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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

With bilateral trade target set for 2020 already achieved between Malaysia and India, tourism exchange between both these countries are bound to flourish. Replying to a question over the bilateral trade, Dato’ Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, said that there was a little drop because of Indian elections. “I am confident that the bilateral trade will increase after the conclusion of the recent election. In 2018, total trade with India amounted to US$15.56 billion, an increase of 2.2 per cent as compared to US$14.29 billion in 2017. This is already a positive development as we have already achieved our target of bilateral trade of US$15 billion by 2020 under the Malaysia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. We would like to encourage more investment from India in order to increase our bilateral trade. Last time I met Mr. Modi before the election, he mentioned that he wants to increase the business with Malaysia,” the Deputy Prime Minister told T3 on the sidelines of Malaysia Open House: Hari Raya Aidil Fitri event, organised by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Ministry of Federal Territories, at the Royal Museum. “Let this land of sunshine and friendly hospitality capture your hearts and create great memories,” Ismail said.

The event saw the gracious presence of Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi and Minister of Federal Territories, Tuan Khalid Abdul Samad apart from international media, officials and executives of Tourism Malaysia and Government of Malaysia and local dignitaries and citizens. Hari Raya Aidilfitri is the day that marks the end of Ramadan.

Tourism Malaysia has recently organised a mega familiarisation trip for international media to give a first-hand experience of the “merewang” tradition that typically sees communities working together hand-in-hand in preparation of a big event such as weddings and in this case, Hari Raya Aidilfitri. This year, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Malaysia (MOTAC) invited 29 journalists from 13 countries to market and promote Hari Raya Aidilfitri, a 30 day celebrations where there is an open kitchen and food for all participants. It was started in 2001 and MOTAC has taken initiative to bring together all races into one platform to organise and celebrate the main festivities such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali and Tandu Kaamtan.

Delivering the inaugural address to all participants of the mega fam at hotel PARKROYAL Kuala Lumpur, Zulkifly Bin Md. Said, Deputy Director General (Planning), Tourism Malaysia said that this mega fam programme is an initiative to bring travel writers, travel  journalists, TV crew, key influencers and social media influencers to Malaysia to experience what it’s like to celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri in the traditional Malaysian-style of “open house” and offer them the experiences that Malaysia has to offer in terms of tourism places and attractions. “This programme began way back in 2001. Last year, a total of 80 guests were brought in from 10 different countries and the publicity generated was RM 3.7 million from the various articles, documentaries and social media. From 2000 to 2018, we have brought in a total of 15,618 different media and publicity generated was around RM 1.28 billion,” Said added.

Speaking further, Said informed that Malaysia recorded a very marginal deficit in international tourist arrivals at 25.8 million in 2018 compared to 25.9 million in 2017. “Despite, a marginal decline, we recorded a growth in tourists spend. The first three months of this year, we recorded a growth of 2.7 per cent in arrivals brining a total of 6.6 million tourists. The tourism expenditure recorded a 16.9 per cent growth to RM 21.4 billion. The average length of stay also went up by one night to six nights,” Said said and added that Malaysia is a multicultural and multiracial destination with more than 1023 ethnic groups.

He informed that Tourism Malaysia has set a target of 30 million tourist arrivals and RM 100 billion Ringgit in tourism receipts for the ‘Visit Malaysia Year 2020’ campaign. “For 2019, we have the target of welcoming 28.1 million tourists and RM 92.2 billion in tourism receipts. Along with the federal government, we have 10 states and three federal territories and some of the states will organise their own Visit Malaysia Year campaign 2020. We are working hand in hand with some of the states,” Said said and added that Tourism Malaysia is on course to create more experiential tourism products like Desaru Coast, sea-life in Legoland, Sky Mirror in Selangor etcetra. He explained that Tourism Malaysia is leveraging on its strong presence in social media which has 3.3 million followers on Facebook, 73,000 followers on Instagram, 422,489 followers on Twitter and 45.6 million views on YouTube. The session also highlighted the latest updates on the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign and the developments of Desaru Coast in Johor, Encore Melaka and future plans of the Malaysia Airlines.

Talking about India market on the sidelines of the event, Tourism Minister Ketapi said that tourism ties between Malaysia and India are getting stronger. “Every year, we are getting a lot of tourists from India. India and Malaysia are good friends. Apart from this, connectivity is the main point. We have the good connectivity between two countries but we will be adding more. We will be getting more tourists movements between the two countries with a better connectivity. I think it’s a very good piece of cooperation between two countries,” Ketapi said while replying to a question about Indian arrivals.

When asked that the kind of focus of Tourism Malaysia on India market in terms of marketing and promotions has slightly gone down in the last couple of years, he replied that Tourism Malaysia will be accelerating its promotional efforts for India. “Actually, we will be doing our marketing more than it was used to be. We will be looking at India market in terms of what we need to do more and we will do this to improve the market for the people of India to know more about Malaysia. We are going to India market for promotion but of course everything will be done. We will be making our roadshow in India to promote Malaysia. Secondly, we have been attending SATTE in India. We will do the roadshow which will be quite effective for India market,” Ketapi said and added that both India and China markets are very close at the moment. “For me, between China and India, they are almost the same. A lot of Chinese and Indians are coming here. For Malaysia, both India and China are very big and important markets for us,” he said.

Talking about the strengthening connectivity between India and China, the Tourism Minister said: “In fact, I have directed my officials to get more charter flights even from India. Apart from IndiGo, we will be getting more charter flights from India to Malaysia as it is quite low as of now. We will have discussion with airlines in India so that both sides will be getting more traffic,” he said highlighting that tourism industry of Malaysia is developing new tourism products and it will be offered to India market.

Mohamad Taib Ibrahim, Senior Deputy Director, International Promotion Division, Asia/Africa, Tourism Malaysia also talked to media about India market. Replying to a question over how closely Tourism Malaysia works with Malaysia Airlines, Ibrahim said : “We are closely working with Malaysia Airlines. We have formed a committee with Malaysia Airlines two months ago and had held a series of discussions.  We are looking at joint promotion and tactical campaign with Malaysia Airlines. One of the things we are doing with them is planning a three city rodashow in India. We have three offices in India that work closely with Malaysia Airlines. Our collaboration with MH is very important and we support each other,” Taib added.

Replying to a question over introducing new tourism products in India market apart from Kuala Lumpur, Genting, Penang and Langkawi, Ibrahim said that Tourism Malaysia is now introducing new products in India market. “India has been patronising KL, Genting, Penang and Langkawi. We are now promoting Desaru and Ipoh. Ipoh is now receiving Indian groups. We know that Genting has been very popular in India and recently noticed that Indian footfall is slightly less. Hence, we decided to promote Cameron Highland which works as an alternative to Genting Highland. So, we are offering alternative to Genting to the India market. In Genting Highlands, we are developing 20th Century Fox World, an upcoming movie inspired theme park project. The park was supposed to open in July but it got delayed due to legal issues. So, we opened Ipoh and Cameroon Highland for India,” he said and added that we also work closely with wedding planners in India. “And, we want to introduce a new destination for Indian wedding and one of the new destinations we introduced is Port Dickson,  which is an hour drive from KL International airport. When Indians come for wedding, they like to go to Sunway Lagoon Theme Park. We also introduced Sabah as a wedding destination and we again want to launch Sabah in India market,” he said.

Tourism Malaysia has set a target of 30 million international tourists by 2020. “The highest figure from India was in 2014 which was 785,000. Our target for 2020 is 728,000 for 2020. The connectivity between two countries is also growing. We understand that IndiGo wants to fly from Kochi. Malaysia Airlines recently started its service between Kochi and Kuala Lumpur. Vistara has got the right to fly on Mumbai- Kuala Lumpur route. We have now Varanasi coming in terms of connectivity. Our target for South Asia for 2020 is 1.06 million,” Ibrahim informed and added that Tourism Malaysia is now promoting its tourism products in India Tier II & III cities apart from the established metros.

Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines and PARKROYAL Kuala Lumpur were supporting partner for the Malaysia Mega Familiarisation Programme. 

Aman Nath, Founder & Chairman, Neemrana Hotels, speaks about how heritage tourism can be developed throughout the nation

Heritage hotels have been the mainstay for India’s heritage tourism. How would you explain its contribution to tourism growth?

In the past people did not always stay in heritage hotels when they were visiting India for the first time. In Agra, for example, there is no heritage hotel of note whereas all the big brands are present. However, in the last few years, Indians and international travellers have become more aware of the rare heritage experiences that India offers. They wrap the travellers and tourists closer to the great continuum of our traditions and their diversity. Thus this sector needs to be encouraged so that the benefits of tourism are spread across our sub-continent.

One of the main positives of Heritage hotels are the conservation of heritage properties: forts, palaces and havelis. However, it remained limited to certain states and pockets. How can we make it pan India phenomena?

