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Maansi Sharma

Maansi Sharma

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently conducted a roadshow across India that showcased the Luxury Hotels of the country. Speaking at the Mumbai event, Lubaina Sheerazi, Head, Blue Square Consultants, the Marketing and PR arm of TAT, stated that the destination had noticed a large chunk of Indians looking for leisure, which led them to focus on the segment this year. Furthermore, the country aims to promote lesser known destinations to the Indian travellers as 60 per cent of the footfall comprises of repeat visitors.

Speaking on the sidelines of the roadshow, Sethaphan Buddhani, Director, TAT – Mumbai Office revealed that between January and August 2013, Thailand welcomed 7.63 lakh Indians, and aims to achieve the 10 lakh figure this year. He further added that Thailand has seen no impact of the Rupee fluctuation, which made it the best time to showcase the luxury segment. “Indians who are now unable to travel to Europe due to the exchange rate, are turning to Thailand instead with a similar luxury holiday in mind,” he said.

He further added that, over time, the tier II markets in India have gained importance, nad TAT is therefore focusing on training agents in these cities as well. “46 per cent of our traffic still comes from Mumbai and Pune, but other cities are also gaining steam. Ahmedabad is a big market for weddings, while Bengaluru is huge for incentive groups,” he added.

According to Buddhani, TAT plans to showcase culture next year, including food, Thai boxing, sustainable tourism etc.

Tourism Australia, which has witnessed a strong growth from the Indian market and expects a further growth this year owing to the direct Air India flights, is planning a campaign with the airline to woo more Indian footfall. The destination has launched promotions of the sort in the past as well with Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. India is the 10th largest source market for Australia, and the 11th largest market in terms of spends, increasing its importance for the destination.

This information was provided Samar Chokshi, Business Development Manager, Tourism Australia, at a recent workshop whose focus was to promote lesser known destinations for repeat Indian visitors. The Northern Territory and Tasmania were among the destinations showcased at the workshop.

“Indians spend almost A$5,157 (Rs. 3 lakhs) per person on average during their trip to Australia. Overall, we recorded about 1.95 million nights by India travellers, of which 50 per cent were repeat visitors. These repeat visitors should explore more of the destination. While we cannot send first time visitors to offbeat locations, repeat travellers can definitely enjoy the serenity and luxury offered by destinations such as Tasmania and the Northern Territory, which are perfect for FITs and honeymooners,” said Chokshi.
He further stated that, while accessibility limited the possibilities of selling destinations further than the traditional ones in Australia, increased connectivity to these places and the growing popularity of self drive tours have increased their potential as tourist spots.

Hotel chains, whether international or Indian, have recognised domestic traffic as the main source of income, irrespective of the segment of travellers catered to or the location of the property. And this domestic traveller now demands comfort and service standards wherever he goes, widening the playing field for developers. So, for instance, a sector which, for years, focused on hotels in gateway/popular holiday destinations, has now moved into tier II cities, especially industrial hubs, to tap the business market.

In keeping with such trends, hoteliers are now turning their attention to the potential of religious destinations. Pious Indians streaming into destinations such as Tirupati, Shirdi, Vaishno Devi and so on, are also the discerning travellers who have experienced and hence know the importance of quality accommodation, escalating the importance of properties that can serve them satisfactorily.

Keys Hotels, which has recently opened a property in Shirdi and Ajmer, and has projects under development in prominent pilgrim cities such as Varanasi, Haridwar and Vrindavan, has recognised the importance of this segment. “Pilgrim cities have stable potential of business primarily from families and devotees. Despite very little or no corporate business in these cities, there is potential for round-the-year business. A large percentage of guests who visit pilgrim destinations have strong paying capabilities and willingness to spend for the right product and comfort along with modern amenities,” said Partha Chatterjee, Chief - Sales and Marketing, Berggruen Hotels.

Echoing this view, Pradeep Kalra, Sr. Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Sarovar Hotels, which operates properties in Haridwar, Badrinath, Shirdi, and Pondicherry and will soon be commissioning a 5 star in hotel in Tirupati, stated that the chain’s hotels across religious destinations do very well considering there is an ever increasing demand for branded accommodation at such destinations.

