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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Alila Hotels and Resorts which has two properties in India are set to attract the Indian travellers for its wellness experiences. The group has curated various wellness experiences each of which can be customised as per the guests demand.

Speaking about the wellness segment Steve Jeisman, Group Director, Alila Experience said, “Wellness is an extremely important segment for Alila. With wellness coming into the trend every property on board are looking at this in every element. For example our in-room amenities, spa products are 100 per cent natural. I think the term wellness can be interpreted in various forms. I think its developing at a rapid rate now. Wellness is all about prevention, having guest offerings and services which they can enjoy. The mindset of most people has to be changed. Now people are becoming more wellness savvy and are looking to eat better and take time to relax. We are taking this very organic right from our positioning to our f&b menus. We have various wellness options in our f&b options as well.”

In India, Alila Diwa Goa provides programmes which are a fusion of Ayurveda and other international therapies. Also, according to the group Yoga is currently trending across the globe and they also provide Yoga services in some of their properties.

Speaking about the demand and customisations he said, “Every destination is very different. Ayurveda in India is a stand out, but when we try to introduce this in rest of the world people don’t understand it easily. When we developed Alila Diwa Goa, we were looking to develop a full Ayurvedic Clinic, but we offer a bespoke customised approach with fusions of Ayurveda. Guests can come to us with problem and our doctor will give a tailor-made programme for them. We infused Asian, Western and Balinese therapies into Ayurveda and the guest also has a choice to experiment. The Balinese therapy is most famous in Alila Diwa Goa. In China market we saw a more simplistic approach. Yoga is now quite trendy across the globe. Every region is a little different, but we do a little fusion which the guests can enjoy.”

Alila is now coming up with a new programme where the core focus will be ‘reconnecting’. Also, susatinablity is a key focus for the group even when it comes to these experiences.

Jeisman added, “We don’t want to go full into the wellness services. But through nutrition, exercise and programmes we can achieve this. Our programme next year is based on reconnecting, reconnecting you with nature. Getting back to basics is the key focus and be away from technology when in our properties. We don’t advertise ourselves as wellness destination but we do have services. We are adding more experiences in future.  In terms of sustainability, we have an organic garden in Goa and Fort Bishangarh. Our packagings for spa products are also eco-friendly. We look at a lot of sustainable aspects in our wellness programmes as well.”

With a target of reaching 100, 000 Indian arrival milestone by 2020, Czech Republic has fast-paced its promotions in the India market. In the first half of the year, the destination has welcomed 43,722 Indians with a northward growth of 5.6 per cent as compared to the previous year.

Speaking about the trends from India market, Arzan Khambatta, Head, Czech Tourist Authority – Czech Tourism, India said, “The Czech Republic is witnessing a steady growth in the Indian tourist arrivals every year. In the first half of 2018, Czech Republic has received 43,722 Indian arrivals, which is about 5.6 per cent of growth in comparison with the previous year for an average length of stay being – 3.4 days. In 2017, 85,680 Indians visited the Czech Republic. We are looking at welcoming 100,000 Indian visitors to the Czech by 2020, perhaps before that!”

Last year, the destination organised roadshows in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru to showcase their offerings. With the increase in awareness, Czech Republic is now looking to promote curated experiences.

Speaking about the experiences Khambatta said, “Indian travellers love trying new experiences and revel in the local culture and traditions. Besides the scenic beauty and history, the Czech Republic offers various experiences like beer spa, glass – blowing, wine tasting that the visitors can cherish. This summer, we introduced the South Moravian region of the Czech, which includes places like Brno and the stunning Lednice-Valtice Complex.”

Indians are also known as a high spending market as compared to the other source markets. The Indian traveller spends approximately 30 per cent above the average in comparison to other visitors, at a total amount of more than CZK 4,000 per person per day.

