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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

With advanced technology, competitive pricing and better infrastructure, India is emerging as one of the fastest growing medical tourism hubs globally.

Over the years, India has gained a lot of attention globally for its tourism diversity. India has got all the elements to attract tourists. Medical tourism is one of the hidden treasures which the nation has recently started promoting aggressively. India has emerged as one of the most cost effective destinations with skilled manpower and advanced infrastructure for the medical tourism segment. Healthcare and wellness has become one of the largest sectors of India - both in terms of revenue and employment comprising hospitals, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, wellness, health insurance and medical tourism etc. The Indian healthcare sector is growing at a brisk pace due to its cost effectiveness, strengthening coverage, services and increasing expenditure by public as well private players. With healthcare cost in developed countries increasing, cost consciousness among patients seeking treatment and availability of accredited facilities has given rise to many global medical tourism corridors. Among these, India is one of the countries which have a large number of accredited facilities.

A latest knowledge paper by FICCI and QuintilesIMS shows over 5,00,000 foreign patients seek treatment in India each year. SAARC countries such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Maldives are the major sources of medical value travel, followed by African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Proximity, cultural connect and connectivity are the key reasons for inflow of patients to India from these regions.

Medical tourists to India typically seek joint replacement surgeries, heart, liver and bone marrow transplants, spine and brain surgeries, cancer and kidney treatments, and in vitro fertilisation (IVF). According to various study, treatment costs in India start at around one-tenth of the price of comparable treatment in the United States or the United Kingdom. Speaking earlier to T3 about the scope of orthopaedic surgeries under medical tourism, Dr. Darius Soonawala, Orthopaedic and Joint replacement surgeon, Jaslok Hospital said, “Orthopaedic is very ideal and relevant for medical tourism in India. It is a fast track surgery with less complications and speedy recovery rate. In United Stated an average hip or knee replacement costs around Rs. 35 lakhs, in UK close to Rs. 15 lakhs and in India the surgery can be done in Rs. 3.5 lakhs. Companies in India should tie-up with insurance companies abroad and tap this segment.”

 

Current status

Medical tourism in India is projected to be a US$9 billion opportunity by 2020. Currently, medical tourism industry is pegged at US$3 billion. Globally, the medical tourism market is estimated at around US$40-60 billion. According to the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the primary reason that attracts medical value travel to India is cost-effectiveness, and treatment from accredited facilities at par with developed countries at much lower cost.

India currently ranks 5th on the Medical Tourism Index globally and 2nd in Asia as per the International Healthcare and Research Centre statistics. This portrays a potential opportunity for India in becoming a future leader in medical tourism given the fact that it focuses on building infrastructure, technology & services, and a seamless experience for buyers.

Speaking about the current status of this sector, E.M. Najeeb Founder and Chairman, ATE Group of Companies and an expert in this segment stated, “Medical Tourism in India is on a faster pace of growth compared to the previous years. The growth percentage is almost 25 per cent in Medical Tourism. The specialising hospitals in India also are gearing up their Patients Relations Protocols to make the patient experience comfortable. The official figure of the Ministry of Tourism suggests that there was an increase of 1,27,142 foreign patients during 2016 compare to the figures of 2015. In 2016, Medical Tourism arrivals was 3,61,060. The Indian Medical Tourism Industry is expected to grow to US$8 billion by 2020 from the US$3.9 billion of 2016.”

Echoing similar opinion, Somnath Shetty, Head – International Business Vertical, Wockhardt Hospitals said, “India has one of the finest medical infrastructure when it comes to treating patients in terms of quality with best in class equipment’s, doctors and nurses. We do have excellent infrastructure. Maybe some work needs to be done in few areas on logistics and translators. Visa issues for patients do exist but the govt. is willing to work around it to smoothen the medical visa process. It is a booming industry in the current scenario and growing at 13 per cent CAGR.”

