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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

Sammy Yahia, Director of Israel Ministry of Tourism, India & Philippines talks about the importance of the India market and recent initiatives taken by Israel Tourism

The demand for outbound tourism from the Indian subcontinent will continue to increase this year.  Travellers have started to slow down and immerse themselves in the culture of the destination they are exploring, enhancing their experiences, and adopting aspects of the culture as their own, and we feel like this trend will continue to grow. 

With uncertainty still prevailing, how do you see 2022 for outbound travel? Do you foresee a significant demand from India market? Any new trend in terms of international travel?

Tourism is one of the most dynamic industries which is constantly changing. India has been a ‘must watch’ market for the world where tourism is always evolving.  In the past years, there has been an increase in demand from Indian tourists to visit short-haul destinations.  Over the years, we have noticed changes in the travel trends, with travellers becoming more selective about the destinations they visit to enhance their overall experience.

Do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets post Pandemic?

Though the pandemic has caused significant changes for many of us, the demand amongst Indians for Israel as a tourism destination remains.  We strongly believe that once the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 situation begin to ease more permanently, there will be a demand for travel to Israel.  The signing of the Abraham Accords and normalisation of ties with some of the Arab League nations as well as hosting the 70th Miss Universe Competition in Eilat last month has created more of a demand for Israel.  We plan to use all marketing tools at our disposal to promote tourism to Israel as well as a 360-advertising campaign across digital platforms, print, OOH, television etc. when we are ready to accept tourists from the Indian subcontinent again.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2022?

The travel industry has experienced many changes over the past 2 years due to the pandemic.  We have observed the changes in the travel trends among Indians through our partners and travellers, many of whom have approached us directly with queries on the opening of Israel to the Indian traveller.

We plan to continue using all marketing tools at our disposal to promote tourism to Israel, including but not limited to a 360-advertising campaign across digital platforms, print, OOH, television etc.  We will continue to host virtual meetings, webinars, presentations and interactive events with our partners to keep them upraised on the developments in Israel. 

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in the destination?

Over the last couple of years, Israel has seen many changes and updates to its tourism infrastructure.  In the next two years, new hotel brands including world renowned Nobu, Soho House, Mandarin Oriental and Six Senses are expected to open in Israel, increasing the total number of rooms popular destinations like Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea Region, the Negev and Jerusalem, to name a few. 

During the lockdown in Israel last year, many tourism sites were upgraded, and new features have been added as well.   Emmaus Trail, set against the background of the Judean Mountains and their foothills, is a new addition to the tourism portfolio.

The Israel Nature and Park Authority has collaborated with the Christian Information Centre on a pilot program where visitors can register for and attend Mass and services at 4 national parks, where pilgrims can come and pray in the open spaces.

The Tower of David Museum has also been making significant upgrades by revamping the permanent exhibition as well as building a new entrance.  One of the main objectives of these upgrades is to make the citadel accessible to disabled visitors.

Which segments of tourism will be your focus once tourism restarts? Which are the new destinations that you will be promoting

In addition to continuing our focus on building leisure travel, MICE, faith-based tours and other group travel, the Israel Ministry of Tourism office in India has increased its focus included edu-tourism, sustainable travel and LGBT segments to our focus in promoting tourism.  Edu-tourism has been a growing segment for many countries and, along with sustainable travel trends, we believe that this segment has potential to significantly contribute to tourism. 

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

The situation will get better gradually as the year progresses. Outbound tourism from the Indian subcontinent will continue to grow. However, I do believe it will take at least another year before outbound tourism levels equate pre-pandemic travel.  While the world is still trying to understand the full impact of COVID-19, and countries are being cautious with opening boarders and kickstarting the tourism economy, travellers have also become more selective about the destinations they will travel to and experience.

With Indians travelling abroad throughout the year for business, and Indian corporations expanding their global footprint, overseas bleisure travel has steadily increased.  MICE travel to Israel was booming at a steady pace before COVID-19, and we have seen some excellent MICE movements in the last few years.  We foresee an increase in the demand for Israel with new connectivity through Dubai, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Manama (Bahrain), which we are confident will drive the demand for outbound MICE from India to Israel.

Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the tourism team has been working hard to maintain our relationships in the market with all our partners and stakeholders by hosting webinars and virtual meetups, participating in fairs, both virtual as well as in-person, and hosting roadshows. 

Earlier this year, we participated in ITB India where we interacted with over 30 tourism stakeholders, including travel agents, operators, corporate representatives, and journalists.  Since then, IGTO India (Israel Govt. Tourist Office) has participated in the MILT Conference hosted in Mumbai and Delhi, hosted a 3-city roadshow and have diverted our focused on promoting niche segments like sustainable tourism and education tourism. 

For this year, we will continue with our engagement initiatives, both virtually as well as in person via trade fairs as well as planned roadshows.

