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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

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.

Marriott International is all set to touch the 1,000 hotel mark in the Asia Pacific region by 2020. Currently, the group operates close to 650 properties across the region, with 100 in India. In 2018, the group is all set to add 16 hotels to its inventory in India.

Speaking about the overall growth, Ramesh Daryanani, Vice President, Global Sales- Asia Pacific (excluding Greater China), Marriott International said, “Globally, we had a tremendous year, we exceeded analyst forecast on our business results. Which was showcased in the stock value, before the integration we were at US$66, we closed the year with around US$144 which showcases the confidence and the results we have been able to deliver. In India we had a significant year, we were able to grow shares in double digits. We had record occupancies and we delivered against our expectations. Also we opened 17 hotels last year. So we now have 100 hotels in India.”

Speaking about the pipeline he further said, “We have around 16 hotels coming up in India. We have got a very strong pipeline. Across Asia Pacific we have 650 hotels and the plan is to take that to 1000 hotels by 2020. Pipeline looks healthy and we are seeing new deals coming and also conversions happening of existing hotels. We are also seeing standalone hotels want to plug into the Marriott engine. So we are seeing some positive interest from the owner community.”

Last year after the implementation of GST and post demonetisation, a lot of hospitality players witnessed a dip in the MICE segment and also the weddings segment. “MICE business has comeback, there was an initial lull because of GST, licence issue, etc. But I think the business is back in most cases. MICE is a significant part of our business. We continue to innovate in this space and deploy correctly in this market. India is a high touch market driven by relationship; innovations will differentiate us from our competitors. With the launch of Meetings Imagined, we have redefined this space. Weddings are coming back big time. We had a workshop on weddings and the introduction of ‘Shaadi by Marriott’ is a testimony to the fact that wedding is one of the most emerging segments in the industry and we see opportunity. We do weddings both domestically and internationally where Indians are travelling for destination weddings like Thailand, Abu Dhabi and parts of Europe are seeing a lot of Indian weddings.”

Currently there are 15 of the Marriott Brands in India. The group is now exploring to introduce newer brands in this market like the Moxy. This brand is now predominantly present in US and Europe.

Speaking about the development Daryanani said, “We are planning to bring Moxy brand to India. We are in discussion with a few players here. We launched the Moxy in Osaka and this brand has been received extremely well.”

Majority of the hospitality chains are witnessing a growth and demand for the mid segment brands in India. Also, the luxury segment is picking up rapidly in the India market. Globally, Marriott is all set to introduce 40 luxury properties in 2018. He further said, “There is opportunity across all segments in India, for the budget we have opened seven Fairfield by Marriott last year. But at the same time we have opened several luxury properties in India with JW Marriott Jaipur, W Goa. We are seeing significant demand in the luxury space as well. We will open 40 luxury hotels around the world in 2018. We are also launching the Ritz Carlton Yachts, the first yacht will be sailing in 2019 and we are already seeing some great demand for it. It’s being built right now, but bookings have started.”

The group has also introduced Mobile Check-ins in certain properties and is working to integrate it in APAC region as well. Also, last year Club Marriott was launched in India market, which is an additional benefit for its client base. Daryanani said, “We have mobile check-in in our hotels even in India, as for integration we are integrating our on property systems and also our loyalty programme. By end of this year we will have one loyalty programme globally. Recently, we have partnered with Alibaba which itself will load a couple of million members. We are looking at more partnerships across the region.”

Hailed as the entertainment capital of the world and also gaining a similar sobriquet for its meetings and events attractiveness, Las Vegas is keen to grow its destination buzz in the Indian market to garner a larger share of Indian arrivals across segments. With 44,000 Indian arrivals overall, India currently ranks as Las Vegas’ 14th international source market.

Highlighting some of the key tourism facts and their impact in and exclusive chat on the sidelines of SATTE 2018, Kala Peterson, Communications Manager, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), pointed that Las Vegas welcomed 42.2 million visitors in 2017, 19 per cent of which were international visitors that accounted for 31 per cent of direct visitors spending in Las Vegas. The destination registered record convention attendance in 2017 as it hosted more than 6.6 million attendees. Besides, she also highlighted that the city’s greatest attractiveness lies in the sheer range of entertainment and recreation activities that it offers to every traveller.

“Vegas has so much more than gaming and that’s what we pride ourselves in. It has something for every type of Indian traveller, lots of adventure, has a dynamic culinary scene, it’s celebrity chefs, wedding capital of the world, international superstars, live production every single night of the week, nightlife, day life, it has lot of outdoor recreation and sightseeing attractions. Besides, Las Vegas can serve as your hub when you want to go to all these national parks and state parks,” Peterson said. .

