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Shayan Mallick

Shayan Mallick

Adventure tourism is hailed as the fastest growing segment of tourism today. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global adventure tourism market size was valued at US $ 586.3 billion in 2018. The sector is further projected to grow to an astonishing US $ 1.626 trillion by 2026 at CAGR of 13.3 per cent every year. Where does India stand today? And importantly, how’s the country placed to take advantage of the growth that the sector foresees?

SATTE 2020 brought together an engrossing panel discussion on ‘Adventure Tourism: Unlocking New Avenues’ to brainstorm and discuss how can India tourism take the much-desired ‘next leap’ as the panel’s moderator Tejbir Singh Anand, Vice President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), puts it. Speakers on the panel included Deepak Raj Joshi, CEO, Nepal Tourism Board (NTB); Sanjay Basu, Chairman, Far Horizon Tours; Vinayak Koul, Director, SnowLion Expeditions; Deepika Sharma, Director, Jammu Tourism and Arun Srivastava, DDG - Niche Tourism, Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Government of India.

Adventure tourism’s benefits are plenty. It is the fastest growing tourism sector with huge potential to shore up foreign exchange earnings, increase community engagement, develop millions of employment opportunities in the remotest part of the country, opportunity to create new brand image for the country and more. However, the sector has its own challenges too, from accessibility and connectivity issues and inadequate marketing to absence of well-practiced safety guidelines, sustainable practices, destinations’ carrying capacity studies and other such measures that’s intrinsic to adventure are areas of concern that needs to be addressed. And more than most ‘adventure tourism’ requires to be viewed and approached differently today.

Initiatives & Challenges

Although the sector is estimated at about US $ 650 billion industry globally today, India’s share is perceived to be disproportionately low. However, there are signs of a change. Infrastructure development, growing road connectivity and air access to newer and far-flung areas, among others, in the last few years have created renewed hope.

Basu says that for long India has lived under the shadow of Taj Mahal and similar attractions and monuments and that needs to change. “MoT needs to put out the message in front of the world that we are the country with the largest portion of the highest mountain chain on earth (Around 74% of the Himalayas lies in India). We are the only country on earth which has silver, golden and high-altitude cold desert and one of the few countries with equatorial and tropical rainforest to Alpine forest. We have seven navigable rivers, 105 smaller white-water rivers, the largest coral island on earth with a functional volcano, 7000 kms of coastline, two seas and an ocean; essentially God has given us everything, but we have not been able to monetize it.”

Expanding the discussion further to ‘natural heritage’, Basu, says that it has basically three major verticals, adventure, eco and cruise tourism. He argues that India being home to one of the greatest ‘natural heritage’ in the world is drawing little from the industry which by 2023 is estimated to be at 1.3 trillion dollars globally.

Some of MoT initiatives in the adventure space, informs Srivastava, have been the launch of ‘Safety Guidelines’ along with ATOAI, pushing the states for adoption and implementation of the guidelines, regular meeting of the adventure tourism task force created in 2016 to deliberate upon ideas and actions to develop adventure tourism.

Furthermore, Srivastava shares that ‘Swadesh Darshan’ also encompasses adventure tourism and such projects have been sanctioned in states like Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand already. Skill development is also being prioritised. MoT, through Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering in Gulmarg, has been organising training courses for snow skiing. MoT has also organised training courses in water skiing, trekking, parasailing, hot-air ballooning, water sports, among others.

Hugely endowed, Jammu has long lived in the shadow of the UT’s other region, Kashmir. But that, says Sharma, is changing as the region is today looking at turnaround in its tourism fortune by putting its adventure tourism offering in the spotlight. Changing perception about Jammu, tapping and diverting Vaishno Devi or Amarnath bound pilgrim traffics by collaborating with tour operators, improving accessibility, reviving various heritage, adventure and trekking trails, white water rafting on Chenab among others, are some of the department’s top tourism priority today.

Sharma says that tourism in the region is already increasing and further marketing and awareness campaigns are part of the plan now. “Paragliding, lake tourism, boating, water sports are adventure activities already under consideration and we are planning to do them one by one. All the four or five projects of Jammu which we have submitted to the MoT come from adventure segment like lake tourism on Ranjit Sagar Dam or water sports activities on Baglihar Dam,” she informs.

The region is also keen to attract investors in developing and promotion of camping experiences in areas like Bhadarwa, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch and Doda. “Adventure tourism is no more a dream for Jammu & Kashmir,” she stresses.

On the domestic front, travel is now reaching 2 billion visits a year. “There is huge domestic market for adventure tourism right now, but they don’t know where to find the right operators. Marketing, in India or overseas, needs to inform customers where to find the right and responsible operators. There is this disconnect,” Kaul says.

Anand rues that clubbing golf, adventure, medical and other tourism sub-sectors together does not help any segment garner adequate attention and pointed that adventure on its own is huge with as many as 31 activities across land, water and air and clubbing it with other niche segments doesn’t earn ‘adventure’ its due recognition.

Market Potential

Basu says that India is missing out on its share of the US $ 1.6 trillion business opportunity to land on its shores along with what it can capitalise from the domestic market. He says that if the stakeholders come together “India is looking at a minimum business volume of US $ 50 billion within a short window and possibly a US $ 100 billion revenue across adventure, eco and cruise tourism. The sector can generate one million jobs all over the country in the remotest and most deprived parts of our country. This is really a game changer.”

Nepal’s strong growth in recent time is testimony to what Basu says. Home to the world’s highest mountain peak, Nepal’s recognition as an adventure tourism brand is reflected in its robust 25 per cent YoY growth in the last four years driven especially by its offering in the adventure tourism segment. It’s number more than doubled from about 539,000 tourists in 2015, to 1.25 million in 2019. The country has been hailed as the fastest growing destination in Asia-Pacific by organisations like UNWTO and PATA.

Joshi says that “the number is growing despite so many limitations” like infrastructure, accessibility etc. because of the initiatives, especially in the adventure tourism segment. Year 2020 has been declared as the ‘Visit Nepal Year’ where the NTB is promoting Nepal as ‘lifetime experience destination’ and for wildlife and adventure activities among others. If ‘The Great Himalayan Trails’ offers tourists and adrenalin junkies a slice of Himalayan adventure, the private sector, supported by a pro-active tourism department is also equally strong and aggressive in promoting these products and activities, says Joshi.

“Adventure is the only tourism vertical that touches the lives in the remotest part of the country and alleviates poverty. It empowers community and creates an economy in places which are days walk from nearby towns” stresses Anand.

Sustainability, Safety & Guidelines

Tourism nevertheless also leaves its adverse footprint. And with adventure segment, both safety and sustainability become an even greater concern. However, the segment is also widely recognized for taking up safety issues as well as driving conservation efforts and best environmental practices. “Strong safety guidelines are key to promoting safe and responsible adventure tourism and despite MoT along with ATOAI launching safety guidelines there are few takers. Kerala is the only state that has taken steps in this direction also taking into consideration the safety guidelines issued by MoT and ATOAI,” Anand says.