He further added, “The Czech Republic also boasts more than two hundreds of chateaux and castles which the travellers can visit and experience. The growth in Indian tourists to the Czech has been increasingly driven on thematic packages such as wine tourism, spa tourism and pristine nature stays. The country hosts a diverse array of natural landscapes that appeal to visitors of every kind – be it architectural lovers or adventure seekers. The Indian tourists in the Czech Republic visit not only the capital city of Prague and Brno, but also Karlovy Vary and fairy tale town Český Krumlov which is a favourite spot for honeymooners.”

Further increasing awareness, the destination is also looking to collaborate with production houses. Film tourism plays a key role in showcasing a destination. “We are promoting the country as an affordable premium destination targeting on families and those well-travelled FITs in the age group of 25-45 years, who are looking at customised holiday experience and to do something different. We are also targeting MICE segment, which has a huge potential in India. Several Bollywood movies have been shot in the Czech showcasing the natural beauty of the central European country. Understanding the impact of cinema, we realise it is a very good medium to promote tourism and are hoping to collaborate with more productions in the future.”

Traditionally, Goa has always enjoyed a very important place in the international tourism market. The destination has been frequented by the international travellers in numbers. This had given rise to the air charter business to Goa. The destination was at the peak in 2013-14 when it welcomed 1128 chartered aircrafts with 261,452 tourists from across the globe. Russia was one of the major source markets in this segment. Gradually this numbers witnessed a southward growth with 215,041 travelleing in 808 chartered aircrafts in 2017-18 (up to 12-03-2018).

Speaking about the challenges Nilesh Cabral, Chairman, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) said, “There are a few challenges which still persist. The Goa Airport as of now cannot have more charter flights as the airport is used for naval flights from morning 8 AM to 12.30 PM. Also we don’t have capacity to park more charter flights overnight at the airport. Secondly, due to the fall of Rouble, there is a drop from the Russian market. This year we should improve. Also, Russian market usually travels by wide-bodied aircrafts and there is no space in current airport for more flights. Still the Russian travellers are coming to Goa; the market should get stable by this year. Also, we are having competition from international destinations who are also eyeing the Russian market. But this trend will change this year.”

Goa is now set to get its second airport in Mopa, which is located in North Goa. With the new airport in place, GTDC is optimistic to witness a major growth in the charter business, which in turn will boost tourism.

Cabral added, “The Government has decided to go in full swing to launch the new airport called Mopa. There will be no restrictions from charter flights in Goa. There has always been a demand for charter flights, especially bigger ones, the wide-bodied one. The new airport will be developed in North Goa. We are also connecting the North and South Goa with six lane highways, which will further increase the connectivity. If all goes well the land operations will start by 2020-21. Also, the first half of this year has been very good in terms of footfall. It is a good sign that there has been increase in both domestic and international visitations.”

In the recent years, Goa has been looking to develop world class MICE infrastructure in the state. The state is looking to develop Ponda as a MICE destination with convention facilities. “We are very much interested in developing the MICE segment. Government has land for creating MICE infrastructure, but we are looking at the private players to come and develop. We still have plans to come up with a convention centre at Ponda under PPP mode. MICE tourists still come in a huge numbers to Goa. We want to promote the mid-segment hotels for MICE.”

Over the last couple of years, Goa has witnessed a trend in terms of the domestic market. Earlier, Goa was regarded as a seasonal market with June to October being an off-season. Now, the domestic market has helped Goa to become a year round destination.

Cabral said, “Domestic market is very important for us. We have a good occupancy. In the last seven to eight years, the trend was domestic travellers visited Goa only during the season period. After June till October, hotels used to consider off-season and did not have much business. Now, the hotels are doing well throughout the year. Domestic has become a huge round the year market for us. This market is helping us to develop our tourism. When we have tourists coming throughout the year, we have created new products. During monsoon, travellers cannot enjoy the beaches so we are promoting various activities like heritage, nature, wildlife, hinterland tourism, culture, etc.”

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.

 

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