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News
Maansi Sharma

Maansi Sharma

Prem Joseph, Director of Sales and Marketing, Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre & Courtyard by Marriott, Hyderabad, recently took it upon himself to travel on his Royal Enfield motorbike to all operating Marriott hotels in the country and collecting gift-able stay vouchers from the hotels.

He will be riding across Chandigarh, Delhi Jaipur, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Bangalore, Cochin, Chennai and finally Hyderabad through December. At the end of his 6000 km journey, 50 per cent of the vouchers will be auctioned at Rider Mania, a two-day event scheduled to take place on 17 and 18 January, 2014, the proceeds of which will go towards Rising Star Outreach, fondly known as Marriott Home, an initiative by Marriott Hotels to raise funds for children whose parents are affected by leprosy. The funds raised would be given to Marriott Home by a group of Royal Enfield riders joined by Ankush Sharma, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott, on his Royal Enfield bike, riding to Marriott Home.

“This ride presented an ideal marriage of many objectives - My passion for riding, Marriott's ethos of Spirit to Serve, and of course, the Rider Mania being organised by BOBMC (Brotherhood of Bulleters Motorcycling Consortium) in Chennai. Rather than just do another ride to an exotic location, this idea presented the ideal opportunity not only to ride my bike, but to do it for a cause, and also spread awareness of the Marriott Home,” Joseph told T3 during his stop over at his second destination, Courtyard by Marriott Gurgaon.

The 15 day ride is scheduled to end on 2 January 2014.  Joseph further revealed that Associates at all the hotels are contributing funds for the Marriott Home. “Hotels have also been collecting funds from our guests by spreading the word of this ride. Courtyard by Marriott Gurgaon, for instance, contributed Rs 1.23 lakhs for this cause,” he said.

In the past, Joseph has also been involved in charity drives like Joy of Giving Week and the Independence Ride. Speaking about Marriott’s other initiatives, he added that the Marriott Hyderabad supports the welfare of the children of the Government Bowenpaly High School by providing daily mid day meals and also investing time with the children.

Theme park Adlabs Imagica launched ‘The Grand Imagica Parade’ over the weekend, and was inaugurated by actors Rana Duggabati and Pallavi Joshi. The parade will take place daily at Imagica in Khopoli, off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and will feature the characters that form the attractions at the theme park.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Aarti Shetty, Creative Director, Adlabs Entertainment said, “In this country we have not seen a true parade, despite having grown up with most of these characters. When we opened the park there was too much on the plate and I was unable to organise this. Now that we have all the rides functional, this was at the forefront of our plans. It has taken time because the logistics are complicated, but all the floats and characters we have started off with are the ones we were keen on showcasing, and with time we will add many more. It will, over time, be larger than it is.”

Speaking about the park, she added that the response to the park has been very positive. “There were a few negatives about the park, but we streamlined those, including the complaint that there is a need to walk a lot in a theme park. This is the reason we built the park in a circular fashion as opposed to the usual design where you wander off and discover a route. We also have buggies and a train that runs, as well as shade available. Otherwise we have received positive feedback, and have even seen loyal customers and repeat visitors, especially groups, who are emotional about the rides,” she concluded.

Releasing a study on film tourism, Joachim Holte, Chief Marketing Officer, Wego had said, as predictions of global tourism growth rise to the greatest levels in history, filmmakers join tourism bodies to maximise the impact a film’s location has on today’s more adventurous travellers. In his opinion, film and television can often spark the urge to visit the location they were filmed in.

For years, destinations around the world have targeted Bollywood in a bid to showcase their locations through Indian films. With the success of past films such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara shot in Spain, Ek Tha Tiger in Ireland and Turkey, Cocktail in South Africa, and the latest – Shaadi ke Side Effects in Australia, the tourism boards and NTOs have been on their feet promoting fresh, more exotic destinations, to serve as shooting locations for the Indian film industry.

Realising the outreach of cinema and TV, Indian state tourism boards have followed suit. The success of Dil Chahta Hai fuelled Goa’s image as the favourite holiday getaway for Indians. Go Goa Gone added to this fame. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani rekindled India’s love for Manali. Jab We Met did the same for Shimla. Life of Pi did wonders in promoting India to inbound tourists in addition to the domestic traveller. The list goes on…

Inspired by the success of film tourism, TV programme producers have also jumped onto the bandwagon. Saraswatichandra and Bade Achhe Lagte Hain showcased Dubai; in its glory days Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi shot a bit in Switzerland and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki went to Australia. More recently, Pyaar Ka Dard highlighted Victoria, with their recent promotions being centred round the show.