According to Kaul, it’s a comprehensive guideline covering virtually every area from safety to back up to insurance and more. “We need to market it well. MoT has already adopted it but it is still a guideline. It needs to become a regulation and law. Also, the states need to strongly come onboard on this and if need be, tweak it a little bit as per their geographical requirements,” Kaul also bats for insurance cover for the adventure tourists that he says can be additional revenue for operators. “The tour operators can make a decent profit at the same time make it safer for their clients and for themselves as well,” he says.

Carrying capacity is another area of concern, especially so because adventure tourism tends go to places which are ecologically sensitive and fragile.  Unregulated visits can have long-term adverse impact or even destroy a destination.

Kaul warns that if the carrying capacity studies in ecologically sensitive areas are not done immediately the situation can spiral out of control. He gave example of Stok Kangri, the highest mountain peak located in the Hemis National Park in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region, that has turned into crowded mountaineering and adventure tourism hotspot in the last ten odd years leaving the stakeholders as well as the people in nearby villages worried about the impact. He also pointed that places like high altitude Pangong Lake are also bearing the brunt being swamped with mass tourism and trash.

Way Forward

From conducive tourism policy, involving and partnering with private sector players and rational taxes to joint stakeholders meet and focused marketing, the discussion put forth several areas in the spotlight to unlock the potential of adventure tourism segment.

Basu puts it succinctly when he says, “MoT needs to focus on what is the product organisational developmental requirement that need to be put on the ground. Whether it is accessibility, infrastructure, amenities, accommodation and sustainability. Thereafter, there is a need to create a specific campaign focused on the promotion of the message that India is actually not the fifth greatest natural heritage destination on earth but practically the greatest. This is actually what needs to go all over the world because the mix of what we have in natural heritage, no other country in the world has it. And the world does not know about it.”

The MoT’s current overall marketing budget that includes publicity and overseas marketing is 300 crores. There is no separate budget for marketing India’s adventure offerings. However, Srivastava offers, “Based on the inputs of the industry we finalise a dedicated marketing plan for a particular region (source market) for the product to be marketed there. And if it is adventure tourism product which is to be promoted in any market, we are willing to extend that help based on the input that industry brings to us.”

The panel also argued that the right policy and incentives concerning adventure tourism is key to the success. And taking the cue, Sharma informs that her department is formulating a new tourism policy with incentives component to attract trade and investors and is keen to get it right in order to effectively promote adventure tourism in the region. She also points that the department is keen to partner with trade on fam. tours.

Empowering and closely working with the private sector is one of the reasons behind Nepal’s success in the adventure tourism segment. Nepalese government has authorized Nepal Mountaineering Association to collect royalties for some peaks part of which is in turn used for promoting those destinations through involving and mobilising industry stakeholders and the local community. Also, there is another fee called TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) which is utilized for the safety of the trekkers as well as for the promotion of the destination.

Anand also draws attention to community engagement and sustainability. “One of the main strengths of adventure tourism is conservation and engagement with the local communities. Let the local people be engaged in the tourism development and made custodians of the natural heritage so that there is a sense of belongingness for the region,” he stressed.

According to Anand the first step towards promoting a region or segment is to create the image. “Once you position yourself very well in a traveler’s mind, business and investment flows. Marketing and positioning are an exercise which is not done in just six months or a year or two. It’s done over years,” he says drawing attention to the need of focused marketing. He also indicated that there is need to rebrand Incredible India campaign and revive the ‘777 Days of the Incredible Indian Himalayas’ marketing campaign.

Furthermore, the industry views the current GST slabs high that renders India costly and uncompetitive. “GST rate of 18 per cent on international front is too high for us to charge and especially so when we are talking about increasing our numbers. The industry needs more support in reducing the GST slab,” says Kaul.

Summing up, Basu stresses urgent need for the adventure tourism stakeholders to come together to find the way forward. “The message needs to go from the MoT to every state government and related ministries like Forest & Environment, Civil Aviation, Home and others. Between the governments, the private sector, with the right policy and with the right focus, we can create wonders. We need a meeting of National Adventure Tourism Task Force along with all the ministries and stakeholders to brainstorm and devise the way forward.”

If technology has sprung corporate behemoths like Uber and Airbnb and their likes like Ola and OYO closer home, it has also affected the business of traditional operators of hotels and travel and transportation companies all across the globe. SATTE brought up a discussion on “Global Economic Scenario, Tourism Trends in India” at its recently concluded event that not only put emerging trends in travel in spotlight but also impact of technology on these trends and where does India tourism and its stakeholders stand on adopting technology. The session was astutely moderated by Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels with an illustrious panel that included Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, FAITH; Mandeep Lamba, President (South Asia), HVS Anarock and Sudhir Patil, Managing Director, Veena World.

Adopt or Perish

Discussing the emerging trends and technology’s role in it, Anand points that India with all its tourism attractiveness and inheritances is still far from realising its potential in this space, as is the industry in adopting technology and translating that into business for themselves, and as a result, for the country.

“I cringe when I hear that India has everything and I cringe because if India has everything than the only thing that we don’t have is tourist. If we have everything then logically it should reflect into the number of tourists coming to the country which is obviously not happening. The travel trade in India, both inbound and domestic, are way behind in adopting technology for their businesses. On one hand technology is going to impact our lives while on the other hand the trade is not ready at all,” says Anand.

An industry veteran, Goyal stressed the need for the industry to accept and adopt technology sooner than later, warning, “Technology is the future. Travel agents will become obsolete unless he adapts himself to the changing environment. The dinosaurs, one of the most powerful mammals to have ever walked the earth, could not exist because it did not adapt to change, so would travel agents, if they don’t cease the opportunity.”

He also added that there is a need for agents and operators to better understand technology, artificial intelligence, social media, digital marketing. He however also pointed that, albeit slowly, there are companies adopting technology, but warned companies of learning the lesson the hard way by dithering and delaying the inevitable.

Lamba says that it’s a decade that belongs to technology and innovation. “This decade that we have just embarked on (2020-2029) is going to be the most impactful decade on travel and tourism ever. It’s because the way and the speed with which things are changing and it is technology which is driving the change. So, expect to see many-many different things happening, both in the way people travel and in the tourism offerings. Technology will continue to play a greater role and will only strengthen their hold to this market.”

New opportunities

Veena World’s Patil brings to notice new and evolving sectors that brings to the industry new opportunities. “Seniors are getting younger and they have a lot of energy to travel. Events, like exhibitions, based travel and ‘shorter tours’ in place of ‘longer tours’ because a trend is developing where people are taking holidays every six months, or more frequently than before, are areas of opportunity,” Patil says. He also said that there will be growth in country-side travel, concluding that the changing trends will help develop “lot of scope for tourism in this decade.”

Highlighting some of the other emerging trends in travel, Lamba says, “While globally we see trends picking up on things like ‘space travel, DNA travel etc., closer home the standard destination is now becoming passé. Everybody wants to explore new locations new destinations and therefore we are likely to see the advent of travel to smaller lesser known destinations than we have done in the past. This is also going to be helped by the fact that we have more airports now, better road connectivity than we had in the past. Besides, the younger traveler is now looking at experiential travel. For them, it’s all about experiences, no longer about extended stay.”

