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Maansi Sharma

Maansi Sharma

One of Incredible India’s greatest success stories in recent times is undoubtedly Gujarat Tourism. Having recorded 16 per cent annual growth rate, higher than the national average, it is little surprise that the state is optimistic about this year as well. To serve these increasing numbers, Vipul Mittra, Principal Secretary to Govt of Gujarat (Tourism, Civil Aviation & Pilgrimage), revealed that the state will need an additional one lakh rooms in the next five years. “In 2011-12, the total number of tourists was 223.6 lakhs, out of which 218.95 lakh were Indian and 4.06 lakh were foreign tourist. The gross tourist flow during the year 2012-13 was 254.09 lakh which is 13.62 per cent higher than the flow in 2011-12, out of which 183.24 were Indian tourists and rest was foreigners. Many medium to big hotel chains have done their studies and assessments for investing in Gujarat. Many big brands like Hyatt, Holiday Inn Express and Ramada, among others have already come up. And as per an estimate, Gujarat needs another one lakh rooms in the next five years,” he stated.

Addressing the media in a recent press conference in Mumbai, Saurabh Patel, Tourism Minister, Gujarat opined, “Domestic tourism is definitely outpacing the international tourism growth in India and Gujarat also strongly believes that if domestic tourism grows then international tourism will automatically flow in. We will continue to aggressively market Gujarat as a tourist destination in India as well as abroad.”

Patel attributed Gujarat’s success in the tourism sector to the ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign. “Over the years, the campaign is attracting an increasing number of tourists, both domestic and inbound. The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd (TCGL) is focusing on attracting travellers from across India.” Mittra further mentioned that there has been a significant increase in the budget for this year which will be utilised for infrastructure development as well as continuing the brand building exercise. “Gujarat does participate in domestic and selected international travel marts. We also do our own road shows in different parts of the country,” he added.

Speaking about the state’s focus for tourism promotion this year, Mittra added that they plan to focus more on adventure tourism, heritage tourism, cruise tourism and caravan tourism. “Bird watching is a niche segment which we started a few years back and has been well received. We will celebrate the Saputara Monsoon festival again, as well as festivals such as Navratri, International Kite Festival, Rann Utsav, International Bird Watchers’ conference, Tarnetar Fair and so on which attract tourists from all across the country and abroad. Religious tourism one of the important segments, and we will promote it through various media,” he stated.

Mittra further revealed that Gujarat Tourism has a yearlong calendar of roadshows which would be held across all the major markets. The state will also participate in various trade-shows such as ITM, TTF and IITE, among others.

Malaysia has, in the recent past, enjoyed more than a healthy footfall from the Indian outbound market. According to Manoharan Periasamy, Director, Tourism Malaysia India, the Indian market is a significant contributor in visitor arrivals and has proven to be a strong and viable venture for Malaysia. “We look forward to working even more closely with our partners here to increase arrivals from India to Malaysia this year and in coming years. For 2013, we have targeted 780,000 tourist arrivals from India to Malaysia while our overall tourism targets are to achieve 36 million tourist arrivals and attract RM168 billion (about USD55 billion) in tourist receipts by the year 2020,” he revealed.

In 2014, Malaysia will celebrate its fourth Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) with the theme “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia”. The VMY 2014 promotional campaign has started this year with a series of year-long special events and activities leading to VMY 2014. It will contribute to the Government’s target to receive 36 million tourist arrivals and RM 168 billion in receipts by 2020, as outlined in the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) 2020.

Periasamy believes that Tourism Malaysia’s targets for next year are achievable by enhancing the growth momentum of the country’s tourism industry through the VMY 2014 promotional campaign. “The campaign, which runs for one year, not only promotes Malaysia on an international level but also highlights various pro-active initiatives by the Ministry of Tourism to ensure Malaysians understand the economic benefits of a successful VMY 2014,” he added.

Malaysia enjoys mixed segment traffic from India, with VFR contributing 8.2 per cent, FITs adding 73.9 per cent and business forming 18 per cent of the total visitor arrival statistic in a year. However, Periasamy stated that then Rupee depreciation will have an impact on Indian travel to Malaysia as he opines that the Indian holidaymakers prefer to travel domestic due to rupee depreciation. Air connectivity works at an advantage for the country as India is well connected to Malaysia through direct flights.

“Air links have improved significantly over the years; at present, there are more than 96 direct flights per week from India to Malaysia. Air Asia runs daily flights from Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi and Kolkata to Malaysia. In fact, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia have helped boost Indian footfall to Malaysia,” Periasamy said.

