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News
Maansi Sharma

Maansi Sharma

The Enterprising Travel Agents Association (ETAA), in association with Yes Bank, recently hosted an evening of knowledge sessions in Mumbai for their members on the subjects of Service Tax and Cyber Crime. Sunil Gabhawalla, SB Gabhawalla & Co. Chartered Accountants and Vicky Shah, Advocate, The Eagle Eye addressed the attendees on the topics. The event welcomed over 100 ETAA members, recording the highest ever attendance for an evening of this kind.

Accepting the fact that tourism did not get its due attention in the last decade, West Bengal Tourism has initiated a slew of corrective measures
Racchpal Singh, Tourism Minister,

West Bengal Tourism, which lagged behind in promoting tourism compared to other states like Kerala, Rajasthan and Goa, is on its way to developing the state as a prominent tourism destination. This was revealed by Rachhpal Singh, Tourism Minister, Govt of West Bengal, at the IATO Convention.

Darjeeling, he stated, used to be popular among tourists, but has now lost its footfall. West Bengal Tourism department has decided to promote the destination and aims to get back the volumes it enjoyed earlier. In addition, Sandakphu, Sundarbans and Dooars are being developed for tourism. Dooars alone has been sanctioned Rs 50 crores for the same. Tea tourism, paragliding and golfing in Darjeeling and Dooars, trekking in Sandakphu, as well as wildlife in Sundarbans, are among the offerings the state is going to push for tourism, the Minister revealed.

Furthermore, watersports and lakeside cottages are being planned along the coastal line and on the banks of Lake Teesta respectively. Cities like Rampur, Barrackpore and Chandannagar, as well as Palashi are being showcased as historical sites. “The tourism department has also requested the government for permission to sanction theme stays and cemetery tourism. The new airport will help bring in new airlines and improve connectivity which will make the destination more attractive,” he opined.

He also requested the stakeholders of the industry to become aggressive in promoting tourism in the state. “We are in talks with Bihar to further develop the Buddhist Circuit through Bengal. The railways have already sanctioned a seven-day journey plan which should materialise by October 2012,” he concluded.

The recent addition to the Marriott International portfolio in India, the JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai Sahar, has positioned itself as a business luxury hotel, and is fast gaining popularity among international and domestic travellers alike. Boasting one of the largest banquet and conference spaces in the city, as well as an impressive inventory, the property has already seen several large meetings, conferences and weddings take place since it opened last year.

According to Saeid Heidari, General Manager, JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai Sahar, the property faces a lot of competition from the established airport hotels in the vicinity, but names it’s attention to detail in service, size of rooms, and a décor of understated luxury, as some of the aspects that keep them ahead of the game. “We are trying to build a niche – business luxury, and our focus is to provide comfort, state of the art facilities, and fair pricing. Luxury is a difficult word to define. To me, luxury means incomparable, and that is what we strive for here in terms of F&B, spa facilities, amenities and so on,” he explained.

Heidari further stated that the property has already seen success in it’s internal matrix, a gauge that ranks the establishment third among the 27 hotels under Marriott in the region.

“Our occupancy comes from two major segments: the business traveller/corporate business and FIT through e-channels. We expect an occupancy of 68-70 per cent by end 2016,” he said. Heidari opined that the Mumbai hospitality sector will grow at 7-8 per cent year on year, with occupancies in 2016 touching 65-70 per cent.

Speaking about the MICE business to the hotel, Heidari informed that the property has seen success in the segment owing to the fast that it is the only hotel in the area to offer banqueting and conference space on such a large scale, with a supporting room inventory. Once the property is established, he added, business from JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai Sahar may even spill over into the neighbouring hotels for big groups. “We are creating new demand in this part of town,” he stated.

The property currently sees a 70:30 per cent ratio of domestic and international guests, and a large chunk of this is transit passengers. He called transit travellers the property’s biggest opportunity.

Heidari further informed that the B2B channel is a very important one for the hotel, and a dedicated vertical is in place for agents.