The most important aspect that requires attention is to first make all such places accessible. If heritage is to become mainstream, then accessibility is the first step. If it takes two days to get somewhere – it has to be worth it and the memory of the trip can’t just be an exasperating journey. I think that if each district is encouraged and aided by the State and the Centre to put up one showcase of the region’s heritage – which includes architecture, lifestyle, cuisine ... then it can have a demonstrative effect for the other players. As a country we should flaunt our core strengths and identity – in terms of the services, the facilities, the attire of the team, the local cuisine on offer. Authentic and meaningful experiences are what we should seek and chase. Neemrana Hotels is committed to the same.

What challenges are hindering the growth of heritage hotels expansion on pan India level?

All the files and dossiers of findings from several meetings we have all attended over the years, when we were just about to become tourism friendly – still gather dust. Tourism doesn’t need any rocket science or seventh sense to be woken up and showcased. But the Government should ask those who have played the game successfully, through all its potholes and pitfalls, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel. The terms and conditions of PPP projects cannot be one-sided. They have to be practical and realistic, keeping in mind all the relevant factors.

What is the main USPs of your properties? How do you maintain the originality and authenticity?

Neemrana Hotels took some of the oldest, most abandoned and ruined properties and put life into them in many ways. Original and authentic are very subjective words which are interpreted by each person according to their knowledge and pocket. What lifestyle would you expect in a 14th century Hill Fort of Kesroli restored by Neemrana Hotels? There were holes in the turrets which served as the loos. Today this property offers intimate and authentic experiences for travellers and rejuvenating experiences by the swimming pool.

Even at the 15th Neemrana Fort-Palace there were circular holes in the ramparts. An authentic and original experience would mean that guests still use these and feel how the soldiers felt? I think that we are talking of adapting and redefining heritage to a closer version in the 19th-20th centuries when attached bathrooms in palaces brought them into the royal experience. Nearly three decades of passionate revitalisation have now created a historical and vibrant site for feasts, celebrations and conferences. We recently hosted the Miss India Finalists from across the country at Neemrana Fort-Palace who shall participate in the upcoming finale in June 2019. Who would have thought that a crumbled ruin would one day be the venue for such an event?

The Neemrana Hotels continue to be pioneers in creating memorable and unique experiences for our guests. For instance at Neemrana Fort-Palace we have some of the most talented classical dancers from across the country who perform for our resident guests on weekends. The 19th century Tijara Fort-Palace on the other hand showcases folk dance, folk music, and regional arts from Rajasthan. Each Neemrana property is a marvel in itself and each nook and corner within the properties has something to offer guests from across the world.

The Neemrana non-hotel hotels bring each guest closer to themselves and nature. The 19th century Ramgarh Bungalows offer breathtaking views of the Kumaon valley and guests can literally pluck apricots, plums, peaches, pears and apples and enjoy homemade Neemrana jams. The 21st century Glasshouse on the Ganges enjoys a tranquil location on the banks of the holy Ganges and has evolved into a favourite for yoga retreats in addition to weekend getaways.

The 17th century Deo Bagh in Gwalior houses exquisitely carved family temples, cenotaphs, a hathi (elephant) khana and horse stables. The property is renowned for offering the simplistic and personal Neemrana style of hospital and delectable local cuisine. This non-hotel hotel is ideal for travellers that are looking to explore the Agra-Gwalior-Orchha historical belt.

The 17th century Tower House which is situated opposite the unique Chinese fishing nets in the heart of Fort Kochi offers guests the ideal location to unwind and discover the history of the small town using the property as a base.

The 19th century Wallwood Garden emulates a stately home in Scotland. It charming gardens still win many a prize in the Nilgiris and the atmosphere and lifestyle of the past still remains. Guests have the unique opportunity to walk out to the Botancial Gardens to admire many old rare trees like the Rudraksh, Paperwood, Elephant Leg, and Strawberry Tree.

 At The 17th century Bungalow on the Beach in Tranquebar guests have the unique experience of deep breathing India’s thickest ozone layer to prolong their life. Guests can eat the fresh pick of the sea and discover the Dansborg Fort which is in close proximity.

The 19th century Baradari Palace in Punjab is a sprawling garden-palace in the heart of culturally-rich Patiala. It offers guests the opportunity to enjoy a Patiala Peg in style and has also become a favourite Bollywood shoot destination. Yamla Pagla Deewana, Bodyguard, Mausam, Philauri, Gold, and Raazi were filmed here.

The 19th century Arco Iris Neemrana Noble Home located in Curtorim, Goa sprawls across 1.5 acres terraced near a seasonal lake ensuring a green Goan setting through the year. Its colonial Portuguese styling on a high plinth, imposing columns, and high ceilings offers excellent natural ventilation. 

The 20th century Piramal Haveli in Shekhavati Rajasthan offers guests the opportunity to discover a hidden lifestyle in a Rajasthani-Italianate villa on the edge of the desert! At The Piramal Haveli, pillared corridors lead you into the past as the floors tell their own chequered history.One can literally have tea with the peacocks and relish fine thali eating at dinner time.

The 21st century Ishavilas Neemrana Noble Home is nestled amongst tropical trees and a garden of fruits and flowers, and is a perfect choice for those that are looking at rejuvenation as it has its own Time Reversal Rejuvenation Center in-house which integrates various forms of treatments to enhance cellular regeneration and well-being. The tailor made experiences include daily meditation, yoga, and have a specially designed diet plan. 

Traditionally, inbound tourists were driving the businesses of heritage hotels. Now, domestic market is coming stronger. What is your take on this? What is the percentage of foreign V/s domestic guests at your property?

Neemrana has always catered to the requirements of Indian and International travelers both. When the Neemrananification movement gathered momentum in India, there were Indians and the French that dominated the guest profile at our properties. At present we have a healthy mix of domestic guests, followed by guests from USA, France, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Italy. In addition to these there are guests from 43 more countries that visit our properties.

Indians have remained our forte and foreigners who want to discover and enjoy the spectacular venues and experiences that Neemrana offers will continue to remain our focus. Those who travel to see the difference from their own world, must also meet Indians in India. We give them that historical environment where this interaction is made pleasurable.

How has the occupancy and ARRs been for your hotels?

There has been a steady increase in the ARR and the occupancy year-on-year for all our hotels across the country. This has been made possible because of the steady efforts of our Sales and Marketing team that think out-of-the-box and make heritage tourism in India a viable and exclusive concept. In addition, we have continued to innovate and enhance the facilities and services for our guests to ensure a fine blend of history and modern day comforts.

Of late, heritage hotels are also getting MICE and wedding business. What is the contribution of MICE and weddings at your properties?

Neemrana Fort-Palace and Tijara Fort-Palace are fantastic examples of how old ruins can be transformed into unique venues for MICE events and destination weddings. The wedding segment has grown manifold for us and Tijara Fort-Palace has already become a renowned venue for wedding celebrations. Similarly, Neemrana Fort-Palace continues to be a preferred destination for offsites and MICE events through the year.

A lot of new hotels also claim to be a heritage hotel. Isn’t it diluting the brand? How can we maintain heritage in true sense?

Yes, this needs some control. All those misusing words which may not be representative of the product that they represent should certainly change the nomenclature. The Ministry of Tourism could take steps to monitor this as they have norms for heritage hotels.

What is the impact of your property on the local economy and community?

Immense ! Come and visit the homes and families of our team members.

We have continuously focused on restoring our past historical wonders into modern day heritage hotels, which can give a true picture about our culture, heritage and values to the discerning traveler.

We specialize in picking wasted heritage buildings from the National dustbin and making them into mainstream revenue earners.

Neemrana not only strives to revive and restore heritage structures but also generates jobs and bring economic prosperity to the region where they are located; in-situ employment creators for rural communities thereby avoid rural migration to city slums. The word ‘Neemranification’ has now come to symbolize a viable and sustainable heritage tourism involving the local communities. This involves generating local employment, promoting fair pay and empowerment so that their rural pride resurges to win the battle to counter the obligatory migration to urban slums. The traditional Indian household term “Atithi Devo Bhava” which is imbibed in every Indian newborn is practiced at Neemrana when local youth is trained and introduced to the hospitality industry. Empowering the local lads of the village provides a unique blend of courtesy and pride as they serve and interact with guests as they would in their own home. Untouched by the city, they offer simple yet exemplary hospitality that touches the heart and are the carriers of true, warm hospitality.

In addition to the above, in a unique initiative to support early child development and reproductive health, Neemrana Hotels in partnership with the district administration has adopted, renovated and upgraded an Anganwadi center in Sarhetta village, Rajasthan and has taken up the mission to adopt villages in its foot print and transform them into “Inspiring Villages.”

