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Karishma Sen

Karishma Sen

The 20th edition of the Arabian Travel Market opened to a packed audience of delegates from around the world. Celebrating two decades of the Middle East’s pre-eminent tourism and hospitality platform, this year ATM focused on the aviation industry, the importance of cooperation among players for development in the sector, relaxation of visa regime by Saudi Arabia, and the growing interest in the UAE among travellers from Asia Pacific. Air travel was one of the eight major sectors highlighted at the event, alongside budget travel, careers, health and well-being, luxury, shopping, sports, and cruise and water-based travel. The demand from exhibitors pushed floor space to a record high of over 22,000 square metres, a 6 per cent rise over last year.

The travel trade show was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He stated that ATM has become the bedrock of Dubai’s economy since the event was launched in May 1994. “ATM has played a vital role in Dubai’s development, underscoring its position as a highly attractive centre for exhibitions and events. Every year during ATM, the travel industry arrives in Dubai to take a look into the future of travel and tourism. As Dubai has grown, the show has grown with it and has become one of the most important events on the global industry calendar.”
“We have come a very long way and this is a far cry from the 7,000 tourism professionals who visited for the very first time in the early 1990s,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.

He further added that Dubai has achieved so much at a pace that many other cities can only dream of. “Dubai’s strategic plan builds on those achievements and highlights areas such as the economy, infrastructure and environment,” he said, adding that ATM has grown from 300 exhibitors in 1994 to more than 3,000 this year – a period during which Dubai’s passenger traffic rose from 1.9 million to 40 million. “Tourism is currently the Emirate’s second largest industry and this has huge significance for the economy as US$80 billion worth of investment into key infrastructure projects including airport expansion, railways and roads comes to fruition in the next 10 years,” he said.

Helal Saeed Almarri, Director General, Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) & Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), stated, “For one week in May every year, the global travel industry assembles under one roof to celebrate the travel industry. Through ATM, we will continue to create a common interactive platform for the international/ local buyers andexhibitors.” He further added that in the past eight years, Dubai has doubled the number of tourists and become the seventh most visited city globally. “Growth rates are expected to be the same as those achieved in the past years and these may rise going ahead.”

Carl Vaz, Director, DTCM India added, “We feel proud to have successfully hosted the largest delegation from India till date, these are people who are all decision makers representing different parts of the country.  These buyers have not only successfully completed the Dubai Expert Online Training Programme but were handpicked after carefully evaluating their ability to aggressively promote and market Dubai. India represents the 2nd top source market (after Saudi Arabia) for inward visitor traffic into Dubai this clearly indicates the importance of India as a source market for Dubai”

Developments at Arabian Travel Market 2013

Dubai shows off its Expo 2020 vision

Held every five years for a period of six months, World Expo attracts millions of visitors. The UAE is currenty bidding to host the World Expo 2020 in Dubai under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the future.’ Dubai is pulling out all the stops in its bid for the Expo 2020, Reem Al Hashimy Minister of State said that the Emirate has not been deterred from thinking big despite the tough events of recent years. “In the last couple of years, Dubai has proven its ability to rise above and beyond its challenges. The bid team is looking to mount an event that fires the imaginations of those well beyond the UAE,” she said.

If successful, it would be the first time a World Expo would have been held in MENASA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asian) region in the history of the event. Hashimy further informed, “With the strength of UAE’s robust infrastructure, geographical positioning and global connectivity, Dubai Expo 2020 can expect to attract 25 million visitors offering a diverse and exciting international profile for visitors and participants alike.” She further added that for the first time in the history of World Expo, more than 70 per cent of the visitors would stem from beyond the host nation offering opportunities to both the developed and the developing world.
The winning city will be announced in Paris in November 2013.

UAE rejoins UNWTO

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has rejoined the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), announced Taleb Rifai, Secretary General, UNWTO at the UNWTO Ministerial Forum running concurrently with ATM. “The UAE plays a very important role not only in the development of tourism but also in linking the Middle East with other regions. We expect that by working together we will enhance tourism within and to the Emirates as well as increase regional cooperation,” he said.

The UAE and UNWTO will work on several initiatives including the measurement of the economic impact of tourism, statistics and human resources development.