NTOs channel Bollywood

Ranging from incentives and subsidies offered to film producers to lending logistical aid to filmmakers, NTOs have tried every trick in the book to encourage Bollywood to use their locations to shoot, and thus highlight the destination to keen Indian movie-goers and potential travellers. The waves created by Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara are still a major motivation for Indian tourists to visit Spain. The Tourism Office of Spain continues to use the film and its backdrop as a promotional tool, while also extending logistical aid to other film makers who wish to shoot in the country.

Tourism Ireland has successfully incorporated Ek Tha Tiger into their promotional activities, with Salman Khan’s mass appeal continuing to draw in Indian interest in the destination. Although the film didn’t do well, Oman benefited from being one of the locations for Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara. The recent blockbuster Queen has reignited Indians’ wanderlust for Paris and Amsterdam.

In its study on film tourism, Wego revealed that the Singapore Tourism Board invested $6.3 million from its ‘Film in Singapore’ scheme that subsidises international film productions by up to 50 percent. Bollywood’s ‘Krrish’ was the first to take advantage of the scheme, and Indian tourist traffic to Singapore increased dramatically immediately after its release.

Early last year, Mauritius was set to tap Bollywood by increasing filming incentives for producers. Vijaye Haulder, Deputy Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) had earlier revealed that the Authority was increasing incentives for producers from 20 to 30 per cent.

Tourism Australia, in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland, collaborated with Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) and Balaji Motion Pictures (BMPL) on an in-film integration for the film Shaadi Ke Side Effects in a bid to promote Australia as the perfect choice for romantic holidays.

Speaking about the move, Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager – India & Gulf, Tourism Australia said, “Bollywood and General Entertainment Channel (GEC) platforms on television are established mediums to reach out to a wide audience base. Our associations with Shaadi Ke Side Effects and Pyaar Ka Dard on Star Plus were well received by the audience and helped us achieved significant returns through the integration as well as through PR opportunities measured by the Equivalent Advertising Value (EAV).”

Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC), in collaboration with Atlantis, The Palm had extended their support to the Bollywood film Happy New Year. DFTC partnered with Dubai Government entities to simplify the entire filmmaking process for the production team, while Atlantis, The Palm hosted a majority of the shoot in and around the resort’s iconic grounds. Emirates Airline also played its role in flying the stars and crew to Dubai for the production, while the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) provided extensive logistical support to facilitate the overall shoot.

Adding a new angle to Bollywood tourism, VisitBritain recently launched a Bollywood in Britain app that features filming locations of popular Indian movies. Joss Croft, Britain Marketing Director, VisitBritain revealed that the app features 50 locations in the UK with relevance to Bollywood, and also takes a live feed of any new Bollywood information, such as actors visiting the country or filming there, and allows people to share their own Bollywood experiences when in the destination.

“We know how popular Bollywood is here, and Britain has got strong credentials with a lot of films having been filmed in Britain. While London is the jewel in our crown, the association with Bollywood will also help us encourage travellers to visit other regions such as Lake District and Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. This is the first time a NTO has done a Bollywood app, and is also the first time VisitBritain has engaged in a bespoke digital activity for the Indian market,” said Croft.

Emerging markets tap Film Tourism

A fairly new entrant in India, Bulgaria has been excited since day one about tapping the potential on film tourism in the market. Stefan Ionkov- Head of Commercial & Economic Office, Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria had commented earlier that Bulgaria Tourism is already in talks with film producer Mukesh Bhatt, and has even planned to invite a delegation from Bollywood this year to showcase Bulgaria as an ideal place for shooting movies.

And this seems to be a trend catching on with several new destinations trying to gain an entrance into the Indian market. Portugal, which only recently appointed an India representative, has already seen the results of a South Indian film song being shot in Lisbon. In fact, a delegation from Portugal that visited India recently included representatives from cinema production company Cinemate. Expressing their interest in film tourism, Rui Guerra, Line Producer, Cinemate said, “In 47 years, this was the first time an Indian production came to Lisbon. We found it a great experience and we would like to enhance that. Indian movies have been shot in so many countries across Europe. It would be a pleasure for us to work with Bollywood as well.”

India highlights home turf

Witnessing the success of film tourism as leveraged by NTOs and recognising the power and potential of the medium, State Tourism Boards have begun to use the big screen to highlight their tourism offerings. Despite being an established tourist destination, Goa roped in the recent film Youngistaan and its cast to promote the various festivals the state hosts through the year.