The travel trade fraternity holds a place of importance for Tourism Malaysia and the destination has an ongoing effort to educate the industry on the country and all it has to offer. Tourism Malaysia has been organising its Sales Mission to India every year since a decade. In addition, their training programmes highlight lesser-known destinations and products, as well as refresh the knowledge of the frontline staff on Malaysia.

Periasamy further informed that, to promote Indian Weddings in the destination, Tourism Malaysia has drafted many affordable travel packages. “Tourism Malaysia has also taken a multi-channel approach with steadily increasing its presence on the social networking platform,” concluded Periasamy.

Hospitality technology solutions provider IDS Next has rolled out two new mobility apps - Envy Dine and Envy Check-in, as part of it’s strategy to invest in developing futuristic solutions for the Indian market. Envy Dine is an intuitive app that allows hotel staff to take orders quickly and accurately, and raise a KOT even while standing by the guest. The Envy Check-in app enables hotel staff to complete check-in formalities even while escorting the guest to their room.

“This year has been very encouraging and full of actions for IDS Next in terms launching new solutions, entering new geographies and acquiring new clients. Both our new apps, as well as our small hotel software, PAX, have received good response from the market. We also entered newer markets and installed our software in Myanmar and Turkey,” said Binu Mathews, CEO, IDS Next Business Solutions.

IDS Next currently has over 3,000 customers in the country and about 60 per cent of the market share in India, with it’s largest presence being is in the mid-market hotel segment, and is looking to consolidate it’s position here, added Mathews. “Our solutions have been well received by Indian hoteliers as most of the large and independent hotel chains use our Hotel ERP. Armed with unmatched domain expertise and a comprehensive Hotel ERP which is growing in the solutions it offers, IDS Next has emerged as the number one player in the Indian hospitality market,” he said.

According to Mathews, the Indian hospitality industry is adopting technology rapidly, both by choice and force. With the boom in internet and mobile usage, travellers are doing their holiday related search and even booking their hotel stay without even a call to the hotel. This trend has made the Indian hotel industry revise their strategy and increasingly adopt technology and mobility solutions.

“Apart from rapidly adopting hotel software to streamline operational processes across departments, hotels in India are also considering other solutions that include offering free Wi-Fi, passport scanner to reduce guest check-in time, web booking engine, online reputation management, revenue management and business intelligence tools to beat the competition and stay profitable. Hospitality technology solutions are much in demand among hotels in India,” he opined.

Speaking about their marketing strategies in India, Mathews stated that the sector is getting very complex and competitive at every level, which has led to IDS Next itself moving away from traditional mediums and using smaller budgets smartly. “One of our largest moves in the last couple of years has been towards digital and online marketing. Another way we have aggressively spread into newer geographies is through partners. We have forged some interesting partnerships in Africa and more recently in parts of Greater India and South East Asia and this had enabled us to do more with less,” he concluded.

Last year, Thailand welcomed close to 84.5 per cent leisure travellers from India. The growth was huge and the numbers helped the destination cross the 1 million mark of tourist arrivals from India. While leisure travel saw a rise, business and MICE travel too accounted for a total of 5.8 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively, revealed Sethaphan Buddhani, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai. The growth, he believes, will continue, despite the downturn of the Indian Rupee. Thailand’s aim for 2013 is to register 178,000 Indian arrivals.

“I don’t think that depreciating Rupee will really affect travel for Indians to Thailand. Far- away lands may see a dip but nearby destinations should not see a setback due to this. We are still confident of achieving our targets for the year and our belief is strengthened by seeing the surge in tourist arrivals as compared to last year. April this year, Thai Airways announced budgeted airline for Bangkok- Thai Smile, which is affordable for flyers,” Buddhani stated.

Providing an added advantage, Thailand has daily flights of Thai Airways from Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. In addition, it sees 52 non-stop flights a week from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Gaya, Varanasi and Hyderabad.

In a bid to attract repeat Indian footfall, TAT set out the year with a focus on moving beyond Bangkok and Pattaya. “Indian tourists have already explored these two regions and we want them to experience more than just that. Thailand is a country full of hidden treasures and surprises, many destinations within Thailand have new activities and attractions to offer, which is what we have been promoting through the year. Regions such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Khao Yai, Trang, Koh Samui, Koh Samet, Ayutthaya and Phuket are being promoted and talked about with the trade and with the media. From cultural experiences to food, shopping and adventure activities are all available in these regions,” he added.