Neemrana Fort-Palace is also actively involved in promoting the art and culture of India across various tourist places in India. There are weekly performances showcasing Indian classical dance and music as well as and Western music performances, workshops, and theatre by renowned artists. Guests get the opportunity to learn about Indian heritage and the opportunity to interact with maestros in the arts while visiting diverse tourist places in India.

Do you have a strong focus on environmental sustainability? What measures do you take towards this?

At Neemrana Fort-Palace, environment-friendly practices like rainwater harvesting, greening of the hills, plantation of saplings and thousands of trees in the desert as well as waste-water recycling reduce water wastage. Guests are also entreated to use water wisely and to save electricity. 

Neemrana Hotels always believe in avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Our 'non-Hotel’ Hotels is a brand that does not construct buildings but works towards the restoration of old structures, forts and palaces. While undertaking restoration work, the workmen at Neemrana, always use local material like stones (available on site) and local wood and eco-friendly lime whitewash is used in place of synthetic wall finishes.

At Neemrana, we don't believe in generating green garbage and don't promote the use of cut flowers. Instead, wildflowers and even leaves from our garden are used as per requirements. We use local material like dry raw crop, flowers and leaves which double up as decorations and last for a long time.

During pleasant weather, instead of seating guests in an AC hall for tea or dinner, we serve food in open spaces which offer a fresh and natural environment to diners. Saving power by minimizing the use of AC's means a reduction in the emissions of carbon dioxide, which help in curbing the effects of global warming.

Water is as precious as life now. For water saving and reducing wastage, we treat water so it can be recycled and reused. In order to reduce water used for irrigation, we have also undertaken the initiative of growing our own vegetables and this aids us in serving our guest's with fresh salads and tasty vegetables. These are all organic and do not use chemical fertilizers. Bigger gardens also mean a huge supply of dry leaves which can be used as organic leaf manure. In addition to this we use sewage treatments plants.

We extend the idea of using environmentally friendly products to our guests and we use hand wash and laundry soaps which generate less foam which is directly responsible for water saving, as less water is required for washing purposes.

Few of our hotels also harness solar energy and our properties use LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs that save energy and provide an economical option.

How important is travel trade for heritage hotels?

The travel trade will continue to be the backbone of heritage hotels! It is our oxygen, but clients discover the magnificent Neemrana Hotels directly because of the magnetism of the product.

Mario Hardy, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) shares his perspective about the changes brought in at PATA to make it more relevant, functional and self reliant as well as on India

The Pacific Asia Travel Association, a 68 year old not-for profit association, has been acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of travel and tourism to, from and within the Asia Pacific region. Since Mario Hardy took charge of PATA, he has implemented a slew of new initiatives that turned around the association.

You are at the helm of PATA since last 7 years as COO and CEO. What major changes you introduced at PATA? How PATA today is different from PATA in 2011?

One of the most significant changes for PATA is that the Association is now financially stable after having struggled a few years ago. In order to achieve this goal, we have had to make some changes in the way we operate, diversify our sources of income, and added some additional young talented individuals to the PATA HQ team.

What all has been achieved at sustainable tourism front by PATA? How is India faring on sustainable tourism front?

I think the industry has a long way to go to achieve environmental sustainability and responsible tourism development. I can only judge India by comparing it to other destinations and it pains me to say that India is not faring too well in this area. Part of PATA’s mission is to encourage close public and private sector collaboration and when it comes to developing a sustainable and responsible tourism industry you cannot play the blame game; everyone has to work together to make a difference.

You had started Youth Engagement Program. This program is quite popular in China and few other member countries. Have you also launched this program in India? If yes, how is the response from the market?

Yes, we do have Young Tourism Professional (YTP) members in India. The winning team for the PATA BUFFET for Youth Challenge this year was a young group of YTP members from India representing the National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality Management. They were recognised for their initiative in addressing plate waste by measuring the amount of plate scrapings at the canteen on campus and highlighting the issues through an awareness raising campaign with creative posters, quizzes, and videos.

You have been advocating on tourism dispersion. Tourism in India is still limited to certain states and pockets. What is your suggestion for Indian stakeholders to take tourism on pan India level?

India is a vast country that is rich in culture and heritage with much to offer today’s traveller. However, there is still a need for greater investment and development of infrastructure. The relative size of the country and the immense population makes it difficult to develop sustainably across the country. My advice would be to start by identifying areas for tourism development and focus on making those attractive destinations. Start slowly and small, then gradually develop the capacity to welcome more tourists.

A lot of OTAs and travel technology companies have come in the picture in last 10-15 years. How do you see their role in promoting sustainable tourism?

OTAs have given greater exposure and easy access to tourism products that were not widely available or known before. They are one of the factors that have contributed to the phenomenal growth that our sector has seen, just as much as low cost carriers (LCCs). What they have also helped is improve trust for the traveller. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t go and check reviews of brands before buying these days. However, there is still space for more traditional brick and mortar tour operators and travel agencies. They simply need to adapt to the new world, offer their products online, and most importantly personalise them and tailor them to the right market audience.

What are the emerging tourism trends in Asia and India?

Authentic experiences and personalised itineraries and activities is what everyone talks about at every conference these days. We all want to do something unique and different that we can post on social media and share with our friends. Essentially telling people look where I am and where you are not.

In India, tourism is still being promoted by the government. Private players are not much interested in promoting India as a tourism destination in the global market. What is your advice on this for private players?

If this is what the private sector thinks, then they are going in the wrong direction. Look at the most successful destinations in the world and you will see a very close and intimate relationship between the national tourism boards and the private sector. If you have one group going in one direction and the other in a different one, all you will achieve is confusion. While you debate about what to promote, other destinations will continue to grow.

How important is India in PATA’s overall scheme of things? Are you planning to launch any program for India?

India is an important market for our members. It’s growth in domestic, outbound and inbound tourism creates business opportunities for all of our members. We had our Adventure Travel and Responsible Travel Conference and Mart earlier this year in Rishikesh and we would be happy to contemplate hosting more of our conferences, trade show or trainings in India. We are simply waiting for the invitation by the central government or a state.

Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, Chairman, HRH Group of Hotels, one of the pioneers in the heritage hotel space in India speaks about the growth of the segment and challenges.

 

1. Heritage hotels have been the mainstay for India’s heritage tourism. How would you explain its contribution to tourism growth?

Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur: Not just in India, the world over heritage hospitality has been a major segment of the industry. Living in palaces, forts or castles has the romance of living in a historic past. The lifestyle, F&B, adventures of the past all contribute to the mystique of holiday where Royalty once lived or entertained. In India, heritage hotels especially from Rajasthan have become a part of the international tourism map. It was my respected father, His late Highness Maharana Bhagwat Singh who pioneered heritage hospitality when he 'converted' our summer palace Jag Niwas into the Lake Palace Hotel in the early 1960s. The rest, as they say, is history...Lake Palace Hotel remains the jewel in the crown of the Taj Group. As Udaipur came into the international map of tourism, other heritage cities of Rajasthan also followed the path shown. Today Udaipur is ranked, time and again, as one of 'the best cities in the world to visit'. It is a matter of great pride and honour for us.

2. One of the main positives of Heritage hotels are the conservation of heritage properties: forts, palaces and havelis. However, it remained limited to certain states and pockets. How can we make it pan India phenomena? What challenges are hindering the growth of heritage hotels expansion on pan India level?

Yes, the conservation of the palaces and forts is a tangible outcome and the effort needed to achieve a degree of success needs to be lauded. The former Royal Families of Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner did a phenomenal job and which is why Rajasthan's tourism is identified with heritage hospitality. It is not so in other states of India.

Though I must say that Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala are also offering such tourism products. To make it into a pan-India movement needs a pan-Indian champion! The private hotel chains have done their bit but the way ahead is long and tedious. To create new tourism products is the need of the hour. The government will have to work with the private hotel chains to make this happen. It can be done. It really requires to be nurtured for at least a decade or two.

3. What is the main USPs of your properties? How do you maintain the originality and authenticity?

HRH Group of Hotels, Udaipur, is India’s largest and only chain of heritage palace-hotels and resorts under private ownership. Our guests 'Experience the Original in the Abode of Kings'. It is our USP and our brand-identity. Our palace-hotels and sanctuary-resorts are spread across across Rajasthan.

We offer regal experiences in island-palaces, desert safaris and wildlife sanctuaries. Shiv Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur are classified Grand Heritage Palaces; Jagmandir Island Palace and and Gajner Palace, Gajner (near Bikaner) are 'heritage' hotels which have become iconic.  Shikarbadi Hotel, Udaipur; Garden Hotel, Udaipur; The Aodhi, Kumbhalgarh; Fateh Bagh, Ranakpur; Gorbandh Palace, Jaisalmer; Karni Bhawan Palace in Bikaner are 'royal retreats' of our HRH Group. Our hospitality is distinct, warm and personal. We want every guest to feel they are guests of the Royal Family. Yes, to maintain the originality and authenticity is a big challenge: as we refurbish, renovate our properties we are very conscious to retain the spirit of the historic past.