India has always been focussed market for Indonesia since 2016. Before the pandemic, visitors from India continued to increase every year. In 2019, total visitors from India reached 657.300 and then reached 104.765 visitors in the first three months of 2020 before Covid-19 outbreaks. Sigit Witjaksono, Director of Tourism Marketing for Asia Pacific, Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy of the Republic of Indonesia, talks on the preparation to woo international visitors, new normal and importance and strategy for India market.

With uncertainty still prevailing, how do you see 2022 for outbound travel? Do you foresee a significant demand from India market? Any new trend in terms of international travel?

Indonesia, especially Bali, has opened international flights starting October 14, 2021 for 19 countries including India. Until now, we continue to make preparations to welcome international tourists, of course, by keeping an eye on the situation where a new variant of Omicron is currently appearing.

In response to the opening of international flights, we have collaborated with Indonesian representatives abroad to carry out an awareness campaign since October 2021 to inform them that the border is open for Indian tourists. In addition, we have also contacted our partners in India to start cooperation. We received information that Indian tourists are very eager to be able to travel to Indonesia soon. Therefore, through our partners, we want to ensure that the arrival of Indian tourists is very much awaited. In that regard, we are also working on connectivity of direct and indirect flights from India to Indonesia destinations.  

The new trend in terms of international travel, the important thing is that we have to make tourists feel comfortable and safe. The new normal condition with the implementation of CHSE (cleanliness, health, safety & environmental sustainability) protocol is a must/ mandatory for future trip activities. We would like to ensure the safety and health of the people travelling as our utmost objectives. In this regard, we have done and implemented our efforts and strategy with adaptation, innovation and collaboration to achieve that goal.

Post Pandemic, do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets?

India has always been focussed market for Indonesia since 2016. Before the pandemic, visitors from India continued to increase every year. In 2019, total visitors from India reached 657.300 and then reached 104.765 visitors in the first three months of 2020 before Covid-19 outbreaks.

With this good trend, it is certain that Indian tourists will be our attention. Moreover, they really like various destinations in Indonesia, especially Bali, which is indeed their main destination if they go to Indonesia. 

The Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy/Head of the Tourism and Creative Economy Agency, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno had also held a meeting with the Indian Ambassador to Indonesia, Manoj Kumar Bharti. During the meeting, the two of them discussed various future program plans, especially opportunities to increase cooperation in the tourism sector and the post-pandemic creative economy. The plan to reopen Bali with direct flights from India was also discussed. This confirms that India is and will still be a very important market for Indonesia.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2022?

In the opening of the international border, Bali became a pilot project for bringing international visitors to Indonesia and was then be followed up with Batam and Bintan. Safe routes, safe zones, transportation, referral hospitals, mitigation provisions already prepared. We have coordinated everything from time to time together with the relevant Ministries/Institutions (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration, National Covid-19 Task Force, etc.), provincial/district governments and related industries. 

We need to emphasize that since last year 2020, the government & people of the Republic of Indonesia in many regions/capital cities of all the provinces have been making some efforts to ensure the readiness of destinations to welcome visitors with the implementation of CHSE. The ongoing efforts in various regions in Indonesia ensure that hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, souvenir shops, etc. can create a sense of security and comfort so that Indian tourists will feel “worry-free”.

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in the destination?

Since the last year 2020, the government & people of the Republic of Indonesia in many regions/capital cities of all the provinces have been making some efforts to ensure the readiness of destinations to welcome visitors with the implementation of CHSE (cleanliness, health, safety & environmental sustainability).

The purpose of CHSE is to make sure end-to-end travel start from the arrival at the airport, hotel, accommodation, tourist attraction, and so on and up to returning back to the airport. We would like to show the world that Indonesia is ready to welcome back international tourists and keep improving the destination experiences.

Until November 2021, as many as 11,986 tourism business have been certified. This effort will also be continued this coming second semester of 2021 in many other cities all around the country, covering hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, souvenir shops, etc. so that it would, in turn, build and strengthen confidence for the tourists to visit Indonesia when the condition is possible later on.

Which segments of tourism will be your focus once tourism restarts? Which are the new destinations that you will be promoting?

Bali, Bintan, and Batam will be a pilot project of preparing to bring international visitors to Indonesia. We will continue to promote Bali because Bali remains the main destination for Indian visitors. As many as 40% of Indian visitors come to Bali for weddings and honeymoons, this is what we will continue to work on as well as other potential segments for adventure, leisure and so on.

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

For the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) Segment, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy has made a guidebook/guideline on health protocols (CHSE) for the implementation of MICE activities. The guidebook received appreciation at the international event Bali Democracy Forum in December 2020. When travel resumes, hopefully, international MICE events and activities in Indonesia can be carried out and run safely according to health protocols. 

Indonesia's chairmanship/presidency in the G20 has started from December 1, 2021, until November 2022, then continues with the Chair of Indonesia in ASEAN in 2023. This is an opportunity for Indonesia to show the readiness of Bali and various other destinations, especially the 5 Super Priority Destinations, which will become the venue for the various series of G20 and ASEAN meetings.

 Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market?

We are pleased to participate at South Asia's Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) as "Partner Country" on 16 s/d 18 February 2021 to showcase Indonesian destinations and new experiences at Indonesian Pavilion at SATTE 2022.

Anything you would like to add?

In our participation in SATTE 2022, We would like to show the world that Indonesia is ready to welcome back international tourists and keep improving the destination experiences with #IndonesiaCare. And we are sure that Indian tourists are looking forward to visiting the land of the Gods, Bali, which is their favourite destination. Be prepared, because #itstimeforBali.

With Air Mauritius reinstating flights between India and Mauritius, under the air bubble agreement, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) sees an increased urge amongst Indian travellers to visit Mauritius. Arvind Bundhun, Director, MTPA, shares his view on growing tourism ties between India and Mauritius.

With uncertainty still prevailing, how do you see 2022 for outbound travel? Do you foresee a significant demand from India market? Any new trend in terms of international travel?

Mauritius is very well protected against the import of Covid-19. Our public health protocols are widely regarded as best-practice, and we have an extremely high vaccination rate, with over 89 per cent of the adult population already vaccinated and now booster doses are also being administered to the vaccinated population. Tourism employees were prioritised for vaccination, which means that visitors are welcomed and serviced exclusively by vaccinated staff, so we are positive about Tourism in 2022.

Over the last few months, we observed increased optimism and confidence amongst Indian tourists towards our country. With Air Mauritius reinstating flights to Mauritius, under the air bubble agreement, we can see an increased urge amongst Indian travellers to visit our country. We are now also getting more strategic partners showing interest to engage with us in the promotion of Mauritius tourism sector.

The coronavirus crisis has moved the world towards responsible, sustainable, socially innovative tourism, and greater personal interaction with the locals and their culture is the new trend.

Post Pandemic, do you foresee India still featuring amongst your top priority markets?

People are getting upset for not being able to travel for the last 2 years and are eager to travel. The rapid inoculation drive in Mauritius and India, majority of the population are vaccinated and protected against Covid 19, On the other hand, while, discussing with all our trade partners in India, we found out that a significant section of Indians are eager to travel to Mauritius. Hence, we are quite optimistic of revival of substantial tourist footfalls in Mauritius and will remain amongst our top priority lists.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2022?

There is currently limited information available on the severity of the new variant Omicron, however, MTPA will continue promoting the destination with a focus on digital platforms and social media alongwith with other platforms to reach the target group and maintain our presence in the mind of the travellers. There is also an advertising plan, B2B generated joint campaigns and campaigns with airlines in place which we had to put on hold due to the pandemic.

Any new updates in terms of attractions or tourism infrastructure upgrade in the destination?

The Splash N Fun Leisure Park:  A thrilling and exclusive water themed park over 30 arpents (12 Ha) of land on the east coast of Mauritius near Belle Mare public beach. Tastefully themed and designed with its sensational water slides and entertainment rides, heaven like pools, 1 food court, 4 food kiosks and 1 restaurant offering excellent cuisine, it is an answer to those looking for fun, water, action, sensation and relaxation.

Odysseo Oceanarium Mauritius: The first oceanarium in Mauritius. It’s a journey in an aquatic world full of wonder. The aquarium contains 45 tanks that hold a total of 2 million litres of water and are home to 3,500 aquatic animals. Odysseo Mauritius is a place of discovery, education, and awareness.

Besides, many properties in Mauritius have undergone refurbishment and are welcoming guests to their refreshed offerings.

Which segments of tourism will be your focus once tourism restarts? Which are the new destinations that you will be promoting?

Mauritius has long been known as a honeymoon destination. But we have a lot more to offer — affordable luxury, MICE including weddings, adventure sports, international-level golf courses, filming facilities and more. MTPA is promoting the island to welcome all segments of tourists...Leisure, Fits, MICE including Weddings, Honeymooners, Wellness, Golf, Solo travellers, Millennials, Production houses etc.

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

Historically, it has been noticed that MICE and business travels are more unpredictable and slower to recover than leisure travel after any disruptions to travel patterns. However, we have been receiving many enquiries for MICE groups including destination weddings, film shoots, golfers etc. since we have opened the border which makes us more optimistic and expect the MICE market to bounce back very soon.

Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market?

To increase the level of engagement with the Trade, MTPA is planning to conduct virtual roadshows and workshops.  As Mauritius has opened the border, MTPA plans for conducting more familiarisation trips for tour operators, MICE agents, wedding planners, golfers, film and television production houses and media. MTPA has already organised a travel agents Fam trip in November 2021 MTPA also has plans to participate in trade fairs like SATTEE while observing guidelines laid out from time to time by both the Governments.

Turkey witnessed a good tourism season in 2021 compared to other countries despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to a very proactive approach adopted by the Turkish government that has been well supported by the industry stakeholders. The country expects a better tourism season in 2022. Firat Sunel, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to India, shares his perspective on India – Turkey tourism ties.

