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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Seychelles, a short haul destination for India, has carved a niche positioning in the Indian outbound travel market.

The island country, establishing itself as a honeymoon destination in India, has started attracting Indians from across the segments. “With quarantine regulations easing, we expect tourism from India to see an uptick. The overarching sentiment will continue in favour of priority to safety and hygienic hotel properties, incorporation of strict safety protocols at public places and restaurants. We are very hopeful of achieving part of pre-pandemic numbers from India in 2022,” Lubaina Sheerazi, CEO and Co-Founder, BRANDit India, says. BRANDit India represents Seychelles Tourism Board in India.

The destination was witnessing significant year-on-year growth in Indian arrivals pre-pandemic. Seychelles’ proximity to the country as well as growth of tourism to other island destinations in the last couple of years are all positive indicators of focusing on India. “We certainly foresee India amongst our priority markets,” Sheerazi replies to a question over India’s positioning in the post pandemic months.

Revealing the plan further, Sheerazi opines that the Board is focusing on the evolving needs of Indian travellers, from attracting the main segment of honeymooners to families and those seeking a more experiential holiday. We also aim to promote a gamut of accommodation options across various categories in multiple islands. “We are setting short term goals, reviewing and aligning them as needed, keeping in line with the global parameters and protocols for the pandemic,” she adds.

Speaking on the segment, she informs that honeymooners will remain an important sector for Seychelles followed by DINKS, young couples and small families. “We also understand the paradigm shift in celebrations of Indian weddings and smaller events and aim to focus heavily on getting small groups for intimate celebrations and weddings from India,” she says.

According to her, on ground events are slowly picking up, more stringent and effective safety protocols are being rolled out around the globe. Many countries are achieving herd immunity and vaccination drives across the globe are at an all-time high. “We foresee the markets to open in stages and bounce back to its former glory by 2023,” she adds.

The Board is looking at scheduling a roadshow, engaging with trade media, conducting workshops and sales visits in key cities of India as well as participating in trade shows in 2022 to further strengthen its trade ties. that allow robust trade and consumer engagement.

“We are hopeful of going back to high arrival numbers from India, engaging with a larger audience pool as well as providing a location for shoots for the Indian entertainment industry and are working towards setting protocols I that space,” she says.

Goa has witnessed a positive trend in terms of tourism and the sector has gradually reopened with guidelines and regulations in place. Mass vaccination has been a major booster for the segment to further revive. Anil Malani, CEO, Deltin Group, shares his views about the trends in hospitality and live gaming.

What trends has Deltin witnessed both in terms of hotels and casinos in 2021?

With regards to the sector travel and hospitality, 2021 has been a year full of turmoil & uncertainty; and the same is not over yet with the advent of the new variant ‘Omicron’ which everyone is closely watching. India was hit by the second wave of pandemic around April which wreaked havoc on the sector. But we are happy to note the positive trend from September onwards when the sector gradually opened up with guidelines and regulations in place. All tourism destinations saw a surge in number of visiting tourists due to the pent-up demand and declining covid cases which got the mojo back to the sector.

As far as Deltin is concerned, Safety & wellbeing of our patrons and staff are of paramount importance and we are following all government guidelines & our own state-of-the-art safety protocol ‘BestAssured’ across all our properties. 100% of our staff are fully vaccinated.

Goa as a destination has witnessed tremendous footfall towards the latter half of 2020 and in 2021, has the tourism in Goa and your properties come back to normalcy? Also, how has the Daman property shaped up post reopening?

Goa, as a travel destination has always attracted tourists from various geographies and as an economy which is majorly dependent on tourism, it adds a huge positive impact to the wellbeing of livelihoods involved in it. Casinos are a major tourist attraction in Goa and they not only help reviving the long struggling travel & tourism industry but also lakhs of people employed in it, who were badly hit by two waves of the pandemic. The Deltin, Daman is shaping up well and is a preferred destination for weddings and events from people of Maharashtra and Gujarat. All our properties are abiding by the govt safety guidelines and restrictions.

Earlier Deltin had plans to enter international markets including Sri Lanka, is the plan still under process? What are your expansion plans domestically and in the international markets?

Deltin already has a presence in Kathmandu, Nepal with ‘Deltin Casino International’. Apart from the same, we are majorly focusing on the domestic market for now which is our strength because we understand the market well. We are awaiting our Casino license in Daman. Beyond this, we would not like to comment at the moment.