Goyal says find your niche and intersperse that with technology in order to find your way to success. “There is need to specialise in one field or the other as well as innovate. Those who will specialise and innovate will survive. Agencies need to create unique and immersive experiences around health and wellness tourism, Ayurveda and massages, wildlife and safari, sports, dance form and cultural tourism where tourists can be involved in activities because ultimately man is a social animal. Those who will adapt himself to change will survive. And those who will use technology as an instrument to market, as an instrument to distribute their product and as an instrument to provide and spread information are the ones who will survive,” Goyal says.

Goyal also cautioned against uncertainty and unforeseen events. “Keep trying for the best, but always have a contingency plan and be prepared for the worst,” he warned.

Human touch

Sharing his own learning and experiences at Veena World, Patil says that when the company started operation six years ago it was faced with the question of whether to grow online or offline. “Adopting technology creates more opportunity for various other services, but one of the questions that confronts is how much to spend on technology and when is it required. Our experience is that we need to increase the surrounding infrastructure that helps in accepting technological change effectively and doesn’t interfere with business or guest relation,” Patil said. He pointed that a couple of years ago riding on technology when his company tried to desist clients from coming to office, it led to guest complains and the company learning a lesson on personalized and face to face interaction.

“Ultimately what we learnt is that it is all about marketing and messaging. It is very important for the tour operators is to learn to maintain synergy and balance in their offline and online services. It is very-very important to understand where to stop technology and start personalised interaction,” Patil says.

Safety Concerns, evolving supply, manpower

As technology brings in new changes, determine new trends in travel, the demography that it is affecting is not only influencing guests’ preferences but also suppliers’ offerings. And all of this happening in times and a world where turmoil and epidemic is the new norm. While there is a growing concern on tourists’ safety, there is also prediction of continued growth in the coming years as was in the last decade.

Patil says that the growing concern on safety and security is real and is affecting travel behavior. “My greatest concern is safety and security in the coming decade. And that will bring us, travel agents and tour operators, to give trustworthy and personalized services to the guests. This is key to the growth of tourism per se,” he says laying emphasis on personalized guest services, messaging and responsibility as necessity to attract travelers and to grow. 

Hotels are probably the most important suppliers when it comes to tourism, but, says Lamba, “standard hotels is passe” and no more the new norm. “Hotels will have to change the way they run their businesses. You can see differentiated hotel which are smaller, more boutique, more experiential and even larger hotel companies will find a way of branding these hotels to soft brands. It is already happening globally, and we see some of those trends happening closer home as well,” he said.

Furthermore, grooming and retaining talent is key to any business. Lamba says “Managing workforce is going to change dramatically. The workforce that we have today is much younger than what we had in the past and it is only getting younger. The needs of the younger workforce are very different from the workforce of the era gone by. So, employers, hoteliers, travel agents, tourism bodies will have to look at how to retain good talent. They are going to have to look at managing the workforce.”

The year 2019 was a good year for Maldives tourism. Maldives received its target of 1.5 million tourist arrivals in 2019 well ahead in November with the total year end arrivals surpassing 1.7 million. The robust growth has come driven by India that jumped several places in source market ranking to second position, contributing almost 10 per cent in visitor share, from under 6 per cent the previous year.

Speaking on the sidelines of the recently concluded SATTE 2020, Fathimath Raheel, Director – Procurement, Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation (MMPRC), informed, “We have reached 1.7 million visitors at the end of 2019 which is a great achievement. The other good news is that India has taken the second position in visitor numbers. Last year, we received over 166,000 Indian travelers, reflecting a growth of almost 90 per cent over 2018.” Maldives witnessed 8 per cent growth from India in 2018.

“India is very important source market. India is very close to the Maldives in terms of connectivity. We had issue in the past with regard to connectivity but today we have lots of budget airlines now flying and we have good connection through SriLankan Airlines also. We have seen a lot of growth due to enhanced connectivity,” Raheel said. Maldives has particularly found favours from segments like honeymooners, family as well as millennial. Honeymooners are visiting the island nation in much larger numbers now.

Social and digital media platforms will be key to Maldives tourism outreach in the Indian market in 2020 as well as elsewhere. “We have done lot of destination marketing and promotion and now we are planning to do more. For 2020, we are trying to lay more focus on social and digital media promotion. People have become so dependent on technology and almost everyone has mobile phone. Besides, we are planning joint promotions with the tour operators as well,” Raheel said,

Maldives is now eying the 2 million visitors in 2020. “We are hoping to mark 2 million arrivals in 2020 and we hope that India will grow more. We are talking to the airlines to increase air connectivity from other major Indian cities as well and not only from Delhi and Mumbai,” she said. China and India are now Maldives top two tourism source markets. Other key source markets are Germany, Italy, the UK, France, Russia, Japan, among others.

Addressing the perception about Maldives being an expensive destination, Raheel said, “There is this perception that Maldives is an expensive destination, but we want to highlight the fact that Maldives is affordable to everyone. There is something for everyone, from luxury resorts and villas to affordable accommodation in our guest houses.”

Maldives is growing its guest houses offerings at islands inhabited by the locals. These well-equipped guest houses are targeted at providing more affordable accommodation to tourists and options to stay amidst the Maldivians. “You can do everything that you do staying at a resort, but at a more affordable price points,” she points.

Maldives is continuing to add new products and attraction in order to cater to the increasing arrivals. Several international brands like Hard Rock Café, Saii Lagoon Maldives, part of Crossroads Maldives integrated resort project with shopping, hotels and resorts etc., have opened doors in recent times and are further expanding their offerings to international tourists.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is keen to grow it destination footprint in the Indian market. The island nation in the Persian Gulf in Middle East is expecting around 11 million international tourists in 2019, but its share from India is small, just over 6,000 tourists majorly from weddings and MICE segment.

Speaking recently on the sidelines of SATTE 2020 in Delhi, Ali Hassan Follad, Advisor, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA), said, “There is a lot to say about the historical relationship between Bahrain and India. Bahrain was the focal point between the East and the West for hundreds of years. The East was India, the West was Europe, and Bahrain was in the middle and that improved and developed the relationship between India and Bahrain from hundreds of years ago. We used to export pear and import gold from India. In addition to that our traditional values, foods, words and many other things are our shared heritage today. And therefore Indian feel at home in Bahrain. We have a vibrant Indian community in Bahrain which is part of our social fabric. We have the oldest Hindu temple of the whole region.”

 

BTEA tryst with the Indian market started a few years ago promoting Bahrain as a wedding destination. “We became very successful in our effort to first promote Bahrain as a wedding destination in India. This opened the other aspects of the Indian tourism market for us which is MICE. There is big potential to exploit India’s MICE segment. We are getting orders and enquiries, on a weekly basis, from the corporates through their agents as well as for groups and leisure. When Indian families, weddings and their guests or MICE groups come to Bahrain they feel at home and they become our tourism ambassador once back,” said Follad.

 

He opined that there is big potential for Bahrain to capture a large share of tourism market in India. “India is very important for Bahrain. Our number will jump from India thanks to the wedding and MICE segments as well as groups and leisure. We are trying our best,” said Follad.