In terms of technology, India is one of the most advanced nations with all the start-of-the-art medical equipments. But promotion is the need of the hour, the tourism board along with key stakeholders need to promote it aggressively in the international markets. Speaking earlier in a conference Dr. Nikhil Parchure, Cardiologist, Apollo Hospital said, “Awareness is a key challenge for the Indian market. For example, a cardiovascular surgery in the United States costs around Rs. 80 lakhs, whereas in India it is between Rs. four to five lakhs. Also, in US the mortality rate in during a bypass surgery is around 2-2.5 per cent, and in India it is as low as 0.5 to 0.7 per cent. Most aren’t aware that we also perform Robotic surgeries in India. It is very popular in south India. We have done a lot of Robotic surgeries for people from the Middle-East, US, UK, etc. We also do a lot of heart transplants for people from Russia.”

 

Policy support

The Ministries of Health, External Affairs, Tourism and Culture are working to increase the number of medical tourists. The government provides online visas, multiple entries, extensions of stay, and accreditation to more hospitals. Several other measures are under way, according to the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

Earlier this year, e-Visa has further been sub-divided into three categories i.e. e-tourist visa, e-Business visa and e-Medical visa. The scope of e-tourist visa has been expanded to include short- term medical treatment. Separate immigration counters and facilitation desks have also been planned at major Indian airports to boost the medical travel industry. Separate immigration counters and facilitation desks to assist medical tourist have been provided at Indian airports namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderbad.

Recently, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry along with ministries of Tourism and Health has launched a website designed to promote India as a premier healthcare destination. The website is a single-source platform providing a comprehensive information to medical travellers on the top healthcare institutions spread across major cities of the nation —highlighting its speciality in various medical treatment, wellness and rejuvenation, and Ayurveda & Alternative medicine. “Over the years, India has grown to become a top-notch destination for medical value travel because it scores high over a range of factors that determines the overall quality of care,” the website, indiahealthcaretourism.com reads that also supports Arabic, Russian and French languages.

Mahesh Sharma, Former Union Tourism Minister (I/C), Govt. of India had said, “India in today’s time is specifically known for medical tourism. We are trying to address all issues related to medical tourism through a single clearance window. India now has a simplified e-medical visa facility which allows you three visits to the country. We will try to address more issues in time to come, like standardisation and accreditation of services. We want to make the processes transparent, to rationalise services and make them all of them available in a transparent manner so that no one is deprived of much needed healthcare services.”

The triple entry multiple visa for medical tourists has attracted newer destinations. Also, Government is carrying out campaigns to increase more awareness about the medical e-visa. Appreciating the efforts by Government Najeeb said, “From the part of the government there is a combined effort to develop medical tourism in the country. Ministries of Tourism, Health and External Affairs are putting their efforts together to increase the flow of Medical Tourists. The online Visas, multiple entry Visas and accreditation of hospitals etc make travel easier for the travelling patients. ”

He further said, “The ‘e-Visa-on-Arrival’ Scheme for tourists from select countries facilitate foreign nationals stay in India for 30 days for Medical reasons. In 2016, citizens of Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives, Republic of Korea and Nigeria availed maximum number of Medical visas. The Union Government and most of the state Governments are supporting Medical Tourism, and are carrying out campaigns.”

Earlier, the Ministry has formed a Medical and Wellness Tourism Board with a seed capital of Rs two Crore to make this segment more organised.

 

Key focus markets

Traditionally, India has been attracting a lot of medical travellers from its neighbours in the Indian subcontinent. One of the primary reasons for this traction is the cost-effectiveness and lack of medical infrastructure in these nations. According to a CII-Grant Thornton report, Bangladeshis and Afghans accounted for 34 per cent of foreign patients, the maximum share, primarily due to their close proximity with India and poor healthcare infrastructure. Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) accounted for 30 per cent share of foreign medical tourist arrivals. This trend has been changing over the years and now a lot of new source markets have been created.