Mirah Hospitality, the hospitality arm of the Mirah Group, launched its latest venture, Citrus Check-Inns, which provides flexi-stay holidays, in April 2012. The product offers memberships for holiday resorts for periods ranging from five to 15 years, with accommodation options of the existing and upcoming Citrus Hotels as well as 2,600 other hotels and resorts across the world, through daelive.com. Speaking exclusively with T3, Somnath Pal, CEO, Citrus Check Inns revealed that the flexi-stay concept is the first of its kind in India and would be marketed as an investment opportunity. The company is currently on the lookout for direct sales agents (DSA) across India.

“We currently have 12 DSAs in the country and are signing up eight more. We have a commission structure in place for our agents with no entry barrier and a margin that will increase with increases in sales and captive clients. We want Citrus Check Inns to be sold as an investment opportunity since the purchase of our product can be done on an EMI basis, will not face increased taxes every year, and will remain unaffected by the hotel room price fluctuations once paid for,” stated Pal.

Speaking about the USP of flexi-stay, Pal explained that the product does not have a utility fee, is not distributed by season, and cancelled holidays do not lapse, but are instead compensated with F&B vouchers for restaurants at Citrus Hotels. “The lapsing of holidays is the biggest flaw of the time share system. The members are forced to pay the utility fee whether they actually go on the holiday or not. The redemption system we have in place is unique. In addition, we have our properties on the high street of every city we provide customers, as opposed to the far-flung locations time share properties generally provide. We are also the first company to offer our membership for a minimum time period of five years,” concluded Pal.

Citrus Check Inns is also set to market itself to the consumers and the trade through advertising and participation in trade shows, starting with the IITM. Furthermore, they will start pushing the product on an international level next year. For BTL marketing, the company is planning lead generation activities at malls and corporate houses. In addition, they will position themselves as knowledge banks of the travel trade, providing travel tips and guidance to the industry and consumers.

Despite being a long haul destination with no direct connectivity and a relatively high exchange rate for Indian travellers, New Zealand is fast growing to become a much visited destination by the market. The optimism of the growth in numbers from this market was palpable at the TRENZ 2015 that was recently hosted in Rotorua, New Zealand. A surprising revelation was how many Indian visitors to the destination are adventure enthusiasts. T3 spoke with adventure tour operators at the event, and it was a unanimous response that India is among their largest source markets.

Ariki Tibble, Multi-Day Adventures said that their largest segment from India were the honeymooners and FIT premium travellers; a market that is rapidly growing and they hope to see more footfall from here. For the company, premium luxury is a focus and bespoke products on offer are much appreciated by their Indian clientele.

According to Sam Allen, Sales Manager, EcoZip Adventures, the head count from India has gone up 500-600 per cent over the years owing to the Cricket World Cup (CWC) and the efforts of Tourism New Zealand (TNZ). In addition, he said, honeymooners are a huge market for the company. EcoZip recently visited India to meet with agents, and also got great response from the Indian delegation at TRENZ. “We have also done a specific Indian market photo shoot of our products; that is how important it is for us. We are looking at marketing EcoZip more actively in India, with a focus on both metros and tier II cities,” Allen added.

Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours has also seen a growth from the Indian honeymoon segment, as well as an increase in private tours. India is a growing market for the company, and one that books both through agents as well as directly, explained Mike Grogan, Director, Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours. He further added that the company plans to start working more closely with the Indian market through TNZ to increase footfall.

Shotover Canyon Swing, which offers over 70 ways to Canyon Swing, also sees a lot of Indian honeymooners, especially for tandem swings, said Sarah Norton, Sales Manager, Shotover Canyon Swing. “We see monthly traffic through the trade and a few direct bookings as well. We do work closely with TNZ to increase visibility and grow inbound business from the market,” she said.

David Blackmore, Sales & Marketing Manager, Skyline Rotorua, has been seeing Indian traffic for the last 15 years, with an increased number coming in since flight connectivity became easier. The CWC, he added, has given footfall a further boost. According to him, Indian incentive groups have also begun coming in, and Indian cuisine has been added to the establishment’s menu. “We receive approximately 2,000 Indians a year, including honeymooners, families, VFR and incentive groups. TNZ India has been working strongly and we are seeing results,” he stated.

Darryl Honey, Director, Adventure HQ also informed that the company provides vegetarian meals to suit Indian dietary requirements. The company sees several honeymoon couples as well as mixed groups and large families spanning two to three generations.