TAT holds high regard for the travel trade as partners to increase visibility in the Indian market. The travel trade industry, Buddhani opined, is TAT’s bloodline. “Most of the Indians even today feel comfortable to go through a travel agent while travelling abroad. They listen to the advice of the travel agent and in most cases the agent also influences on which destination to go to. Thus it is important our agents are educated about the destination and believe in it as we do. We have conducted destination trainings, road shows, offers on bookings, online training modules, certification courses and a lot more is in the pipeline,” he revealed.

South African Airways (SAA) is set to upgrade it’s fleet to A340-300 aircraft, which will add 21 seats to each of the flights from September 2014. SAA has currently reduced it’s flight frequency from seven to six flights a week, and will increase it back to seven in April 2015. “We have seen an increase in passenger traffic with the efforts of everyone pushing the destination, including South African Tourism (SAT) and Indaba creating an opportunity for Asians to see what products we have to offer. It brought in a bit of increase in traffic,” said Sajid Khan, Country Manager – India, SAA.

Unfortunately, the destination has been losing momentum in tourism numbers over the last few months. Initially, Khan revealed, there were visa issues at the consulate which took time to resolve. In the mean time the market took a beating and the airline lost about 18-20 per cent of it’s market share.

“When the Ministry finally sorted it out, we saw an increase in numbers. The total outbound footfall from India to South Africa rose by 10-15 per cent. And now we are hit by Ebola and are beginning to see cancellations. The outbreak has spread to four countries and even India has begun to question travellers from Africa to track the places they visited in the last two weeks to trace and test them. It’s a good thing to do but it is also scaring a lot of passengers. They don’t want to be traced and checked and would rather go somewhere else,” he stated.

Speaking about their plans going forward, Khan revealed that he is keen on starting operations from Delhi, but the market is not strong enough. “I want to start operations from not just Delhi, but 10 other points in India. But the market is not large enough. South Africa welcomed about 120,000 Indians last year, and our current capacity is about 89,000. The numbers don’t add up. But when they do, Delhi will be our first stop. It’s the next big market for us,” he added.

In addition, the airline has upped it’s ante on social media in a bid to draw more passengers on to the airline. According to Khan, a lot of decision making as far as travel is concerned is done on social media, and SAA wants to stay ahead of the game through visuals and contests. “We want to be present and show passengers that we are not some old airline, like any other modern fleet. Very few people know it’s a good airline and it makes their choosing SAA very difficult,” he said.

Most recently SAA launched it’s Social Checkin feature, a global campaign through which passengers can sign in through facebook, allow the app to take in details, and highlight other passengers signed on to social checkin who share the same interests, giving the traveller the option to sit beside them. In addition, they are running a testimonials campaign, where they interview passengers checked into the flight to get their feedback and post it on facebook.

India, Khan revealed, is one of the highest load factors on the international network of SAA. However, South Africa is geographically located the southern tip of Africa, making the destination the airline’s only market as it loses the position of a transit destination. Furthermore, SAA does not get much of the market to Africa as the neighbouring five countries require transit visas, and that becomes a weak point. “If the transit visas for the neighbouring countries are taken away, opening up those markets, or the connections to Kenya are improved by SAA, traffic to South Africa will increase,” he opined.

The airline’s current marketing strategy is to promote the destination rather than the airline, following the idea that once travellers choose to visit the destination they will go to the travel agent to learn how to get there. SAA works closely with the travel trade in India, owing to the fact that ticket bookings on the airline’s website were not available until very recently.

Furthermore, their existing codeshare with Air India, and the latter’s recent joining of the Star Alliance, would strengthen SAA’s connectivity and provide benefits such as through checkin. “We also want to see if we can do codeshares with more destinations with Jet Airways and Air India, subject to government regulations of course. If South Africa and India share the agreement to increase tourism exchange, talks for which are on right now, it will help increase these codeshares,” he added.

In a unique promotional campaign, Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is promoting the destination through Indian author and publisher Durjoy Datta’s new book Hold My Hand. This is the first time ever for any National Tourism Board to collaborate with a writer for such a unique promotional campaign in India to promote a destination. From the novel, the HKTB will spin off a series of promotional activities, using Social Networking Services and mobile apps in a bid to raise awareness of Hong Kong and all it has to offer.

At the press conference to announce the book and its accompanying campaign, Anthony Lau, Executive Director, HKTB revealed that the Board is also working with Whistling Woods academy to run a short film contest, inviting students of the school to produce snippets of Hold My Hand.