Dubai launches ‘Summer is Dubai’

Dubai will run the ‘Summer is Dubai’ campaign from 7 June to 7 September, 2013. The campaign will highlight the leisure and tourism offerings of the Emirate and showcase the city as a summer destination. The campaign will be launched through a series of digital marketing initiatives.

The ‘Summer is Dubai’ campaign aims to attract visitors to the emirate with festivities, special occasions and celebrations that are a feature of Dubai’s summer season, including Dubai Summer Surprises, Modhesh World and a number of other events, before the season moves into Ramadan in Dubai and finally Eid in Dubai. ‘Summer is Dubai’ is in line with the vision of Maktoum to position the city as the region’s ultimate family tourism destination throughout the year, especially during the summer season, said Helal Saeed Al Merri, Director-General of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).

Exhibitors Speak

“After a long and strong association with ATM, it has been a delight to watch the show evolve into something so grand. It remains an extremely important show for anyone in the inbound and outbound tourism business.”

- Kulwant Singh, Managing Director, Lama Tours

“Dubai has set a target of achieving 20 million visitors a year by 2020. Through ATM I am sure they will be able to achieve their target. I am extremely pleased by the turnout and I hope Portugal can gain momentum through it.”

- Isabel Almeida, Project Manager- Operations Department Marketing & Promotion Division, Tourism Portugal

Buyers Speak

“My main reason for visiting ATM 2013 was to meet and build my business with the trade. The expo proved to be a great tool for it and to generally fuel business. I am very happy with the exhibitor quality.”

- Marzban Antia, Managing Director, Avesta Travels & Tours

“The event has helped my business grow in this region.  It is a big travel bazaar and I am hope to build long term business relations with new properties and agents. I look forward to visiting ATM next year.”

- Mehernosh Colombowalla, Beyond Borders  (Travel Management)

Earlier this year Seychelles Tourism Board presented its annual  Marketing Strategy for 2013 to private sector trade members and emphasised on their focus on new emerging markets such as India. “The Seychelles Tourism Board Global Strategy vision is to achieve for Seychelles the status of the most desirable island destination on the market offering the unique, Seychellois way of life, at the right price, and within a sustainable eco-friendly environment,” said Elsia Grandcourt, the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board.

She further revealed that the targets set for next year, including the strategic priorities have been identified: Brand Awareness, Niche Market Development, Education, Product Delivery of Market Needs, Events Positioning, Market Segment, E-Strategy and Research. “By using are strategic priorities we plan to target all our source markets in a different way. Every individual travelling abroad wats different experiences and we want to cater to this demand. We understand that Seychelles will never be a mass tourist destination but that is our USP, we are not looking at the quantity but we are looking at attracting quality tourists into our destination,” she said adding that particularly in new and emerging markets the tourism board wants to establish Seychelles as a high end niche destination.

In 2012 the island welcomed over 2,08,034 tourists which is a 5 per cent increase as compared to 2011. “India plays a very small role in these visitor arrivals. First three months of 2013 saw over 700+ visitor arrivals from India which is almost the similar number as last year during the same period. India saw a 2 per cent increase in visitor arrivals in 2012 as compared to 2011. India holds a lot of potential and we want tap the high end travellers in India who want to go to an unexplored destination,” said Grandcourt.

Commenting on the participation of Seychelles Tourism Board at SATTE 2013, Grandcourt said, “Our main objective behind participating at SATTE was to re-enter the India market and show our presence to the travel trade in India. Few years ago we were present in the market but we couldn’t achieve the results that we desired. Moving forward we are extremely optimistic about this market.SATTE proved to be a great platform and helped us connect with the Indian travel trade.”

To strengthen their presence in India the tourism board is in the advanced stages of finalising a representation office in India. “In January we had announced that we are looking at appointing an India Representation office for Seychelles and since then we have had a lot of meeting and discussions with various players on the same. We are now on the verge of signing the deal and very soon announcing it to the world,” she said.

The Seychelles Tourism Board was also present at the recent TAFI Convention; Grandcourt believes it was a great opportunity to receive firsthand knowledge from the agents on how a n Indian traveller thinks. “We were very pleased with the Indian delegation and we had a lot of discussion with the TAFI Committee and there is a very high possibility of us hosting the TAFI Convention in the coming years.

