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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Akquasun Group, a destination marketing company based in India is all set to aggressively focus on technological investments in 2018. In 2017, the company has witnessed a growth of around 30 per cent in terms of business.

Speaking about the growth BA Rahim, Group Director, Akquasun Group said, “In 2017 there were a lot of changes in the Government and economic policies such as introduction of GST. Despite these challenges, Akquasun Group has witnessed 30 per cent growth in overall business strategy. All our DMCs especially Hong Kong, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Russia, Dubai have grown significantly. We saw a growth of 30 per cent in MICE as well as leisure.”

In 2017, the company added Morocco to its network by opening an office. The company has also changed its strategy and is working on a complete or a partial ownership model.

Rahim added, “We have 18 offices across the globe. Last year we opened an office in Morocco and also have strengthened our business into the European market. We have adopted a new strategy for Aqkuasun, wherein we either own a DMC or do a partnership. We no more do networking. All our 18 offices are owned by us completely or with an equal share as per that country’s law. Also, 2017 ended with a good note as we were awarded as the World’s leading DMC by WTA, which is one of the most prestigious hospitality award globally recognised.”

This year the group is looking to invest into the technology segment and plans to introduce home grown systems. The company is also eyeing expansion into Australia and New Zealand markets.

Speaking about the development Rahim added, “We are now only left out in Australia and New Zealand, which we will fulfil by this year. Then we will completely move into Technology after completing 20 DMCs. It will be our own online system and our own hotel beds by us which are contracted. This will be a unique system, with our own contracts implanted in the portal. We want to be Asia’s largest bank for beds. For 2018, the main strategy is all about developing our online portal efficiently.”

The group has also recently tied up with Tourism Malaysia for a joint promotion which includes a comprehensive promotion in major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. The promotion will also reach other cities including Bangalore, Lucknow, Surat, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Mysore, Cochin, Coimbatore, Chandigarh, Rajkot, and Ahmednagar.

 

Speaking about the trade engagement activities for the year, Rahim said, “We have planned a lot of trade activities in India by participating in key travel trade shows. We have tied up with Malaysian Tourism Board for one to one promotions across India. We will cover around 12-14 cities under this joint promotions. Overseas we will be attending ATM, ITB and close to seven exhibitions by taking our own stands.”

Sri Lanka has witnessed a seven per cent increase in Indian arrivals in 2017. The destination welcomed 284,000 Indian travellers and India still remains the top source market for Sri Lanka.

Speaking about India market, Viranga Bandara, Assistant Director-Marketings, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said, “The year 2017 was a record breaking year for Sri Lanka in terms of footfall from India. We have recorded the highest numbers ever which is about 284,000 travellers from India. We witnessed a seven per cent growth over the previous year.We are looking to further grow numbers from India in 2018.”

In 2018, the Bureau is looking to tap the niche segments from India market. Cinema tourism and destination weddings have emerged as prime focus amongst others.

Bandara said, “We are looking at niche segments this year like the wedding tourism, Ramayana tours, cruise and film tourism. These are some of the features we have added to our portfolio and will aggressively promote in the India market. Also, MICE is one of the biggest segment we are looking at the India market. There are new convention centres, halls and infrastructure coming up with some new hotel facilities in Sri Lanka. There is a large potential for the MICE segment to grow from the India market. In terms of film tourism, we are supporting for approvals and incentive scheme. Soon we will come out with a structured policy for film tourism segment.”

Sri Lanka introduced the Ramayana Tours in India market two years ago. After tasting success in this circuit, Sri Lanka is all set to organise Ramayana specific roadshows in India market. Sri Lanka is also set to promote unexplored destinations in India market.  “Ramayana tours is one of the most important segments when it comes to the Indian market. We are planning to do more marketing and promotions about this segment. We will be doing roadshows in different cities only focusing on Ramayana tours in India. Northern East coastal area is open for Indians and they can explore this destination. This is one new area we are showcasing to the Indian travellers,” Bandara added.

In 2018, Sri Lanka is all set to organise roadshows in tier II cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur, Surat, Pune and Vishakapatnam and Coimbatore.

 

Speaking about the key source markets in India Bandara said, “In India our top source markets are Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi. These are the main key hubs for Sri Lanka Tourism. We are now trying to attract travellers from smaller cities.”

Bullish over close to double-digit growth from Indian arrivals, Japan is looking to promote novel products in India and also the destination wedding segment. “The total number of tourists from India to Japan was 134,400 with a growth rate of 9.3 per cent. This is less that our expectation; we thought that we will reach around 150,000. Some problems like the North Korea Missile issue have affected. I think this year we will grow rapidly. We have already invited over 20 travel agents and six media to Japan in 2017, to showcase that the destination is safe as ever. In 2018, we are looking at a growth of around 20 per cent,” Kenichi Takano, Executive Director (Delhi Office), JNTO said.