India has been picking up as a feeder market for Hong Kong, and Lau recognised it as one of Hong Kong’s five key new markets. Speaking about the impact of the weak Rupee on Indian footfall to the destination, Lau said, “Hopefully it is not going to depreciate too much. Even if it does, I don’t think it will have any significant impact on the numbers to Hong Kong. The Rupee doesn’t stay down, it fluctuates, and we have to learn how to manage this. I think a longer term perspective to continue to invest and highlight Hong Kong in the consumers’ minds is the right approach. These efforts in difficult times will bear fruit,” he opined.

Malaysia is set to welcome two more airlines flying daily from India this year. Following the recent launch of Air Asia’s flight from Kochi to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia Airlines will add to the same air route’s seat capacity with direct flights starting September. In addition, Malindo Air, a joint venture between National Aerospace and Defence Industries (NADI) of Malaysia and Lion Air of Indonesia, aims to commence daily direct flights from Delhi to Kuala Lampur from 15 August. This information was provided by Ng Yen Yen, Chairman, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, on the sidelines of a press conference held in Mumbai. Malindo Air had recently revealed its target to launch flights out of New Delhi, Mumbai and a few other south Indian destinations.

Malaysia currently enjoys 106 direct flights a week from India, which provide 19,695 seats. The new flights will add considerably to this number. Yen Yen believes that accessibility is a prime factor in further popularising a tourist destination, which is why increased air capacity is a focus for Tourism Malaysia. “Malindo Air, especially, is a low cost carrier and will greatly help travel between Malaysia and India,” she opined.

Speaking about the importance of the Indian market, Yen Yen stated that India is Malaysia’s second largest source market after China. “India is a booming economy and I do not believe that the Rupee will remain in a slump for too long. Our Indian footfall has grown from 145.153 in 2003 to 691,271 in 2012. We aim to up these numbers to 7800,000, which is our target for 2013,” she added.

According to Yen Yen, Malaysia’s focus has shifted from US and Europe as source markets to China and India, owing to the rapid growth in footfall. She further added that luxury, adventure and MICE will be Tourism Malaysia’s key focus segments for the year. In addition, she revealed, MICE is a rapidly growing segment, with Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) working hard to make Malaysia a top MICE destination. Honeymoon and destination weddings are other segments being promoted in the Indian market.

Highlighting the importance of the trade, Yen Yen said that Asia is still a traditional travel market that depends on the expertise and recommendations of travel agents, making them a vital cog in tourism. “The Indian agents are well educated in selling Malaysia and we

Adding a feather to its cap, Starwood has begun work on its next project on the Cotai Strip – the St. Regis Macao. Set to launch in August 2015, the luxury property will be well positioned to cater to all segments of travellers, with the added benefit of a 24 hour butler service. This information was provided by Ruth Boston, General Manager, Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central and St. Regis Macao, Cotai Strip during the sneak peek of the property at a media briefing held in Mumbai.

The property will feature 400 rooms and suites as well as a ballroom that accommodate small meetings of up to 350 guests. Starwood will also build a connection from the St. Regis ballroom to the Sheraton Macao ballroom so as to facilitate meetings across the properties. According to Boston this will be helpful to companies who prefer to host their VIP guests in a different hotel.

Speaking about the India market in particular, Boston opined that there is a growing luxury segment out of India and the property will look forward to hosting FIT and meetings groups alike, as well as maybe some Indian weddings.
The Sheraton Macao, she said, has been receiving increased numbers from India across all segments, with the largest group strength being 500 rooms a night. The property has notched a growth of 54 per cent in the first six months of 2014 alone. “Earlier, agents would sell Macau as a one-night add-on to Hong Kong, i.e. two nights in Hong Kong and one night in Macau. Now we see them selling two nights in Macau and one night in Hong Kong, as well as a few mono visits to Macau as well, which is very encouraging,” Boston remarked.

She further opined that an upcoming series of developments in Macau, such as the Taipa ferry terminal, light rail transit system, Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau bridge, as well as new properties and attractions including The Parisian, MGM and City of Dreams, will strengthen Macau’s positioning on the tourism map.

The British Government recently announced its plans to add a new rule to the visa processes wherein visitors aged 18 and over from high risk countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana, would be forced to pay GBP 3,000 for a six-month visit visa. The new rule, if put into effect, may target visitors from November this year. Since this possibility came to light, it has caused uproar among the travel fraternities in each of these countries, India especially, as the country is a large feeder market for the UK in terms of leisure, business, MICE, student and group traffic.

Reacting to the proposed move of British government, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) opined that it is highly discriminatory and very unfortunate. “CII strongly feels that such blanket rules for visas will negatively affect not only businesses, especially small businesses, it will also further bring down the number of students going to UK for higher studies and affect the tourism inflow from India to UK. This will also not help the cause of early conclusion of EU-India FTA, for which both the parties are committed,” CII stated.