Furthermore, she added, “We view India as an emerging market for Las Vegas. In 2016, we welcomed 44,000 Indian visitors overall with average stay of 3.8 nights per person. And we are keen to grow this number overall and across segments, be it business and leisure” She also pointed that the Indian arrival number is hard to track because of the absence of direct air connectivity and many come as domestic travellers or drive-in from cities like L.A., hinting that the actual Indian visitor number to Las Vegas may be more.

On the event front, Peterson says that Las Vegas, home to some of the largest meetings and exhibition venues in the world, has been the number one trade show destination in North America for the last 23 years. Today, not only the city is home to some of the largest Convention Centres in the US, but the event industry is a vital segment of Las Vegas’ economy. Therefore, the city is doing what it takes to remain competitive in this market segment.

“LVCVA is a destination marketing organisation but it also owns and operates the Las Vegas Convention Centre district, one of the biggest Convention venues in the US. The centre is undergoing a phased expansion and right now we are in Phase II where we have started the expansion and renovation of Las Vegas Convention Centre. It will be completed by the end of 2020 in time for CES 2021. As our shows grow we need to grow our convention space. We need to update to stay competitive.” Upon completion of the expansion, the centre is estimated to bring an annual incremental economic impact of US $ 810 million while attracting more than 600,000 additional visitors each year.

“In addition to our own convention centre, we also have three of the largest convention centres in the United States. Hence, it is not just the Las Vegas Convention Centre alone; we have the Sands Expo, Mandalay Bay, among others. We also have all of these other resort partners that are adding additional meeting space. Besides, we have 150,000 hotel rooms that makes it attractive because there is price point for every kind of traveller.”

Peterson emphasised that easy accessibility of all the amenities is what makes Vegas great for travellers. “You can do your business by day on the show floor, make reservation that evening, attend a show in night. It’s all very accessible. Our airport is very close to the resort part and to the downtown. It makes it very convenient for business or leisure travellers to pack a lot of different activities into their day.

British Airways, which flies 49 flights a week to India, invest significantly in the in-flight products and service enhancement. Recently, the airline has invested GBP 600 million and partnered with The White Company to enhance the bedding of their Club World product. In the coming few months this upgradation will be done also for the India market.

Speaking about the development, Robert Williams, Head of Sales - Asia Pacific and the Middle East, British Airways said, “In 2017, we introduced new aircrafts into our fleet, launched new routes, and we have done a significant investment in development of our products. Last year, we invested GBP 600 million in revolutionising our club world. We have been rolling Wi-Fi on our long haul aircrafts this year, offering full streaming capabilities. As part of the Club World investment, we have introduced a partnership with the White company, which is a high end English bedding company. We are rolling out this product onboard our aircraft to enhance our customer sleep preposition. We will bring this in the Indian market in the next few months.”

British Airways is the first airlines who are all set to introduce non reclining seats in their short haul flights. This move will allow the airlines to accommodate more travellers on-board. Williams said, “We don’t make any business decisions without testing the waters and without knowing the customers’ needs. Customers are not so inclined for the seats to recline in short haul routes. The key thing is to get a seat. This brings a new design of seats which will be comfortable for all.”

As a part of the enhancement programme, earlier this year British Airways had announced a multi-million pound investment in its World Traveller (long-haul economy cabin) catering, introducing an expanded new menu, which provides more quantity and quality to both meals and snacking options throughout the flight.

“The investment in enhancing the in-flight catering has got some very good response from the customers. We have specifically in detail changed the Club World catering and we have changed the service style and catering preposition in the cabin to be more restaurants like. The response has been extremely positive. We are also changing the catering in our economy cabin to make sure that people are getting the food they expect,” Williams added.

The airline has no plans to further expand geographically in India. “We have 49 flights a week from India to UK which is a significant number. Outside of the US, India is the biggest international market that we have. We fly twice a day to Delhi and Mumbai and once to Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. We are always changing the aircraft types to India. In summer, we bring one of the larger aircrafts to Delhi. We are always looking for more such opportunities. We had a good load factor. The Indian market is a core market for us in all of the cabins. We are positioning ourselves to all segments of travellers. India has a booming middle class segment. People are looking more and more to travel. Whenever we introduce new routes we always get a very good response from this market. We are launching Seychelles, Nashville, Tennessee this year. We are providing connectivity to the Indians through London, which is very well received,” he said.