How has the group engaged with the customer base and also the travel trade fraternity in 2021? Are you planning any new campaigns?

For us the communication has always been based on the emotions of our guests and members. During the pandemic, we found innovative and lighthearted ways to connect to our TG with our “Spirit of Winning” campaign, ‘BestAssured’ safety campaign and the vaccination campaign with the message “We are Ready”. Our strategy has always been to communicate the message in a ‘not so serious’ way for larger acceptance and recall. Post opening up in September, we have already done 2 major campaigns – “We are Open” and “Relive the Deltin Life”. Many such relatable campaigns will follow soon based on the changing needs, preferences and the larger mood of our customer base.

Deltin also has a focus on the MICE and corporate segment, by when do you see these segments bouncing back?

We have already seen substantial traction in these segments and if things go well as far as the pandemic is concerned, we look forward to seeing good growth in MICE and corporate bookings.

How do you see the growth in the gaming industry in India? Which are your major target markets?

 ‘Deltin’ is into luxury live gaming and provides an experience like no other. As per the law, live casinos can only operate in Goa and Sikkim in India while Daman is on the anvil based on the govt approval. So, naturally, these are our target markets for now in India. We expect the industry to do well as the country has shown good progress in the mass vaccination front which will be helpful in expediting the end of the pandemic.

Post unlocking last year, hotels and resorts in leisure destinations witnessed demand. Do you foresee a similar demand in the coming months in India?

Surely, the demand will only be northbound provided the world can keep the pandemic in check.

Deltin is the go-to luxury gaming and entertainment destination for people in India. Can you elaborate a bit on the various offering you have for tourists who are planning to travel domestically?

Deltin offers an experience to remember which is mix of thrill, excitement, entertainment, good food & beverages and great service. Our patrons belong to various segments: some seek the thrill of gaming, some visit for the experience, and some just want to have a good time. We cater to everyone with our finest offerings and service. Not to forget our trademark safety and hygiene protocols.

Any new development which you would like to add?

After getting hit and recovering from the first and second waves, we are hoping that we can keep the fear of a third wave on the bay and can carry-on adding momentum to the gaming, entertainment and hospitality sectors.

 

Kenya expects a significant travel demand from India especially once the international scheduled flights resume. Under the air bubble with India, Kenya has recorded a 4.1% growth in Indian arrivals with 31,644 visitors compared to the same period last year. Dr. Betty Addero Radier, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Tourism Board, shares her opinion about the current scenario.  

With uncertainty still prevailing, how do you see 2022 for outbound travel?  

With mass vaccinations across the globe and concerted efforts on protocols against the covid-19 pandemic, tourism business is expected to recover over the period with resumption of both in-bound and out-bound travels. 

It is expected that the destinations will put, as a first priority, focus on health and safety of travelers in and out of their boundaries. Further, in line with the UNWTO predications, we anticipate the outbound travel to Africa is likely to resume in 2023 depending on how the situation unfolds. Nevertheless, Kenya continues to monitor the situation and is keen to continue facilitating safe travel.    

Do you foresee a significant demand from India market? 

We do anticipate a significant travel demand from India especially once the international scheduled flights resume, this will increase flight options thus reduction on the cost of air fares due to competition. At present, even with the air bubble India within the period of January to October, this year, has recorded a 4.1% growth in arrivals into Kenya with 31,644 visitors compared to the same period last year. 

It is encouraging that our travel trade partners are also informing on the growing number of enquiries for travel into Kenya. Given that India has been among our top priority markets, we remain optimistic that this will continue given the destinations attractive experience offering and easy air access.      

Any new trend in terms of international travel? 

In terms of emerging travel trends, we have seen a keenness towards health and safety, travelers are more conscious with regards to the health and safety measures in place to safeguard their travel. Hence Kenya’s response in aligning with the international standards through the establishment of the Magical Kenya Tourism and Travel Health and Safety Protocols. We have witnessed increased number of small groups and solo travel as a precautionary measure hence segments such as FIT’s Couples, Group of Friends, Special Occasion travelers among others. Travelers are also seeking responsible and sustainable travel continue to look for experiential travel geared towards adventure, culture, culinary for which Kenya is ideally placed to offer given its diverse tourism offering.   