 To further raise visitor numbers, the Seychelles Tourism Board will continue to develop and maintain an authentic, dynamic and sustainable product at home, based on professionalism and value for money, innovation, and cost effective  marketing campaigns throughout core  and emerging markets.

Jet Airways has launched a bouquet of travel options from India to multiple destinations in the ASEAN region, Australia and New Zealand with the help of interline partners, and has also announced daily flights from Sharjah to Thiruvananthapuram. “ASEAN is the only region that is growing in the international market. However, while we have a lot of interline connections with several carriers, we have realised that we need to focus on destinations beyond our online points,” said Kripalani.

According to her, Jet Airways guests can avail enhanced daily connectivity from major Indian cities and onwards through the airlines’ international gateway points in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Guests will now be able to connect conveniently through these gateway points to onward destinations in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and China. “With our interline arrangements, code shares and frequent flyer agreements with some of the leading airlines in this region, Jet Airways has been able to offer guests supreme connectivity and seamless travel. We are confident that the new enhanced connectivity on offer will prove equally popular with our guests,” she informed.

Elaborating on its new Gulf route, she added, “With the new additional flight between Sharjah and India, business customers of Jet Airways can avail of choice of timings throughout the day between the two countries. The flights are timed to connect with Jet Airways’ domestic network and its network to SAARC/ASEAN points.”

Kripalani further added that guests will be able to avail of these seamless connections at truly attractive prices given the start of the festive season and the airlines winter schedule. “We currently offer guests similar connections while they travel from Europe, Gulf or SAARC destinations to India, through its international hubs in Mumbai and New Delhi.”

Kripalani further shared that Jet Airways has also recently reconfigured all of its 75 JetKonnect Boeing 737s with a twin-class configuration, offering eight business class seats on every aircraft in an effort to drum up demand in an indifferent market.

Sonal Mishra, Secretary - Tourism, Devasthanam Management and Pilgrimage, Government of Gujarat shares how the state is aggressively showcasing it’s potential

Gujarat has always been on top of its game, what sort of growth has Gujarat registered so far?

The ‘Khushboo Gujarat ki’ campaign did wonders for the state and renewed interest in Gujarat tourism. Registering a hike of 13.30 per cent during 2013-14 with 287.88 lakh domestic tourist arrivals, the Government has set up a strong base. New to this office it is my duty to continue providing quality service and further developing the state’s tourism infrastructure and increase tourist footfall into the state.

Gujarat Tourism has also initiated a public private partnership (PPP) model to boost this growth and offer better facilities. According to an ASSOCHAM study, attracting the highest amount of investments worth over Rs 34,800 crore in India’s hotels and tourism industry, Gujarat has emerged on the top with a share of about 29 per cent amid 20 major states attracting combined investments worth over Rs one lakh crore in the sector, as of financial year 2012-13. We want to position Gujarat as a ‘visitor friendly’ destination globally.

How different will your approach be in developing the sector in comparison to your predecessor?

In order to boost earnings from tourism sector, I want to cultivate a more market-oriented tactic to develop lesser known destinations in the state. Through various initiatives and planning a clear road map, we aim to make different forms of tourism including adventure, wildlife, cultural, festival tourism more market-oriented to generate maximum business in all the districts.

Through the PPP model, I want to invite investments into lesser known areas within the state that hold the potential to attract tourists. Through various platforms such as the Vibrant Gujarat summit, we plan on promoting the states potential globally. This Summit provides an attractive opportunity to its participants to understand the potential of Gujarat in various sectors. Besides, it provides platform to interact with policy makers, industry leaders, and renowned academicians from all over the world.

Along with developing new destinations, I also want to develop new tourism segments to increase the brand value of Gujarat as a tourist destination.

Which are the different tourism sectors you plan on developing?

Very soon, we plan on adding agriculture-tourism into our portfolio. The state government has identified two districts, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha, to develop as agri-tourism circuits. We think it will be very interesting to see the tourist taking part in the day to day activity of the village, farm and the entire community.