4. Traditionally, inbound tourists were driving the businesses of heritage hotels. Now, domestic market is coming stronger. What is your take on this? What is the percentage of foreign V/s domestic guests at your property?

Undoubtedly the domestic market is growing, and growing vibrantly! Today, there is an equal number of foreign to domestic guests at HRH Group. If you look at our Regal Weddings, the number of Indian families preferring such regal experiences is growing exponentially. Since 1999-2000, we have pioneered Regal Weddings in Udaipur and across Rajasthan. Destination weddings, thus, have become synonymous with Udaipur and its iconic Jagmandir Island Palace, Shiv Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash Palace. Each of these palaces has also won innumerable Ministry of Tourism Awards instituted by the Government of India; as destinations for 'regal weddings', they remain incomparable and unique.  We want our guests to make memories in Udaipur, memories that stay for a lifetime. And what better way than the most meticulously and lovingly planned 'regal wedding' celebrations that may last for days and remain etched in the memories of families and friends forever and ever.

5. How has the occupancy and ARRs been for your hotels?

We are a closely-held Group and our occupancy and ARR numbers have been growing steadily. Our sales and marketing teams have been at the forefront of major global and Indian travel marts and expos. The results are showing and we look ahead to interesting times.

6. Of late, heritage hotels are also getting MICE and wedding business. What is the contribution of MICE and weddings at your properties?

Fateh Prakash Palace Convention Centre was created to successfully cater to the growing MICE market. And I am happy that it has been well appreciated. Conferences and ceremonial events are regularly organised at the Centre.

Our pioneering efforts to transform Udaipur into a wedding-destination have borne fruit over the decades. Better air and road connectivity have made it possible for the heritage-city to host high-profile weddings. Few would believe that the airport of Udaipur, on several occasions during 2005 or 2007, did not have adequate parking bay-areas for private aircrafts that had landed for such events! Bollywood, and the media, have also played a significant role in underscoring Udaipur as a unique wedding destination. What Subhash Ghai’s film Yaadein did in 2001, ‘Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani’ achieved once again in 2013: the blockbuster films were scripted around Udaipur and its stunning venues and locations. Now the concept of ‘regal weddings’ had come home.

7. A lot of new hotels also claim to be a heritage hotel. Isn’t it diluting the brand? How can we maintain heritage in true sense?

It is a matter of regulation and the role of a regulatory authority. I am sure governmental agencies will act in due course of time to ensure that a 'heritage palace' is truly one which is preserving its heritage and was not constructed last month.

8. What is the impact of your property on the local economy and community?

Tremendous! Our palace-hotels and resorts are an integral part of the local economy and community. Through direct and indirect employment, we have positively impacted the lives of thousands of families. Udaipur, Kumbhalgarh, Gajner, Jaisalmer have been reliant on tourism and it shows.

9. Do you have a strong focus on environmental sustainability? What measures do you take towards this?

To answer this would require an entire feature in itself! We have safeguarded our eco-heritage through the decades. Be it in terms of water-recycling, air and road anti-pollution measures, we have been setting the trends. Solar power has been harnessed; we had the first solar-powered boats on Lake Pichola way back in the 1990s! Similarly, our water treatment plant at The City Palace, Udaipur, was operational decades ago. Our environmental heritage is equally significant as our built heritage of palaces, forts and temples. That's how our living heritage grows and develops.

Major outbound players in India are of the opinion that the rising purchasing power of Indian middle class, millennial, direct and low fare international flights, quest for exploring new destinations and experiences and easy financing options are driving the growth of Indian outbound travel. Moreover, Indians are also increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and curious to visit places that have not been visited before. Various industry leaders including; Rajesh Magow, CEO India, MakeMyTrip; Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), Yatra; Karan Anand, Head-Relationships, Cox & Kings; Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India); Daniel D’souza, President and Country Head, Leisure at SOTC Travel spoke to T3 about the latest trends in Indian outbound, popular and emerging destinations and changing profile and tastes of outbound travelers. Excerpt:

Q] What trends are you noticing in the ongoing Indian outbound season?

Rajesh Magow (RM): These are exciting times for India’s tourism industry which is being driven by the increase in domestic spends, internet penetration and availability of smartphones that have helped online travel companies provide the wide array of travel choices while making travel convenient like never before. With the rise of middle class, increase in disposable income, direct and low fare international flights - planning outbound travel has become way easier and far more lucrative. The number of Indians travelling to international destinations has grown phenomenally and we are seeing a good amount of traction coming in from travellers in tier II and III cities across India. From Gen Z to retirees to women-solo travellers, Indians are taking to international travel in very large numbers. Some of the trends that have emerged strong in the outbound travel category include: 

         Experiential travel: Travelers today are looking for holidays that meet their specific travel demands and varied interests. Each segment within the tourism community, be it the millennials or the footloose older generation, are looking for customized and differentiated experiences. For instance, instead of a plain vanilla holiday, millennials are looking to satiate their wanderlust by traveling to remote locations, participating in authentic cultural tours like wine trails, culinary walks and adventure sports, and planning bachelorette’s, outside India, among others.Booking patterns suggest that in the coming months, sports-loving Indian travellers will comprise a large part of outbound travel. As ICC Cricket World Cup fever sets in, together with the summer travel season, there is no doubt that Indian travellers will be heading to London, Manchester and Birmingham to watch Team India on the pitch.

         Travelling like a local: While Indian travellers often find themselves choosing between adventure and historical tranquillity, there are many, who spend time on zeroing down their stay property. As travellers look for deeper and richer local experiences, there is an increasing appetite for ‘home-away-from-home’ or alternative accommodations – and this pattern is gaining immense traction on our platform as well.

         Openness to travel financing options: To strike off destinations from their bucket list, travellers are now open to availing travel financing options rolled out by travel-tech companies. At, MakeMyTrip, we’ve seen increasing number of travellers opting for financing solutions that provide them a credit facility looking at their past purchase to help book flights, hotels, or holiday packages - at the opportune time that helps save money and let them plan at leisure.

Karan Anand (KA): A few observations on this score. For Gen Xér or a millennial, travelling to new places, explore new experiences, try out new cuisines and interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds has become an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. We are seeing this trend this summer. Destinations such as Rwanda, South America, Lake Districts in the UK, exploring mountains in Switzerland or Skiing at Mt Chamonix are the latest trends.

Second, they are curious to visit places that have not been visited before. A trip to Antartica or the Galapagos.  Similarly, cruising through Norwegian Fjords to reach the remote shores of Svalbard watching the passing shining glaciers and stunning landscapes are all experiences catching the eyes of avid travellers this summer. And finally, walking tours within the cities and at traditional tourist destinations have become the norm. It’s about experiencing all facets of life at the tourist destination. Living like a local, enjoying local cuisine and understanding their culture is part of the whole experience.

Rajeev Kale (RK): Indians are emerging as the new global travellers and with the summer holiday season serving as a customary annual vacation time, Thomas Cook India has witnessed a robust growth for outbound tourism. With trends like ‘switch seasonal vacation’, ‘bucket list travel’ and Instagram-worthy vacations, travel has become a clear status symbol for Indian consumers and this is power driving our Holidays business. Another emerging trend is the ‘Four Square Travel’, where packages are tailor made it to include a series of experiences to cater to the appetite of each member of the family. These cross – generational tour packages can be clubbed with a beach destination along with visits to a neighbouring theme park, a heritage walk, tour to the locale vineyard /wine pressing, pub crawls, and a shopping layover.

Short haul locations with no-visa or easy visa processes have also witnessed a strong uptake this summer with an increase of over 25% to destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bali, Malaysia, Mauritius, Maldives, and Thailand. Additionally, we have observed a strong uptake in demand by the consumers planning their vacations around the World Cup in UK. Apart from attending the World Cup Matches, those visiting the UK are also extending travel to locales like the Lake District, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Windermere, Liverpool, Windsor, Cambridge, and York, among others.

Sharat Dhall (SD): The Indian outbound industry has seen steady growth over the last decade with travelers longing to experience cultures and ethnicities of places across the globe. What is more encouraging is that tier-2 and tier-3 cities are leading the growth this time, widening and deepening the base of holidaymakers. The reason for this growth can be attributed to the rise of low-cost airlines and direct international flights between important tourist destinations further catalyzing the outflow. Indians are increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea of budget holidays and are open to staying in hostels and taking pubic commute to save money while holidaying and invest in covering more places and experiencing diverse cultures.