Najeeb stated, “In India, 34 per cent of the total Medical Value Travel is from Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Africa, GCC and CIS regions constituting 30 per cent of current share, create maximum opportunity for the Indian Health care sector. Medical Tourists from these countries favour the South-East Asian Medical Corridors. For Kerala, the GCC countries and Maldives are major sources. The CII White Paper suggests to attract the African, Asian and Middle East Patients and also the domestic Medical Tourist from other regions of the country through effective marketing campaigns supported by the Government.”

Speaking about the traditional source markets for hospitals Shetty, “Traditional sources has been geographies like SAARC (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan )countries, Middle East (Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq) , CIS (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine) and Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Congo). Also these travellers come for specific treatments in India. Some of the popular treatments are Orthopaedics (knee and hip replacements), Cardiac (angioplasty and CABG) Spine surgeries, Oncology treatment ,Urology procedures, gastro procedures ,transplants and cosmetic surgeries including bariatric and metabolic surgeries.”

Major metro cities with excellent infrastructure have already started reaping benefits of this niche segment. Apart from these some of the Tier II cities are also competing for a share of the pie. According to statistics, 27 per cent of medical tourism in India happens in Maharashtra with Mumbai leading from the front with 80 per cent. Chennai has emerged as the next biggest destination with 15 per cent. “In India out of the major Medical Tourism attracting locations like Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, National Capital region and Kerala all these places have very high potentials to grow in this sector. Among these locations the State of Kerala stands high in growth potential. Kerala is emerging with a focus on increasing its visibility as a healthcare destination. Kerala attracts about five to seven per cent of the Medical Tourists coming to India and has the potential to increase its share to a 10-12 per cent with a focused marketing strategy. Kerala already has 26 NABH accredited hospitals. Moreover Kerala is one of the most preferred tourist destinations in the country. Among the destinations India competes with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica,” Najeeb said.

 

Challenges

The potential of the medical tourism in India and making India a hub is still at the nascent stage. The stakeholders and the government have only been able to scratch the tip of the iceberg. Promoting and spreading awareness about the facilities has been one of the major challenges India is facing. Also a lot of new destinations have posed strong competition to India.

Throwing light on challenges, Shetty opined, “Medical visa issuances process has been a difficulty till now. Hope there is some ease in this front. In the recent years, a lot of new competition has come up from new territories such as Malaysia, Poland, few South American countries with low cost option. Few countries are entering into capacity building and resisting on allowing patients to travel and in the process creating policies against medical travel, which is again a challenge. In India, there is a lack of cohesiveness amongst the major players in the industry to come together and represent India on a world platform to acquire newer geographies. Apart from these, Inconsistent fee structure and lack of transparency in billing to foreign patients, and absurdly high margins to trade to refer patients are some of the challenges.”

Najeeb believes that Medical Tourism has a great future and is evident from the figures and projections we need to have facilities of world standard with national and international accreditation. He added, “Government should give more support to this industry. I suggest that Hospitals should be given industry status for power, import of machinery and equipment to make it cost effective. Public Private Participation (PPP) Model should be followed in promoting Medical Tourism. Central Government should help popularise Medical Tourism through Embassies, and Health Ministries in various foreign countries. Special efforts should be targeted at SAARC countries. We have to do the needful to develop reliable referral contacts to route travellers from across the globe. Top priority should be given to the safety and security of the travellers.”

A delegation including ministers and investors community from Canada led by the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, recently visited India on an official state visit. During the visit, Tourism segment was one of the key growth topics for the delegation. India has been one of the fastest growing growth markets for Canada. Last year close to 250,000 Indians visited Canada with a growth of around 18 per cent.