Speaking about the average spend Takano said, “According to a survey, the average length of stay for Indian travellers is close to 15 days. The spending by Indian travellers is 160,000 Japanese Yen (approx Rs. 90,000). Indians are high spenders and are very important for Japan.”

Mumbai has emerged as one of the biggest source markets for Japan in terms of the MICE market. Also the destination has steadily witnessed growth in the cruising segment from India. Takano added, “Japan is a big destination for the MICE segment from India, especially the Mumbai market. We have received a lot of visa requirement for MICE from this city. Cruising in Japan is very popular, especially for China, Korea and South East Asian travellers. Star Cruise is operating in Japan and I think we are receiving travellers from India for cruising as well. This is also one of our major target segments in India market.”

JNTO is now aggressively looking to promote the destination wedding segment in India. Today, India is one of the biggest source markets for global destination for this segment as the average participants in an Indian wedding is high.

Speaking about this segment Takano said, “Our big plan is to promote destination weddings in Japan for the Indian travellers. Average number of participants in Indian weddings is around 150 and average money spent is close to 50 million Japanese Yen. So we are recommending Japanese travel agents and hotels, to invite destination wedding to Japan. Okinawa is a beautiful destination for weddings and also Kyoto Temple is a destination fit for weddings. I also want to organise a destination wedding seminar in Japan to invite local government, Japanese travel agents and hotels to spread awareness of this segment.”

 

Speaking about the latest products for the Indian market He further said, “Tateyama Alpine Route is one of the latest products we are promoting in the India market. The operation period of this Alpine Route is same as the Indian school vacations from April until June. Indian travellers can experience snow there. We are also promoting Hiroshima and Hokkaido. Family is our top travellers apart from MICE. We want to grow other segments like students. Have special activities to attract students to Japan.”

Traditionally, cruising was looked upon as a segment which is expensive and is for a certain age group in India. This perception is gradually fading in India and now cruise liners have started witnessing the potential of this market. In 2017, major cruise liners have witnessed significant growth from India market. Also luxury cruising is one segment which has started picking up.

Speaking about the growth in 2017, Kunal Sampat, General Manager-India, MSC Cruises said, “Indian travellers have started understanding that cruising is not about luxury and the same is about an experience. The myth of cruise holidays being expensive is slowly diminishing and we are happy to see travellers booking their cruise holidays in advance over previous years for 2018. 2017 has been a path-breaking year for MSC Cruises with a passenger growth of more than 30 per cent over 2016.”

Echoing similar opinion Ratna Chadha, CEO, TIRUN Travel Marketing added, “Riding on the growing popularity of cruise holidays in India, TIRUN has achieved an impressive 60 per cent growth as compared to last year. Going forward, we look forward to 25 to 30 per cent year on year growth. This will be fuelled by relevant deployment closer to home and/or from home (India).”

Last year there was a lot of development in the Indian cruising story as the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Tourism have brought out many new policies to growth this segment.

Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals said, “The period from 2004 – 2014 was not encouraging for cruise tourism as such but the way this government is resolving various issues pertaining to Cruise Tourism, whether it is domestic or international, we do hope that Indian ports become host & home to not just one or two but many cruise lines in the years to come. Indian cruise tourism story is reaching the ears of all international players and it would not be long before we have more international players who would start taking interest in Indian shores.”

Chadha added, “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.”

Earlier Indian cruisers used to choose their destinations which are close to India for cruising. Destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong were very popular amongst Indians. Now the travellers are looking beyond these destinations and are also looking at long haul options.

Speaking about the new popular destinations amongst Indians Sampat said, “Our West Mediterranean & East Mediterranean sailings covering Italy, Spain, France & Italy, Greece, Croatia respectively have always been quite popular amongst Indian travellers. We do anticipate good growth for North Europe in 2018 and with introduction of our new ship, MSC Seaside, being deployed in the Caribbean; we foresee a good demand for the same as well in 2018.”

Saxena added, “Singapore & Alaska are the ever popular short haul and long haul cruising destinations among Indian travellers. But the buying behaviour of passengers for both these destinations depicts a totally different mind-set w.r.t early booking and last minute buying behaviours.”

Also, matured cruise travellers or repeat clients are now upgrading themselves and looking for more luxury products.