According to Gopal Rao, Regional Vice President – Sales and Marketing, South West Asia, IHG, there is potential for growth in religious destinations across India as improving infrastructure have made these cities more attractive for hotel companies.

“With religious and leisure tourism in Amritsar booming, we opened our first hotel in Punjab with Holiday Inn Amritsar Ranjit Avenue at the end of last year. We are also open to entering new cities and will be launching our Holiday Inn brand in West Bengal in the next three to five years,” Rao informed.

The difficulties

The path to God is one of trials and tribulations, and the hotel industry faces it’s share of obstacles and challenges when operating in religious destinations. Kalra listed marketing as a challenge. “Religious tourism is on the increase. The major challenge of marketing the religious destinations is that the business moves in an unstructured way which therefore requires a large bench of advertising and marketing,” he opined.

Chatterjee mentioned year-round business as the biggest advantage with religious destinations. “However, the challenges are that certain days of the week have low occupancies while other days are full. Operations at such occasions have issues. It is critical to give special emphasis to the product in religious destinations,” he said.

Vikram Kamat, Executive Director, Kamat Hotels, which operates properties in Puri and Konark, and is in talks in destinations such as Shirdi, Pandarpur, Katra, Kolhapur also commented on the tremendous scope of business in these destinations. He opined that any destination has its pros and cons, including difficulty in diverting the corporate segment as these destinations are influenced or targeted only as pilgrimage destination.

“However, one may not need to market the destination as there’s a good amount of traffic created by default. Furthermore, due to heavy traffic from family segment, the demand for branded hotels is huge,” he added.

Working with the trade

The travel trade, as in every other aspect of tourism, remains an integral cog in the religious tourism segment, driving hotels to work closely with their travel trade partners to encourage traffic. Kamat Hotels works with over 500 travel agents, and is looking for a major contribution of room night from these agents to promote our properties.

Keys have been working very closely with the travel trade since its inception, and is associated with GSA networks in India & Internationally. According to Chatterjee, 50 per cent of the business received at leisure and religious destinations come through travel agents.

Kalra stated that the travel trade is very critical in generating occupancies for hotels in religious destinations. Sarovar, therefore, works for both inbound tour operators that bring in religious groups and also domestic tour operators that promote religious and holiday destinations, he concluded.

The Leela has recently announced the launch of Spa and Spiritual Journeys, that blend award-winning ESPA spa therapies with enchanting local experiences at The Leela Palace Udaipur. The programmes, spread over three, five or seven days, have been thoughtfully crafted to bring a unique balance of daily spa treatments and outdoor spiritual pursuits spread throughout the day, making these journeys a lot more than just a holiday.

Graham Grant, General Manager, The Leela Palace Udaipur stated that the property is assuming a growth of 5-10 per cent as a result of the new packages. “We are receiving many enquiries through our own reservation channels and anticipate it will be popular in the markets with travel agents. Our three-day ‘Soul Connect’ programme has received an overwhelming praises from guests. We additionally believe that through the marketing of these wellness programmes and exposure of unique soulful activities, the hotel is likely to be considered for three nights to ensure that these spa indulgences are a part of the stay,” he said.

Speaking about their marketing efforts for the spa itinerary, Grant divulged that they will distribute the three Spa and Spiritual Journeys to all their channels, with a special focus on PR and marketing through specific spa and lifestyle media and travel houses with a niche spa client.

In a bid to attract more Indian travellers to South West Germany during the winter season, the Tourist Board of Germany and The Black Forest Highland Region recently visited Mumbai to showcase the destination’s winter offerings. Michael Siebert, Consul General, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Mumbai revealed that the body, in association with VFS Global, will be opening visa facilitation centres in Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Ahmedabad in 2014, in a bid to ease the visa application process.

Germany has witnessed an increase in both Indian footfall and overnights in the last few years, with Indians also being recorded as one of the highest spenders in the country. According to Katharina Mariko Kress, Marketing and Sales Manager Overseas, State Tourist Board Baden –Wurttemberg, South West Germany has witnessed a 12.5 per cent increase in Indian footfall from January to June 2013, with an average stay of six nights. “We recorded 74,628 overnights between January and June this year, a number that goes up to 90,000 if you count July. The average spend per day per person by the Indian market is EUR 175,” she added.