 

Highlighting the headwinds that favours Bahrain as a destination of choice for the Indian travelers, Follad said, “Gulf Air, our national carrier, serves many cities in India. So connectivity is not an issue as we have direct connectivity from many cities in India which is very important. Visa facilitation is very efficient and supportive. We are very close with the Indian companies through our office in India. For leisure or individual, we have an efficient e-Visa that can be applied online and conveniently.” Gulf Air operates some 75 weekly flights from its Manama hub to eights Indian cities namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Cochin, Calicut and Thiruvananthapuram.

 

“We have the top class international hotel chains present in Bahrain, with beach access, city hotels and with different categories five, four, three or two star. We are in the process to have allocated public as well as private beaches. Indian food is easily available and there is no need to bring your own chefs, unless it is required. The restaurants, nightlife, shopping and so on, it’s all there,” he added.

 

There are three UNESCO recognised world heritage sites in Bahrain. Besides, there are many forts, mosques, the historical Bahrain Gateway, old souk, the Krishna temple and many attractions and things related to the Indian flavours.

Films, television shows and serials and web series and the likes are the biggest influencer today. India produces the highest number of films in the world and Indian appetite for a good story is legendary, from movies in cinema halls to never ending television serials or through the next generation internet platforms, we lap it all. And with tourism boards, states or national, forever looking at newer ways to reach out to large Indian audience to showcase their destination, films, TV shows and serials as well as web series etc. have emerged platforms that can provide tremendous visibility in a very short span of time.

Switzerland and the UK are probably the top countries that come to mind when we think of Bollywood’s role in promoting destinations. There are road and streets, even train coaches, named after Bollywood personalities in these countries. And while the two countries continue to be hot with Bollywood film makers, their relative dominance in attracting Bollywood has been challenged with many new countries in competition now.

Tourism promotion videos done by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Bulgaria while they were shooting for ‘Dilwale’ a few years ago generated millions of viewership contributing to the huge destination visibility in the Indian market. ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain and Tomatino Festival a household name in India.

SATTE 2020 brought together top Indian and International tourism industry professionals to discuss and understand the impact of cinema and shows through an engrossing panel discussion titled ‘Small Screen, Big Impact.’ Moderated by Rajan Sehgal, Co- Founder, Passionals and a Film Tourism Expert, the panelists in the discussion included Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board and Secretary Tourism, Govt of Madhya Pradesh; Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority; Elisa Robles Fraga, Director, Tourism Office of Spain in Mumbai, India; G.B Srithar, Regional Director, South Asia & Middle East, Singapore Tourism Board and Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism.

What the NTOs doing?

Indian travellers love to follow in the footsteps of their cine idols, or destinations featured on their favourite shows, from television to web series on the internet. About 20 years ago, Sehagal discovered a large group from Sikar, a sleepy small town in Rajasthan, exploring Interlaken and other destinations in Switzerland following in the footsteps of a Govinda-Karisma Kapoor starrer movie that was shot in the area.

South Africa is attributing attracting Bollywood to the country one of its top priorities. Close on the heels of an impressive showcase at SATTE 2020 early last month, the South African Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was in India the following week on a two-day tourism roadshow in Mumbai, meeting Bollywood producers and film makers along with travel trade and others. Nkani says that today Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood and others have imploded in South Africa, whereas places like Sun City and Cape Town have become some of the most visited destinations by Indians because of Bollywood.

STB’s Srithar says that it is important for Singapore to establish the ‘emotional connect’ with the source markets and movies, TV shows and serials and web series are the perfect way of communicating that connect. “When we were working with the Dharma Production on ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya’, we were very clear that we need to make Singapore look good and bring it closer to the hearts and minds of Indian travellers. Singapore must have an ‘emotion connect’ because tourism is all about emotional connect. Nobody visits a city because they have seen a photograph of a particular architecture,” he argues.

Bundhun says that Mauritius is not just a sun and sand destination, but a melting cauldron of culture, religion, ethnicity, gastronomy. “Besides the pristine beaches and turquoise water, we have the insides of Mauritius which are great and that’s one of the reasons which triggered us to contemplate of inviting a number of production houses last year from India to come and visit the country. We have a sort of educational tour of major production houses from India and that is slowly reaping the fruit of success,” he says. Holiday, a Indian web series, is currently being shot in the island nation. 

Impact

There are more than 75 movies that have been shot in the state of Madhya Pradesh and a greater number of film makers are zeroing in on the state for filming. ‘Stree’, a 2018 release and a major commercial success starring Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao shot in Madhya Pradesh, gives an eye-opening example on film’s impact on the destination.

“Stree was shot in this small sleepy little town that had annual tourist visit of 2,000. It shot up to 50,000 that year and has crossed more than 80,000 last year. So much so that it is very difficult for the infrastructure to cope up with such arrivals. But that’s what it has done to a small town. It has changed the economy, Kidwai informs. The state is today attracting production houses from Hollywood as well. A Hollywood production house is shooting a series on Gregory David Roberts’ acclaimed novel ‘Shantaram’ in the capital Bhopal.

Mauritius tryst with Indian cinema started way back in the 1970s. However, it was the 80s Rajesh Khanna’s starrer blockbuster ‘Soutan’ that first popularised Mauritius in India. “Film tourism has had catalytic effect on the development of tourism in Mauritius and especially from Bollywood. Ever since ‘Soutan’ was shot we have seen the numbers growing because we have got a lot of web series and the likes being shot in Mauritius. Today MTPA, in collaboration with Economic Development Board in Mauritius, is promoting Mauritius as a film destination. Actually, Mauritius embarked on the scheme around two years back and last year we had the pleasure of hosting totally integral film shot in Mauritius from Hollywood which was called ‘Serenity,’” says Bundhun.

Similarly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a turning point, says Elisa. It was shot all over Spain, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Andalusia, Seville and many more locations with top Bollywood actors. “It is clear that film shooting in any destination has an impact on to tourism. Tourism from India increased a lot. We also have TV shows and their impact is also increasing. ‘Game of Thrones’ that was shot in Spain and other parts of Europe have influenced and increased tourism to these countries the television show was shot in. The impact of shooting films, TV shows or any kind of shows for internet is very good for our business.

Singapore receives over 1.5 million Indian visitors annually and Srithar admits that Bollywood and Tollywood movies have contributed to the success of Singapore emerging a key destination with the Indian travelers. It all started with 1960 Shammi Kapoor hit movie titled ‘Singapore.’ “Since then Bollywood movies have been a very important way for us to communicate with the Indian audience. Movies, films, TV series have given a lot of visitation to Singapore and making India the third largest source market for Singapore today.”

Attracting filmmakers

Citing his interaction with Yashraj Films’ President Ashish Singh at a Film Tourism Conclave last year, Sehgal suggested that Indian states need to actively engage with production houses. He said that State Tourism Boards should ask for small video clips from the lead actors on and about the destination and its tourism attractiveness and also things like opening scene of the movie showing the destination, in exchange of the various shooting related facilitation and incentives that the states offer.

Kidwai highlights three key points. “Filmmakers require is ease of clearances as they don’t want to waste time in too much of red tape because it costs them a lot. Second is scenic locations with lots of history, culture, architecture, heritage and wildlife and the third is least interference during the shoot.”