Saxena said, “We feel that Indian passengers have understood luxury much before their counterparts in other countries. In fact, Indians have been using luxury products for a longer time but the definition of luxury in India has always been a little distorted and is viewed/ described by people who themselves have had little or no exposure to luxury. Our understanding is that luxury & class have a very thin line to differentiate but there is a significant amount of Indian passengers who understand this and enjoy good things in life.”

The year 2017 has been a mixed bag for the tourism industry with many new policy changes and other impacts. Last year there were three major policies which impacted the industry with after effects demonetisation, Liquor ban policy and GST being the highlight. Whereas demonetisation and liquor ban was condemned by the industry, GST was accepted with mixed opinions.

Speaking about the impact of economic policies in 2017 on tourism industry Pronab Sarkar, President, IATO said, “Policy development in general looks beneficial for over all development of our country. But for travel and tourism industry, it has not been very supportive especially implementation of GST has negatively impacted the industry. Under GST regime, tour operator’s services are taxed under five per cent tax slab with denial of Input Tax Credit (ITC); five per cent tax on entire tour value results in taxing all the procurements made by tour operator once again. This has resulted in cascading of taxes in the entire supply chain. The average tax on tourism industry works out to 28.3%. This may result in loss of business for the tour operators as we will not be able to compete with the neighbouring countries.”

Biji Eapen, President, IAAI added, “Government policies in 2017 are not at all supporting the travel and tourism industry in India. The negative impact of the demonetisations and the current GST regime, had very badly hit the tourism sector. Though India is aggressively campaigning tourism all over the world, the industry needs more supportive policies and also needs to educate from the grass-roots level.”

Despite these impacts, associations have witnessed a slight upward trend in 2017. Some of the niche tourism segments like adventure have witnessed growth.

Swadesh Kumar, President, ATOAI said, “The Year 2017 has been good for adventure tourism, where there was a growth of 10 per cent in inbound arrivals and 30 per cent in the domestic front and our target is to double the growth in the next three years’ time.”

The calendar has flipped from 2017 to 2018, but still the challenges remain unchanged and unaddressed. In fact, challenges has remained same for quite a few years such as developing infrastructure, connectivity, safety, etc. only adding newer elements like GST, developing new quality products and more.

Speaking about the challenges which needs to be addressed PP Khanna, President, ADTOI said, “Though we have Tourism policy is in place it should be practiced in letter and spirit for country’s overall tourism growth. Govt. should bring Tourism Act to keep a check on the activities of people engaged in the industry as any untoward incident on tourism activities can tarnish the image of the place and the country as a whole. North East is yet to see the tourist boom as there has not been much policy development in the region. No proper connectivity, infrastructure facilities, promotional activities is marring the tourism growth which is otherwise endowed with everything that can offer to tourists. Our association is facing challenges from OTAs who are practicing unethical practices. Our members are facing difficulties with regard to applicability and the implementation of GST.”

Speaking about other challenges Sarkar added, “E-visa facilitation at our airports so that tourists on arrival do not feel disturbed and get easy clearance. More Bio-metric machines are needed at all international airports. Even visa for long duration with multiple entry at the originating countries need to be streamlined. For some countries, visa fees should be waived off or reduce the fee. More cleanliness around heritage monuments are required with basic amenities. More language speaking guides are required especially Chinese, Korean, Russian. Evening entertainments which are lacking should be looked into by forming partnership with cultural organisations and assuring them business from the industry.”

Training the members and increasing profitability remains the major focus for associations in 2018. The associations are also working on ways to overcome the challenges and also make a game plan to increase the inbound arrivals with new innovative products. Eapen said, “Our strategy is to develop multiple streams of income. And our new board of directors has given more priority to young blood, which definitely should boost the organisation.” Kumar said that their strategy for 2018 is sustainable growth involving everybody in the industry and with quality products.  He further said, “One of our main challenges is take advantage of each other’s strength which so far we have not achieved.”

 

Sarkar is very optimistic for 2018. He said, “Many of our pending issues got priority attention which were mainly related to e-tourism visa and all our inputs got incorporated in the notifications. We will try to give big boost in international tourist arrivals and this trend will continue in 2018. This gives us a feeling of optimism and our strategies will be put sincere efforts to use these new openings for boosting our business and get increased tourist arrivals in 2018 in a sustainable manner.”

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the world’s leading hotel companies, has announced the opening of Holiday Inn Algiers – Cheraga Tower. This opening marks the company’s debut in the country, and with this addition, IHG now has 25 operational hotels across nine countries in Africa.

Featuring 242 well-equipped rooms, Holiday Inn Algiers – Cheraga Tower is strategically located west of Algiers and is in close proximity to international business centres and embassies.