We also want to further develop our wildlife circuit by building infrastructure such as lodges, toilets, accommodation options, resting area, etc.

The state tourism board also plans on allocating various cities within Gujarat a tourism specialisation. After endorsing Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad as business destinations through Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit since 2003, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) has been set up to develop Vadodara as the state’s cultural capital and encourage tourism in the city.

We have also launched Industrial tours for students with an aim to showcase the industrial growth of Gujarat. Students will be taken on a guided tour and given an insight into these plants and their functioning.

Who is your target tourist segment?

We do understand that International tourists are extremely important for business and to be recognised at the global level, hence the Government has taken various initiatives to be seen on the international podium by organising events such as the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit, participating in international trade fairs and travel exhibitions, creating online marketing campaigns to increase and extend its reach to every corner of the world.

We will also focus on domestic tourism as this sector has been outperforming the international tourism growth in India. If domestic tourism nurtures then international tourism will inevitably flow in.

Luxury trains, which offer services that can make the best hotels and airlines in the world pale in comparison, are the latest craze. The product has long been popular among domestic and inbound tourists in western countries, and is slowly gaining impetus in India too. The difference between luxury train tours and a regular journey is that one can experience several tourist spots in one go without compromising on comfort and lavishness. Such tours are now emerging as the new visage of extravagance in travel. Discerning Indians seek more relaxed and lavish journeys nowadays, and luxury trains are at the pinnacle of this aspiration.

Chugging through India

In India, Palace on Wheels was the first luxury train that started operations in 1982. ‘The Maharaja Express, Deccan Odyssey, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Indian Maharaja and the Golden Chariot were added thereafter.

Over the years, international tourists to India have taken a liking to the concept, as they dub it a once in a lifetime experience. Moreover, luxury trains are becoming increasingly popular among domestic tourists, evident from the Palace on Wheels booking numbers from this segment. The recent Palace on Wheels journey had 84 passengers, including 23 domestic travellers. Vinod Ajmera, Managing Director, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) said, “The new season started in September and by the end of the fourth trip the royal train had attracted 190 tourists. We are expecting that, by the end of this season in April next year, about 3,000 people will come aboard Palace on Wheels.”

Pramod Sharma, General Manager, RTDC, further informed that during the last season ending April 2013 about 2,400 passengers from 41 countries travelled on the royal train. The highest number of foreign travellers came from Britain, followed by the America. “The Palace on Wheels is rated the number four luxury train in the world and we plan to make it even better, redefining vintage royalty. It takes tourist on a splendid tour covering Delhi, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur and Agra giving our passengers the experience of a lifetime.”

Maharashtra was the second state to introduce a luxurious train - The Deccan Odyssey. To increase the occupancy this season, Deccan Odyssey has been launching discounted value-for-money packages. “Deccan Odyssey will roll out a special offer of a 1+1 ticket free for travel between November 28 and the end of December. The train seats 84 passengers and enjoys 50-70 per cent occupancy during the season, of which 80 per cent are foreign tourists. We are aiming at 100 per cent occupancy through this initiative. The focus is to promote Maharashtra through the Deccan Odyssey,” said Satish Soni, Joint MD, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

The train criss-crosses Mumbai – Sindhudurg- Goa- Kolhapur- Daulatabad- Ajanta Caves- Nashik and disembark at Mumbai. “This royal journey of seven nights/eight days has confirmed its departure dates from Mumbai for the season October 2013 to January 2014. Besides regular seven night journeys, this year Deccan Odyssey will also offer four short departures on Mumbai - Goa and Mumbai - Sindhudurg routes. The new tariffs for lean season and peak seasons are also revised for all types of accommodations and duly updated on the website,” informed Kishori Gadre, General Manager, MTDC.

Maharaja Express has also announced 50 per cent discount on the second ticket. “This offer is only extended to Indians as well as person of Indian origin (PIO), non resident Indians (NRIs) and overseas citizenship of India (OCIs) and is valid on select departures in the month of November and December 2013.

The Golden Chariot, which is run by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation, conducted its first commercial run in 2008 and completed its 100th trip in November 2012. The train has managed to attract domestic travellers due to aggressive marketing. It registered 100 per cent occupancy on the 100th trip, with 75 per cent of the passengers being domestic travellers.