According to Hector D’Souza, Director – India, South West German Tourism, the region has been unaffected by the Rupee depreciation as the weakening of the currency is compensated by the discounted fares of rail cards, hop on hop off tours, StuttCards etc., all of which are reasonably priced. D’Souza added that Castle Road, Lake Dwelling and Dwelling Museum, Stuttgart Wine Village and beer festival, and the Christmas Market (November end to December) will be largely promoted.

He further stated that MICE is going to be part of the region’s focus in India. According to the Tourist Board, South West Germany is well known for its convention centres, ample rooming facilities and packages. Stuttgart alone welcomed one million MICE visitors at its convention centre last year. Speaking about other attractions in South West Germany, Siebert added that culture and heritage tourism, culinary and wine tourism, and car museums are popular. “Furthermore, we want to spread awareness that Germany is not just football and Formula 1 when it comes to sports tourism. We also offer soft spots such as hiking and swimming. We also have accommodation that ranges from dormitories to luxury hotels, thus catering to a range of budgets,” he said.

The Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) recently held their annual roadshow in Mumbai, bringing to India a delegation comprising travel partners and stakeholders from hotels, attractions and DMCs, led by Supawan Teerarat, Vice President, TCEB. According to Teerarat, the MICE industry has been growing at a rate of about 5-10 per cent year on year, even during times of political unrest. From the Indian market in particular, TCEB has been recording footfall upwards of 70,000 every year.

“In 2013 we welcomed over 100,000 Indian travellers to Thailand, about 10 per cent of the total MICE travellers. Overall, we registered over 1 million business travellers, majority of who were from Asia. We have been seeing a significant growth from the India market and are looking to bridge some of the gaps from major cities, especially from corporate travel segment and the travel trade fraternity,” Teerarat added.

Highlighting the trends in Indian MICE movement to Thailand, Teerarat revealed that most footfall is registered from Meetings and Incentives segments, followed by Conferences and Exhibitions. “Indians’ spend per head during MICE visits ranges from THB 80,000 up to THB 120,000. We are now aiming to capture more niche segments, i.e. the premium customer. Thailand is different from leisure and tourist destination where spend per head would be much lower. For business travellers it is three times more. Hence, our services are premium,” she stated.

She further added that it is not just the number of groups from India that are on the rise, but also the size of the groups coming in. These groups now range from 100-4,000, and they are keen to see more than just the beaches and metros. They are also inclined to visit cultural cities and sites.
TCEB has named five cities across Thailand as MICE cities - Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and the latest entrant, appointed just this year, Khon Kaen. Khon Kaen is located near the north-east economic city and shares it’s border with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and some part of south China. The five MICE cities are so named as they are well equipped to host and cater to the needs of all types of MICE functions.

Furthermore, TCEB has the added responsibility now of overseeing mega events. Their role involves inviting expos of international repute to come to Thailand. The first winning bid this year is a mega event from Prague which will be held in Bangkok and will welcome over 200 participating countries.

Mumbai-based Broken Compass, which focuses on customised tours both within and outside India, has registered strong growth since it’s inception in 2010, with booking numbers increasing from  10-15 trips in the inaugural year to 120-130 trips a year currently, with a 25-25 per cent  repeat client rate. Broken Compass’ focus is to try and understand the client’s travel personality and customise the holiday accordingly. In 2010, Verma stated, there were not many companies offering customised trips and it seemed to be the need of the hour. The objective of Broken Compass was to bridge that gap.

Explaining the USP of Broken Compass, Manjari Verma, Wandering Consultant, Broken Compasss said, “We started seeing a lot of people came back not completely satisfied with their holidays. There were little facets that did not match up to what they wanted or expected. We did a little research and realised that, at the time, there are several companies that offer travel services, but not a lot who guide you about how to go about your holiday. So we ensure that we have a lot of hands-on planning and have a great rapport with our clients.”

Avani Patel, Co-Founder, Broken Compass further divulged that the company takes care not to bind the travellers to an itinerary. “We want people to explore the place themselves, with only guidance from us about how to do it. Also, the entire customisation works around their personalities. For instance, there are food tours for foodies for which we get food guides. If there are families travelling where the elders have an inclination to history but the children want adventure activities, we split the group up and plan two tours to cater to their needs,” she said.