He further informs that the state is developing a comprehensive policy that provides subsidy linked incentives, ease of permission, discounts at shooting locations and part reimbursement of the cost that filmmakers incur. “What we believe in is that a film is not only a film for the audience but has a big benefit for the local economy not only in terms of revenue but also consequently when any destination is popularized and thereby helping develop long term economy in the area”

‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain a household name in India. The NTO is keen to enhance Spain’s attractiveness amongst the film making community further. “We have lots of plans. For us, India is a dream of its kind and collaborating with Bollywood is very important. We are taking initiatives to make it easy and attractive for Bollywood to shoot in the country,” says Elisa. She informs that not only Tourism office of Spain offers various assistance related to visa, negotiation of deals with hotels and transports and tax incentives but also there is a network of film commissions all over Spain, national and regional level, to help producers and filmmakers with locations, film shoots, permissions and more.

South Africa is also wooing Indian film makers in several ways. “We turn visa in three days for production houses which otherwise normally takes seven days. The most important thing for us is eliminating bureaucracy. Nobody wants to go to a country where it will take you 30 to 40 days to do visa. Second, we provide one-point access for film permits. Our accommodations are next to none. A four-star hotel in South Africa is a five star of Europe. Our infrastructure and road are phenomenal, better than some of the first world countries. There is ease of access into our country, ease of accessing locations, ease of accessing decision makers, ease of accessing production houses, we come in and we facilitate the suppliers,” Nkani informs.

Nkani is keen to give Indian filmmakers first-hand experience of destination and is planning to host producers later this year. And why so? “Seeing is believing. I cannot sell something to somebody if they do not know. You got to know my country. You are going to fall in love with my country. And I know that in 18 months from the time we have shown South Africa and made sure that those who are in this industry get a sense, smell and the feel of South Africa, the next big movie will be done in South Africa. Our priority this year is to host film producers from India,” she said.

We want to make it all easy, says Srithar. “No production house goes to a country unless the story demands it. And then a production house goes to a country because it is easy to make a movie in that country. In Singapore, we have always been very supportive of Indian movies. STB is a one stop center for facilitating movies and it is not always about financial perks, it is also about making it easy.

Furthermore, Singapore has also put up a scheme where 20 million Singaporean Dollar grant have been set aside for any collaboration where a foreign production house collaborates with a Singapore production house.

So how is subsidy structured by Indian states? Kidwai says by and large there are a couple of ways that the states have structured their incentives and subsidies to attract producers and filmmakers. “States require the filmmakers to shoot a certain percentage of the film in the state. It doesn’t matter how big or small the budget is. If you have shot, let’s say, 50 per cent of your film in the state you are entitled to the subsidy and if you have shot more than 50 per cent there is a higher subsidy that you are entitled to,” he says.

Furthermore, he informs that Madhya Pradesh has added another provision in its policy that state tourism department is bringing out. Even if you have shot less than 50 per cent of the film in the state, but you are giving us a certain percentage of the screen time, let’s say about 10 per cent of the screen time, then again you are entitled to the same kind of help and subsidy. It doesn’t matter what the film’s budget is. Along with films, we have included web series, TV serials etc. also,” Kidwai informed.

Content for phones

Sehgal suggests that whenever a film is shot at a destination, Indian or international, tourism boards should request for small two-three minute clips about the destination by lead actors, who are followed by millions of fans through various social media platforms, mostly through mobile phones. These contents are viewed by millions of people and help create enhanced visibility and promotion of tourism.

Srithar also draws attention to internet-based platforms. “A lot of content today is consumed on the mobile phones. India todays is probably a market which is mobile first and then everything else. So, web series, OTT platform, TV series are all very important and all of these help bring any destination closer to Indian travelers because video consumption is very high. It is super high on mobile platform and OTT platform is getting a lot of traction in the market.”

In agreement with Srithar, Elisa added that mobile platform is becoming more and more important be it watching HBO, Netflix or programmes such as Games of Throne or others and is an opportunity to take advantage of.

Mauritius is pinning its hope on 2020 for a rebound in tourism numbers and has lined up a number of exciting incentives programme that’s set to catch industry attention. There is an estimated drop of 10 per cent in tourist arrivals from India last year. Mauritius is expecting around 80,000 Indian tourists in 2019, down from around 88,000 a year before. However, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) is confident that its slew of marketing and promotion initiatives lined up for the year will have the travel industry and tourists interested in Mauritius in 2020.

In an interview on the sidelines of SATTE 2020, Arvind Bundhun, Director, MTPA, said, “2019 was quite a challenging year for Mauritius. The Indian market which is one of the major reservoirs for Mauritius has dropped slightly. We have registered up till now a decrease of around 10 per cent.” Bundhum pointed at the competition from the emerging destinations as lot of Indians have started travelling to countries like Vietnam and other parts of Asia. “One of the reasons that we reaffirm our presence in SATTE to meet old partners to work hand-in-hand with them so that we can reverse the trend in 2020,” he said.

MTPA has launched a slew of marketing campaigns to recoup its share and grow. It has already put in place some attractive incentive schemes targeted at various segments of travelers. “We are offering certain incentives for MICE travel agents. For MICE groups of minimum 100 pax and three-night stay, the agent is entitled for a cash incentive of around 100,000 Mauritian Rupee (About INR 200,000) once the booking is confirmed. If the group size is 250 pax with a minimum of three-night stay, the agent is entitled for a cash incentive of 200,000 Mauritian Rupee which is around INR 400,000,” he informed.

“On top of this, we are targeting weddings and groups. We have loads of incentives that we have put in place to attract big fat Indian weddings to Mauritius. We offer a VAT refund of 15 per cent on accommodation for three nights. There are duty free facilities. There are loads of incentives that are being provided,” he informed.

He said that the MTPA is planning to launch a big visibility campaign in March 2020 across several major cities in India to target the high season in May. “We are also working a lot on social media and trying to develop film induced tourism. Last year, we have welcomed around ten big production houses from India to Mauritius and it is already reaping the fruits of success. We have a web series right now which is called ‘Holiday’, totally shot in Mauritius and is being broadcasted in India,” he informed.

Internationally, Mauritius welcomed around 1.4 million tourists. Numbers in 2018 and 2019 have been around the same level. “Last year, we have had some challenges with airlifts as well. Air seat capacity has decreased from our traditional markets,” Bundhun informed. The Authority is keen to recover and grow its arrival numbers. “The objective is to reposition the destination as a luxury and classy destination and to be on the top of the mind of Indian travelers,” Bundhun said. France is Mauritius’ top source market with close to 300,000 annual visitors, whereas Indian ranks sixth on the chart.

India is not only one of Mauritius’ top source markets but is also strategic in various other ways that helps the local tourism sector in more ways than others. “Indian travelers travel during our low season. Secondly, there is historical ties that tie Mauritius with India as 52 per cent of the Mauritian population is of Indian origin. So, in terms of culture, in terms of eating habit, Mauritius is well adapted to the needs of Indian clientele. Indians always look for new sources of adrenaline and it helps us in increasing tourism. We really want Indian tourism to be resilient, to be inquisitive, so that it becomes an even better industry for us.”