Featuring quality amenities and top service standards associated with the brand, Holiday Inn Algiers offers a selection of family friendly dining options with two restaurants including ‘Le 101’, which is located at the top of the hotel and provides a scenic view of the city and an all-day dining restaurant – ‘Ikosium’. Additionally, guests can enjoy an array of beverages and snacks at ‘LLB’ (lobby lounge bar) and ‘La Terrasse’. The hotel also offers Holiday Inn brand’s signature Kids Stay and Eat Free programme, where kids under the age of 12 can stay and dine for free – making it an ideal choice for Algerian families visiting the hotel and international business visitors alike.

Guests at the Hotel will also have access to a ‘wellness floor’ consisting of a fitness centre, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, Hammam, sauna and a treatment & massage centre. Catering to MICE and corporate guests, Holiday Inn Algiers also has four meeting rooms, a large banquet hall and an expansive indoor parking on three levels.

Pascal Gauvin, MD, IMEA, IHG said, “We are thrilled to establish a footprint in Algeria in collaboration with our eminent partner, S.A.R.L Modern Towers and expand our presence in Africa. The opening of Holiday Inn Algiers – Cheraga Tower is a strategic move for us as Algeria’s proximity to Europe, airline connectivity, strong culture and heritage along with substantial business links creates a strong demand for international branded accommodation and a need for world-class hospitality.”

He further added, “The Holiday Inn brand is one of the world’s most recognisable brands and continues to be IHG’s growth engine. It is the perfect brand for us to enter the country with, as it offers friendly service and quality amenities at an affordable rate, which allows us to cater to both domestic leisure and international business travellers.”

Karma Group has announced the acquisition of a new property in Dharamshala, in the upper reaches of the Kangra Valley in India. Dharamshala is the adopted home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, with the Dalai Lama's residence in the village of McLeodGanj, running along a ridge overlooking the town proper.

The property has 25 rooms and suites and with a restaurant, pool, gym and future plans include a Karma Spa, making it the ideal place to find serenity and relaxation.

John Spence, Founder and Chairman, Karma Group said, “I am delighted to announce the acquisition of our newest resort in the beautiful and spiritual town of Dharamshala. We will be renovating and refurbishing the property to bring it up to our high standards and expect to have it open for the main Indian holiday season.”

 

Sometimes known as 'Dhasa' (a combination of Lhasa and Dharamshala), Dharamshala is a popular destination for tourists wishing to visit Tibetan temples and monasteries and is a starting point to a number of trekking trails that lead trekkers across Dhauladhar into the upper Ravi Valley and Chambra district. The picturesque HPCA cricket stadium is the second home of the high profile IPL team, the Kings XI Punjab.

British Airways has 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 great snacking options throughout the flight.

Previously customers travelling in the cabin were served a complimentary snack, a three-course-meal or a light meal, depending on the time and length of their flight as well as a complimentary bar service of hot and cold drinks. The new catering arrives from January 17, and the menus that will change every six months.

Carolina Martinoli, Director of Brand and Customer Experience, British Airways said, “Our customers tell us that when they’re taking a long-haul flight, great food and beverages make a real difference to them. It’s a huge driver of customer satisfaction so we want to make sure we deliver a great experience. With this multi-million pound investment we’ve focused on introducing more quantity and quality to the catering, delivering tasty meals and great snacking options throughout the flight. Our new four-course main meal has been developed by our team of chefs to be full of flavour at 35,000ft and we’ve created regional options depending on the route. The second meal option is either a tasty sandwich or a more substantial pizza wrap, both served with additional snacks, depending on the length of the flight.”

The airline is also serving regional main meal options around its network, such as chicken in spicy cheng du sauce on flights to and from to China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, kathrikai milagu seeragam and channa dal on flights to and from Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai and acchari veg and dal palak on flights to and from Bangalore and Delhi. On flights to the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,) customers can enjoy chicken in spicy Arabic sauce.

Regional breakfasts will also be served including Chicken Congee for Far Eastern routes and an Indian option featuring; Idli Shanna, Sambhar, upma and dosa.

Travellers looking for a special treat can also pre-order meals on flights from Heathrow up to 24-hours before their flight. Options include a Gourmet Dining meal for £18.00, Taste of Britain and Taste of the Far East for £16.00 and a Great British Breakfast, a Healthy Choice meal or a Vegetarian Kitchen option all for £15.00.

British Airways is investing £4.5 billion for customers over the next five years, covering the installation of the best quality Wi-Fi and power in every seat, fitting 128 long-haul aircraft with new interiors and taking delivery of 72 new aircraft. The airline is also investing £600m specifically in Club World, including outstanding catering and luxurious White Company bedding - plus, from 2019, a new seat with direct aisle access. This year British Airways will start services to six new routes including Nashville and The Seychelles.