In a recent press conference, Umakant Panwar, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Govt. of Uttarakhand revealed that the destinations Binsar, Tehri and Champawat are being opened for film tourism. Maharashtra plans to make a Bollywood circuit to showcase Mumbai as the home of Bollywood.

States such as Gujarat and West Bengal have even signed on superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassadors. The tourism ministry of Jammu and Kashmir has also been wooing filmmakers to come to Kashmir.

“Some parts of super-duper hit ‘3 Idiots’ were filmed in Ladakh region and tourism went from 15,000 to 1.5 lakh post the film, which captured the scenic Pangong Lake, itself indicates Bollywood’s power to drive tourism. In the 1960s and 1970s, movies were shot in Kashmir and the places became known by the film or the stars in it,” Talat Parvez, Director, Kashmir Tourism, said at a CII conclave in New Delhi.

Citing the example of Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh’s 1983 hit debut ‘Betaab, he said that such was the craze that after ‘Betaab’, an area near Pahalgam came to be known as Betaab Valley. After ’3 Idiots’, the tourism in Kashmir tripled and people came to see Rancho’s school,” he added.

Shooting in Kashmir is easy, said Parvez and pointed out that the snow, lakes, blooms, mountains, good weather and hassle-free shooting procedures are the main attractions that draw filmmakers to the Valley. At a conclave in New Delhi, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt urged the industry to shoot more and more in the picturesque region, which reigned supreme till a bruising insurgency broke out in the late 1980s.

To establish India as a preferred filming destination and promote Film Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 2012, inter-alia, to promote Cinema of India as a sub brand of “Incredible India” at various international film festivals and markets abroad, to develop synergy between tourism and the film industry and to provide a platform for enabling partnerships between the Indian and global film industry.

To promote Film Tourism during 2013-14, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have jointly participated in the Cannes Film Festival & Market, 2013; International Film Festival of India (IFFI) Goa; and Film Bazaar, Goa.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting recently proposed to operationalise a single window service for promoting Cinema Tourism in the country. “With a rich heritage and diverse geography, India has great potential as a destination for film shooting. However, the current system of multiple clearances at various levels has made it unattractive. Increasingly, most Indian filmmakers have gravitated towards foreign destinations for outdoor shoots. Any lost opportunity is a revenue loss for the country,” said Manish Tewari, Information and Broadcasting Minister, Govt. of India.

Also, to facilitate the single window clearances for film shootings, the government has set up a Committee on Promotion and Facilitation of Film Production in India, comprising senior officials from various departments like I&B, external affairs, home affairs, tourism, culture, railways, civil aviation, defence and revenue.

The state governments have been asked to nominate their nodal officers for film clearances, and Standard Operating Procedures are being developed to accord clearances for film shooting by domestic and foreign filmmakers in India, he said.

Silver screen takes centre stage

One of the largest campaigns this year was Tourism Victoria’s Pyaar Ka Dard, with cricketer and brand ambassador Brett Lee’s visit to India being the cherry on top. The TV show cast travelled to Victoria and shot there extensively, highlighting the destination to the show’s fan following. And it’s not just the soap operas creating ripples.

In recent years NTOs and State Tourism Boards alike have realised the power of the silver screen, appreciating that the medium has a greater reach and higher visibility than even the large screen, with the added advantage of frequent screening that builds stronger brand recall. Gujarat’s Bachchan campaign has had an impact like never before on the state’s tourism, increasing tourist footfall to the destination many-fold. The ad campaign is a lesson in promotion in itself.

While TV advertisements were always used to promote destinations, using real life stories has become the new trend. Australia’s campaign showed a theatre couple and an immigrant celebrity chef narrating their experiences in the country. Similarly, British Airways recently aired a short film online about a couple on their first holiday to the UK.

Tourism Australia took on a different angle of promotions on the small screen. Kashikar revealed that, as a unique promotional activity, when Farhan Akhtar and Vidya Balan were invited as special guests of the popular celebrity dance reality show ‘Nach Baliye’ on Star Plus, they shared their experience of filming in Australia and also gave away a special Australian holiday package to the champions.

The Planning Commission, in a joint meeting of the officials of the related ministries of Home Affairs, External Affairs, Tourism, etc., recommended the extension of Visa on Arrival (VoA) facilities to citizens of 40 more countries in October. The VoA facility has already been granted to citizens of 11 countries. VoA took off on 1 January, 2010 with just five countries: Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand. Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines got VoA a year later. The service was limited to four metro airports. Myanmar and Indonesia were added two months later on February 28, 2011. The Commission also recommended VoA for senior citizens and pensioners from all countries, as well as setting up online visa processing system to enhance smoother facilitation of visas for overseas travellers.