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is one of the most visited tourism states in India. Not only does the state attract millions of tourists every year to its hill stations and religious sites but also for mountain and adventure tourism as well as for yoga and wellness. The tourism department has developed several circuits to showcase it diverse tourism offering encompassing its religious sites, mountain and adventure tourism activities, winter sports tourism and more like Modi trail, Pandava and Mahabharata trails, as well as sites associated with the Beatles, legendary Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckergerg, Founder & CEO of Facebook, to showcase its offerings of yoga, wellness and meditation.

Hosting the buyer delegates from some 50 countries from across the world and 104 cities across India over a SATTE dinner, Satpal Singh Rawat , Tourism Minister of Uttarakhand, made a riveting showcase of his state’s tourism offerings to the buyers by highlighting the various facets of state’s tourism.  

“Dev bhoomi or the abode of god, Uttarakhand is home to the famous Char Dham (The four pilgrimage sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) that has beckoned pilgrims and tourists alike for ages. There are so many holy sites associated with Bhagwati. We also want to develop Uttarakhand as a winter destination. We want to promote Auli for winter sports like skiing. Auli is already a major hub of skiing. Besides, people enjoy winter snow from Nainital, Mussoorie to Chamoli. Uttarakhand is also rich in wildlife. Tourist can enjoy from bird watching to sighting wild animals and explore places like Ramnagar, the tiger capital of India, with the largest tiger population among all the Tiger Reserves,” Rawat said while outlining some of the state’s major tourism attractions and products.

Sharing further details on the state’s offering for pilgrim tourism, Rawat informed that under the Shakya circuit the government has identified 24 sites including 12 each from Garhwal and Kumaun regions of the state. Similarly, we will also develop Shiva Circuit. We are going to develop Vaishnav Circuit, Navagraha (Nine planets) Circuit, Golu Devta Circuit in Kumaun region, among others.

Rawat said that the many suppliers from Uttarakhand exhibiting at SATTE 2020 are already highlighting many lesser known hidden jewels of the state that is equally exciting and attractive to tourist from India and abroad.

Drawing attention to some of “hidden gems of Uttarakhand” and inviting tourist to soak in at one of the most powerful spiritual places on earth in Uttarakhand, Rawat informed, “There is a belief that there are three very spiritually powerful and charged places connected with extra-terrestrial forces on earth and they are Machu Picchu of Peru, Stonehenge in England and the third being Kasar Devi in Almora, Uttarakhand which is also believed to spiritually charged and connected to extra-terrestrial forces.” Furthermore, he also highlighted ‘Modi Trail’ tracing Prime Minster Narendra Modi and Bear Grylls’ adventure documentary shot for Man vs Wild TV show, sites associated with the Pandavas and Mahabhrata in Uttarakhand, among others.

Highlighting Uttarakhand’s destination attractiveness and offering such as Yoga, he informed that English rock band The Beatles visited the state in late 1960s, about 50 years ago. They stayed at Chaurasi Kuti (Also known as Beatles Ashram) near Rishikesh which is also known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World.’ “They came inspired by yoga and meditation and wrote their 50 best compositions for the world during their stay in Rishikesh. Similarly, people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have visited places like Kainchi Dham, ashram of Neem Karoli baba, for spiritual guidance and motivation,” he said.

The Minister also drew attention to the adventure tourism hotspots and activities like bungee jumping, river rafting, mountaineering, trekking, among lot many other such activities that Uttarakhand is vigorously promoting. “Uttarakhand is equally welcoming in summer and winter and presents different hues of nature worth experiencing in every season,” Rawat said.

Recently appointed as Russia’s Head of the Federal Agency for Tourism, Zarina Doguzova is a dab hand at handling top international events. Instrumental in making the Winter Olympics and last year the FIFA Cup, grand successes, Doguzova is now keen to strengthen Russia’s tourism ties with India and the world, a sector she identifies as a far greater force than generally viewed for its socio-economic contribution. Tourism’s curative power and humanitarian potential, she says, have largely been ignored.   

How is Russian tourism placed today?

Let me begin by saying that tourism is a far greater force than just for its absolutely incredible contribution to the socio-economic growth of a destination or a country. Tourism’s curative powers in terms of uniting peoples, nations and countries and unifying the whole world as an inter-dependent of society of people across different caste, creed, colour or nationalities have largely been ignored. Tourism is also about peace and love. 

As Russian Tourism, we believe tourism should not only be about economy but also about culture, about uniting people, about making them known each other’s culture better. I see great humanitarian potential in tourism for the contemporary world. So as the new head of Russian tourism agency, I would love to have lots and lots of people from all over the world to come to Russia to not only discover what a wonderful country this great nation is but also to discover our culture, people and great hospitality and fall in love with everything Russian. 

We want to showcase Russia to the whole world, its culture, nature, its wonderful people and their great hospitality. We want to increase incoming tourism from all over the world. Nowadays it is about 24 million incoming tourists every year and we want to double the number by 2025. 

What kind of role does Russia envisages of tourism for the country?   

Tourism sector is enormous all over the world. We understand that today tourism’s role is critical in pushing the economic development of a country. And therefore, we want to make tourism one of the main spheres of our economy and we want to achieve this within the next five years. We want to double the export of tourism. At the moment it is about US $ 9 billion in tourism revenue. And by 2024, we should be able double it. We need to work hard with markets like China, Germany, USA, Finland, Arabic countries, India, Japan, South Korea etc. They are our priority markets.

What kind of impact did FIFA had on Russian tourism and its future?   

FIFA World Cup was, to my mind, the best event for the Russian tourism ever. It was the best promotion of Russia and our very diverse destinations. It was the best promotion of our culture and most of all, it was the best promotion of our hospitality and what Russia truly is. There were some misconceptions about Russia but FIFA World Cup has successfully dispelled any misgivings about our great nation. And that’s why the World Cup was really a big event for Russia, for our vision in the world, as millions of people all over the world had the chance to see the real true face of Russia and that was really great. 

People went back with probably their finest memories of visiting a destination during a FIFA World Cup, and virtually all of them ensuring to come back to Russia with friends and family and discover Russia’s unbeatable experiences and destinations. About 5 million additional tourists came to Russia during and aftermath of FIFA Cup.

Where does India stand in Russia’s tourism scheme of things?   

Going forward, India is truly a priority tourism source market for us. It is one of the countries we want to work very aggressively in and develop as one of our strongest tourism source markets. That said, we haven’t had big promotion. Right now we are charting our marketing strategy that should be ready by the end of the year and I am sure India will be one of the top-priority markets in our future tourism plans for Russia. Beginning next year, we are planning to make big promotions in these top-priority markets that will include India too.

What is the current incoming tourists you have from India and your plans to increase Indian arrivals?

Russia and India have been tremendous friends over the last seven-eight decades. However, as travel destination, Russia is not really well known to Indians. I was very surprised to see that the amount of Indians coming to Russia is less than 100,000. There is an informational vacuum that we have to change. We have to work hard and I am sure we will manage to increase Indian arrivals. We will work with tourist operators, bloggers, journalists and others to overcome this lack of awareness about our destinations in the Indian market.

Also, connectivity is an area of concern. We will work with airlines to have more direct flights and frequency between Delhi and Moscow and St. Petersburg and also new direct flights to our other regions, such as Novosibirsk or to Vladivostok. We see great opportunity to promote (Russian) Far East, Siberia and other pristine undiscovered destinations in India.  