In order to make India an attractive cruise tourist destination, the Ministry of Home Affairs has agreed to the request of the Ministry of Shipping to exempt cruise tourists arriving with e-visa from the requirement of biometric enrolment for a period of three years i.e. till December 31, 2020. This will make immigration clearance of such passengers faster, leaving them with more time to spend on shore. This is also an important factor that helps cruise lines decide whether or not to include a destination in their itinerary.

The Ministry of Shipping has been working towards simplifying the immigration clearance procedure to offer hassle free logistics process to cruise tourists when they embark on or disembark from their cruise at the Indian ports. E-Visa has been in place in the five major ports of Mumbai, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Cochin & Chennai.  Till now biometrics of passengers were required at port of first arrival for immigration clearance.  However, with the existing facilities at the cruise terminals at these ports, the immigration procedure was taking more than the internationally accepted norm of clearing immigration for all cruise passengers in a maximum of 90 minutes. Hence, there was a need for the exemption.

This simplified immigration clearance procedure is part of a series of steps to attract and to enhance cruise passenger experience at the major ports.  The standard operating procedures to handle cruise was revised earlier and is being implemented uniformly at all ports.  In November, 2017 major ports reduced their tariffs for 3 years by 42 – 67 per cent to make it attractive for cruise lines to visit India.  Major ports now change a single comprehensive uniform rate of USD$ 0.35 per GRT. 

Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) in association with the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra, is all set to launch the first edition of its annual property, the Mumbai Shopping Festival (MSF). India’s first of its kind citywide festival will be celebrated from January 12-31, 2018 across the length and the breadth of the city of Mumbai.

From one-of-a-kind outdoor markets and flash mobs to arenas, mega sales and rewards, Mumbai’s first three week event is sure to impress. The festival will present visitors with world-class, immersive retail experiences clubbed with staged captivating live performances, to enjoy and dance, throughout the city.

In lieu of the recent notification by the Government of Maharashtra where shops and establishments can now stay open 24X7, the Ministry of Tourism and MTDC will set up Mumbai’s first ever Night Bazaar Flea Market which will go on till 4am on weekends only. This will ensure that citizens derive the maximum benefit of the Mumbai Shopping Festival thereby showing that Mumbaikars truly go all out and celebrate #MumBuyKar

Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra said, “For the very first time in India, held in Maharashtra, we bring to you, the Mumbai Shopping Festival 2018. I am honoured and pleased to announce this festival will be taking place from January 12 to 31 2018, launching Mumbai as a world – class shopping destination. We are delighted to see zealous interest from our partners including retailers, brands, restaurants, who have given innumerable hours to making the Mumbai Shopping Festival a reality. We look forward to the participation of each and every Mumbaikar, and citizens of the country in joining us celebrate this mega extravaganza.”

Adding to the festivities, the Mumbai Shopping Festival will also showcase Mumbai’s first ever Food Truck Zones set up in different areas over the weekends. Tourists and citizens of Mumbai will love every bit of the customer-centric vibrancy and magic that will be brought alive by this unique experience.

Jaykumar Rawal, Minister of Tourism & (EGS), Government of Maharashtra said, “As the economic and entertainment capital of India, Mumbai has been popular for its tourism and vibrant lifestyle. This is one of the key sectors of growth for the state of Maharashtra. MSF2018 will undoubtedly heighten tourism in Maharashtra. Our aim is to establish this event on a global platform as one of the most sought after and visiting shopping and cultural festivals of the world. This is already one of the biggest initiatives by MTDC and we are determined to make it make it even bigger in the coming years.”

There will be multiple events across the city, every weekend throughout the festival. Mumbai will see over 500 performances in multiple stages across 13 different locations including Girgaon Chowpatty; Crawford Market; Worli Sea Face; Shivaji Park, Dadar; Carter Road, Bandra; Juhu Beach; International Airport; Domestic Airport; Vashi Railway station; The Walk, Thane; Cypress Garden, Mulund; Galleria Mall, Powai; and Maxus Mall, Mira Road.

The MSF Night Bazaar would be held in non-residential defined zones which will have shopping till 4am as follows:

•        January 19th and January 20th at Malad;

•        January 26th and January 27th at Powai

The MSF Khao Galli in association with Food Trucks Association of India will be held at famous public hangout spots, during the weekends at:

•        January 13th and January 14 at Worli Seaface;

•        January 19th and January 20th at Malad;

 

•        January 26th and January 27th at Powai

 

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