Broken Compass plans both international and domestic trips, with a focus more on the FIT segment than group tours. Patel explained that the company only plans tours sporadically to destinations that are not popular among tour operating companies, such as a group tour organised to the Valley of Flowers which is largely considered only a trekker’s paradise. “We are choosy about planning such trips as it is not our main focus and it makes customisation difficult. For the same reason we do not do contracting as we plan accommodations based on the customer’s personality and budget,” she added.

When asked about the trends in the Indian travellers’ demands, Verma opined that there is a huge change in the Indian traveller. They have moved away from the Bollywood backdrops and places recommended by relatives to newer destinations for more exploratory trips. “Indians aren’t intimidated by new places any more. Central Europe has now opened up and destinations such as Prague, Iceland and Norway are gaining momentum. South East Asian countries have become more like long weekend getaways,” said Verma.

Atout France, France Tourism Development Agency, recently conducted its annual B2B Workshop, ''Rendez-vous in France '' in New Delhi and Mumbai. The workshop saw a French delegation of 24 partners representing regions, cities, hotels and various products. According to Catherine Oden, Director Atout France India, the attempt this year was to diversify the format of the workshop by including new activities on the agenda of our delegates. “The objective was for the visiting professionals to gain a broader perspective of the Indian market and provide them with many more platforms for networking with members of various domains. We certainly hope that this endeavour will help the positioning of India as a potentially and rapidly emerging important tourist market for France.”

At a media lunch following the event, Oden revealed that the suspension of the biometrics system for visa applicants in Mumbai should increase the inflow of MICE tourists from India. “Incentive groups so far have mainly been from Delhi and Mumbai, and a small stream has been noted from the south, mainly Bengaluru and Chennai, and a few from Gujarat. We recently welcomed a large company’s group of 400 pax. However, the biometrics may have been hampering larger groups of over 600. The companies that heard of this service looked to other destinations instead. The suspension should help us attract more of this segment,” she added.

Oden further stated that the move would also encourage travel agents to promote Paris further as a MICE destination. Atout France is also trying to push Nice and Cannes to incentive groups, as well as Bordeaux for smaller groups. The destination recorded a small group at Dijon recently too, she added. “We feel the interest in the destination growing. This was a small roadblock and now it’s behind us. The next step is having a stronger Rupee. That is a new challenge for the whole trade. However, we do have partners who can offer affordable hotels, and presenting an affordable destination is next on the agenda,” said Oden.
Speaking about India as a growing market, Patricia Barthalemy, Marketing Manager, Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau opined that it is a regular growth of 5-10 per cent, which means the destination has not witnessed a big boom, but a steady growth that allows them time to adjust and serve the Indian market better every year. “Indian footfall has increased to Paris and we hope it will increase further as a result of the suspension of the biometric visa. We hope to have more FIT and repeat visitors as well as incentive groups,” she said.

Highlighting the success of the ‘Be There Do that’ campaign, Oden stated that it has been well received. “The campaign presents a France that goes beyond the cliché, and showcase a France with activities, adventure, culture, etc. One that shows a France that you look at and say, I want to be there, I want to do that. It is designed to counter the famous Indian adage “Been there done that”,” she added.

According to Barthalemy, several of the new tours have been gaining the Indian market’s attention. “We have different experiences such as Paris by Segway, which has gained popularity. In fact, following my meetings, I have seen an interest in the bicycle tours of Paris. It is simple and organised by private companies which provide guides as well. It’s a new experience on offer from us. In addition, our Cyclopolitan tours, which feature three wheeled cycles with a plastic cover for changes in season, have also received several inquiries,” she concluded.

The two-city workshop comprised of delegates representing Air France, Rail Europe India, Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, Accor Hotels, Bateaux-Mouches, Disneyland Paris, Fraser Suites, L'Hotel du Collectionneur Arc de Triomphe - Paris, Deauville Tourism, Lisieux-Tourism and Spirituality in France, La Baule Tourist Office, Champagne-Ardenne Tourism, Dijon Tourist Office, Auvergne Regional Tourist Board, Rhone Alpes Tourism, Chamonix Mont-Blanc Tourist Board, Mondoramas Incoming, Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cannes and St Tropez, Pont du Gard, Lourdes and Carcassonne, Pau Pyrénées and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Globus Family of Brands.