I want plenty of Indians to come to Russia to enjoy their vacation, discover unspoiled wonderful beauties of our country and enjoy their time so that they want to return to Russia again and again. I also hope more and more Russians continue visiting India.

What are you doing on Visa front?

From January 1, 2021, visitors can apply for eVisa to visit any part of Russia. However, Indian travelers can still take advantage of eVisa facility to visit certain destinations in Russia, namely (Russian) Far East, Kaliningrad, Zabaykalsky Krai and to Ulan Ude (famous for Lake Baikal). And from the beginning of 2021 the eVisa will work all over the country.

On the other hand we are also ready for non-visa regime for group tourists. We have put forward this idea of no-visa regime for groups operated by tour operators with the (Indian) government, like we have it with the Chinese. If it happens, groups from India and Russia can travel to each other’s countries without Visa.

An unexplored tropical paradise and China’s burgeoning resort city, Sanya is soon opening its tourism office in India in order to attract increasing number of Indian visitors to the seaside resort. Sanya is located along the South China Sea at the southern tip of Hainan, an island and the southernmost province of mainland China along the South China Sea.

The picturesque resort city has been working in the Indian market for some time through local travel industry stakeholders and representation office in India and has hosted travel and media familiarization tours, among some of its other initiatives towards developing the Indian market.

Commenting on Sanya’s destination marketing plan for India, Tang Sixian, Consulting Director of Sanya Tourism, Culture, Radio, Television and Sports Bureau, informed, “We use different ways to develop a new market. For India, firstly we would like to cooperate with China Southern and China Eastern airlines to try to create better products for the India market. Secondly, we would like to set up our marketing office in Delhi. This office will start working soon. We have already decided on that. It will be set up at China Southern Airlines’ office in Delhi. We have already signed agreement with them.”

Apart from opening a tourism office, Sixian pointed that there are already Chinese travel companies who have set up offices in Delhi that the tourism board can also work with them along with carriers like China Southern and China Eastern as well local Sanya tourism stakeholders with interest in the Indian market. Sixian was speaking at an interaction with a group of Indian journalists in Sanya on the sidelines of a familiarization tour organized recently.

Furthermore, he also said that the tourism board will cooperate with local Indian companies to do more activities or events. “For example, last year in Sanya we did Asia Television Awards and we invited quite a few Indian stars to come to Sanya. We also did International Yoga Conference and invited quite a few big groups and (Yoga) masters from India to come to Sanya and experience the new Sanya. We can further cooperate on events. Maybe in the future we would like to film TV programmes or even international films to promote Sanya to the Indian people.”

The tourism director particularly stressed the role of connectivity in boosting tourism traffic. “In the future direct flight should come up. We are planning this. If the market growth necessitates we can look at direct air connectivity between Sanya and India. We already have direct flights connecting to quite a few cities in South East Asian countries. For example we have direct flights from Sanya to Singapore and Bangkok. We would like to extend the Bangkok flight to India and that’s very convenient. It all depends on just how the Indian market grows for us,” he pointed.

India, no doubt, is one of the most promising outbound travel market today. International travel surpassed 1.3 billion in 2017 and 1.4 billion in 2018. India’s contribution to this growth has been significant with double-digit growth almost every year in the last six-seven years and a growth rate far exceeding the international average. Currently, nearing 28 million mark, UNWTO predicts India to be a 50 million outbound travel market by 2020 and hailing it as one of the fastest growing outbound travel markets in the world today. And to top that with Indians’ propensity to spend while travelling is what makes India a lucrative travel source market for the National Tourist Offices (NTOs) to develop, reason why we see over a hundred national, regional and city tourism boards with offices in India today.

And while India is one of the fastest growing tourism source markets, and for many the top tourism source market, from countries and regions to leisure and entertainment hubs, from Europe to Middle East to destinations in South East Asia, it is also a fact that it is a complex and a highly diverse market that needs closer scrutiny and understanding. SATTE 2019 brought together an eclectic panel represented by NTOs from short and long-haul destinations to leisure hub and industry body in order to discuss and understand if NTOs are doing it right in India.

Moderated by Karan Anand, Head of Relationships & Supplier Management, Cox & Kings, the panel discussion on “Are NTOs India Ready?” included speakers GB Srithar, Regional Director – South Asia, Middle East & Africa (SAMEA), Singapore Tourism Board; Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority; Carl Vaz, CEO & Strategy Director – Destination Canada, India GSA; Sunil Kumar, President, Travel Agents Association of India and Bruno P. Wiley, Vice President of Sales, Experience Hub, the trade and promotion arm of Yas Island Abu Dhabi.

Setting the tone for an engrossing discussion on the topic, Anand, in reference to NTOs present in India or the new ones setting shop here, said, “All of them are coming to India, but are they India ready? Everybody is looking at India, but how is this story evolving? What is the story that each national tourist office needs to put out to the customer to build an aspiration for them to come to their country and not somebody else’s who is also putting out their own story?”

Furthermore, he pointed that not only the outbound numbers are increasing but the outbound Indian travel market itself is changing. “Overtime people will travel increasingly more frequently and their travel planning and preferences, like combining destinations such as Singapore-Malaysia-Hong Kong on a single trip or Dubai-Abu Dhabi-Sharjah, will evolve. How do we ensure that the NTOs who are pursuing the Indian customer get the story right and are they ready to make sure that when an Indian traveler is deciding where does he go, what role do they (NTOs) play in it?”

Top source market

In 2017, India became the third largest source market for Singapore after China and Indonesia, contributing 1.27 million visitors. “In 2018, we are on track of another record year and India will maintain its position as the third largest source market for Singapore. Upto November 2018, we have already welcomed 1.32 million Indian visitors which is about 14 per cent increase over the same period the previous year,” Srithar noted. For Mauritius, Bundhun says that the destination has noticed a big increase in Indian numbers in the past three to four years and the NTO has set a target of 130,000 Indian tourist arrivals by 2020.

Wiley who moved to Abu Dhabi seven years ago and has been working on developing the Indian market ever since for leisure and entertainment hub ‘Yas Island Abu Dhabi’ says that what was around half a million visitors from India to the UAE about the time he moved to Abu Dhabi is today over two million, and expects the number to touch three millions very quickly, within the next 18 to 24 months.

While acknowledging the growth in India’s outbound travel, TAAI’s Kumar said, “We have been hearing it, but there are two important questions that we must be connected with the statement, that is, where are the people going to? And, who decides what should be the destination? In my opinion, it’s only 25 per cent of the Indian outbound that decides for themselves where to go. Remaining 75 per cent is driven by promotions, opportunities and by travel industry. So, the decision of ‘where the outbound traveler must go’ is very important for the NTOs to understand.”

Engaging a changing market

The Indian consumer is a much evolved traveler today. His expectations have changed. The tier II and tier III city travelers have started travelling. Their tastes are also very discerning and they are pampered for choices. Anand says, “I have always maintained that the success of any NTO in pursuing (travelers) they need to have the ‘Three-C’ strategy where there must be ‘Connectivity’, ‘Consular’ services access and ‘Communication.’ When these three Cs are properly aligned what we have observed is that those countries tend to do the best.” Further sharing on his learning, he pointed Indian outbound travelers’ preferences for Indian food, sense of security and the important role that English play in making holiday choices.