Earlier, the Ministry of Tourism strongly felt that the ‘Tourist VoA’ facility for those countries, which are potential source markets to India, and where there have been no security related issues in the past or likely to be in future, can be taken up under this scheme. At the inauguration of SATTE 2013, Parvez Dewan, Union Tourism Secretary, had said that India will try and make its VoA scheme for tourists simpler and faster to attract more inbound tourists in the country. “Visa-on-arrival scheme has been there for some countries, and between this SATTE and the next, there should be some more improvement on this,” Dewan had said.

The 40 countries included in the list for VoA are the USA, UK, Russia, Germany, France, China, Canada, Brazil, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Holland, Austria, Denmark, Poland, Belgium and Ireland, among others. However, for implementation, the Ministry of Home Affairs has to amend the visa manual, which would require brainstorming at different levels. The Planning Commission’s recommendation is expected to speed up the processes required to ease the existing restrictions.

The delay has not put a damper on the state’s spirits though. State Tourism Boards across India are looking forward to the VoA nod as they are sure it will lift tourist arrival numbers at a greater rate, especially for states that already popular with international tourists such as Gujarat, Kerala, Rajasthan and the state capitals. Vipul Mittra, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Civil Aviation and Pilgrimage, Government of Gujarat, called the VoA facility a welcome measure for foreign tourists and business travellers, adding that though the numbers cannot be estimated at this stage, it will surely increase the number of inbound arrivals in Gujarat.

According to an analysis done by GITCO (Gujarat Industrial and Technical Consultancy Organization), in 2012-13, the top four international tourist countries for Gujarat were UK, France, Italy and USA respectively, which are among the countries to be given VoA, which is welcome news for the state, he opined.

“The VoA facility has been introduced as part of the Ministry of Tourism’s plan to double foreign tourist arrivals in the next four years. The facility offers a significant advantage to Kerala as the countries on the VoA list are source markets for Kerala Tourism. When extended to 40 more countries, the facility is expected to help the arrival of repeat tourists. As Kerala is already a beneficiary of repeat tourists, we hope to take advantage of VoA introduction to increase tourists inflow to the state. The step to increase the number of countries on the VoA list will certainly give a fillip to Kerala’s tourism industry and will also help the stakeholders receive tourists round the year. Further, the extension of VoA facility will help Kerala Tourism achieve its target of 30 lakh foreign tourist arrivals by 2021,” said Suman Billa, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

Welcoming the move as a boon to the entertainment hub Mumbai, Jagdish Patil, MD, MTDC revealed that the state plans to concentrate on tourism management and building suitable infrastructure to accommodate the expected rise in tourism influx. Similarly, Chandana Khan Special Chief Secretary (Tourism), Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) mentioned that the state is working towards adding hotel beds and manmade tourism attraction to attract international tourists into her state.

“We are very pleased with the Govt’s decision to extend VoA to 40 countries as this will really boost tourism and employment in our country. We will soon be building an aquarium as well as a theme park of international stature to entice domestic as well as travellers from neighbouring countries. I am hoping that, with this initiative, people across the globe start looking at India as a well established MICE destination. Our state has state of the art convention centre as well as is well equipped to handle large MICE groups,” Khan added.

Jet Airways recently announced it’s new flight route – Mumbai-Paris, with the inaugural flight taking off earlier this week from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s new T2. The airline will operate the A330-200 aircraft on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The flight frequency will increase to daily operations from 26 June 2014. Furthermore, the airline has signed a codeshare agreement with Air France for connectivity beyond Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport.

Speaking on the sidelines of the inauguration, Gaurang Shetty, Senior Vice President – Commercial, Jet Airways said, “Both the Mumbai and Paris routes will have the codeshare, with the flight timings being well aligned for better connectivity. The codeshare connects the customers to 23 European cities beyond Paris aboard Air France, while Jet Airways will provide Air France fliers with connectivity to domestic points in India from Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi.”

When asked about the airline’s expectations from the route, Shetty stated that Jet Airways is expecting to notch healthy load factors from these flights. “On our inaugural flight we had a booking of 186 economy seats against a 190 seat configuration. Similarly, we saw 16 seats booked in business class against a 30 seat configuration,” he added.

Speaking about their plans for the year, Shetty revealed that the airline will focus on keeping it’s fleet young and modern, as opposed to expanding it, by replacing old aircraft with modern ones as and when the lease runs out.