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

Yes, we are optimistic as mentioned the direct air access, our marketing initiative focus and KTB’s intent to continue working closely with the travel trade from both countries to create awareness and avail competitive travel packages will aid in ensuring that Kenya remains a top-of-mind destination and this offers us a competitive advantage. 

 How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2022?

Our marketing strategy continues to respond and incorporate the changing dynamics. KTB has embraced the digital space more to tap into the segment, which is online and ready to travel. The new trade of remote working has brought out the need to package products to suit this segment. KTB also continues to enlist strategic partners and brand affiliations to aid in the global recovery of the tourism sector. 

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

KTB in 2019 launched its Magical Kenya signature experience collection which consists of carefully curated unique and authentic Kenyan travel experiences that are exceptional and memorable. The collection consists of 44 signature experiences that are unique to Kenya and will offer choices of experience to the diverse needs of our visitors. 

Which segments of tourism will be your focus once tourism restarts? 

KTB will continue to focus on the Leisure, MICE and VFR segment including couples, groups, families, business and special occasion travelers to grow its tourism arrival figures into Kenya.

Which are the new destinations that you will be promoting? Kenya is renowned known for its Safari offering in Maasai Mara, however our safari experiences is expansively spread throughout the destination from the North, South, East and Western parts of the country including within our the city of Nairobi. We also have our beach and water sporting experiences found along our Kenyan Coast accessible by both road and air.    

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

At this point in time, it is difficult to say with any level of certainty given that the ongoing pandemic presents some unpredictability however, for Kenya we are receiving some level of MICE and corporate travel, thus we expect an immediate bounce back as Kenya continues to prioritize health and safety through mandatory vaccination measures and the adoption of hybrid options as we globally continue to build travel confidence.        

Are you planning any trade engagement activities in India market? 

Yes, KTB is keen to resume its offline marketing activities once the situation is believed to have normalized. We are keen to engage with the Indian travel trade and fast track the sectors recovery and contribution to economic growth.   

 

RezLive.com offers 250,000+ hotel and apartment rooms, 45,000+ sightseeing attractions and transfers in over 900 cities through its Point of Sales (POS) website, mobile app and API. Jaal Shah, Group Managing Director, Travel Designer Group shares his perspective on the current scenario of OTA business as well as his company's growth strategy. Excerpts from interview:

With the current scenario, how do you see prospect of online travel agency?

COVID-19 has dramatically altered, and the travel & tourism sector is one of the most exposed. As we consider the impact of the crises, we realize it could fundamentally alter the future of the online travel agency (OTA) business.

The challenges for online travel agency have been many, including the initial effort to address cancellations, refunds and rebooking, in many instances for little or no compensation, all of which further impacted by an amplified crisis that extends well beyond the travel industry.

While we all navigate the multiple crises that have defined 2020, what we know for certain is that the power of human connection has never been more vital. There is a positive long-term prospect of the OTA business, with emphasis on the travel agents who know their clients and provide expert consultation, making travel easier, enjoyable and more accessible. Travellers faced with uncertainty, seeks further support to navigate the changing landscape, and the role of the Travel agency becomes even more valuable and important to assist the traveller in making informed decisions.

With online travel space getting crowded every day, what is your strategy to stay ahead in the game?

Our response to these challenges depends on the strength of business fundamentals on which an organisation is found. Staying focused on these fundamentals, optimizing, and maximizing the available resources and setting up a high-performance, customer centric work culture is essential to mitigate such challenges.

Engage with customers to stay on the top of their mind: While many travel companies are slashing their budgets to minimize their expenses, they might forget that marketing is now the most important thing than ever. Travel companies should show their presence and also participate in COVID responsible behaviour.

Communication is Key: The businesses aim to assure travellers that they have taken all possible steps to ensure high quality of service and safety. To ensure this, communication, particularly marketing and positioning will be critical. Given travellers renewed interest in safety and hygiene, there will be a need to provide travellers with easily accessible, accurate and timely information and facts.

These will be some of our strategies that we will be looking into for staying ahead and continue being the preferred reservation partner.

How would you explain the present scale of your business? What is your market share in India?

RezLive.com is an international B2B online reservation system that delivers global travel content – hotel, sightseeing & activities and, transfers to travel partners.

Launched in 2007 in India, RezLive.com is the flagship product of Travel Designer Group and is one of the largest and fastest-growing online B2B travel portals in the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. From a humble beginning from Ahmedabad, India, RezLive.com, today, employs more than 250 employees in 32 offices in 18 countries worldwide.