Derek Melnick, Business Development Manager, NZone Skydive called India an incredibly favourable market for the company, stating that it is one of the highest proportional markets for skydiving and is among the top three markets for NZone. “It is a big number compared to other markets, especially considering the Indian footfall to NZ is only about 30,000. The name NZone is synonymous with Indian tourists and the brand is a known and trusted one. We are now becoming a part of travel agents’ itineraries, and also gaining popularity as a non-itinerary activity as well,” he said.

Kaitiaki Adventures usually sees FIT groups, mostly boys from India. The market contributes to 2 per cent of the company’s annual bookings, a fraction that has grown over the years, revealed Jess Bradley, Kaitiaki Adventures. Skipper Canyon Jet has also seen Indian numbers grow over the last two years, owing to an increased footfall to Queenstown, informed Gavin Larsen, Marketing Manager, Skipper Canyon Jet. The company is open to working with Indian agents in a bid to increase business from the market, he added.

In a bid to provide connectivity between the Western region of India and Bhutan, the latter’s national carrier Druk Air announced its plans to launch flights between Mumbai and Paro in September 2012. The announcement was made during a roadshow conducted in Mumbai by Tourism Council of Bhutan, Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL)’s Taj Tashi property in Bhutan, and Druk Air. The event was part of a three-city roadshow conducted in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad, organised to get the Indian travel trade familiar with the Bhutanese counterparts to facilitate travel trade between the two countries.

According to Yeshey Wangchuk, Sr Officer, Marketing, Druk Air, operating out of Mumbai was always part of the airline’s plans for India, but the lack of aircraft in their fleet hampered this expansion. The company, which is now leasing A319 aircrafts, will operate flights from Mumbai to Paro twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “Next, we are aiming at operating direct flights from the southern region, either Bengaluru or Chennai, as well as flights from Sri Lanka which will be routed through India,” said Wangchuk. Druk Air enjoys a healthy load factor of 65 per cent Indian travellers during the off season, and 70 per cent during the peak season (June – August and December – January).

Speaking about Indian footfall to Bhutan, Damcho Rinzin, Media Spokesperson, Tourism Council of Bhutan stated, “We received 53,233 visitors last year, of which 53 per cent were regional tourists (from India, Maldives and Bangladesh). The numbers clearly show why India is an important source market for us.”

Ravi Nischal, General Manager, Taj Tashi further revealed that the property, which has seen a 100 per cent increase in Indian bookings year on year, will be working in collaboration with Druk Air to facilitate flight searches and bookings for their guests.

 

Reunion Tourism, which has so far only benefited from VFR travel from India, is set to increase footfall to the island. To fuel this growth, Reunion Island Tourism Board has appointed Iris Reps as their representative office in India and recently conducted a four-city roadshow in Indian metros. According to Pascal Viroleau, Director Tourism, Reunion Island Tourism Board, the board plans to tap only high-end luxury FIT and honeymoon travellers, and small MICE groups from India. They are not targeting mass tourism from India due to the island’s small size and their focus on sustainable tourism, Viroleau added. 

“In addition to being a small island, Reunion has few hotels, most of them boutique properties, with the largest featuring 150 rooms, which means we cannot accommodate large volumes of tourists. So our aim is to receive about 3,000 Indian visitors over the next year or two. We are already working with Akquasun and Kuoni on a large scale for the promotion and sale of the island as a destination, and will be packaging it with Mauritius and Seychelles which are established tourist destinations among Indian travellers,” revealed Viroleau. 

He further added that the tourism board is designing training programmes and familiarisation trips for the travel trade in the near future. Speaking about visa applications, Viroleau stated that, being a combination destination, the process was easy, allowing the DMC that does the bookings to submit the traveller’s documents to the French embassy, ensuring that the visa would reach the visitor upon arrival at Reunion Island. The process, he added, takes no more than five days.

Reunion Island is currently connected to India via Mauritius through Air Mauritius and the local airline Air Austral. The island, along with Air Mauritius, has launched an inaugural offer to Indian travellers wherein the customer is only charged taxes for flights booked to the destination. Alefiya Singh, Director, Iris Reps further revealed that Air Austral is looking to start direct flights from Chennai to Reunion in October 2012.

“Witha large Indian population, we are well equipped to catering to Indian guests, and also have preparations in place to fly in Indian chefs for large groups upon request,” concluded Viroleau.

 

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