Students and VFR has emerged as a big segment for British Airways from India. Students are also a huge segment when it comes to transiting through UK. Williams said, “Students remain to be a very important segment to British Airways, a lot of students here wants to go and study in the United States and Canada. We also see a large student population who go and study in UK. We have world-class universities in UK. When students go, their families come to visit and they go home, which again is an opportunity for us. It is important for us to engage with students today, as they are business customers tomorrow. VFR remains a big segment for us, the links between India and US and the US is strong.”

Dana Urmonas, Regional Director (India & Southeast Asia), South Australian Tourism Commission speaks about the upcoming ATE which is all set to be held in Adelaide and about the growth from India market

 

In 2016, there was a slight dip in footfall to South Australia from India but an increase in spend by Indian travellers. In 2017, once again the destination has witnessed growth, what was the key strategy behind this growth?

India is one of our top ten international markets and we have been making conscious efforts to increase visitation and spend ever since we entered the market three years ago. The increase in visitors as well as spend by Indians in 2017 is a reflection on the steady efforts we have put in through our airline and trade partnerships, training programs for tour operators, influencer campaigns and consumer-targeted programs via digital and public relations. We have also been actively participating in the Indian Travel Mission organised by Tourism Australia year on year and this has helped us engage with hundreds of tour operators each year.

This time ATE is all set to be held in Adelaide, how do you see this event and what kind of boost will tourism South Australia get out of it?

The ATE was last held in Adelaide in 2010, so we are excited about the opportunity to host it again this year. We will have over 2,000 delegates visiting from over 30 countries and the 700 international travel wholesalers and retailers and over 80 international and Australian media attending ATE in Adelaide. The impact for tourism in South Australia goes beyond just numbers as the participants attending the ATE will also have an opportunity to explore the unspoilt nature, world-class food and wine regions and native Australian wildlife in Adelaide and its charming surrounds such as the Barossa, Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island and Fleurieu Peninsula. This particularly helps the trade understand the distinctions between destinations like Adelaide or Kangaroo Island as opposed to other common Australian destinations and why should Indian travellers choose them over the rest.

Which are the segments you are targeting in India?

In India, we are targeting travellers typically between the ages of 25-45 who are from metropolitan areas like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. Our focus is to attract honeymooners, families, independent travellers and particularly cricket lovers.

What was the average length of stay and average spends by Indians in 2017?

Typically, we see Indians spending anywhere between 7-10 nights in Adelaide and its surrounding regions given the vastness of experiences on offer. This was no different in 2017. The spends by Indians for the year ended September 2017 was at AUD 37 million, which was a steep 33% more than the AUD28 million spent for the year ended September 2016.

Which are the new attractions that you are showcasing for the India market?

Two big attractions that we want to showcase for the India market will be the RoofClimb experience at the Adelaide Oval, the only cricket stadium in the world where you can do this and the recently launched food and wine experience at d’Arenberg Cube in the Fleurieu Peninsula, which is being touted as one of the most exciting wine experiences in the world. Also with the first ever day/night test match between India and Australia being played at the Adelaide Oval later this year, our focus will be on highlighting city experiences in Adelaide and nearby regions, like swimming with the tuna in Fleurieu Peninsula, holding a koala at wildlife parks in the Adelaide Hills and food and wine experiences in the Barossa. We will also be showcasing the variety of experiences on offer on Kangaroo Island, which is one of the most sought-after destinations in Australia among Indians. Qantas recently started their seasonal flight service over the months of December and January between Adelaide, Melbourne and Kangaroo Island, making accessibility to this remarkable island even easier.

Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market in 2018?

We will continue to build trade and airline partnerships and invest in training our trade partners on the experiences that South Australia has to offer in 2018. This year again we will be participating at the ITM organized by Tourism Australia with the aim to attract a higher yield of international travellers, delve into the big issues and ways in which to address these issues of today’s most important tourism marketing questions

How much growth in footfall do you aim to achieve from India this year?

We are aiming to increase our visitor numbers by 10% this year through our upcoming trade and consumer programs.

Which are your major source markets globally and where does India stand?

Our major source markets include the United Kingdom, China, USA, New Zealand, Germany and Singapore and these are followed by India which currently stands as the seventh largest international market overall. We foresee tremendous scope for growth in India as Indians are gravitating more towards experiential, off-beat and adventure travel of late and South Australia’s offerings beautifully bring the three together all in one destination.

The capital of Spain, Madrid is the first destination to offer a visitors loyalty programme based on a catalogue of exclusive advantages and offers that can be redeemed through a points system. It is called “Vuelve a Madrid” which means Return to Madrid, a programme developed by Madrid City Council’s Tourism Office to encourage visitors to return to the city, this initiative was introduced by Luis Cueto, the General Coordinator of Madrid’s Mayor Office recently along with Miguel Sanz, Director of Tourism.