RezLive.com offers 250,000+ hotel and apartment rooms, 45,000+ sightseeing attractions and private & shared transfers in over 900 cities through its Point of Sales (POS) website, mobile app and API out, exclusively to professionals within the tourism sector.

We are focused on driving business for our partners while enriching their booking experience. We are well known for innovations, global reach, immaculate post-sales support and advanced booking interface.

India is a key strategic market for us and we have been serving our travel partners since our inception in India way back from 1999. India, which is one of the growing outbound / inbound market, plays a very important role and because of the support of our travel partners, has helped us to cement our place as one of the most preferred global travel wholesaler, wherein our sales figures are touching new milestones each passing year and we look forward to keep the same momentum in the years to come and serve our travel partners.

What are the new products which you are set to unveil in 2022? How do these help in improve the productivity and quality?

We have always gone ahead by the line “Innovation is in our DNA”. We have always set high benchmark as far as product innovation and service quality is concerned that the travel trade always looks for something new from us every year.

Our team agreed that flexibility will become the new normal and we must source inventories that are as flexible as possible. This led to a series of negotiation with our suppliers and hotel partners. Today, 90% of inventories beyond a 7-day travel window is flexible to cancel within 72 hours. 10% of inventories in similar travel window is flexible to cancel within 24 hours.

Likewise, we have studied and understood the requirements of our travel partners and are developing few updates as well as new products which will ease the process of booking. The projects are under pipeline and are getting moulded before it could be released for our partners keeping in mind how the market scenario further unfolds. We will also be looking in making the inventory even bigger than ever so that we put the whole world at the fingertips for our travel partners. 

How has been the response for your in-house e-wallet RezVAULT?

We were among the firsts to come up with our in-house e-wallet. It is a hit among our partners. The product acts as one stop solution for convenience, cashback & seamless refund with no hidden charges. Our Travel Partners are happy with the product mainly because of the ease with which the booking could be made and also the quick refund.

The best part about the travel fraternity is that they welcome new updates and products with open hands and give honest feedback which helps us to keep learning and modifying as per the needs of our partners.

What is your current network of travel agents? What is your strategy to further increase this numbers?

Our Travel Agents are one of the biggest assets we have. We aim to always be customer centric wherein our partners are happy and satisfied. Speaking about the network, we have penetrated all the metro cities in the country and also tier 1 and tier 2 cities across India. Our focus will continue growing our presence on pan India basis. Reaching out to regional market and working closely with our travel partners will remain on top of our agenda and our expansion.

Our account managers, who are the source of bringing new agents on-board, visit untapped, yet potential markets which will be of mutual benefit for both our company and for our partners. Moving forward, we believe that people will be all set for travelling and hence new travel agents will start coming up looking into the prospective market scenario. Considering this, we look forward to increasing the numbers as we believe providing service is our ultimate goal.

Reaching out to large scale of agents, across different regions will be on top of the list. Constant innovation and investing along with upgrading technologies is helping us to achieve the numbers.

Any new distribution agreements in line for 2022? Currently what is the inventory size?

We are known for having one of the largest B2B contracted inventories. To keep this going, we have a dedicated contracting team who looks into signing new distribution agreements on regular basis to offer competitive rates for the leading hotel chains across the globe.

Currently, we have 15,000+ directly contracted Hotels and we are working to penetrate more territories. Apart from direct contracts we are directly connected with leading channel managers which will even further enhances our sourcing and offering.

We have set standards in offering large availability pool to our travel partners, right from the same day of service to make reservation up to one year in advance. The state – of – the – art technology offers our partner large availability of inventory, which helps them in giving more options to their customers, resulting in higher yield and global selling. Apart from this, we also distribute our inventory over XML/APLI connectivity, which facilitates individual travel websites as well as corporate booking tools to market our products with their branding and increase their profits.

The travel and tourism industry has witnessed a roller-coaster in 2021. The year witnessed revival in the initial few months with domestic tourism being the driver, but the summers turned into a nightmare for the industry as India witnessing one of the biggest spikes in terms of Covid-19 numbers. In the latter half of the year, with a speedy vaccination drive, once again the tourism industry started picking up. Despite the ever-changing scenario, Travel Associations have stood besides their members and industry through thick and thin. The Industry is hoping for a healthy recovery in 2022, despite being cautious about the new variant, ‘Omicron’, which can play a spoilsport.