Cougar motorsport, organisers of The Himalayan Dash, The Desert Dash, The Coastal Dash and The Sanctuary Dash, and pioneers of the luxury self-driving experiences  segment, are set to host the first India Chapter of The Rainforest Challenge, and hope to attract an international clientele through the event. The event is set to take place from 8-14 August 2014 in Goa, and is expected to draw in off-road enthusiasts from all parts of the world. According to Ashish Gupta, Founder & Director, Cougar Motorsport, the Rainforest Challenge is among the world’s top ten toughest motor races and would be India’s first international off-road motorsport event. The event originated in Malaysia in 1997.

“Currently we only cater to an Indian clientele. However, targeting international driving enthusiasts is definitely on the anvil. We have taken the first step towards reaching out to an international clientele by launching the India Chapter of The Rainforest Challenge,” said Gupta.

The focus has not yet been on international clientele though, as Gupta revealed there are several challenges to hosting them that are yet to be overcome. For instance, since participants are required to bring their own premium cars, arranging vehicles for the international participants poses a major challenge. “We might look into collaborating with companies that can help these participants get premium SUVs on rent. Moreover, enabling them to drive on Indian roads would require us to give them proper training. Communicating with them in their local language to ensure that all the major instructions are clearly understood is another aspect that has to be addressed,” he said.

Speaking about the challenges of organising an event as niche as luxury self-driving experiences in India, Gupta stated that the preparation work for each Dash is very tough and involves numerous field trips for charting out a unique route map, getting the necessary permissions from the concerned authorities, preparing for all kinds of contingencies and having multiple sessions with the hotel staff to ensure that no stone is left unturned to ensure the comfort of each and every guest. The biggest challenge, however, is to ensure the safety of the cars and the participants, especially in a tough terrain like the Himalayas where anything may happen in an instant, he added.

“There are numerous platforms which offer self-driving experiences to people. What was lacking was the ‘luxury’ element in road travel and that is the gap that Cougar Motorsport is bridging. Since a luxury product like ours is meant for a niche segment, which comprises mainly of CEOs and top executives, it was initially difficult to convince them to spend their vacation on road in the company of strangers rather than at an exotic location among loved ones. However, the participants soon realised that there is no bigger high for a driving enthusiast than driving through the most scenic landscapes of the country in their SUV and then spending the evening sharing their driving and travel experiences with like-minded people. Moreover, these expeditions become an excellent means of business networking and forging new associations and friendships among the corporate czars. Today, we have come a long way since our first event wherein the participation inquiries have increased manifold,” said Gupta.

Cougar Motorsport has been operating at a 15-20 per cent net profit margin, and has successfully executed 50 events as of the end of 2013.

Having recently recommenced its India operations, the Italian National Tourist Board has been focused on organising various training programmes which provide in-depth training courses aimed at educating the travel fraternity on the various tourist products that Italy can offer. As part of its initiatives to this end, the Board is developing and launching its own website in India, followed by an online mini university which will certify agents as Italy Travel Specialist. This information was provided by Salvatore Ianniello, Representative India, Italian National Tourist Board when speaking with T3.

“The online mini university will come into effect with the launch of our new ENIT India website. This online course is a special educational tool designed, to give agents in-depth knowledge of all 20 regions of Italy. This program will provide agents an insight to new experiences in Italy. Further to this, we took a group of tour operators and journalists to explore and promote the fascinating region of Puglia in Italy, and received very positive feedback from the operators and journalists on this trip,” Ianniello added.

While the Board’s focus has been Delhi and Mumbai so far, Ianniello informed of ENIT’s plans to reach out to tier II cities in India as well, as they believe there is a lot of growth potential in these markets which are yet to be tapped. When asked about India’s importance as a market, Ianniello called it one of the top priority countries for Italy. “In the year 2002, this number stood at 69,000 tourist while at the end of 2012; there was a substantial increase to 250,000 tourist,” he said.

Going green is not a new concept. Neither is charity or humanitarian aid. None of these are referred to as ‘trends’ in any industry. What is commendable, however, is how much importance the travel and hospitality industry place in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and the various activities they organise to lend a hand to a good cause. From the simple act of planting a tree to reducing carbon footprint, or rescuing and subsequently recruiting street animals to allowing homeless children to experience the joy of a flight – the industry is coming up with more and more ways to make the world a better place.

The influx of foreign brands into India has brought with it several global CSR activities that prove to be a boon for India. Rotana most recently brought its Global Corporate Sustainability Platform- Rotana Earth to India. Starwood has its Global Citizenship programme. Marriott International indulges in environment conservation and charitable contributions. Hyatt Hotels has a CSR initiative known as ‘Thrive’ which looks at the environment, economic development and education and health of communities.