The programme is aimed at more than 9.9 million visitors who come to the city each year and particularly to those who regularly travel to it for professional reasons. At the time of its launch, Cueto said, “What we are doing with this really innovative initiative is promoting Madrid, making the city grow, making its tourist offer even more attractive and making all the players in the tourism industry shine even more brightly. We have no doubts as to the importance of public-private collaboration.”

This programme, which rolled out in March 2017 and has been co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the ERDF operational programme has made Madrid the first major destination to have its own loyalty programme. The objectives of the programme are four-fold; It allows companies and institutions to join the tourism value chain and helps them to increase the consumption of their products and/or services amidst a much wider audience. Its aim is to promote repeat visits to the capital, boost tourism expenditure, diversify consumption and foster sustainable tourism by deseasonalising visits by tourists. In this way, everyone is able to join the tourist value chain.

Moreover, it offers special experiences, opportunities and discounts. More than 1,700 people have already signed up for Vuelve a Madrid and more than 50 companies and institutions in Madrid have expressed their interest and confidence in the programme by adhering to it. These include major cultural gatherings such as ARCO; leisure and entertainment references in the capital such as the tour of the Bernabéu Stadium, La Zarzuela Racecourse, the Wax Museum, and musicals and shows staged by the production companies Stage (responsible for the Spanish adaptation of The Bodyguard -El Guardaespaldas-) and Som Produce (currently staging Billy Elliot and El Mago Pop); flamenco venues like El Corral de la Moreria and Casa Patas, as also gastronomic establishments and events (La Esquina del Real, La Bola, Palacio de Cibeles or Madrid Fusion), shops (Seseña Capes) or mobility companies such as Tuk Tour Madrid and Segway Trip Madrid.

Membership is free of charge. All that is required is that you be of legal age and reside outside the city of Madrid. The programme allows visitors to enjoy experiences in gastronomy, leisure and entertainment, shopping, art, culture and nightlife, through special offers, opportunities and discounts obtained through a points redemption system.

Technology is emerging as a key differentiator for the hotel industry

In the recent years, hotels have evolved from being just a mere lodging or accommodation for travellers. With the entry of technology into the hospitality industry, the demand of traveller has increased manifolds. Some of the trends in industry are leading to great improvements and savings for hotel companies; while some are changing how hotel developers plan their buildings, infrastructure, management structure and staffing requirements. Today, technology has become a key component of the overall hotel experience.

According to a recent report by Cognizant, by 2025, many technologies that are just emerging today will have moved into mainstream operation. Robotic process automation (RPA), for example, will disrupt hotels’ booking and loyalty processes in positive ways. Chatbot services will integrate with booking and purchasing, forming a new notification channel for guests. Biometrics will keep us more secure, robots will bring us breakfast, and drones will deliver us hamburgers. Loyalty and streamlined rewards redemption will be another key focus. Hotels will actively partner with other providers as they expand their role in the travel experience, leading to loyalty networks among hotels, airlines, restaurants and retailers.

Speaking about the importance of technology in hospitality industry Jan Tissera, President International, Travel Click said, technology has brought in convenience for guests. One challenge that hotel industry is facing is that 80 per cent of the customers are first time customers. How do they start getting to know before they come to the hotel? Hotels have long amassed data but underused it. Data is the most valuable asset for many brands, and tapping into it will be a priority to deliver the personalisation that travellers want. It is very important to understand the use of big data. Offering right price, right product at right time is very important. Hotel needs to know from where demand is coming in. Localisation is extremely important. Hospitality industry is the second largest employer in the world. Technology is the enabler and human touch is very important for personalisation aspect. The aspect of touch points with consumers is very important.”

Personal data is fast becoming the number one commodity for organisations. With all this data comes a wealth of insights, which can help hotel operators deliver a personal touch for every guest. Technology can play a huge role in the effort to make the stay as easy and hassle-free as possible. Social network data can take personalization to the next level. Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram may be the key to achieving true personalization. Every day, users of these networks reveal intimate information about themselves that could give hotel companies a better lens into customer travel preferences.

 

Currently trending

Presently majority of the hotels are investing big time into enhancing the technological aspects of their existing hotel. Earlier, technology such as Wi-Fi and keyless entry has now become a basic feature for most of the hotels. In 2017, there were a lot of new features which is now being added such as Big Data, eConcierge, Virtual Reality. All these features further adds towards personalisation.