Turkey has been witnessing doubling of international tourist arrivals month after month welcoming 15.9 million foreign visitors during Jan-Aug 2021. What is the trend from India?

2019 was most successful year for Turkish tourism in terms of the number of international arrivals. In 2019, our destination hosted 2.3 lakh Indian tourists, with an increase of 55% in comparison with 2018. This number was a record for us in India. With the resumption of direct flights between our countries both the number of Indian tourists visiting to Turkey and Turkish tourists visiting to India will grow significantly in a short while. However, nowadays we also witness huge demand for our destination in India as well.

Indian citizens can travel to Turkey via Dubai or Qatar. We also try to facilitate the process for Indian visitors as much as we can. In this regard, I would like to underline the fact that our visa departments have been operating in full capacity in India. Besides e-visa scheme for Indian citizens is still valid. Indian citizen who has a valid Schengen, UK or US visa can apply for Turkish e visa online.

By when do you expect the arrivals to come back on 2019 level?

We expect to host around 25 million international visitors by the end of 2021. With the help of successful vaccination campaign both in Turkey and other countries we expect to reach 2019 numbers by 2022 or 2023.

There is a lot of confusion on approval of vaccines for travel globally. What is Turkey’s stance on Indian travelers?

I am very pleased to declare that, as of September 4th fully vaccinated travellers from India will no longer be subjected to mandatory 14-day quarantine rule in Turkey. The vaccines that have been approved by WHO or Turkish Government are covered under this exemption. In addition to WHO approved vaccines, the vaccines approved by Turkish Government arePzifer Biontech, Sputnik V and Sinovac. Indian traveller must be taken the second dose (if Johnson&Johnson one dose is sufficient) at least 14 days prior to the date of travel. For Indian travellers who are vaccinated with Covishield will also be exempted from quarantine.

I also believe that, once Covaxin gets a nod from WHO, travellers vaccinated with Covaxin will also be able tovisit Turkey as the people who have been vaccinated with Covishield. The fully vaccinated travellers are also required to submit their negative PCR test report taken 72 hours before departure in order to exempt the quarantine. Nonvaccinated travelers are required to undergo mandatory quarantine for 10 days in a hotel or a location mentioned in the declaration. Children below 12 years old are exempted from the vaccination and negative PCR test rule.

What is Turkey’s policy for non-vaccinated travelers?

Non vaccinated travellers coming from India is subjected to mandatory quarantine for 10 days in a hotel or a location mentioned in the declaration.

How do you see air services getting started between Turkey and India?

Currently, there are no direct flights between India and Turkey, but travellers can travel via transit destinations. We are in close collaboration with relevant authorities about the resumption of direct flights. I believe that direct flights between our countries will resume in a short while.

How are bilateral ties between India and Turkey shaping up?

Friendly ties between Turkey and India have their roots in history. There are strong cultural bonds between Turkish and Indian Peoples. Both countries share similar values and ideals and commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights, pluralism, open society, and sustainable development. They strive to strengthen international peace and stability.

Turkey and India have undergone an immense social, political, and economic transformation since the end of theCold War. Today, both Turkey and India are rising powers.

Turkey considers India as a friendly country taking firm steps forward to be a global power with its growing economy, huge market, military power, outstanding knowledge in space technology and informatics, rich human resources, and deep-rooted historical and cultural heritage.

We closely follow and appreciate the rapid progress of India. Turkey is determined to develop its relations with India in every possible field. We deem that there is mutual will to enhance bilateral relations.

Our bilateral relations have a huge potential to develop and benefit both sides as relations at social and economic levels are already flourishing. We welcome the increasing trend in people to people contacts and business sector cooperation while looking forward to further developing our relations.

Anything more you would like to add from your side…

I would like to mention Safe Tourism Certification Program which has been at the heart of safety protocols of our tourism industry by the mid of 2020. As known, Turkey is one of the first countries in the World to introduce the Safe Tourism Certificate Program for the tourism industry.

This certificate covers a broad range of measures including transportation, accommodation, health condition of employees of the facilities and passengers. Granted by the international certification institutions, this system ensures the safety of the visitors, both domestic and international.

Thanks to the Safe Tourism Certificate Program the number of international visitors was more than 15 million in 2020 and we also aim to reach 25 million international visitors by the end of 2021.

Syed Junaid Altaf, MD, Empyrean Skyview Projects, opines that Patnitop is going to emerge as the most happening tourism destination in the country in the next few years. Excerpts from interview:

How has this region, in UT J&K and Patnitop in particular, grown as a leisure destination over the past two years? How has it been for Skyview by Empyrean so far?

Whilst the entire nation was shaken with the covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 followed by the lethal second wave in 2021, Patnitop and Skyview by Empyrean also felt the fluctuations hitting tourism for the second time.