Srithar notes, “India is a very-very important source market for a variety of reasons. In terms of audiences, we seek the family travelers, working millennial, cruise travelers, MICE travelers. Therefore, we are trying to constantly engage the consumers in a meaningful manner and continue to make them feel that Singapore is an important and an all-year-round destination, that it is a destination for many purposes, is a huge challenge for us and we do not take that lightly. We know that today the Indian consumer has got many-many choices. Therefore in Singapore Tourism Board’s strategy, connecting effectively with our consumers through various platforms whether it is travel trade partner, non-travel trade partners, airlines and so on and so forth is a very-very important challenge. It is a constant challenge of evolving, transforming, incremental change, incremental communications, and that’s how we are trying to keep pace with the changes in the market.”

Citing Yas Island’s promotional strategies in India, Wiley argued that not only the product diversification but it is also important to diversify the market segments that one wants to tap. “When we were trying to understand what was India market like and what does Indian travelers want, we realized that it became too complicated for us. But with time and experience that we gained, we started creating different persona to different type of clients like FITs, stopover FITs, group business, day tourists, MICE, etc. We have the diversity of products and we are adapting ourselves for each of the segments and it’s no surprise that actually now they starting to come all round the year.” He also informed that in the last few years, India has already emerged as the top source market for the Yas Island.

According to Bundhun, “The Indian tourist have evolved a lot. Gone are the days when we could market Mauritius just as a beach destination. The traveler wants experiences. Therefore our strategy is quite diverse ranging from B2B to B2C and also we have started targeting other niche markets. We will be trying to display authentic experiences this year. People don’t only want to visit Mauritius for the sea, beach and blue water. There is a big Indian diaspora, there is culture and loads of activities besides beach activities which can also be highlighted. Also, this year there would be push for the incentive market and wedding segment from India.”

Engaging the trade

While highlighting some of the key roles that NTOs play in a source market they are located in, Vaz said, “When we look at the stakeholders back home, that is, the incoming companies, the hotels, the attractions, we have to understand that we need to create a platform for them to interact with Indian travel trade community. The second platform that we create as NTOs is how to engage with media in order to take the content out into the market so that the general population then digest that content and that content then translate into sales of packages or package creation. Another role that NTOs perform here in India is developing the destination information, knowledge and the destination skillsets of travel trade community, especially the smaller agencies.

Citing examples like the former Australian Tourism India manager Maggie White, who was very popular in the market, and former Singapore Tourism Board’s India face Vimal Harnal, TAAI’s Kumar also highlighted the need for the NTOs representatives and NTOs themselves to develop deeper and closer inter-personal relations and synergies with the travel industry stakeholders in India. “Vimal Harnal from Singapore Tourism Board was a household name in the travel industry in India a couple of decade ago. The kind of education, the kind of connect, he had with the industry actually got agents to promote Singapore tourism,” he said.

He also pointed that TAAI has been instrumental in supporting a large number of NTOs reach the right audience. “We believe 80 per cent of the road shows are attended because there are too many calls, and you send a frontline staff who is a non-influencer, non-decision maker and if somebody tells you that there are 90 people in the roadshow, it doesn’t happen that way. With Destination Canada, TAAI has got eight roadshows done already and in 90 per cent of the roadshows 90 per cent of the attendance is the travel agents, the owners, the senior managements, who are the influencers. And this is what NTOs must keep in mind,” Kumar stressed.

Way forward

Emphasizing that the NTOs need to act as an effective bridge between the suppliers of the destination that they represent and the local Indian buyers, Vaz said, “I think what NTOs need to do to be India ready is bridging this gap by bringing, from consular services to hotels, airlines, DMCs, attractions and then you bridge that with local stakeholders in India like TAAI, TAFI and other such bodies and impart that knowledge and awareness.”

Stressing the need to learn and adapt quickly and develop resources according to the market needs, Wiley, in reference to Yas Island, said, “The journey (in India) has been quite complicated. I remember when we came and started to approach the market, the first thing that we did on Yas Island side is to talk with the DMCs. Very quickly we realized that the DMCs were not interested in changing the rules that we were building. So what we did, what we have decided to do and we have done with organization like Cox & Kings and with other organization like TAAI when they came to us is to go to India and develop our own network. Six years later, we have our own physical presence covering the North, the South and the Centre of India. We have developed partnership with most of the key organisations that you have in India. We have developed the technology that allows us now to work and to deal directly with partners in India.”

TAAI credits itself with generating massive destination visibility wherever it takes its annual conventions. Citing example of its recent conventions in Abu Dhabi and Kunming, Kumar said, “A customer doesn’t walk into a travel agency and say I want to go to Rocky Mountain. It is for the agent to say that you are anyway going to Montreal or Toronto, how can you afford not to visit Rocky Mountain. This is where a big education is required and TAAI focuses exactly on this point. Our biggest strength is our connect with the members. We would be the right funnel to channel in the education.”

Anand pointed at the need of marrying the three Cs very intelligently, particularly in combining destinations, in view of certain challenges that the NTOs face like being a long-haul destination, a stricter Visa processing rule or connectivity for that matter. He said, “In becoming India ready, sometimes countries have to adopt as well as catch a catchment area and sometimes strategically align themselves with a neighbouring countries.” He also stressed the need for the NTOs to develop strategic focus on attracting repeat visits.

According to Srithar, the rapid pace of the Indian consumer has been for several factors, but one of the biggest factors has been communication with available information out there which is so easy to access. “They are now very cognizant about expectation. And our challenge has always been how to make sure our messaging is right, our pitching is right and we are connecting to right audiences through the right platforms,” Srithar adds.

Responding to the catch phrase and taglines that’s often credited with generating huge buzz, Bundhun said, “It is important to target the right audience with a proper tagline. But I don’t think that taglines does influence the traveler. The Indian traveler who come has a very clear mind, he knows what he wants, he knows what to expect from the destination. It’s not the tagline that will sell the destination,” he opined.

In conclusion

As Wiley suggests, India is a complex market. It’s sub-continental diversity not only encompasses varied tastes, food habits or language but also racial, religious and ethnic features. So, as the discussion stressed on the need to engage with travel industry and consumers with effective outreach, it also pointed at the need to create customized solution keeping the diverse market that India is, in mind. Effective communication with all, be it the trade, consumers or media, was particularly stressed by all. Anand ‘Three-C’ strategy also stressed on this along with ‘connectivity’ and ‘consular services’ for the facilitative visa processing. Other important points that were stressed upon and taken for discussion in order to effectively develop the Indian market and be India ready were combining destinations where it suits, tragetting repeat visits, and last but not the least creating closer and effective synergies with travel trade and industry stakeholders in order to successfully develop the Indian market.

And as the discussion concluded, Anand’s last word were particularly frank and resonated with the topic, as he said, “In my opinion, having sat on a few tourism boards’ as an adviser, I would say that 25 per cent are India ready, 25 per cent more will get there and half (remaining half) of them will find their way. I suggest if they were to sit with the trade, it would help them a lot to become particularly India ready.”

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