Speaking about the focus of the Association thought the pandemic and in 2022, Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India, said, “Integration of travel trade is and will be our focus. We need to connect the dots, involve the fraternity, and work upon developing sustainable strategies and policies which can help the trade survive and thrive. The travel trade has been through a paradigm shift during and post-pandemic, and all of us have realized that more connected trade is, the feasibility of survival and revival is higher. We shall follow the practices and principles of TAAI and keep the doors open for communication and jointly work on the most innovative solutions to the issues and challenges.”

The new variant has yet not impacted the tourism unlike its previous mutations.

Sharing his views about the current scenario, Ajay Prakash, President, Travel Agents Federation of India, said, “Just when we thought we were coming out of the woods the Omicron variant has put a huge question mark on travel & tourism. It's a sign of the times that some countries have swiftly sealed borders and tightened procedures even for domestic travel. Domestic tourism is the only thing that will help the industry to survive in the short term.”

There has been talks of the third wave striking across the globe. Associations are optimistic about travel but are geared up to support the Government in case of any restrictions. PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators in India, said, “We as such look forward to a better tourism year for 2022 as travel has begun and gaining momentum, be it pilgrim, leisure, business, social etc.  It all depends on Govt.’s stand as in the event of a 3rd wave happening it is for the Govt. to decide how to handle the situation like imposing restriction on the movements and we all have to strictly follow the dictum. Let us be optimistic for the time being and do everything possible to promote tourism be it domestic or international.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Associations have represented the industry from the forefront for survival and relief packages. Majority of the demands have been unheard of by the Government.

Biji Eapen, National President, IATA Agents Association of India, said, “The pandemic had hit the travel and tourism agents’ community very hard. Since it is an 'unorganized sector", neither the local nor central governments extend any support, except some MSME. Tourism receipts worldwide are not expected to recover to 2019 levels until 2024. Restoring confidence for people to begin travelling is the primary task for the Government and related organisations. We need travel recovery and start from the grass route level, villages, cities, and the metros. With local confidence, slowly promote domestic tourism. The new launch of the tourism ministry "Dekho Apna Desh" is an excellent initiative to revive domestic tourism. But, unless MOCA reverses the recent hike in domestic airfares or regulates the pricing policy as pandemic restrictions are lifted, and industry returns to normalcy, aviation and tourism will not sustain.”

Echoing similar opinion Mayal, added, “Most unfortunately, travel trade or tourism per se is not a part of the concurrent list of the Indian constitution, and therefore we were not able to avail many benefits. Our tourism policies since many years have not been very conducive or has the sector been educated on the same. We are very disappointed that though our sector has suffered the maximum & are the generators of huge taxes & employment, we have not got any moratorium or support from the government. We will continue to follow up with the highest echelons in the government and are hoping to receive a solution soon both on moratoriums, ease & application of business policies.”

Another major challenge which the travel trade fraternity has been voicing since years, has been bringing the overseas OTAs at level playing field with tour operators.

Prakash, added, “Unfortunately, governmental support has been far less than what was expected or anticipated, and the industry has been largely left to fend for itself. The spectre of airline failure and consumers' monies being stuck for months is a recurring nightmare. We have made a fresh representation to the government asking for a mandatory insurance scheme to cover airline failure. Simultaneously, we have raised the issue of TCS which places brick & mortar agents at a significant disadvantage vis-a-vis overseas OTAs, depriving the government of revenue and making our members' pricing uncompetitive.”

Member retention was one of the biggest challenges faced by the associations as majority of the members were either out of business for months or had exited the industry.

Khanna said, “It was a very difficult period for our members with no business practically for one year and now business started trickling, all the more they have financial stress. To alleviate their suffering ADTOI decided to charge only 50 per cent of the yearly subscription fee for both years 2020-21 & 2021-22, practically waiving of one year subscription fee. Members have supported this and are with us in these difficult times. Also, to encourage new membership we had slashed membership fee by 50% and number of new agencies have enrolled as our members during these two years.”

Protecting the consumers has become one of the major focus for most of the associations today. During the pandemic, the role of tour operators has further become important.