Now, as the Covid situation seems to have somewhat normalized with infections down to less than 2% of the peak — the highest daily average reported in May this year and citizens getting vaccinated, people are heading out, we are expecting a local tourism boom.

The local and national movement in the UT of Jammu & Kashmir has seen a growth chart in the last six months. Flights to Jammu from metropolitan cities have increased as well as flights from major cities have resumed.

Railways are also playing a big role in increasing numbers to Katra. On the local movement, Patnitop has seen the highest hotel occupancy in the month of July over the last few years. We have seen footfalls increasing substantially in the last three months and we are hoping to touch 400 guests per day by the year's end.

Skyview by Empyrean offers adventure activities like Zigzag Zipline and Magic Carpet and hiking & mountain biking. We have recently introduced Skyview World, Sanget Valley for those who want to stay longer with us.

Skyview by Empyrean has also been certified by SGS on COVID-19 compliance and we take every necessary step to ensure our guests are in a safe and sanitized environment. We are expecting a good response at Skyview by Empyrean in the coming months.

Do you plan to tap the religious tourists to your destination for leisure? What is your strategy?

Yes, of course, pilgrims to Katra are a major source of our business. Post Covid, religious tourism in Katra has seen week on week growth and is now receiving over 15,000 pilgrims daily, during Navratras this year.

We have opened a sales office in Katra to tap the market and our sales team is working with tour operators and hotels to promote Skyview by Empyrean.

We would like to be the pivot and create a religious circuit in and around Patnitop for guests to visit ancient temples such as Naag Mandir in Padora Chowk, Sudh Mahadev, Shiv Khori and also the Krimchi Temples close to Udhampur.

With domestic tourism opening full-fledged, will your main target segment be domestic or are you also focusing on inbound, if so, which would be the source markets?

 

Now, we are focusing largely on the domestic market; as international travel opens, we shall target inbound tourists, especially those markets such as US, UK, Europe, and the Middle East.

Do you see demand for luxury tourism in Patnitop?

We did see a huge potential in this area when we set up this project as it is less explored, but it requires better facilities and infrastructure. We have started the ball rolling with our luxury resort having a private Gondola. The market will soon have leading Indian and International chains coming in with upmarket accommodation and services as we have seen happening in Katra. We would like to be the central asset in Patnitop and we believe, the most happening tourism destination in the country in the next few years.

You have launched luxury accommodation at Patnitop, how has been the occupancy and ARRs for the property? Do you plan to expand further?

We have had an overwhelming response to our luxury stays since we opened a few weeks ago. The resort since launch has experienced almost 100% occupancy on weekends and we are confident that we shall command an average rate of Rs 10,000 by the end of this financial year, ending March 2022.

Just when the heavily battered outbound travel industry was looking forward to green shoots to emerge, the news that the Omicron virus has made an appearance has shattered their hopes. South Africa, one of the most sought-after destinations for Indians faced the brunt as countries started shutting their doors on the Southern African states. Slowly but steadily the Omicron virus has made its appearance in over three dozen countries around the world and the World Health Organisation (WHO), has termed the decision by countries to stop flights to South Africa as unfortunate.

However, this has not stopped countries from formulating their policies to keep people out either through stringent testing or making post-arrival conditions rigid thereby making the entire holiday experience unpalatable.

The Indian government has also suspended the regular international flights that were scheduled to begin from December 15, 2021 and this has put paid to many Indians who despite the risks involved were willing to holiday overseas. In a sense, the demand was more in the form of revenge tourism.

Overseas leisure and corporate travel that had picked up over the last few months are slowing reducing as companies want to play safe and keep their employees safe.

UK and USA have introduced stringent conditions for travel, and this makes travelling overseas a cumbersome experience. However, destinations such as UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Maldives to name a handful of them are still welcoming Indian tourists. All these economies depend on tourism for their growth and if tourism does not take off, it will create hardships for their people. These are pragmatic policies and should be welcome.

One major short-haul market that’s still out of bounds for Indians is South East Asia. The countries in this region, namely, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and to a certain extent Australia and New Zealand (though not in South East Asia), have closed their doors to tourism. It is rather unfortunate as the destinations that Indians can travel have shrunk since the pandemic has begun.

Outbound tour operators who have started bookings now face an uncertain future. It has been noted that tour operators are no longer attracting staff as no one wants to enter this industry as the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 variants have made people fearful and they do not want to risk their careers.

This is a sign of bad times as before the pandemic the Indian outbound tourism was one of the fastest-growing sectors in India and Indians were travelling in large numbers. The outbound industry is on its knees and the emergence of the Omicron virus has hit the nail in the coffin.

We hope this blows over quickly and we emerge to see light at the end of the tunnel. 