Another industry body, The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), said the move would dampen the flourishing relationship between India and Britain. Naina Lal Kidwai, President, FICCI, said that while “We are still to fully see the implications of this move by the UK government, if there is any truth to this, it would be a dampener to an otherwise flourishing relationship between India and the UK. We hope that the UK government will have a rethink on the same taking cognisance of the full implications this could have”.

Vindi Banga, Chairman, FICCI’s UK Advisory Group, said, “A high risk status for visas for Indian visitors to the UK is 180 degrees opposite to Prime Minister David Cameron’s emphasis on a special relationship with India. If true, this move will adversely impact students, tourists and business alike. Britain will also lose out lakhs of Indian tourist and airlines and travel operators’ business between the two countries.”

The travel industry also echoed the similar sentiments. Vineet Raina, Vice President-Outbound, Trail Blazer Tours India, opined that the new visa norm proposed by the UK recently, which requires applicant to provide a hefty cash bond of GBP 3,000, will definitely be a deterrent and push visitors to other countries. He revealed that the travel industry has already voiced its sharp resentment. “The norm is targeted at controlling illegal immigrants and to stop visitors from over staying, but we do see it impacting the genuine visitors as well,” he added.

Slamming the proposed norm, Guldeep Singh Sahni, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI), called the new rule a money making strategy. “The demand for cash bonds worth GBP 3,000 is nothing but another way to make money off the visa applicants. As it is, UK charges several additional fees on various facets of the visa applications which no other country does. In addition, they have given us no clarity on what constitutes as a high risk country or what filters they are using to determine whether the tourists are high risk or not,” he said.

So far, tour operators have not witnessed an impact of the proposed rule on the outbound enquiries to the UK. Madhav Pai, Director, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) stated that the company is seeing a healthy increase in UK travel bookings with an over 20 per cent increase over last year’s numbers and do not foresee any negative impact. In fact, Karan Anand, Head—relationships, Cox & Kings, opined that the norm will not impact genuine travellers. “The criteria are that it will apply to those people who stay for more than six months. So, this will affect only those who stay for long period. However, if they return the money will be refunded. Hence, it’s not a loss to anyone, just those who want to stay there illegally. Outbound holiday travellers do not spend more than two weeks in UK so this rule does not apply to them at all and as a result it will not impact outbound travel,” he said.

Sahni believes that if the British Government were to provide more clarity on their strategy it would be possible to discuss and come to a solution that would be helpful to everyone. “We still hope the new norm will be withdrawn for the benefit of tourism and bilateral relationship between both the countries,” said Raina. Meanwhile, Visit Britain India office refused to comment on this issue saying that it is, first and foremost, a government decision which has not been confirmed yet.

The Government of India has also voiced it concern and directed its High Commission in London to get details of the issue. HRD minister MM Pallam Raju said, “I agree that this would be a deterrent factor. But, I hope that it is only a temporary deterrent. We will make all diplomatic efforts to ensure that there is no hindrance to student mobility.”

Meanwhile, a day after India voiced its strong protests over the proposed move, the UK said no final decision has been taken on the norm, which they intend to run as a pilot scheme. Marcus Winsley, Director of Press and Communications in the British High Commission in New Delhi, said that the government remains committed to tackling immigration abuse and was looking at a range of options.

He further added that senior UK and Indian officials are scheduled to meet in London in late July for a comprehensive dialogue on visa related issues. Financial bonds are expected to be on the agenda.

India City Walks, a specialty travel vertical that provides led walking tours with local experiences across cities in India, plans to expand to 21 cities across the country within the next year. The company currently operates in six cities, namely Delhi- NCR, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Jaipur, Aurangabad and Agra.

Speaking about the concept of city walks, Sachin Bansal, Chief Explorer, India city Walks  said, “The tourists are always keen to look at things from local perspective. That’s where we fit. A seasoned traveller also gets to see something new on a walk as we offer walking tours with local experiences and expand opportunities to explore the cities, towns, villages of India and its environs. In such tours travellers get know very detail information about a city, its history and heritage and more importantly experience authentic local food places that they may could not find by their own so they feel it is a great way to explore a city like a local and take much interest in such tours.”

Since the inception of India City Walks, the company is witnessing both domestic and inbound traffic at a larger level, Bansal added. Based on experiential tours, the walks are focused on showcasing the travel enthusiast an unexplored, real India and its cities, something especially interesting to the international clientele. “Our vision is to showcase the city in its best local form and be present in every city of India to promote walking tours,” he concluded.



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