Encouraged by the success of ‘Palace on Wheels, RTDC and Indian Railways then introduced the ‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels’. The super luxury train recently launched its journey for this year to Rajasthan and other destinations, especially for Khajuraho, Varanasi and Agra from New Delhi in October 2013. The train welcomed 26 passengers on the first journey. Sharma informed that a total of 3,286 tourists have made journey on this train in the 87 trips since 2008-2009, which translated into an earning of Rs. 48.82 crores.

Furthermore, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels has launched a new train with enhanced features. Speaking about this latest product, Surendra Singh Chaudhri, GM, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels said, “This new train will offer enhanced luxuries and facilities to the passengers. This luxury train package covers the most exotic destinations starting from New Delhi on Sunday covering Jodhpur-Udaipur-Chittorgarh-Sawai Madhopur-Jaipur-Khajuraho-Varanasi-Agra and back on Safdarjung Railway Station, New Delhi.”

Luxury trains, which offer services that can make the best hotels and airlines in the world pale in comparison, are the latest craze. The product has long been popular among domestic and inbound tourists in western countries, and is slowly gaining impetus in India too. The difference between luxury train tours and a regular journey is that one can experience several tourist spots in one go without compromising on comfort and lavishness. Such tours are now emerging as the new visage of extravagance in travel. Discerning Indians seek more relaxed and lavish journeys nowadays, and luxury trains are at the pinnacle of this aspiration.

The maharaja method of pure indulgence

Luxury trains evoke a strong sense of association as in history, heritage and decadence of a leisurely ride. Talking about the facilities that Indian luxury trains have to offer to their passengers, Gadre said, “Deccan Odyssey on-board services are handled by the team of professionals from Taj Group of Hotels. The train has 11 coaches for the accommodation of guests out of the 21 luxuriously appointed coaches. The elements like theme decoration in the cabins, four twin-bedded cabins, CD/MP3 player, cabins with attached bathrooms, and services for disabled guests are available to make the journey blissful for the passengers.”

Singh commented that Royal Rajasthan on Wheels will offer more luxuries and facilities to the passengers than Palace on Wheels. “The luxury train has 22 State of Art coaches comprising of one Super deluxe coach (two cabins), 13 deluxe coach (containing three cabins each), two Restro Bars (40 covers each), one Kitchen, two Staff cum Store Cars and two Power cars. The total capacity of the train is 82 pax.”

Over the years ‘Palace on Wheels’ has been very sensitive to each guest’s expectations. “We are now acting on it to give the incredible Palace on Wheels a refurbishment that should raise the richly royal looks to still greater heights. Very soon, the train will sport a new heritage look with the finest in luxury trappings, reflecting the exclusive lifestyle of maharajas. All facilities are being modernised including superior communication and entertainment. Even the dining cart, the bar and lounge will take on a wonderful new look with the planned refurbishment at a huge investment,” said Ajmera.

Indians love travelling aboard ‘Thomas’

Indian travellers have now realised that trains are a convenient mode of short, medium and long distance travel across any country. Western and central Europe has dense and widely used railway networks spanning the entire continent. For tourists covering short distances, trains prove to be faster, reliable and frequent. For longer distances, they can be preferable to flying for several reasons. Trains have more spacious and comfortable interiors, may offer scenic routes, and do not require long waits at security as is the case at airports.

Swiss Travel System AG has enjoyed two digit growth for STS products in India between January-September 2013. “We will be closing the year with a highest record ever for Swiss Travel System in 2013. These good results confirm the strong popularity and increasing demand for Switzerland by train. Indians are more and more educated on the advantages of travelling by fantastic public transportation around Switzerland, especially on a family trip,” said Fausto Zaina, Market Manager Asia Pacific, IMEA & South America, Swiss Travel System AG.

He added that the company has introduced special promotions in 2013 to create added value for the travellers and attract new Indians who are just starting to travel as FITs. “We work in full cooperation with Switzerland Tourism and our distributors, Rail Europe and their GSAs, to maintain dynamic and creative marketing. Fausto touted India as Swiss Travel System’s Number three market worldwide in terms of sales, just after the UK and USA. Speaking about new campaigns designed exclusively for the Indian travel trade market, Fausto informed that the company has launched a fantastic campaign this year: the ‘Swiss Pass Super Star’, a mix of training/incentive which will end with a mega FAM around Switzerland from next month.