Realising the fact that tourism can be a major driver of economic growth, Saudi Arabia is developing a world-class luxury, regenerative tourism destination to position the kingdom on the global tourism map. Being developed over 28,000 sq. km, the site will host 50 hotels offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and approximately 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites upon the completion in 2030. Johan Pagano, CEO, The Red Sea Development Company, shares the development plan of the mega tourism project of Saudi Arabia.  Excerpts from the interview: 

You plan to develop 50 hotels by 2030 including 16 hotels already underway as part of Phase One. What is the total investment for hospitality projects? What is the total investment for the Red Sea Project? 

We’ve already signed up nine renowned international hotel brands to operate the first resorts in Phase One. These include EDITION Hotels, St Regis Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts, SLS Hotels & Residences, Grand Hyatt, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Six Senses, and Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts. 

The hotels are currently under development and collectively feature more than 1,700 hotel keys of the total 3,000 planned for Phase One. Construction is on track to welcome first guests by the end of 2022. 

Although we do not disclose the total investment, our funding is secure and includes the first riyal dominated green financing of its kind worth 14.12 billion. We’ve also awarded over 700 contracts to date, worth nearly SAR 19 bn ($5bn). Once complete The Red Sea Project is expected to create up to 70,000 new jobs and contribute as much as 22 billion Saudi riyals (USD 5.9 billion) to the nation’s GDP. This will be achieved by creating investment opportunities for the private sector and developing the Kingdom’s tourism industry while preserving the nation’s precious cultural and environmental heritage. 

Apart from the current hotel chains/brand, which more brands are expected for the project? 

We have already signed hotel management agreements with nine luxury hotel brands and are looking forward to announcing additional international hotel brand partnerships in the coming months. 

We were extremely proud to unveil our initial collection of unique and diverse hospitality brands that cater for Saudi Arabia’s growing tourism market. Reaching this milestone brings us one step closer to creating a world-leading barefoot luxury destination, which will soon serve as a gateway to one of the last undiscovered places on the planet. 

With thousands of hotel rooms and other tourism related facilities including a golf course, marina, entertainment, and leisure facilities etc., you are creating a destination with so much on offer. Do you think there is proportional demand from the market? What are the visitor arrival number estimated? 

We expect visitors from the region and beyond who want to explore untouched corners of the world and experience barefoot luxury, whilst ensuring sustainability is at the heart of their stay. While our destination could easily welcome more once complete, we have chosen to limit visitor numbers to one million per year, based on the environmental carrying capacity of the destination. 

We have recognized that travelers’ demands have changed. They are now looking for responsible and authentic travel destinations where sustainability is a key priority when choosing a destination. Travelers want to pursue quality experiences, immerse themselves in the beauty of the local environment and learn about new, intriguing cultures. They are increasingly more interested in pioneering, authentic and bespoke experiences that supplement and deepen the luxurious hospitality services expected, whilst ensuring sustainability is a key factor throughout. 

Our destination will offer an abundance of experiences for everyone, and visitors will have the exclusive opportunity to explore a distinctively diverse region of the world. Spanning 28,000km2, The Red Sea Project is an area of extraordinary natural beauty and biological diversity and is home to an impressive range of complex ecosystems and native wildlife. Across this incredible terrain exists vast mountain ranges, canyons, dunes, dormant volcanoes and breath-taking ancient heritage sites. There will be experiences for nature lovers, outdoor adventurers, cultural explorers and wellness seekers, and the opportunity to enjoy the fabled Saudi hospitality. 

What is the overall destination development plan timeline? 

The Red Sea Project has already passed significant milestones and work is on track to welcome the first guests by the end of 2022, when the first hotels will open. Phase One, which will complete by 2023, includes 16 hotels in total, as well as an international airport, luxury marinas, 18-hole championship golf course, entertainment, and leisure facilities. 

Upon completion in 2030, the destination will comprise 50 resorts, offering up to 8,000 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites. 

How is The Red Sea Project going to contribute to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program? 

The Kingdom is going through a rapid period of change and tourism is a strategic growth industry. Vision 2030 is built on three pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. Achieving the ambitious goals of these pillars will enable Saudi Arabia to secure a prosperous future that all its citizens can be part of. 

Tourism has been a central tenet of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program since it was first laid out. As the nation’s flagship tourism developer, The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) is proud to be a key enabler of the Kingdom’s diversification. 

We have bold ambitions to support the growth of tourism revenue from the current three per cent of GDP, to 10 per cent by 2030 and attract a new type of traveler to the country. International and domestic visits to Saudi Arabia are already on track to increase to 100 million a year by 2030, attracting significant foreign and domestic investment and creating a million jobs. 

Combined, both The Red Sea Project and another of our developments, AMAALA, will contribute circa SR35 billion ($9.33 billion) to the Kingdom’s GDP once fully operational. We will be a significant creator of jobs too, employing around 60,000 people directly and creating a further 60,000 induced and indirect jobs. With the Kingdom’s Vision aiming to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030, tourism will play a crucial role in offering new and rewarding career opportunities 

Can you also throw some light on the design element of this project? 