Speaking about the trends in the last couple of years, Nilesh Patel, Director of IT – AccorHotels India said, “The major trends hospitality industry saw in terms of technology were; there was a surge in direct bookings through brand websites. Websites were also improvised for seamless functioning both for the teams as well as the guests. There was an increase in presence and interaction on social media platforms by new campaigns and contests. Big Data – Data consolidation or sharing between hotel technologies in use viz. PMS, POS, CRM, MIS, BI Tools, Door Keys, Concierge, Marketing Tools for promotional campaigns, etc. Mobile PMS – PMS on mobile devices; In-Room Technologies to use in room controls and other equipment like TV, AV devices, In-Room Dining ordering, Guest Requests, Key through Mobile devices, etc. eConcierge- Large format touch screen kiosks situated in a prime location in the hotel lobby and accompanying mobile applications on iOS and Android to provide guest details about the hotel, the city and other details and Improvised platform for guest satisfaction feedback and scores.”

Smartphones has played an extremely important role in linking the customers to various features of the hotel. More hotels are now looking to personalised provide mobile apps. According to a recent research study conducted by Travelport, The Indian Digital Traveller Research, Indians rank one by combining the main indicators of digital usage by travellers in each country. The findings reflect overall smartphone, fixed-line and mobile internet penetration levels locally. The study found that in India 67 per cent use voice searches, 87 per cent use videos and photos and 91 per cent use review sites as part of their travel research, 75 per cent choose hotels with free Wi-Fi, 71 per cent use smartphone to research and book their hotels, 58 per cent look for best priced rooms and so on.

Speaking about the use of smartphones as a key hospitality technology Sandeep Dwivedi, Chief Operating Officer, InterGlobe Technology Quotient said, “The key trend that demarcated 2017 as an excellent year of ubiquitous growth for the travel industry are: the rampant use of technology, booming digitalisation, and the burgeoning of the middle class. Due to the internet revolution, we have perceived a huge shift of device preference: from desktop to laptop and now from laptop to the mobile. The use of digital is also quite high for the Indian travellers who like to remain connected while travelling, use their mobile for passes and e-tickets and prefer airlines that offer good digital tools. Most importantly the traveller now uses an average of 19 different categories of apps are used while travelling. Therefore, today’s travel industry and especially the technology needs to gear up and start taking note of this new gen traveller in order to provide what they are looking for.”

 

Efficient distribution

Today, distribution of rooms has also evolved to an advanced stage. Traditional travel distribution in which high brick and mortar agencies played a dominant role was revolutionised with online travel agencies and direct distribution through airlines and hotels’ websites acquiring a key role. This space has witnessed a lot of disruption.

Rajesh Magow, CEO, MakeMyTrip said, “The first level of disruption came around 2005 followed by internet economy. Internet was basically disrupting the old conventional brick and mortar model business. This, literally, changed everything. With internet, the structure and functioning of the market saw a disturbance. Over last decade or so, there has been massive introduction of new technology and there was different kind of disruption that was happening. Now, there is second phase of disruption where within the technology space where even the existing businesses were disrupting. The first disruption was in supply side. Technology has not only changed the way travel is distributed, it has also affected the way travellers experience it. Travellers are getting more comfortable with accessing services and conveniences online. Today, customers are fairly confident of purchasing travel-products online from their preferred portals, or through mobiles.”

In the new age distribution era, Big Data will play a major role. Today even small function like saved unique hotel messages and personalised functionalities have become important.

Speaking about the GDS systems Dwivedi said, “Although being one of the earliest distribution model entrant GDS has kept evolving itself with the changing times. We no longer resemble just as the aggregator of content. We stand now as the effective means of helping travel agents transform their business model. No longer does a traveller want, just a low cost airlines option or a room booked for a few nights. Now he has to be offered complete packages as per his preferences and we are the means to understand and offer, best fit options through our technology. In addition, with changing preferences we have come up with point and click technology for our GDS which helps travel agents to do away with cryptic commands and straight away search travel through easy search options.

Along with the enhancement of technology, one of the downside is the increase in digital attacks. Enhancing security is also a key issue for the hotels. As the hotel has sensitive data stored on the server, an attack can damage an entire ecosystem.

Implementation of Security device at entry / exit point of internet is the most important thing, which we have to look upon. “We usually keep our Internet secured and safe by regular upkeeps and updating our network infrastructures for safety and security of our critical and sensitive data. Thanks to PCI-DSS process, which is a great help in providing stringent guidelines, which supports us to plan more secured platform. We have a dedicated team which monitors our network and any anomalies, if detected, are raised with the concerned team to take immediately counter measures,” Patel said.