The Canadian Rocky Mountaineer provides great experiences as it passes through the untouched Canadian hinterlands. On offer are over 45 Canadian vacation packages and four rail routes through British Columbia and Alberta. Considering the growth opportunity from India among the BRIC nations, Canadian Rocky Mountaineer is now being promoted here. “Rocky Mountaineer will be concentrating on pushing the Early Booking Bonus in the Indian market as the company believes that 2013 is poised for bigger and better numbers and this is an amazing offer to bring to the market in 2013,” said Ashish Saran, Group General Manager, Canadian Destinations Marketing, who represents the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada.

Targeting a robust growth in 2013 over 2012, Rocky Mountaineer will focus on developing the knowledge quotient of the Indian travel trade, strengthen its relationships and reach in tier –II and III cities and will create some offers for its clients in the Indian market place.

Puffing Billy Railway also received record passenger numbers for FY 2012-2013 with 285,536 passengers which is an increase of 16,808 (6.3 per cent). Nadine Hutchins, Marketing Manager, Puffing Billy Railway opined, “Booking trends have been going well. Approximately 60 per cent of passengers are from within Australia and 40 per cent are international. The largest international markets (in order) are China, Taiwan, Korea and the United Kingdom. India is picking up well and we see great potential in the market.”

Shane Roberts, Market Manager, Railtours Ireland, informed that booking trends from January – September 2013 have been as good, if not better, than the same period in 2012, with demand for extended/multi-day tours is on the increase. “Our largest feeder market is North America which accounts for between 75-80 per cent of all bookings received. Source markets have remained similar to that of previous years with the remaining 20 – 25 per cent of bookings (other than those mentioned above) coming from Europe (including Ireland), India, Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and South America. Demand for extended/multi-day tours is continuously increasing among Indians,” she said.

Swiss Travel System AG receives maximum business from the FIT’s hailing from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. “We work hard to develop knowledge and travel agents coverage in smaller cities/new areas, as this is where we can expect big growth. However, on some secondary cities, the challenge is that group travel is still very big and therefore less adapted to our products. We would need to wait some more time,” said Fausto, adding that the company is lucky the rupee depreciation did not impact too much during peak season (April-May-June) but started to become a real issue from the summer. “We are waiting now to see how sales perform until end of the year. Travellers may want to postpone a bit and stay around Asia/India for Diwali due to this situation, or eventually cut down on days in Switzerland.”

Puffing Billy Railway works with a select number of travel agents based in India as well as key Inbound Tourism Operators in Australia. For the Indian market the company focuses on the VFR market in Australia, as many Indian tourists visit family and friends in Melbourne.

According to Hutchins the rupee depreciation has not made a real difference to the business, “Since June 2013 we have seen record passenger numbers for July, August and September – so we are hoping this trend will continue. As for Puffing Billy Railway’s budget, we are a not for profit organisation that relies on the support of over 900 volunteers. We do not have a large marketing budget which is why we try and work closely with Tourism Australia and Tourism Victoria,” he stated.

Talking about the product offering Fausto said, “On a product level we have launched a new Swiss Peak Pass for 2014 which is an add-on product to the four and eight-day Swiss Pass. It costs EUR 24 in combination with the four-day Swiss Pass and EUR 49 in combination with the eight-day Swiss Pass and includes eight less known mountain excursions for free, such as Mt. Stanserhorn near Lucerne, or Rochers-de-Naye above Montreux.”

Hutchins commented that the Asian market is growing, and in relation to traveller’s demands, Indians are becoming more internet savvy and expect online booking facilities and free Wi-Fi. “We are currently in the process of implementing this for our Excursion Trains and hope to have it in place by June 2014,” he revealed. He added that they have introduced a Bollywood Spectacular Night Train.

Malindo Air recently launched a daily service on the Kuala Lumpur-Trichy-Kuala Lumpur sector. According to Chandran Rama Murthy, Chief Executive Officer, Malindo Air, the airline will have three flights a day by the end of 2014 and an evening service will be introduced by May.