Design plays an essential role in making our ambition to create a truly regenerative destination a reality. Our designs are intended to seamlessly embed within the natural landscape so that guests feel at one with the beautiful, pristine environment that the Red Sea has to offer. 

Our sustainability principles guide our partnerships with all stakeholders, including our architecture and design teams, and we ensure that everyone we work with shares our values and high standards. We ask our partners to challenge conventional conceptions of design and construction to deliver sustainable approaches throughout the entire lifecycle of the project. Thinking about the design of a building itself is just one consideration, we also carefully consider how it will be used sustainably once operating.  

One key example of the work we are doing in this space is with our Coral Bloom resort, which we unveiled earlier this year and was designed by international firm Foster + Partners. Our vision for the resort was to create a truly immersive barefoot luxury feel. Inspired by the island's natural state and the thriving coral reef that surrounds it, the hotels are designed to give the impression that they have washed up on the beaches and nestled among the dunes almost like driftwood. 

Another resort where sustainability has been instrumental in shaping the design is Desert Rock, created by the architectural design firm Oppenheim Architecture. The resort will be built into the mountain face, with the architecture fully integrated into the rock to preserve its striking silhouette and carefully considered landscaping efforts will enhance the environment by creating new terrestrial habitats. As a result of this design, guests will enjoy uninterrupted panoramic views of the stunning landscape. 

Will this destination offer global level services like night life etc or will there be some restrictions? 

World-class facilities that will be found at the destination include luxury marinas, golf courses, entertainment, leisure facilities and an international airport. International travellers to The Red Sea Project will benefit from the destination being allocated in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) that will enable relaxed social norms within its boundaries compared to the wider Kingdom. We will announce more on this in due course.  

Which countries are you looking at as your source market? 

We will be opening our doors to visitors from around the world with different backgrounds, cultures, and expectations who are interested in learning more about Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage. Saudi Arabia is also relatively unexplored. It is a new and exciting destination, with a variety of offers from incredible biodiversity to unique landscapes – there is a lot for tourists from around the world to uncover and explore. 

Importantly, our destination is at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, with 250 million people within three hours’ flying time and 80% of the world’s population within an eight-hour flight.  

We are already seeing keen interest in Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination from around the world. Following the exciting launch of the e-visa in September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism issued more than 350,000 tourist visas in the first three months of that year alone and provided nearly 50 countries with new access to the Kingdom. 

Where does India stand in your overall scheme of things? What sort of Indian visitor numbers that you are aiming for in short-mid to long term? 

We look forward to welcoming visitors from India and beyond as we open our doors to the world. It was great news to see the partnership announced in September this year between Thrillophilia, India's largest platform to book travel experiences, and the Saudi Arabia Tourism Board to showcase the Kingdom as an exciting holiday destination for the Indian market. Through this partnership, Thrillophilia has announced it will engage with its audience of 50M+ travellers to bring awareness about Saudi Arabia's diverse travel experiences.

 One of the interesting elements of this project is regenerative and sustainable tourism. How are you incorporating these elements in the project now and what is in the future? 

Since the very beginning of The Red Sea Project, we have embedded sustainability at the heart of our operations, with a commitment to become the most ambitious regenerative tourism destination in the world. We aligned with all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the outset to set immediate high standards and good governance to ensure the project has a regenerative impact on the local environment, society, and economy.  

These high standards for regenerative development drove us to push the boundaries of what is possible for a tourist destination to achieve. For example, the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) simulation we delivered with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) to assess the developmental impact of the project was the largest ever undertaken. The results of this simulation led us to decide that only 22 of the 90 islands in the area would be developed, with nine protected as special conservation zones. 

Additionally, as a result of the MSP, we created a Concept Master Plan to safeguard marine and coastal habitats with an aim to deliver a net positive conservation benefit of up to 30 percent within the next two decades, a target almost unheard of in tourism and equivalent to designating the entire area as a Marine Protected Area.  

TRSDC is also creating the world’s largest battery storage facility at 1000MWh to enable the entire site to be powered by renewable energy 24 hours a day – the first tourism project of its size to do so. New infrastructure at the destination will generate up to 650,000 MWh of 100% renewable solar energy to supply resorts, attractions, and other utility systems, whilst emitting zero CO2. The resulting saving in CO2 emissions to the atmosphere is equivalent to nearly half a million tons each year. . 

What sort of benefits will you be extending to local communities? 

At TRSDC, we are committed to ensuring the local community benefits as a result of our destination. We want the region to play an integral part in the development and delivery phases and enjoy the rewards once the project opens its doors to guests. 

We’ve also seen that young people are keen to support the growth of the tourism sector and create new futures for themselves. Our research, Future Faces of Tourism 2020, found that nine in 10 young Saudis are looking towards tourism and hospitality careers as the country’s economy diversifies and two-thirds of young Saudis believe that the sector will be a key provider of employment for Saudi nationals. 