The Indian brands look closely at India-specific problems and plan their activities. Hotel Leelaventure focuses on conservation and training and education. IHCL provides training and employment to underprivileged women, and promotes artisans and craftsmen through their ‘Building Livelihoods’ initiative. The Oberoi Group organises plantations and organises green weeks at various properties.

Be it international or local, several times a year the industry sets aside its worries over bottomlines, numbers and occupancies, to give those in need a helping hand.

“To practice low impact, educational, ecological and culturally sensitive tourism that offers livelihood benefits to local communities in rural areas.. With what they know, what they do and what they have. Offer equal livelihood opportunities to all humanity protect, conserve, preserve and propagate the neighbourhoods nature, heritage, art, culture, belief, lifestyle and practices is the motto,” Steve Borgia, CMD, INDeco Leisure Hotels follows.

Corporate Responsibility at Kuoni India is of significant importance. Kuoni India conducts various activities in association with NGOs and its employees participate in these activities. The company also encourages its employees to volunteer for the activities.

“For most corporates, they need to put CSR on their agenda to ensure they attend to it. For us it is a little different… It is a part of our lifestyle. We do not take on one CSR initiative and then focus on it for a period of time and then move onto the next. As and when our heart says, as and when an opportunity comes up and in some cases on a very long term basis, we engage in CSR,” said C B Ramkumar, Founder & Managing Director, Our Native Village.

According to Rahul Pandit, President & Executive Director, The Lemon Tree Hotels Company, Lemon Tree Hotels goes beyond just CSR and believes in running its business in a sustainable manner. Lemon Tree’s vision for 2020 is to be the most trusted and admired Indian hospitality brand and to build a reputation for ‘responsible growth’.

 
Going Green

Reducing carbon footprint is a tale almost as old as the industry itself. With large tourist numbers come great wastage, and rapidly depleting resources have forced the world to take drastic measures to tackle this issue. It was the starting point of the green revolution that has led to the advent of environmentally-friendly hotels today, each doing their bit for the planet. Our Native Village, for instance, is a 100 per cent eco resort which generates 50 per cent of its own electricity using solar panels; 40 to 60 per cent of its water is rain water; and all their kitchen waste water is used for the plants while chemical detergents are not used in the kitchens. The property also has two bio-gas plants and around 30 per cent of their cooking is done using bio gas.

Accor launched its Planet 21 initiative last year, a sustainable development program in which the company made 21 commitments to improving its environmental and social performance, including reducing water and energy consumption and protecting and promoting biodiversity. “Each of these commitments is linked to a concrete target for 2015. Targets include a 15 per cent reduction in water consumption, 10 per cent reduction in energy use and carbon emissions and 100 per cent ban on endangered seafood such as shark’s fin,” said Ashwin Shirali, Regional Director, Human Resource, Accor Hotels, India.

To monitor environmentally friendly practices, various green certifications such as LEED and Green Globe Certification have been introduced, and hotels that are awarded these honours wear the badge proudly on their brands and follow a set of guidelines to better help the environment. ITC Gardenia, for instance, was the first Indian LEED Platinum hotel, while the ITC Grand Chola Chennai is the largest LEED-certified hotel in the world. Each of these properties is monitored and audited by LEED.

The Lemon Tree Hotels also brandishes the LEED certification. “Our hotels are designed and constructed to qualify for the LEED Gold Standard. Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) is the internationally recognised eco-friendly building certification standard awarded by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) to buildings designed for energy savings, efficient use of water, reduction of CO2 emission and overall improvement in environmental quality. Variable refrigerant volume; heat recovery ventilators; heat pumps; key tag energy saver system; auto time managementLT voltage stabiliser are just some of the measures we have adopted for energy conservation,” said Pandit.

Similarly, Moevenpick Hotel and Spa Bangalore, has monitored and audited itself through the Green Globe Certification, and has reduced its grid power maximum demand, adopted wind energy, introduced aerators in guest room showers, and reduced LPG consumptions, among other efforts, revealed Binoy Sreedhar, Director of Engineering, Moevenpick Hotel and Spa Bangalore.

Concept Hospitality (CHPL) has been the industry leader on energy and resource management since 1996. “We are pleased that initiatives such as CFL lighting, STP plants, garbage segregation and dual-flush toilets have become industry standards. Sourcing produce and material from local resources is an important practice to reduce transport’s significant carbon footprint while supporting local businesses,” said Param Kannampilly, Chairman & Managing Director, CHPL.