Speaking about the latest development Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Government of Canada said, “PM Justin Trudeau and our ministers are here on our first official state visit. People to people ties will further develop the relationship between Canada and India. Our tourism numbers have further increased from India in 2017. Tourism is a CAN$90 billion industry in Canada and is the largest service exports. Our primary source of tourists is the United States as we share a border. There are other countries around the globe that we are tapping into and India is one of the markets we see more potential. We spoke to MICE operators in India and we are looking at how to increase MICE tourism from India to Canada. People come to visit family as over half a million people in Canada are linked to India. We want to increase more business travel from India to Canada.”

With a high percentage of youth population, in 2018, Canada is aggressively focusing to tap the millennial segment from India. Also the destination is looking to tap the 55 age plus travellers from India.

Speaking about the target segment and growth from India Rupert Peters, Regional Managing Director, Europe, India & Australia, Destination Canada said, “We were 18 per cent up last year with close to 250,000 visitors from India. Next year our forecast is to see a good growth somewhere around seven per cent from India. In terms of leisure market, we have three key segments first millennial, which we haven’t tapped yet, we are aggressively looking at this segment. We are also interested in the family segment which includes the multigenerational travel segment. Lastly we are also looking to tap the 55 year old plus segment, the professional couples.”

Recently, Canada has invested significantly in developing the Aboriginal tourism or indigenous tourism segment. With this new investment, the destination is looking to cater authentic experiences to the global travellers. Chagger added, “As a federal minister, we work closely with all provinces. Indigenous tourism is a part of my mandate to work with underrepresented groups such as young and women entrepreneurs and indigenous groups. We are proud that we have invested money to develop indigenous tourism. Visitors are looking for authentic experience and we can serve that by developing products around indigenous tourism. We also want to build capacities and opportunity for indigenous community, one way is tourism. We want all the communities to benefit from this. Our job is to ensure opportunity exists there and we will work closely with destination Canada and develop products around this.”

Destination Canada is all set to promote the cities and urban tourism in India. Currently the open spaces and wildlife products are popular amongst the travellers.

Peters said, “We have been a little shy in promoting the cities. When people think about Canada they think about the open spaces and the wildlife. We want to educate the travel trade and the people more about our cities which are vibrant and have so much to explore. We will try and promote experiential tourism in the cities. We know that there is a lot of increasing demand from the Tier II and III cities from India. We will discuss this with our partners and finalise on these cities.”

Air India will begin nonstop flight operations from New Delhi to Tel Aviv in Israel starting March 22nd onwards in an official statement released by the airline. The carrier has confirmed flying thrice a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday on Air India’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner that has 18 business class and 238 economy seats. This announcement has come at a time when Israel Ministry of Tourism has recorded a growth of 50 per cent in January and 25 per cent in February, 2018 of Indian arrivals to Israel vis-à-vis the same period in 2017.

Hassan Madah, Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism India & Philippines said, “In light of the significant increase in incoming tourism from India over the past few years, the Ministry of Tourism has been in talks with Air India and other airlines to increase their flights and seat capacity into Israel. Air India’s direct flight connectivity from New Delhi to Tel Aviv is great news especially with its shorter flight duration and the airline’s strong domestic network within the country. With direct flights now from both Mumbai and New Delhi by El Al and Air India respectively; this will help meet the growing demand and enable us to achieve our target of one lakh Indian arrivals in 2018.”

The aircraft will depart from New Delhi at 4.50 pm and arrive in Tel Aviv at 8.25 pm. On its return leg, the plane will depart from Tel Aviv at 10.15 pm and land in Delhi the next day at 9 am. With one way duration of 7 hours and 10 minutes, Air India will be the fastest nonstop flight between India and Israel taking a straight route between the two countries.

In addition to Air India, Israel’s national carrier El Al currently has four weekly nonstop flights from Mumbai to Tel Aviv and will soon increase its frequency furthermore. Arkia has also expressed interest to begin operations soon and introduce direct flights between Israel and India. The Ministry of Tourism along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to facilitate similar introductions including relaxing visa requirements and express visa services through VFS to encourage Indian travellers to visit Israel.

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.

 

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