Eapen, said, “We have not restarted functions yet correctly. Once restarted, we shall extend the unique services of our IAAI Air Passenger Rights Forum to passengers and Travel Agents in India and encourage IAAI Member Agents to transform and qualify themself as trusted and dependable Travel Service providers. We believe that our duty and obligation is to help the travelling public. We want our members to be reliably qualitative and professional. And ensure that the Consumer Rights are being taken care of and protected under the provision of international conventions and Air passenger Charter Act 2019 of India IAAI is in the forefront to help Agents & Travelers. Today, the existence of ordinary travel agents are in question - as zero commission prevails, charging a "service fee" over and above ticketed fare is not even accepted or admired by the much-travelling public. Means, 'commission" is the livelihood for the ordinary travel agents. “

 

 

Globally, destinations have opened up borders and are now set to welcome travellers from across the globe, with minimal protocols. The approval of Indian vaccines including Covishield and Covaxin has been a gamechanger for the Indian outbound. 2022 is seen as the turnaround year for outbound tourism and NTOs across the globe are banking about the burgeoning Indian outbound market.

 

According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased by 58 per cent in July-September 2021 compared to the same period of 2020. However, they remained 64 per cent below 2019 levels.

Speaking about the present scenario of international tourism, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO, said, “There is clearly a strong demand for international tourism, and many destinations have started welcoming visitors back safely and responsibly. However, the true restart of tourism and the benefits it brings, remain on hold as inconsistent rules and regulations and uneven vaccination rates continue to affect confidence in travel.”

As per Research and Markets report, India's outbound tourism market is set to surpass US$ 40 billion by 2026 with an impressive double-digit growth rate during the forecast period 2021 - 2026.

Indian outbound dominance

Destinations within close proximity still see India as the top source market. Berthold Trenkel, Chief Operating Officer, Qatar Tourism, stated, “India was and will continue to be one of our top source markets for Qatar – and in the medium term will rise to #1 position. India is a key market for us both in terms of repeat travel as well as first-time visitors. Pre-pandemic, we have witnessed a significant rise in arrivals from India and look forward to accelerate our efforts in sustaining the momentum and fully unlocking the potential of leisure travellers.”

India has been one of the fastest growing markets for Indonesia with Bali being the most visited destination. Sigit Witjaksono, Director of Tourism Marketing for Asia Pacific, Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Indonesia, added, “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.”

With increasing connectivity and awareness, Indian travellers are also looking at Latin American experiences.

Speaking about the importance of Indian market, Luis Cabello, Trade & Tourism Counsellor of Peru in India, said, “India has always been a market of much interest for Peru. Its economic growth will ensure that a certain section of the Indian travellers continue to choose Peru as a destination rich in nature, gastronomy, culture and history. Between the time we started operations in India and the end of 2019, the number of Indian passengers traveling to Peru increased 130 per cent. We would like to believe that it is a result of our hard work and presence in the Indian market. There is much more to be done and more to be achieved, and we will continue to work hard so that many more Indians keep adding many more Peruvian destinations to their bucket list.”

Recently Mauritius opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers. The destination has been a hit amongst Indian honeymooners and FIT market.

Arvind Bundhun, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, said, “People are getting upset for not being able to travel for the last two 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 list.”

Novel marketing mix

The pandemic has compelled NTOs to relook at their marketing strategies. NTOs are now looking at hybrid marketing platforms and are hyper-personalising their strategies.

GB Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East & South Asia, Singapore Tourism Board, said, “It is of immense importance that we stay engaged and connected with our consumers as well as trade, especially in such times. We have been doing a lot of interesting and innovative hybrid/virtual events over the last 1.5 years to keep our consumers engaged and entertained in the Indian market. For 2022, we aim to enhance our reach to key secondary cities and continue collaborating with in-market brands to increase cross-cultural affinity amongst Indian travelers. And on trade front, we seek to work closely with our partner-friends to promote and continue positioning as one of the most preferred destinations for Indian travellers.”

Both India offices of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have also embarked on an active networking and marketing campaign in India. TAT New Delhi offices recently organized networking event in Delhi, Kolkata, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Raipur and Kolkata amongst others. The objective was to update on the gradual re-opening of Thailand for tourism from India. Vachirachai Sirisumpan, Director, TAT- New Delhi talked about the re-opening of Thailand. He also highlighted TAT’s new marketing campaign “Visit Thailand Year 2022” that will emphasize Thailand’s strength in biological diversity and cultural richness under the Amazing New Chapter’s concept.