 

Futuristic approach

Is faceless concierge or staff-less hotel the future? Is one question often asked to the hospitality industry. One of the most important points which the industry believes is that despite the rise in technology, human touch is a very important part of the personalised experience. Technology helps to fill the void.

Patel said, “Faceless concierges and receptions are increasing with pace in hotels, where the guest movement is very high and there is not enough human resources, technological resources and physical spaces available, where these digital faces helps a lot, which are very much accepted by guests. Of course human touch is very much required to have a feel of personalisation, but this can be achieved by the team members by helping and assisting guest while they are using technology and also they can talk more with guest on points apart from the hotel routine questionnaire without using standardised phrases.”

Speaking about the future trends he further added, “In coming years, we see the major trends in technology which will enter in Hospitality sector would be IoT - Fueled by the breakneck pace of innovation, the latest must-have technologies would be on the Internet of Things (IoT). Though it would take some time to adopt and deploy but few hotels already have virtual voice assistants in guest rooms which actually marks the IoT-driven shape of things to come. Virtual Reality will be used for virtual tours and also using it as a marketing tool. Robotics – for guest assistance and POS outlets; More and more application and data over Cloud instead On-Premise; Secured and robust architecture for handling guest information and other data; and eConcierge.”

“If high speed internet was the defining factor in the disruption of the offline travel market, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence surely looks the next phase of the disruption in future. In the initial phase until now, the online travel sector required human intelligence to perform tasks in the online travel operations. But the kind of evolution computation is seeing, we are gradually inching towards a new level of automation that would require little or no supervision. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are reaching a new level of maturity and are poised to transform how consumers plan travel, as well as offer travel businesses a way to slash operating costs,” Magow said.

Many technology players have geared up themselves and have come up with futuristic products for the industry. The use of Big Data and Internet of Things will play a cruicial role in the future investments.

Dwivedi said, “With the new age travellers wanting more choices, we offer not just immense number of options but the best fit ones. It always goes back to the type of traveller, their unique preference and streamlined big data that helps us offer the best in class options, which automatically translates into revenue growth for our travel partners.”

Marketing, management and hotel developers can no longer work in silos and these technology trends are giving them the opportunities, tools and solutions they need to create memorable experiences that can lead to positive change and growth in the industry.

Experts are of the opinion that there is no doubt that technology has a huge role to play in shaping the hotels of the future but there are some things it can never completely replace: the human touch. The reality is that whilst human interactions are becoming less and less common, when they do take place they are more precious than ever before. Hotel operators must remember to still provide a positive human interaction.

 

Jan Tissera

Data is the most valuable asset for many brands, and tapping into it will be a priority to deliver the personalisation that travellers want

 

Sandeep Dwivedi

Although being one of the earliest distribution model entrant GDS has kept evolving itself with the changing times

 

Nilesh Patel

Faceless concierges and receptions are increasing with pace in hotels, where the guest movement is very high and there is not enough human resources

 

2017 has been a roller-coaster year mainly due to GST for tourism in India. Industry awaits a better growth in 2018

The year 2017, has indeed been an eventful year for the tourism and hospitality industry. There have been lots of bullish movements with the Government implementing the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), investment into development of circuits and tourism infrastructure under PRASAD scheme, and introduction of ‘Paryatan Parv’, to showcase tourism and culture of the country, have gone extremely well with the industry. Also this year the Government introduced the Medical and Wellness Tourism policy which was a very important move in promoting India as a medical and wellness hub. Even the cruising segment has witnessed a boost, with Ministry of Shipping now focusing to develop major ports in India and open it up for tourism. Meanwhile, the Government has also taken some steps which the industry sees as a growth deterrent, at least as of now but could emerge as a growth driver in the long run. The implementation of GST has been a historic move and was necessary for the nation, but for the tourism and hospitality industry it can lead to a stunted growth if not reworked upon.

Despite these policy measures, inbound arrivals witnessed a upward surge. According to the latest available statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, the Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) during the January - October 2017 were 7.9 million with a growth of 15.8 per cent over same period of the previous year. This growth trend is much higher than global average growth which stands at 4 -5 per cent. Moreover, the image of India as a tourism destination also got a shot as India jumped 12 places to 40th rank globally in travel and tourism competitiveness list by World Economic Forum. India has seen continued growth in international arrivals over the past 15 years, reaching the 8 million mark in 2015, WEF said, adding the country’s vast cultural and natural resources, and its price competitiveness advantage also attracted international tourists.