Daniel D’souza (DD): There is a surge of people looking for the meaningful travel experience. The demand for something other than cookie-cutter tours has prompted organisations to explore adding more bespoke travel to their holiday propositions around the world. People increasingly want to travel at the pace they want and with a degree of flexibility. However, there is a large market for travellers who still want pre-screened and handpicked experiences and destinations. The ‘Co-create Initiative’ by SOTC Travel is a platform which invites customers across key markets of India to spell out their most important expectations from a Holiday and allows SOTC to enhance and deliver an enriching holiday experience to meet travellers’ expectations.  In keeping with this, our focus has always been being customer centric and this initiative is an extension of that journey. We embarked on this journey by bringing our customers at the centre of our product creation process, involving them at the product planning stage and incorporating their ideas and views, ensuring that each and every aspect of their holiday is taken care of and that we deliver an experience that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Destinations with visa-on-arrival facilities, discounted airfares and accommodation are factors that make holidays more affordable and reasonable for consumers to embark on these leisure journeys.

Many travellers are increasingly seeking new and authentic experiences this summer and prefer mono destinations.

 

Q] What is the impact of Jet Airways’ fiasco on airfare? Is this impacting the growth of Indian outbound travel?

RM: Tourism sector in India, over the past few months has been influenced by various macro-factors, ranging from capacity issues due to the grounding of Jet Airways to the closure of the airspace in Pakistan leading to an increase in airfares in domestic as well as international travel. As these developments took shape ahead of the busy summer season, we noticed that travellers tweaked their travel plans with many choosing cheaper yet, exotic short-haul international destinations. That said, bookings for outbound travel continues to remain high.

As per booking patterns, there is a growing preference for east-bound travel from India, with consequent rise in travel to untouched landscapes of Bhutan, Singapore, Bali, Thailand, Maldives etc.

KA: Air fares to Europe and USA have definitely gone up as capacity has been vacated due to the temporary closure of Jet Airways. Additional capacity has not been added and this has impacted airfares. This will have an impact on outbound holidays especially to the West. However, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand have not been affected as much. There are numerous Low Cost Carriers operating from India to the region and there has been a rise in bookings to destinations in Asia.

SD: Fares for last minute travel are the ones that have been most impacted by the reduction in seat capacity on account of the closure of Jet Airways. These fares have increase by upwards of 15% compared to the same time last year. We have seen International air fares increase by about 15% on long haul routes and 5-10% on shorter haul routes on account of this reduction in capacity. Other carriers are adding inventory on these routes which is helping to rationalise the increase in fare. 

DD: For Indian Travellers, summers vacations are the ideal time to holiday. The crisis did not affect any summer holiday plans since the vacant slots were filled by other airlines by widening their fleets. We would like to reiterate that the safety and well-being of our customers remains our first and foremost priority and, to add, the summer season travel has received a good response.

Q] What sort of growth are you witnessing in bookings for outbound destinations this summer season compared to last season?

KA: Outbound travel has been growing at a steady pace of 20 per cent overall and this season is expected to remain the same.

RK: Thomas Cook India has observed a strong uptake of 22% in bookings with significant new trends coming to the fore and growing demand for international destinations. With bookings for international destinations outpacing its demand by 30% as compared to last year, Thomas Cook India’s data shows that travellers have also become more experimental towards globetrotting to distant and unusual destinations. Some of the unique destinations with a strong demand this season are Japan, South America’s Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Bora Bora, Zimbabwe, Belize and Miami.

SD: Airfares on key short haul outbound routes have not seen a significant increase compared to last year as there has been an increase in LCC flights to destinations within Asia and the Middle East. On the other hand, long haul routes to Europe, North America and United Kingdom have seen a major price increases of between 15-20%. The rise on the UK route of over 36% as compared to last year, can be attributed to the start of cricket world cup from June 1. Travelers are also advised to book as early as possible as fares will only rise further as we move closer to travel dates.

Q] Which destinations are wooing maximum Indian travelers? Are new destinations/countries are becoming popular in India?

RM: Western Europe has been one of the favourite destinations for Indian travellers, however, in the recent times, Eastern Europe has witnessed a significant surge with more than 100% growth in bookings, on a year-on-year basis. While Prague, Vienna and Budapest continue to remain top favourite cities to visit in the region - Croatian coastline is catching interest of travellers. Hungary, too, for instance, registered over 150% growth closely followed by Serbia, Russia & Estonia, last year.

Data from already booked packages and enquires on MakeMyTrip indicate that Indians are largely traveling to short-haul destinations like Bali in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and till recently Sri Lanka in South East Asia. New destinations added to the bucket list of travellers include the heritage city of Istanbul, skiing ranges in Kazakhstan, architectural marvels in Belarus and the historical cities of Armenia. 

KA: Northern Western Europe is the flavour of the season. UK, already popular among Indians, tops the chart this year also because of the ICC World Cup 2019 starting from May.  A large number of travellers are also attracted to France, Netherlands, Iceland, Norway and Finland. South American cities such as Buenos Aires, Iguassu and Rio de Janeiro are catching the eyeballs of affluent travellers for the famous Copacabana Beach, the iconic monuments and exciting lifestyle. South Africa & Kenya, the all-time favourite destinations of wildlife lovers are also receiving a good traction for Aberdare National Park, Lake Bogoria National Park and Masai Mara.

RK: While Europe has been an all-time favourite showing a consistent growth of 26%, some of the destinations which are high in demand are Italy, Spain, Greece, New Zealand, Singapore, Scandinavia’s Finland and Rovaniemi, Russia and Ireland. Families are also opting for ‘bucket list travel’ to exotic and brag-worthy destinations like Iceland, Finland and Antarctica which has further seen a hike in demand by over 30%.

SD: International destinations such as Europe, Australia, US, South East Asian countries, Dubai and Bali witness maximum tourist inflow from India where individuals book their tickets in advance to opt for a budget friendly trip. In the pan India survey conducted by Yatra.com, it was reported that travelers are also showing keen interest in booking their trips to unexplored destinations for an exhilarating experience, while keeping budget in check. We at Yatra.com are receiving booking inquires for unexplored destinations such as Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Georgia, Bolivia, Ethiopia among others.

DD: There is a wide range of destinations that are gaining momentum. Popular ones being Europe, USA, South East Asia, Japan (owing to the cherry blossom season from March to May) and Vietnam. The desire to do something different and to tread a lesser known path has led to emergence of these destinations as preferred destinations for tourism.

Among domestic destination Bhutan and Andaman are preferred.

 

Q] Have you noticed change in Indian traveller’s itineraries and profile?

RM: If not changed, profile of Indian travellers has definitely evolved, over the years. And, what’s interesting to note is that the tourism industry is in step with the changing profiles.

 As the younger generation becomes more independent and economically empowered, we’ve noticed that the travel preferences of this cohort are distinctly different from how most others prefer to explore new places. There is a lot of focus on spending time and money on experiences over indulgence on property and the type of flight class one takes to travel. These travellers are seen choosing solo, women-only or adults-only holidays, over the traditional forms of traveling with family or in large groups. It’s also encouraging to see how young Indian travellers are more experimental and quite comfortable with making Europe their first international experience - making bolder choices, when compared to the older generation.

RK: Today’s travellers want to be the protagonist of their holidays, and are increasingly looking for highly personalized experiences. To cater to this high potential segment of personalized holiday makers, Thomas Cook India launched Voyager, an innovative technology platform. Voyager empowers Thomas Cook India’s front line teams (across its call centers, branches and franchise partners) with the ability to build, price and book personalized travel packages that include key elements of flights, hotels, ground transport and sightseeing experiences/attractions- instantly.

With an increase in disposable incomes and the propensity to spend, millennial Indian travellers want to spend their money on experiences over traditional sightseeing. More and more millennial travellers are demanding unusual, exotic experiences as a part of their itineraries and are willing to spend more on these experiences.

For India’s digital natives, short and long haul destinations with popular social media handles along with Instagram-worthy holidays is gaining ground; properties like Facebook live and Fb story allows showcasing unique/fun experiences. There has been a significant growth in the bookings for Cruise holidays as well. Apart from families, Thomas Cook India has been getting bookings from DINKS, Ad-hoc groups, women travellers and Gen S. With the introduction of the specially curated women tour packages, Ladies First, we have been getting overwhelming queries for ‘mother – daughter vacations’ and kitty party groups especially to explore unique destinations and experiences via cruise cum land packages.

SD: Over the years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women travelers booking their tickets to international destinations to seek experience and explore culture of these places. As experiential travel is a rising trend among Indians, they are booking their tickets for destinations where they can delve into culture, history, food, environment, people and focus on knowing a country, city or particular place more closely. These changes in the itineraries of individual travelers are made keeping in mind the allocated budget and for the same reason backpacking around international destination have become a rage amongst solo and group travelers especially women.