Moving forward Malindo Air will also launch services from Mumbai and Ahmedabad to Kuala Lumpur. It will also introduce new services from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Cochin, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. With 23 weekly flights to India, the carrier will have 4,140 one-way seats in the Malaysia-India market. This accounts for a 15 per cent share of the total capacity in the Malaysia-India market

The airline is targeting the Kuala Lumpur-Delhi and Kuala Lumpur-Mumbai routes, which are currently served by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) revealed Murthy. It will compete against AirAsia to Trichy and will become the only carrier linking Kuala Lumpur with Ahmedabad.


Since the past few years travel and tourism industry has emerged as one of the major economic drivers in the country, yet the government fails to acknowledge  the importance of tourism and seldom includes it while allocating the Union Budget. High taxation and industry status have been the industry’s demand for time immemorial, but has faced ignorance year after year.

Budget 2012-13 addressed the immediate concerns of the aviation sector through external commercial borrowing (ECB) and ignored the travel and tourism industry as a whole. It created an uproar among the travel fraternity that the industry which is the largest employment generator in the country was not given the importance it deserves. In 2013, once again the budget did not fail to disappoint.  

The Federation of Association in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) members have deliberated among themselves and have come out with common proposals for Union Budget 2014-15 and submitted to the Ministry of Finance. In a recent letter to Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Sarab Jit Singh, Vice Chairman, FAITH has requested him to take certain points into consideration, while making the ministry’s budget proposals to Ministry of Finance. “This is the first ever effort by the travel, tourism, transport and hospitality industry that we put the proposals together and we are certain that this single voice will definitely have its impact,” Singh said.

TAAI continues to face disappointment for tourism not being granted the industry status, for which it has, along with other associations, made pleas to the Finance Ministry in the past. “Last year, the Finance Minister talked about rationalisation of direct taxes and efforts to fast track the GST rollout, and we hope that this year he will address our demand of easing out service tax complexity and ambiguity in the travel and tourism industry.  Among other pending issues not addressed in the budget are the rationalization and reduction of taxes on ATF, tax concessions to tourism industry for infrastructure spending, fast track and single window clearing system for tourism and hospitality projects etc. Also interstate taxes for tourist transport vehicles should be abolished,” Iqbal Mulla, President, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) opined.

In the 2014 Budget, Zakkir Ahmed, President, Travel Agents Federation of India, is hopeful that the Government will reduce service tax and grant tourism with industry status. “Tourism sector is estimated to contribute more than 6 per cent to the GDP. Although we earn foreign exchange for the country besides the hospitality sector and other tourism-related service providers, we do not get any benefits, unlike those extended to other service exporters, who earn foreign exchange; we hope that the Government will consider us this year. Last year the proposed increase in service tax to 12 percent acted as a dampener for the growth of the sector as it resulted in spike in costs.”

According to Subhash Goyal, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), tourism is getting priority in Government’s Plan Process due to its potential for foreign exchange earnings, job creations, balance of payment, national integration and foreign investments. “We are keeping our finger crossed that there will be increased outlay for tourism activities with tax incentives. We always keep a positive and optimistic mind so far as Budget outcome is concerned. But looking into the economic position and ad-hoc budget from six months to tide over urgent government expenses, and National Election in February/April, there could be cut in over all allocation. Tourism needs robust outlay for improving basic infrastructure and aggressive marketing to counteract the negative image and negative publicity India got recently,” he said.

But not everyone has been disappointed with the budget. Rajeev Wagle, Managing Director, Kuoni India, was in favour of the Budget 2013-14 and is optimistic for 2014-15 as well. “The Budget was very practical and stays steadfast to the path outlined by the Finance Minister towards fiscal consolidation. With major tax reforms like DTC and GST on the anvil, we can expect buoyancy in tax revenues in future,” he said and added the travel industry looks forward to growth oriented Budget to improve its fortunes in the year. The expected global economic improvement in 2014 will set the scene for another positive year for tourism.”