Also, the inclusion of NRIs among international tourists enabled India to jump 16 places in the revised World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) rankings to settle at 24th for 2014 and 2015. Earlier, it was ranked 41st and 40th in 2014 and 2015, respectively, as per the global ranking. So far only the figures of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) were compiled in India. However, now India has started compiling the data arrivals of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) also. “Due to this inclusion, India’s improved rank reflecting the true and comparable scenario has now been acknowledged by the UNWTO,” the release said. With this inclusion, the share of India in the ITAs has also increased from 0.68% (based on FTAs) to 1.12% in 2015.

 

The year that was

2017 can be termed as a melodramatic year where there were surprises for every segment. The hospitality industry has witnessed significant growth in terms of occupancy, steady ARR, and growth in MICE. The tour operators have seen a growth in outbound as well as the domestic travel market has boomed. Interestingly, this year has been a fruitful year for corporate travel and has also fuelled growth into the newly evolved Bleisure segment. On the contrary, some of the policies which may have a positive effect on the long run have hit the industry this year. The implementation of GST has majorly impacted the industry, for some segments negatively. GST for the tourism and hospitality segment is much higher as compared to neighbouring destination, which can seriously impact the inbound traffic.

Peter Kerkar, Group CEO, Cox & Kings said, “The domestic and outbound tourism has grown quite significantly. The inbound tourism could have done better. However, other arms such as the outbound MICE and Business Travel have grown in the higher double digits.”

Even the airline industry is on a growth trajectory. But, some airlines feel that the excess capacity in the market will lead to lower profits in 2018. Mark Sutch, Regional General Manager, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Cathay Pacific Airways said, “The world of travel has evolved significantly, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down in the year to come. We expect to see a growth in “bleisure” with travellers merging business and leisure trips. Consumers continue to want greater choice, certainty, and value for money in all aspects of their travel, be it booking a hotel or choosing an airline. On the business side, the Indian aviation market holds tremendous potential for growth. From an airline perspective, excess capacity will place downward pressure on yields, pushing airlines towards lower profits and increased losses. Until the market catches up with capacity growth, we can continue to expect yield to remain under pressure.”

This year there has been a significant growth in the corporate travel segment. Event the SMEs are now booking through the organised segment. Rajesh Magow, Co-founder and CEO-India, MakeMyTrip said, “The travel and tourism industry is on a high growth path-all thanks to the industry effort and various policy initiatives to promote the sector. The growing demand is a clear consequence of the growing consumer income and the behavioural shift among consumers to make travel central to their lifestyle. Corporate travel is another reason why the travel sector is seeing a massive upswing. Self help corporate travel tools are adding to the ease and convenience for SMEs and start ups to take up travel more frequently to grow their business. Pilgrimage travel is another area where we have seen significant uptick.”

 

Favourable policies

In terms of economic policies, in the last fiscal year the lightning struck twice at the same place. First the form of demonetisation which was announced in November 2016 and next the historic implementation of GST. Both these policies have impacted the tourism and the hospitality segment, but the negative impact is just a temporary phase. These policies will in fact drastically reduce the unorganised sector. Also there was a liquor ban which was announced in this year which had a major impact for a few months before it was revoked. “These are transformational changes that have impacted the tourism industry. The demonetisation of 2016 and the implementation of the GST in 2017 will go a long way in lifting the fortunes for the organised players in the travel industry. In some states, there is a clamour to restrict alcohol consumption. However, the states should be prudent in their approach and ensure that it does not impact the travel and tourism industry,” Kerkar said.

To tackle the impact of demonetisation, some of the players have implemented various new online systems. Industry feels that demonetisation will only grow the digital payment space.

Ashish Dhruva, VP Marketing, Cleartrip, “At Cleartrip, we have been pioneering the comprehensiveness of online payment options. We offer one of the most exhaustive sets of payment options and have created benchmarks in the travel world with payment related innovations like stored card solution- Expressway. Consequently, our dependency on non-digital payments has been minimal. Within digital payments, the share of transactions through wallets has increased by post demonetisation. Overall we didn’t have any impact of demonetisation. We believe that progress with digitisation will only improve. Travellers today are looking at creating experiences out of the places they visit.”

Some of the industry experts feel that the liquor ban policies in a few states of India will disturb the inbound numbers. Hector D’souza, President, L'orient Travels said, “I personally feel liquor ban in many parts of India does not bode well for inbound tourism. More than the liquor, I feel it’s the word ‘ban’ that creates uneasiness among visitors. Taxation is an issue especially for first class hotels offering boarding & lodging. This has been generating debate, much before GST began. The net effect is neighbouring countries stand to benefit from this. As regards to demonetisation, a breed of travellers has been created, post the ban. This is the double income, nuclear family high earning segment in the range of 28 to 45 years with fair amount of disposable income, weighted towards spending for experiencing, will bargain hard for the best deal; on the down side time is a constraint - thereby resulting in shorter but more frequent breakaways.”