DD: The new-age traveller is well-read, discerning and is keen to explore mono destinations at a slow pace so that the traveller can enjoy the local cuisine, culture and the attractions.  Mono destination holidays are therefore gaining popularity with Indian travellers wherein they prefer to explore one destination at leisure instead of clubbing multiple destinations.

We are witnessing an increase in demand for short haul and long weekend tour packages from the current Gen Z.  Vacationing in places off the usual travel checklist is gaining momentum and the trend of taking ‘the road less travelled’ has emerged. Millennials are bucking the age-old trend and choosing convenience over cost to completely enjoy and enthral in their expeditions.

 

Q] Are Indians opting for more experiential trips?

KA: Experiential travel is growing amongst the Free Individual Travellers (FITs). That’s one of the reasons why the market continues to grow by over 20 per cent.

The regular tour packages may not be able to match up to their expectations. As the focus of travellers is shifting to experience oriented vacations, there is an increase in the demand for unconventional destinations and itineraries more attuned to local culture and earthy experiences. Culinary journeys, cultural expeditions, yoga/ health tourism, wildlife safaris, festivals and carnivals are all part of experiential journeys. Experiential travellers make sure to go beyond the usual destinations and must-see attractions to seek authentic experiences rooted deep into the culture of land they visit.  

In the near future, that’s going to be the norm and tour operators who are well versed with a destination and have a deep understanding about what to offer the new generation of clientele will stand to gain.

RK: The Indian consumer no longer looks at only a destination, but the experiences that are on offer as well. Indian tourists are becoming more experimental and are often looking to explore exotic destinations such as Antarctica, Iceland, Tunisia and opting for eclectic experiences like dining in a volcano in Fiji or on a private Island in Australia, living in an igloo in Finland or a tree house in Malaysia, chasing the Aurora Borealis in Canada or driving a supercar in Singapore, so that they can narrate a compelling story to their friends. With a surge of approximately 28%, we have observed that outdoor and adventure experiences like white/black water rafting, scuba diving; adrenalin highs of sky diving/bungee jumping/zorbing/Abseiling are gaining popularity amongst the travellers.

SD: Experiential travel has gained popularity among Indian travelers where there has been growth in demand for culinary travel, cultural exploration, and activity-based travel. Travelers allocate their budget accordingly where they take control of each element of a trip, and personalize it into a completely unique experience. While we first saw a spike of booking inquiries from millennials, with growth in new technologies and services from various travel companies, there is a rise in number of older travelers as well where they are comfortable innovating and altering their packages and trips, hence elevating their travel experience.

DD: Experiential travel is preferred by today’s travellers seeking new experiences wherein they can explore different cultures, cuisines and crafts. Travel is now becoming more of an amalgamation of an experience-driven adventure and exploring new surroundings.  With more awareness generated with the help of social media, greater ability to spend and the curiosity to know more, the Indian globe trotter wants to go beyond the mundane beaten tourist forms of travel and is attracted towards experiencing the spirit of a local culture.

A considerable percentage of today’s Indian travellers no longer want to be controlled by what they see or do on a trip. Travel experiences to them is all about visiting sites not found in most guidebooks, eating at a restaurant favoured by residents and staying at a local guesthouse instead of choosing big chain hotels.

After a successful outdoor campaign in India, Taiwan Tourism Bureau (TTB) has decided to launch  its online campaign for destination marketing and promotion in India. “We did a lot of outdoor campaign at airports, shopping malls, highways and movie theatres after the announcement of our ambitious ‘2 20:20’ strategy towards the end of 2018 to bring awareness among Indian outbound travelers. Now, we have to convert this awareness into purchasing power. So, the next campaign will be online which will roll out in July,” Trust HJ Lin, Director, Taiwan Tourism Bureau (Singapore office), said during a media interaction in New Delhi. Taiwan’s ‘2 20:20’ strategy aims at tapping the top 2 per cent of the high-end leisure traffic from India to Taiwan to attain 20 per cent growth in Indian outbound to Taiwan by 2020. The reason we go to top 2 per cent as they are looking at newer destinations, Lin informed.

Divulging more details about the online campaign, Lin said that the Bureau is in talks with MakeMyTrip. “It’s a great idea to partner with OTAs as they have very huge market share. Most of their employees are IT professionals and for us it is very easy to communicate as Taiwan is an IT destination. Right now, we are just talking with MakeMyTrip but we will talk with others such as search engines and SEOs as well. Hopefully, we will start our online campaign in July-August,” Lin said and added that the outdoor campaign brought very good result for us. He made it clear that the Bureau is not going to put all budgets with OTAs in the online campaign. “We will keep some budget for online media as we will have tour packages to sell and at the same time we will also have to increase our awareness,” he added. TTB will continue to work with traditional travel agents as well.

Lin said that the outdoor campaign which was launched in November last year resulted into very encouraging results for us. “We started our outdoor campaign last November and we also partnered with Cox&Kings. In February 2019, we had 41 per cent growth from India. In May, we received 350 pax group incentive tours from India,” he informed.

With the online campaign, Lin wants to create awareness about Taiwan’s visa system which is quite easy but Indian travelers are not much aware about this. Travellers who have a valid visa for US, Japan, Korea, schengen and Australia are eligible for a free e-visa in Taiwan. “We find that OTAs can put visa process on their portal and it saves a lot of time in educating about visas,” he said.

Replying to a question over promoting Taiwan through cruise tourism, Lin said that Taiwan is the number 2 cruise destination in Asia after China. “The Princess Cruise or Star Cruise use Taiwan as mother port. The cruise market is very popular and we would like to leverage to this advantage. We have to find someone to sell it in India and we can sell it through OTAs,” he said.

Taiwan welcomed 40,000 Indian visitors in 2018, reflecting a 9.8 per cent growth in 2018 making India one of the fastest growing markets. He said that approximately 40 per cent of the Indian visitors are business travelers. In 2018, Taiwan received 11 million inbound visitors. Buoyed by this growth, the Bureau has increased marketing budget for India from US$1.02 million to 2 million in 2019.

Consistent GDP growth and a growing business environment are fuelling the overall performance of hotels globally.  Various industry experts including Parmeet Singh Nayar, General Manager, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi; Dilawar Singh Nindra, General Manager, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi; Vaibhav Sagar, Director of Sales & Marketing, Crowne Plaza Greater Noida spoke to T3 magazine exclusively on the current scenario, future outlook and challenges. Excerpt:

 

Q] How would you explain the current scenario of Indian hotel industry?

Parmeet Singh Nayar (PN): The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth for the services sector in India. Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) and domestic traffic (leisure & MICE) has increased considerably over past few years and attracted huge Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Considering this growth potential, a lot of International hotel chains are increasing their presence in the country. Quite recently, even the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India has started investing in events that can help establish India as an attractive tourist destination for the untouched markets. We recently collaborated with India Tourism Mart to showcase our hotel.

Dilawar Singh Nindra (DN): The current scenario of Indian hospitality is still very volatile and dynamic. The Indian market with infusion of digital tools has been successful in opening gates for the digitally-advanced traveller. These tools help in planning, booking and enhancing the entire experience journey. We can also observe that the end user has moved away from the shackles of making bookings via the traditional methods and rely on the new age solutions. It is imperative to be equipped with all online portals so that inventory can be updated on real time basis. Also, efforts need to be made to understand the customer journey from the time the booking is made till the time he/ she checks out. In order to capitalize on the repeat visits of guests, it is vital that their previous feedbacks, expectations and complaints are addressed to on time.

Vaibhav Sagar (VS): Indian hotel industry is booming with more and more International players expanding portfolios in the country. Leisure (domestic & inbound travel) and business travel segments are witnessing major growth, with most hotels opening in Tier 2 & 3 cities. For a business & conferencing hotel like Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, we are experiencing increased demand from all segments resulting in promising revenue figures and profit margins.

 

Q] We have been witnessing a lot of disruptors like OYO, Airbnb and others consolidating in the market. What is the impact of these on the organized hotel sector?

PN: It’s good to see these new hospitality companies grow as they are eventually helping to organize the fragmented market which was operating in a very unstructured and unorganized manner so far.  While they will certainly create competition for organized budget and mid-segment hotel chains, consolidation of the long tail business will help standardize the offerings and benefit the end consumer.

DN: Disruptors being referred are not a direct competition for a 5 star hotel chain like ours. They may have snatched a small chunk of revenue from the organized sector but, their clientele was never a part of our target segment.

VS: Brands like OYO and Airbnb are preferred by leisure travelers while our target audience is business and MICE. Also these brands do impact the mid segment but does not have a major effect on the 5 star or premium hotel segments as the facilities and amenities offered are world apart.

 

Q]  Most of the development is taking place in mid market segment. What is the impact on ARRs?