There are more than 10,000 workers currently on-site, and we expect there to be around 14,000 people who will eventually work at The Red Sea Project, living in the Coastal Village. Half of our employees at TRSDC are Saudi nationals, which is more than double the national average. We also recently signed an agreement with the Human Resources Development Fund for the vocational training of 500 applicants in hospitality, engineering, airport operations and more. In just a few days, we received more than 35,000 applications. 

We have also completed two rounds of our Elite Graduate Program, which offers young Saudis the opportunity to experience a wide range of roles within the business. Our third iteration of this has just been announced and we are excited to uncover more exceptional local talent.

No one is safe, till everyone is vaccinated. This is a statement we have been hearing from medical experts and those leaders who have been championing IP waiver of Covid-19 vaccines. These prophetic words came true when South Africa declared last month that they have detected another more contagious variant of the virus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO), has dubbed the Omicron.

Alarmed by the new variant which epidemiologists claim to have around 50 mutations, the world started shutting its doors to South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa. This is unfortunate as the Omicron virus was detected by the efficient doctors in South Africa and they flagged off the variant so that the world can take notice and arrive at a solution. What they did not expect was that the world would close its doors to them.

This is the danger that domestic and inbound tourism will have to face as new strains of the virus emerges across the world. In its first reaction, the Indian government has suspended the resumption of regular flights which was scheduled for December 15th 2021. Instead, India will continue with bubble flights with 31 countries with whom we have agreements. This is 44 per cent of the capacity that was operated in December 2019. This has had an impact on airfares. Airfares are sky-high. Inbound tourists who visit India will find this very prohibitive and tour operators fear that this will lead to fewer bookings in the new year. Even the Russian charters which were scheduled to arrive in Goa from December 15th 2021 is now on hold.

On the domestic front, states have started reimposing restrictions whether it is pre-departure tests or attendance of large gatherings. Hoteliers claim that business has picked up quite well and the period from September to November 2021 was one of their best months since 2019. They expect the trend to continue into December as well. One of the reasons for it is with international flights curtailed and the fear of being stuck in an overseas destination has forced Indians to shift large weddings and conferences within India. The prohibitive airfares have also forced outbound travellers to holiday within India.

According to the WHO, we are not certain of the severity of the Omicron variant as so far no one has suffered a serious illness, unlike the Delta variant which still dominates the Covid-19 landscape in terms of hospitalisation and deaths.

We, in India, can hope that though we are recording cases of the Omicron variant, this do not go out of hand and emerge into a third wave. The best part is that half of India’s population eligible for vaccination have taken their two doses and we hope so that we end the year on a positive note and wish everyone a Happy New Year.

The Promotion Agency of Peru for Trade, Tourism and Investments, called PROMPERU, has launched specialized training program called Peru Agents for Indian travel trade partners.  “Peru Agents” provides a comprehensive introduction to fundamentals of this monumental country, Peru.

This foundational concept supports agents as they outline innovative Peruvian itineraries for their clients. The program is developed in response to travel agents request to assist them with learning and guiding on creating effective itineraries. The program also helps in broadening the knowledge and the learning curve for new entrants.

The training platform contains short, yet informative modules, which guide the agent through the distinct facets of the country, in addition to providing promotional collateral required to design intuitive itineraries.

The 7th edition of Chaliyar River Paddle will be held from November 12th to November 14th, 2021 with a message to go ‘plastic negative’. The three-day paddling event organized by Jellyfish Watersports in association with Kerala Tourism promotes an eco-friendly watersports experience that connects younger and grownups to our waters. The 68 km paddle will start from Nilambur, located on the foothills of Western ghats in Malappuram, and conclude at Beypore in Kozhikode district, where the river meets with the Arabian Sea.

The event naturally promotes our rivers, their beauty, authentic Malabar cuisine, and offers a unique opportunity to meet like-minded individuals. Local music bands will be joining hands to promote their talent and offers a relaxing evening to the paddlers. Food will be catered by the best local restaurants such as Calicut Paragon. 

This year, given the situation, this event will be promoted as a phoenix event to boost tourism activities in Kerala. The event will offer an expedition, camping, and a source to the sea paddling experience, using Kayaks, SUP's, Raft, and this year on 3rd day, the organizers are introducing sculling (rowers) and dinghy sailboats making it a wider range of non-motorized, human-powered watercraft used.

“Chaliyar River Paddle has been focused on saving our rivers from urban pollution and promote recreational kayaking for everyone. It is a plastic negative event, hence the paddlers will help clean the river while kayaking. We have partnered with a local NGO, who will provide the participants a collection bags and carry the waste to their recycling and waste management facility. They will also educate participants on proper segregation, responsible consumption, and waste management. It is all about getting the Kerala tourism sector to bounce back from the Covid pandemic along with spreading awareness about the environment and particularly the rampant plastic pollution in the river,” says Kaushiq Kodithodika, Founder, Jellyfish Water Sports.

 

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