Segments like cruising have picked up steam in India market. Government is now focusing to improve the port infrastructure and are looking for ways to make this segment seamless. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Shipping, in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism, had announced reforms to the regulatory processes governing the cruise tourism industry in the country. The objective of the ministry is to revolutionise this industry which has a high employment generation potential, by simplifying the rules and procedures pertaining to various aspects of cruise port operations like security, immigration, and customs. Also the Government is now investing huge amount into development of existing major ports with world class amenities.

Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN, India representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises said, “Government is diligently working on improving the ports and infrastructure and is serious to make cruise tourism a success in India. Major ports are set to cut berthing charges for cruise ships and there will be e-landing and e-visa facilities for the tourists. This year, the country witnessed 60,000 cruise tourists through 55 ships and there is a potential to increase it to 30 lakh cruise tourists in the coming years. As we all know that the cruise business is cyclical, we hope for promising years ahead.”

 

Expectations from 2018

With a more optimistic vision, the industry is anticipating a better year ahead. With the economic policies steadying, next year should be a smooth year for the industry.

Speaking about the trends for 2018 Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director, Bird Group & Member of CII’s Core Committee on Aviation said, “2018 for aviation, travel and hospitality industry will be a promising one as domestic travel and MICE picks up resulting in business growth. With the upcoming Union Budget for 2018-19, we are looking forward to reforms supporting the industry. While the government is aggressively marketing brand India globally, it is imperative to focus internally and address issues around taxation, infrastructure and inconsistent regulations imposed by various states to achieve the potential of these industries. We also hope the Union Budget will empower each of the industries to take full advantage of varied opportunities ahead.”

Hotels look at 2018 as a positive year for growth. The power of domestic market has helped hotels to have a better occupancy rate and a slightly better ARR compared to previous year. This year will also witness a growth in millennial travel which will boost the demand for hotels.

Rishi Puri, Vice President, Lords Hotels & Resorts said, “We anticipate that in 2018, we’ll see a sharp increase in travellers within the country which will be driven by the millennial. The destinations will no longer be limited to the popular choices but also will include the lesser explored places including smaller cities and towns that are connected by flights. The millennial’ decision will mostly be based on the perception of value which includes a new experience, little known history about the destination, and its food and culture against the cost of such an expedition. The year 2018 looks promising and ideally would have been something 2017 would have witnessed but for the unfortunate series of events in the year.”

Echoing similar opinion Sanzeev Bhatia, VP & GM, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa said, “Since there will not be much increase in inventory in Delhi, we are hopeful of a better business in Delhi. The trends of increased tourism will continue in 2018 resulting in better ADR and occupancy in hotels. MICE and corporate business is also expected to grow multifold in 2018. So in total we will be expecting an excellent growth in terms of business for Delhi Hotels.”

 

Increasing Horizon

Indian outbound market has matured leaps and bounds in the last decade. Now travellers are not only looking to visit destinations for sightseeing, but are looking for a unique experience. This has given rise to demand for lesser known or non-traditional destinations. The trend continues and travellers are looking for the lesser explored paths.

Magow said, “While Goa, Kerala and Manali continue to remain popular around the year. We expect higher growth across off-beat locations like Serbia and Croatia amongst others. Cities like Shillong, Pondicherry, Neyveli which are being connected through airports due to Civil aviation ministry’s Udaan scheme will also see an increasing traction amongst travellers.”

Another trend in 2018 will be that there will be travellers who will repeat destinations, but only for novel experiences. People will travel for more for niche products apart from new destinations.

Kerkar said, “For many travellers, it's the experience that matters rather than a destination. For example, people will travel to the UK for the second or third time to seek newer experiences such as wine tours, castle holidays or just enjoy the countryside on self-drive vacations. It does not mean that newer destinations will not be explored. South America, Eastern Europe, East Africa, the Balkans are the new emerging destinations for the Indian traveller.”

In terms of cruising travellers are now exploring various new far away destinations. With the growing popularity of this segment short fly-cruising to countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have witnessed growth. In 2018, long-haul destinations like Alaska, Caribbean will see demand from India market. Chadha added, “Singapore and HongKong are fast becoming hubs for cruising in India. We are the currently largest source of business for Singapore cruises from India. With our new builds, we are witnessing a growing demand for cruises to Alaska, Europe, and the Caribbean.”

 

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