 
People Pleasers

An important facet of CSR activities is aiding the needy. And tour operators and hoteliers go out of their way in their initiatives and allegiances to NGOs and support groups to this end. Thomas Cook India, for one, has earmarked two critical CSR activities which find resonance in its PRIDE values – Education & training and supporting the Girl Child. Adrian Williams – Head, Human Resources, Thomas Cook (India) revealed that the company has partnered with two credible NGOs in this sphere, and added that the Centre of Learning, will provide training in the travel and tourism space to ensure smooth transition into employment for the Girl Child into the organisation.

Kuoni India has undertaken various programs in association with NGOs for energy conservation, creating sustainable development opportunities for rural Indian artisans and craftsmen of India, education for under privileged children, paper recycling, among others. “This Diwali, we supported the NGO – Akanksha by collaborating with them on Diwali Gifts for our esteemed partners. To support the cause of child education, Kuoni India launched its CSR initiative ‘Donate a book.’ 1001 books were donated to Pratham, an NGO working for education of underprivileged children in India. We also successfully collaborated with Help Age India and organised a Walkathon which proved to be a success when employees volunteered time and effort to the cause. In addition, we supported the NGO- Goonj in relief to the Uttarakhand flood victims in a donation campaign where employees donated house-hold articles and necessities to the victims of the disaster. We also conduct the annual Christmas Campaign where funds are collected through a raffle. These funds are then donated to an NGO,” said Rajeev Wagle, Managing Director, Kuoni India.

Cox & Kings supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation of India, an NGO that is dedicated towards granting wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions. It is also the official travel partner to MAWF and sponsors ‘Travel Wishes’ of the children within India. It arranges for the travel & boarding of the “Wish Child” and the family members travelling with them. In all, the company supports about 10 NGOs and has supported several initiatives including Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and PUMA Urban Stampede 2013, among others.

Hotels aren’t restricted to green intiatives either. Several hospitality companies have taken to supporting various humanitarian causes, from joining hands with NGOs to supporting local artesans and handicrafts. The Accor Foundation lends support to Dastkar for the revival of dying crafts and provides a fresh impetus to the traditional Indian craftsmanship in contemporary times. It also supports the NGO Nireekshana and the Mallika Sewing Project.

“Our hotel has actively been involved in hosting social and cultural events/activities making it a hub for art. Project Art is a first of its kind initiative where the hotel lends its large atrium space to budding artists and professionals alike, willing to display their works of art electronically projected making it ‘virtual art’. Time and again the hotel has directly and indirectly supported CSR initiatives by hosting events for organisations that work for the betterment of the society,” stated Biswajit Chakraborty, General Manager, Moevenpick Hotel and Spa Bangalore.

And then there are those who have made their properties entirely inclusive for the local communities. “There are two sides to this business. One is the hotel and the other is its inevitable relationship to the environment where it exists, the villages, the neighbourhood and its people. Perhaps if I were a typical hotelier, I would have taken the CSR route and ended up digging a couple of wells or planting a hundred trees to selfishly find security to survive in that niche but here was this Indian from UN development circuit ,wanting to find equal employment opportunities and attain basic livelihood standards. The intention was so deep rooted that I held on to my original manifestation values. The hotel is designed to serve as a one-stop-step was to market all that they do, all that they have and all that they knew,” said Borgia.

In a bid to provide the authentic Indian experience, INDeco Hotels imports nothing. Architecture was vernacular. It was the local masons, craftsman, carpenters etc. Nearly 60 per cent of the project budgets were spent on labour and wages. Similarly, nearly 70 per cent of operation budgets are spent in the vicinity and are directly beneficial to the local communities. “Today the relationship has grown to the point of the hotel giving a wish list to the supply chain in the village to meet operational needs,” he added.

Catering to the physically challenged has been another focus area for hotels. Employing and training physically challenged personnel and building more facilities to enable them to work on the premises has been made part of companies’ HR policies. Lemon Tree Hotels has been recruiting employees with disabilities since 2007. Currently, close to 6 per cent of the group’s employees (~124 people) are from this segment of the population. Our Native Village even has employees’ names in Braille on their business cards.

Of course, all charity begins at home, which is why companies have begun to take employee benefits into consideration as well. Be it staff welfare facilities or medical facilities, they have their employees’ backs.


The road less travelled in CSR

Aiding the environment and the needy has been an ongoing effort for the industry. But T3 pays its kudos to the ones who have not limited themselves to road much travelled. Cox & Kings donates old newspapers and waste papers to Paper & Pooch, an organisation that supports stray animals. The money that the organisation gets after selling the papers is used for providing basic necessities like medicines, food and shelter for stray dogs.