Galaxy Macau, which has so far stayed focused on the FIT travellers from India, is now set to target the Indian destination wedding segment. Speaking with T3 on the sidelines at the recently concluded EEMA Expo in Jaipur, Paul Town, Vice President, Revenue Management & Sales, Galaxy Macau stated that the property hosted its first Indian wedding in July last year. “It was a grand success and the customers loved the venue. We realised that we could do better than the traditional destinations Indian chose for their weddings. Hence, we have shifted our focus now,” he revealed.

According to Town, Indian destination wedding is very unique. “There is such a richness of food and dining and culture etc. We felt that our property catered very well to that. We have a partner in India, Prosan, that has helped us collect and collaborate with a big bunch of wedding planners. We have hosted a wedding FAM to Galaxy Macau as well to get them acquainted with the property and what it has to offer. This trip to India is the second part of this initiative, where we participate in a show that gives us exposure,” added Town.

Throwing more light on their relationship with the Indian travel trade, Town stated that Galaxy Macau has been working with the Indian market since its inception, and have used some outbound Indian travel agents and some inbound ones through Hong Kong to increase footfall to the property. “Typical to any business, our weddings and events are fully commissionable. Also, we are able to accommodate all days of an Indian wedding at one venue, which means we are able to give bundle quotes for activities,” he added.

The property has a creative director on the property who sits with the wedding party and plans out the interiors, theme design and other intricacies. In addition, Galaxy Macau boasts of an Indian chef who ensures the authenticity of the cuisine.

When asked about MICE, Town revealed that, owing to the space constraint in the property, MICE is still a very small segment. However, the launch of the upcoming phase II and phase III of Galaxy Macau will increase the avenues for the same. “Phase II has two phases itself. It opens at the end of next year and features more retail offerings, more restaurants and an expansion of our resort deck. It almost becomes a water based theme park. The Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels will open shortly thereafter, and will add 1600 rooms to our inventory between them, as well as increase our banquet space. This will help us increase our MICE offerings. Phase III will be a year after the addition of the new hotels. It will come with an additional 4000 rooms and increased entertainment offerings,” Town said.

Speaking about the Indian contribution to Galaxy Macau’s annual business, Town stated that the Indian booking numbers are small, about 2 to 3 per cent. “The number looks small, but the property is 2200 rooms, so in total room nights, it’s quite significant. Our largest market China is and that contributes about 9 per cent, so 3 per cent is quite a good number,” he concluded.

As part of their efforts to promote their destination in India, Michael Sik Yuen, Minister of Tourism, Republic of Mauritius, recently visited the country. Addressing the media and travel fraternity in Mumbai, Sik Yuen revealed that Mauritius recorded 26,630 Indian arrivals in the first seven months of 2013, a seven per cent increase over last year, reinforcing the Mauritius Government’s strong faith in India as a source market.

As part of its efforts towards attracting Indians to Mauritius, Sik Yuen revealed the destination’s offer to split promotion costs in half with the Indian travel trade that would like to promote itineraries to Mauritius. “We urge industry members to send in their proposals to TRAC if they wish to organise joint promotional campaigns with us. If approved, we will finance 50 per cent of the budget for the same. If the promotion is being designed for business class travel, we will bear 75 per cent of the cost,” the Minister said.

In addition, MTPA is working on incentives for MICE and weddings. According to Sik Yuen, incentive packages have been proposed, one for 100-250 pax, and a second for 250 pax and above, both of which are awaiting government approvals.

Rajeev Nangia, Associate Director, TRAC Representations revealed that TRAC is launching a Visit Mauritius youtube channel to showcase their collected footage on what Mauritius has to offer. TRAC is also designing a roadmap that will work as an online guide to Mauritius for Indian travellers.

Speaking about air connectivity, Sik Yuen stated that the new airport in Mauritius will help in decongestion at the current one and encourage more airlines to fly between the two countries.



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