PN: The mid-market segment is growing fast on account of heavy demand coming in recent times. There are a range of factors that have bolstered the mid-market brands in India - a surge in middle class segment to an increase in business and leisure travel, urbanization, higher economic growth and the doubling of air travel over the past seven years.  The price point and target audience for mid-market segment and luxury segment are completely different hence there is not much of impact on the ARRs for luxury hotels like us.

DN: We can observe that the ARRs have started to increase, however to reach its actual expected stage one has to be patient for the next 2 to 3 more years at least. The current ARR patterns are still 30 to 40% lesser in comparison to statistics from 10 years back.

VS: It is true that the branded, mid-market hotel segment is steadily growing particularly in Tier 2 and 3 cities. ARRs continue to grow but the growth pace has comparatively slowed down. 

 

Q] How was 2018 for you in terms ARR, occupancy and RevPar? Have you noticed any change on these parameters over 2017?

PN: In 2018, we had a great opportunity to showcase our refreshed product including new rooms and a spectacular Horizon Club Lounge located on the 19th floor of the hotel, offering views of the bustling New Delhi and the most iconic landmarks of the city, including India Gate, Lotus Temple and Jantar Mantar. Our success story reflected not only in the numbers but also in various awards that we won last year like ‘Best Business Hotel’ award by Travel + Leisure and Business Traveller Asia Pacific, ‘Best Employer Brand’ by World HRD Congress, Responsible Business Hotel, etc. To sum up, we witnessed an increase in all the areas - ARR, Occupancy, RevPar and customer satisfaction over 2017.

DN: The ARR was constant for FY 17-18 and 18-19, whereas the occupancy and RevPar both saw a marginal dip.

VS: At Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, we witnessed double digit growth across all these revenue indicators last year.

 

Q] MICE is emerging as one of the main contributors for hotels in Delhi –NCR. What is the contribution of MICE in your total room bookings?

PN: MICE indeed has become one of the key contributors for hotels across Delhi & NCR. Personally for us MICE contributes approximately 13% to the overall hotel business and our focus remains to only cater to chic MICE business where we can help offer personalized, creative and thematic meetings that truly reflects luxury.

DN: MICE is one of the major revenue generating streams and the steady growth of business has helped us in capitalizing on this growing segment of business. The MICE sector is growing over the last one year as a significant part of the overall business and we expect this to continue in the coming years as well. We offer varied range of services for meetings, incentives, conferences and events. Our team helps in planning a customized event as per the requirement & budget of the client – from suggesting the apt venue to being flexible with the menu to planning some out of the box activities to surprise as well as help they unwind during long meeting hours – thus, providing end-to-end services. MICE contributes almost 10-15% of the total market share

VS: As a leading business and conferencing hotel in Delhi NCR, MICE is a major contributor for Crowne Plaza Greater Noida with 25% contribution to total revenue.

 

Q] F&B has gradually been emerging as a major revenue earner for hotels. What is the contribution of MICE & business travel, F&B and leisure in your overall business?

PN: As traditionally noted, creative F&B has been a DNA for success of hotels. Our key focus has been to offer authentic cuisine curated by the expat chefs from the region that we wanted to showcase. We brought in some famous dining concepts like a 47-year old legacy, the 39th Shang Palace in the World, Sorrento - the Italian restaurant certified with Golden Q from Ospitalita Italiana and world on a platter concept restaurant Tamra that keep us in the limelight. Launching unique food and beverage pop-ups and curating special dining offers and experiences through our dining programme called ‘The Table’ helped us with great positioning in the market.  Business travel without wellness is incomplete and therefore our focus has been to develop our wellness facility ‘Chi, The Spa’ as a personal space for our guests to take a break and de-stress themselves. We have a good mix of MICE, business travel and leisure business.

DN: F&B is the backbone in terms of revenue contribution. It has a constant share of 50 percent in the overall business. As far as MICE & Business Travel go, one third of the business is derived from these segments.

VS: F&B including C&E contributes about 29% to total revenue, off this 65% is contributed by conferences and events segment/; 25% contribution from MICE and approx. 5% contribution from leisure segment.

 

Q] What is the ratio of foreign V/s domestic guests in your occupancy?

PN: Our hotel experiences an influx of foreigner guests who are travelling on business as well as leisure while from India, there are majorly business travelers staying with us from key metros. Situated close to the Presidential Estate, shopping and business districts in downtown, Shangri-La’s - Eros Hotel, New Delhi is at the beating heart of the bustling capital. With the City centre location, our guests stay easily connected to the best of the city.

DN: Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi has an optimum mix of foreign and Indian nations being, 45 % and 55 % respectively.

 

Q] Despite the prevalence of OTAs, Indian market is still driven by B2B. What percentage of bookings you get from online channels?

PN: Our company drives large share from e-direct channels that is the hotel website and the mobile app, of course supplemented by our partner OTAs. Our focus remains to maintain rate parity. 

DN: OTA have captured a major chunk of the revenue of the entire market for hotel business. We are in direct connection with guests which help us in ensuring personalization and attention to detail to guarantee repeat visits.

VS: OTA contribution to our business is about 27%. This includes OTA, brand website and GDS bookings.

 

Q] What sort of CSR activities you are involved with? 

PN: I personally believe that CSR and sustainability initiatives are the heart of Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi. Driven by our core values, the areas of CSR that we work within are Our People, Our Business, Our Environment and Our Communities. Some big initiatives have been taken to drive a socially responsible business. As a group wide initiative, the company has decided to ban single use plastics straws and stirrers at our properties in 2019. We joined hands with our embrace partner Noida Deaf Society back in 2010 to contribute in improving the lives of deaf students from all across the country, by providing them vocational skills and enhancing their overall confidence so they can face the world with élan. We have employed 6 people from NDS who are working with us. We have developed a property called ‘Reviving the ‘Shangri-La’ of Delhi’ and we aim to plan multiple events around this. The importance of Delhi’s cultural heritage is diminishing and we have taken a step towards keeping it alive. In January we took kids from an NGO to a famous historical site ‘Humayun’s Tomb’ as our step to educate them on the importance of our culture and history and ultimately Reviving the ‘Shangri-La’ of Delhi.

DN: We believe ‘doing social good is a social responsibility of every business organization’.  We like giving back to the community by taking initiatives of the likes: organizing event for the differently abled children or orphans. Special food delicacies & gifts are offered to children and various interesting activities are organized. We organize ‘Camps’ where clothes and other basic amenities are shared with the needy. We also supply water to SDMC on monthly basis for conservation and horticulture purposes.

VS: At Crowne Plaza Greater Noida we support a local school in the area engaged in the work of educating underprivileged kids. Apart from this, we regularly engage in community activities like road safety week, tree plantations etc. in

The New Distribution Capability (NDC), an XML-based data transmission standard promoted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that enhances the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents, is currently buzzword for the global airline industry. Although in nascent stage in many parts of the world, airlines are putting all their efforts to educate the travel agents and other stakeholders about the benefit of the NDC. Lufthansa Group, one of the pioneering advocates of the NDC, has been working on this since 2015 and currently received IATA’s level 4 certification on NDC. 

Detailing about the benefits of the NDC for the industry and end customers, George Ettiyil, Senior Director, Lufthansa Group, said that NDC is bringing 3 main elements of travel to the fore: transparency, customization and a seamless shopping experience for the industry as well as air travellers. “Transparency is the key disruptive element of travel for the past 10 years which was not offered by the GDSs. Consumers do not know what is he paying and why is he paying the huge cost. Moreover, there are high technical limitations on the old technology to actually unbundle the services. Consumers have become very choosy because of customization which is the second very important disruptive element for travel.  Transparency and high degree of customization has become need of the any airline and it is continuously increasing. Shopping experience was also not possible with old technology.  New consumers are used to much more professional shopping experience and the old technology is not just fit for this,” Ettiyil said.

Replying to a question on the need of NDC while so many other distribution channels already exist in the market, he opined that GDSs could not scale up their technology and the distribution cost of the airlines went up.  Going back to the history, Ettiyil detailed that airlines traditionally have always had a challenge of distributing their seats and making these available globally. “Looking 40 years back, there was no advanced IT technology like today. Starting from end 70s or early 80s, several airlines got together and created companies that could distribute their content or inventory. As a result, Sabre was started by several US carriers in the USA and several European carriers including Lufthansa started Amadeus in mid 80s. It was revolutionary on those days as GDSs were created by airlines to make a quantum leap. Looking 30-40 years later now, that technology still exists today. However, it is very expensive as it is based on old technology. From an airline point of view, the commercial agreements that were made on those days have become burden to the airlines. The distribution cost is very high when it is based on old technology and the cost is passed to the end consumer,” he said and added that the onset of low cost carriers showed the industry way that distribution cost can be lower down. “LCCS started delivering their content purely on their own direct platforms. LCCs in Europe started with internet only so there was no distribution cost. They were able to challenge the classic airlines because of their low cost in every way including distribution cost which was tremendously lower than classic IATA airline,” he briefed.