One of the most unique initiatives is The Lemon Tree Hotels’ Pooch Policy. “At all Lemon Tree properties, we have adopted a street dog that is cared for by the Lemon Tree team. We name the dog, inoculate it and feed it well. The team at the hotel builds a great bond with the dog and some customers too are forthcoming and engage with the dog occasionally,” explained Pandit.

Six Senses Hotels Resorts & Spas, which was taken over by Pegasus Capital Advisors two years ago, has been on a rapid expansion mode owing to the increased financial backing received from the new parent company. The investment is aimed at upgrading the Six Senses brand and making it the hospitality company of the 21st century, revealed Omar Romero, Vice President of Development, Six Senses Hotels Resorts & Spas, on the sidelines of the recently concluded HICSA 2014 in Mumbai.

Speaking about their new developments, he informed that the company currently has 10 operational properties and 30 operational spas, with another 8-10 establishments in various phases of development across the globe. A China property will be launched this year, three establishments will follow next year in Seychelles, and another two in Europe – France and Portugal, among others. Furthermore, Six Senses will soon begin construction of its first property in Bhutan, one of five hotels that will be spread across the destination to create a circuit that will showcase the country. Taiwan and Bali are also part of the company’s pipeline.

When asked about the India market, Romero commented that the company is very interested in the India market, and is in discussions with potential partners here for properties, possibly in Goa, the South of India and the Himalayas. “It’s all early stages, so I cannot divulge too many details yet, but we hope to have 10-12 properties in India in the next four to five years. We need a portfolio of properties that will complement each other without competing with each other,” he added.

Elaborating on their plans for India, Romero commented that their delay in entering India is not because of lack of opportunity, but because the brand has not been able to find the right location yet. “We want to ensure that whenever we foray into the market it is with the right location. That it will be successful financially and in terms of brand awareness. India is extremely large and diverse, and opportunities for a brand like ours are, hence, tremendous. But we need to increase the brand’s visibility. Keeping this is mind we hope to foray into India through properties in gateway cities or metros,” he said.

He further stated that Six Senses hopes to bring in a portfolio of hotels that are a combination of properties in major cities, business regions and leisure destinations. The company is looking to develop properties through management contracts in India. “We have already partnered with the Lodha Group in India for a spa establishment in Worli, Mumbai. The Spas in India will be standalone developments and will be part of residential complexes so as to attract the residents as well as external members to use the wellness and fitness facilities in the establishment,” he stated.

 

UK Visas & Immigrations plan to introduce a pilot run of their Passport Passback system in India in Chennai in December. This information was provided by Ken Baietti, Entry Clearance Officer, UK Visas & Immigration at a seminar recently hosted in Mumbai by VisitBritain. The seminar was to better help the agents understand the advantages of becoming a BritAgent. The seminar was organised on the heels of a successful webinar conducted through T3, which saw over 400 unique attendees. Addressing the agents in Mumbai, Shivali Suri, Country Manager - India, VisitBritain revealed that the body plans more such webinars.

“The Passport Passback system allows applicants to take their passport back post document submission if they need to furnish another embassy with it for another visa. Which means, someone applying for a schengen visa along with a UK visa can do them simultaneously, and bring the passport back to us when the other visa is done,” explained Baietti. He further added that the process will be rolled out in Chennai in December as a pilot run, and based on its success, will be introduced to other cities in India by mid-2014.

Speaking about the various measures being taken to encourage Indian footfall to Britain, Baietti stated that a Visa4UK upgrade is an ongoing process, and a mandatory online payment measure will be added by December. In addition, UK plans more mobile biometric clinics in more cities across India. “We had a 85 per cent success rate for holiday visas, 90 per cent success rate for business visas and 80 per cent success rate for student visas,” Baietti revealed.

Suri stated that VisitBritain has several B2B events in the pipeline to engage with the Indian travel trade. First off, the body will host its India Trade Mission on 28 January 2014 in Mumbai, followed by its first standalone participation at SATTE 2014. “It is the first time VisitBritain will be attending SATTE as its own entity, and we will be bringing in 20-25 suppliers from Britain, including hotels, tourism products, attractions and so on. We inted to provide them a wow! experience as far as business with India goes,” she said.

She further added that UK will hold its Hosted Buyer Marketplace in UK, a B2B mart by invitation only. Trade co-ops, she concluded, are an ongoing process.

 

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