premium products.”

The cruise liner is all set to introduce an e-learning programme for the travel agents. This programme will be linked with the booking platform which will enable the cruise sellers to be up-to-date about the products.

He further said, “Today when it comes to cruise business, India is predominantly a B2B market. Main reason being cruise liners don’t start from India and travellers prefer to book through travel agents as it becomes a one stop shop. Our endeavour is to empower the travel trade fraternity; we are constantly looking to educate our trade. We have always been working one to one with our tour operators and also organise group trainings for them. We are also in line to develop an e-learning platform for the travel agents which will be a platform where they can learn how to sell a particular product apart from the general updates. We will launch this soon and this will be linked to our booking platform. Currently over 300 agents are linked with this booking platform and with all these new strategies we look forward for more and more trade partners joining hands with us.”

Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism) has released its Annual Visitor Report 2017, providing an in-depth cross-sector analysis of the emirate’s tourism performance last year, as well as an overview of future activities, campaigns and strategies as Dubai progresses towards its goal of welcoming 20 million visitors per year by 2020. The report serves as an invaluable resource for members of the travel trade and media, hospitality and tourism professionals and other Dubai stakeholders.

The report details and evaluates the growth drivers behind Dubai’s record international overnight visitation in 2017, which totalled 15.8 million, rising a strong 6.2 per cent over the previous year. It also analyses visitor demographics, taking a closer look at who is travelling to Dubai, from where and for what reason, as well as how they are spending their time in the city, with the results of the annual Dubai Visitor Survey revealing the extent of visitors’ satisfaction with their Dubai experience. In addition, the report reviews recent and upcoming enhancements to Dubai’s proposition and infrastructure, highlighting major developments across multiple sectors, offering insights into what can be expected moving forward.

Dubai’s top 10 source markets contributed a share of 59 per cent of total tourist volumes, with the remainder made up of highly diversified markets across the globe. Three out of four visitors were families and couples, with individuals making up 14 per cent, friends eight per cent, and colleagues three per cent of total visitation. 73.8 per cent of tourists travelled to Dubai for leisure purposes, with those visiting friends and relatives making up 13.9 per cent of the total, and business travellers 11.5 per cent.

77 per cent of visitors chose to stay in paid accommodation, as opposed to staying with friends and relatives. The gender mix was fairly balanced, with 47 per cent women travellers, while the party size averaged at 2.5 persons, staying in Dubai for an average of 7.6 days.

The Dubai Mall remained the city’s most popular attraction, drawing 97 per cent of visitors, followed by The Dubai Fountain with 81 per cent, and heritage and cultural districts with 63 per cent. Surpassing 2016 ratings, 99.4 per cent of surveyed visitors said they were either ‘happy’ or ‘extremely happy’ with their overall Dubai experience, with a massive 69.1 per cent in the latter category.

Similarly, an impressive 99.3 per cent of surveyed visitors indicated they would be ‘likely promoters’ or ‘active advocates’ of Dubai, recommending the destination to friends and family. The biggest increases in overall satisfaction levels were witnessed among travellers from Germany and France, with the biggest leaps in advocacy levels coming from German and Chinese visitors.

The report also details key successes across Dubai Tourism’s social, digital and marketing campaigns, including the #BeMyGuest series of short films starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, seasonal campaigns in key markets around the world, and effective content partnerships with global media. Additionally, it analyses the future outlook for Dubai’s fast-evolving tourism industry, highlighting the importance of initatives such as the emirate’s Smart City and 10X initiatives, which are set to impact and transform not just the industry and related sectors, but also the Dubai visitor experience itself.

 

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