Atout France expects a rise in the demand for MICE and customised FIT packages from India in 2014. “We foresee a rise in the demand for outbound MICE travel and a substantial increase in the number of Indian visitors opting for a tailor made holiday package customised to their preferences. We hope to have an augmentation in the number of Indian tourist arrivals in the coming year,” opined Catherine Oden, Director, Atout France India. She further shared that one positive factor that could pave the way for an increase in arrivals is the temporary suspension of biometrics for all visa applications.

France is very keen to increase its share of Indian MICE movements. Elaborating further, Oden said that Atout France is motivated to believe that the temporary suspension of biometrics on all visa applications will augment France’s positioning as a preferred business destination and corporates will be more encouraged to plan a business event in France. In October 2013, France welcomed a delegation of 8 Indian MICE travel professionals in Marseille for a global workshop ‘France Meeting Hub’. “This was a perfect platform for interactive networking between our French partners and travel agents. The workshop provided many opportunities for Indian professionals to widen their network of contacts for future business relationships as well as acquaint themselves with new offers and products that could be proposed to their clients.”

Atout France is cognisant of the growing importance commanded by MICE segment and has consciously tried to establish a channel of communication with corporate entities. The tourism entity also created a 24 page supplement on its products range to acquaint business professionals with all that France could offer. 

2013 marked the launch of Atout France’s campaign ‘Be There! Do That!’ According to the tourism office the campaign was well received by the travel industry and the end consumer. Moving forward in 2014, Atout France will continue presenting offbeat experiences in France through joint collaborations with French and local, travel agents/tour operators. Through the campaign, Atout France will also present MICE incentives in France. “For the year ahead, we will continue to build on creating greater awareness about France as a business destination and look to make further in-roads in this domain,” commented Oden.

Atout France in collaboration with Chamonix-Mont Blanc Tourism (CMBT) has also launched a three-month online training programme in India, called ‘France Experiential Travel Special’ (FETS), in January 2014.

2013 has been a year of mixed emotions for the hospitality industry in India, bearing in mind the devaluation of the rupee against the US$, expensive real estate, taxation issues, infrastructure woes, clearance issues and dearth of an efficient construction industry. However, experts believe that the overwhelming requirement for quality hotel rooms ensures that there still is huge potential for growth in the Indian hospitality market for the right players.

The hospitality industry was under constant pressure in the year 2013 because of numerous reasons. The overall slump in the global and local economy, consequential in lower spending by people during business trips/ holidays resulted in massive discounts being offered by hoteliers which impacted the Average Daily Rate (ADR’s) and RevPARs, stated Ajay Bakaya, Executive Director, Sarovar Hotels & Resorts. On a positive note, he said that, regardless of the rupee slump, the hospitality sector continued to be forerunners across all markets that come under the umbrella of Travel and Tourism.

India’s rapidly expanding middle class; increasing buying power and growing infrastructure make it a lucrative inbound and outbound tourism destination. This is leading to a growing need for affordable yet quality hotel rooms, as five star hotels may not always be the most viable option, stated Rahul Pandit, CEO, Lemon Tree. “A stable economy and government is the backbone of any industry in the world. When the economy or the Government is in stress the hospitality industry will suffer. We expect the New Year to be much more hopeful for the industry. Social and financial situation in the country is likely to witness improvement, and that would definitely improve the business,” he added.

Dilip Puri, MD, India and Regional VP South Asia, Starwood Asia Pacific Hotels & Resorts believes that India is going through trying times, and everyone is feeling the pressure. “However, the two most important components supply and demand should balance and complement each other for a smooth sailing business. We are aware that supply is growing at a fast pace, but not demand. Luckily, India has a strong demand growth. This is an encouraging development and will continue to move the industry forward.”

Shwetank Singh, Regional Vice President – Sales and Operations, Premier Inn, South Asia revealed that expansion plans for any hotel chain should be realistic considering the development process in India is quite difficult and time-consuming. “Other than the financial situation we are in now, I believe India is going through a maturity phase,” he said.

Over 52 per cent of Accor’s development projects in the pipeline are in the Asia-Pacific region revealed  Jean-Michel Cassé, Senior Vice President-Operations, Accor India. “Despite the current slowdown, we continue to be positive. India holds strong demand across all segments. India offers tremendous potential for the development of hotels,” he stated.



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