This is the reason that IATA started NDC which is providing standard for XML based APIs. “Now, every airline or any other travel service providers can actually follow the standard. IATA is also promoting ‘One Order’ offering shopping experience. Payment is also becoming future disruption which GDSs cannot be able to offer. Hence, there was a need for new technology. That’s why NDC has become so relevant,” he added.

Talking about Lufthansa’s adoption of NDC, he said that the Group has been creating an API based on NDC standard since the last 5 years. “Over the last years, our APIs have been developed to highest standard created by IATA. On old technology, our airline was not able to offer wifi. With new technology, it is offered now. So, there are developments which is possible with NDC today  and are not possible with GDSs as it requires huge investment that does not justify the outcome,” he said adding the GDS system has restrictions of 26 booking classes.

Explaining it further, he said that when it comes to pricing it is limited by the number of alphabets that exits. The NDC is removing the cap from the 26-booking class restriction and by starting with the bid price or market fare generated in the system, pricing logic is applied earlier in the process and without the limitations of the 26-bucket problem. The airline then has more opportunity to fine-tune a customized offer, which can be further discounted, bundled, or promoted. This means that an airline-controlled Pricing Engine that can operate such a linear pricing model unlocks considerable more opportunity for airlines to earn more revenue and delight their customers. “NDC is opening up the whole new world. It is highly disruptive proposition in the airline and travel industry which will revolutionize the way end consumer experience the commercial aspects of aviation. Lufthansa is the first airline to go ahead with this kind of disruption and other airlines have also joined. More and more airlines are reaching to certain level standards,” he said and added that the GDS companies have actually also decided to participate in the new NDC space and we are happy they will also come with new solutions. “Other players are also coming,” he added.

Replying to a question over 80 per cent of content will come from non NDC channels for the next 4-5 years thus making the system more complex, he agreed and argued that airlines will try to bring the low cost cheap etc content through NDC. “They are forced to as they have no choice. Otherwise they cannot survive as competition is just too high. So, the more premium (premium classes of travel) the offer is, it will be probably on more traditional channels. Intermediaries will remain there. I do not think that a end consumer always going to get what he wants to on airline website. Many will get on airline websites but other will want the additional services which airlines do not offer and they will look for intermediaries who can package as per the customers need. Also, people do not want to spend much time on these. If they have trust on travel professionals, they will take their services,” he said and opined that either traditional intermediaries will change or transform or new players will also get added that are technically strong.

Coming to the complexity part, he said, I think complexity will increase. “I see complexities increasing in every domain. How these platforms are competing with each other will create further complexity. It is still to be seen that what will be the dynamics of the new space that is coming up,” he opined.

So, what should be the business model for NDC? “We as Lufthansa feel that we have the clear picture for the next few years to go forward. Because we have the clear picture, we started off a program called the NDC Partner program. In the NDC Partner program, we actually offer very clear spectrum of the commercial aspects.  Our API is provided by Farelogix which provides front end known as SPRK. Through SPARK, any IATA agents can enroll and immediately access our NDC content which is not just 16 Euro cheaper but we even have price differential ranging between Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 for economy class and going upto 5000 for business class. SPRK is our entry offer. The next one we promote is our direct API that can feed the agents front end system like online booking tool. We have another model of using intermediaries that we call ‘travel tech provider’ which can be classic GDS and many of the new ones that are coming and let them provide you with the API because they have booked on our API and if you have an API with them they can also be already fed by the travel tech providers. Many travel agencies today are already selling LCC content. These models are existing and we are just providing our content over there. We have commercial offer for all these. We pay incentives for all models. For model II, we invest together with our partners in to the technological change that is required,” he said. 

With MICE and F&B emerging as a good contributor for Delhi-NCR hotels, hotels in the region is now increasingly focused on these segments. “MICE indeed has become one of the key contributors for hotels across Delhi & NCR. For Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi, MICE contributes approximately 13 per cent to the overall hotel business and our focus remains to only cater to chic MICE business where we can help offer personalized, creative and thematic meetings that truly reflects luxury,” Parmeet Singh Nayar, General Manager, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi.

According to Nayar, creative F&B has been a DNA for success of hotels. “Our key focus has been to offer authentic cuisine curated by the expat chefs from the region that we wanted to showcase. We have a good mix of MICE, business travel and leisure business,” Nayar added.

MICE and F&B also contribute significantly for The Park New Delhi. “MICE segment is showing an annual growth around 20 per cent year on year and as of now it stands at 9 to 10 per cent of our total room bookings,” Rohit Arora, Area General Manager, The Park New Delhi said and added that MICE contribution towards F&B is around 25 per cent and business and leisure traveller contributes 20 per cent each in hotel’s overall business. 

For Crowne Plaza Greater Noida which is closer to the India Expo Centre, Greater Noida, MICE contributes almost 1/4th of the hotel’s revenue. “As a leading business and conferencing hotel in Delhi NCR, MICE is a major contributor for Crowne Plaza Greater Noida with 25 per cent contribution to total revenue. F&B including conferences and events contributes about 29 per cent to total revenue of Shangri-La. “Off this 65 percent is contributed by conferences and events segment and 25 per cent contribution from MICE and approx. five per cent contribution is from leisure segment,” Vaibhav Sagar, Director of Sales & Marketing, Crowne Plaza Greater Noida, said.

Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi also gets a good business from MICE and F&B segments. “MICE is one of the major revenue generating streams and the steady growth of business has helped us in capitalizing on this growing segment of business. The MICE sector is growing over the last one year as a significant part of the overall business and we expect this to continue in the coming years as well. MICE contributes almost 10-15 per cent of the total market share. F&B is the backbone in terms of revenue contribution. It has a constant share of 50 percent in the overall business. As far as MICE & Business Travel go, one third of the business is derived from these segments,” said Dilawar Singh Nindra, General Manager, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi.

However, The ARR was constant for FY 17-18 and 18-19 for Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi  whereas the occupancy and RevPar both saw a marginal dip. Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi witnessed an increase in ARR, occupancy, RevPar and customer satisfaction in 2018 over 2017. The Park New Delhi also witnessed a growth in performance in 2018. “The ARR and RevPar overall has seen an about 5 per cent to 7 per cent increase as compared to year 2017. In fact, the industry has seen an upward trend in the past 2 years with 2018 showing a greater increase. Our strong brand appeal and our Anything But Ordinary experiences have definitely caught the eye of the consumer,” Arora said. Crowne Plaza Greater Noida witnessed double digit growth in ARR, occupancy and RevPar in 2018.

ARRs could have grown up more but the massive growth in mid-market hotels hindered the growth. “We can observe that the ARRs have started to increase, however to reach its actual expected stage one has to be patient for the next 2 to 3 more years at least. The current ARR patterns are still 30 to 40% lesser in comparison to statistics from 10 years back,” Nindra said.

Nayar, however, does not see much impact on ARRs due to the growth in mid-market segment. “The mid-market segment is growing fast on account of heavy demand coming in recent times. The price point and target audience for mid-market segment and luxury segment are completely different hence there is not much of impact on the ARRs for luxury hotels like us,” Nayar opined.

The recently concluded PATA Annual Summit 2019, under the theme ‘Progress with a Purpose’, in Cebu, Philippines saw the presence of 383 delegates from 194 organisations and 43 destinations including student chapter representatives from 21 educational institutions hailing from eighteen destinations.

Hosted by the Department of Tourism, Philippines, the event included the Association’s executive and advisory board meetings, annual general meeting (AGM), PATA Youth Symposium, PATA Insights Lounge, the UNWTO/PATA Leaders Debate and a one-day conference that highlighted the fundamental challenges, issues and opportunities of the travel and tourism industry and how the industry working together can bring about actionable change for a better future.

 “The need for demonstrated leadership in the travel and tourism industry has never been more critical. As an industry, we are grappling with large scale global and regional challenges including climate change, overtourism and the resulting strain on infrastructure, as well as and social and economic inequality in many destinations, which will require a new type of leadership from truly progressive entities,” Mario Hardy, CEO, PATA. “This year’s PATA Annual Summit, with the theme ‘Progress with a Purpose’ not only examined the issues and challenges affecting our industry but also challenged our delegates to take action and address these problems directly.”

 Delegates were given the unique opportunity to hear from Airbnb Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chairman of Airbnb China, Nathan Blecharczyk, who sat down for a special one-on-one interview with BBC World News Presenter, Rico Hizon.

 Sponsored by the Global Tourism Economy Forum (GTEF), the opening keynote on the ‘State of the World Economy’ was delivered by Andrew Staples, Global Editorial Director at The Economist Corporate Network. He shared the latest macroeconomic forecasts for the global economy from The Economist Intelligence Unit before identifying the longer-term opportunities and challenges facing the Asia Pacific region.

 

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