Qatar is gearing up to welcome the globe during the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The destination has created new infrastructure and facilities for this mega event.

Trenkel, stated, “We are working towards establishing Qatar as a world-class destination and welcoming more than six million visitors a year by 2030. We have a host of exciting new initiatives to announce in the coming year which will include our biggest promotional marketing campaign “Experience a World Beyond” released in October 2021 in key markets across the globe and will see its introduction in India by the first quarter of 2022. Qatar currently has over 100 hotels and hotel apartments in the construction pipeline as we gear up to host the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Our role at Qatar Tourism is to continue to evolve our experiences by promoting new hotels and hotel developments, theme parks, restaurants, shops, and major leisure projects in the lead up, at and beyond the FIFA World Cup 2022. We are working to lay the foundation for guests to have a safe, exciting, and unforgettable experience while in Qatar.” 

Focus Segments

South Africa is now looking to promote destinations beyond the popular cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism, said, “In India, our target segments currently are experience-seeking millennials who wish to travel solo or in small groups, HNIs, family-oriented middle-class segments and MICE, as these are anticipated to be the driving forces behind travel recovery. We anticipate that the demand for open spaces or rural holidays and outdoor activities will rise as travellers actively seek out socially distanced holidays. Reflecting this demand for offbeat, non touristy experiences, we are packaging and selling itineraries that include the new regions of South Africa. These include the stunning and relatively unexplored Port Elizabeth, Robertson, West Coast, Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, Panorama Route (in Mpumalanga) and Garden Route.”

Peru is known for its natural attractions; the destination is targeting millennial and luxury segment from India market. Cabello, said, “Peru is the richest country in the world which offers culture, nature, gastronomy and experiential living and one and all. Sustainable tourism is no wonder in a country like Peru which is naturally endowed with open spaces and vivid topography. We will continue to promote everything that the country has to offer. Those in search of something new need only look at luxury river cruises in Loreto, Cloud fortress Kuelap and Gocta waterfall in Amazonas and Moche route for the history aficionados. We welcome the young and the young at heart, women exploring the world, as well as families, honeymooners and trekkers.”

Travellers are now looking at hidden destinations which are naturally less crowded in nature. Speaking about the newer destinations in Japan, Yusuke Yamamoto, Executive Director, JNTO Delhi office, said, “For India market, we focus on attracting families, Incentive tours, FIT and GIT. We are keen to invite Indian families to Japan and enjoy Japanese Culture, Nature, Art, Mega Cities, Tradition, etc Indian travellers can enjoy authentic Japanese Cuisine and of course, they can enjoy Indian Cuisine at Indian restaurants in Japan. You will be surprised to know that there are over 2100 Indian restaurants in Japan. Indian travel agents already know and promote Golden route [Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima] and Alpine route. Currently and in future, we are interested to introduce newer destinations to Indian travellers like Hokkaido, Tohoku, Wakayama and Okinawa thru travel agents.”

MICE recovery

MICE has been predicted to be one of the last segments to recover. Bundhun, explained, “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.”

Indian MICE is extremely critical for many destinations including Singapore. The destination is expecting the segment to recover in the long term. Srithar, said, “According to Global Data, Indian visitors would be among the most coveted travelers due to the country's developing economy, young population, and rising middle class. According to the analytics firm, the government expects to attain record levels of 29 million outbound journeys by 2025 — a good picture given the stresses of Covid-19.  With the recent announcement of Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangements between Singapore and India, travel resumption between the two countries is underway. It will take some time for tourism to come back to pre-pandemic levels. However, Singapore is well-positioned to emerge from this pandemic. We remain confident in the long-term prospects of Singapore's tourism sectors – both for leisure and MICE & business travel – as the fundamentals that make Singapore an attractive place for unique, high-quality travel and MICE experiences remain unchanged.”

Speaking about the trends in MICE Nkani, added, “We expect MICE travel to recover in H1 2022 albeit with smaller group sizes and hybrid models. However, pan-Africa MICE travel and corporate travel can be expected to bounce back sooner. With the effect the pandemic has on the global economy, MICE and corporate travellers are seeking good value for money propositions now more than ever. We have been repackaging accordingly, with the intent to offer them excellent deals and discounts. Safety measures are transparent and well communicated, and have been factored into overall packages, so that there is no surprise or extra cost to travellers.”

Trade Engagements

Majority of the destinations connected virtually with the travek trade in 2020. With destinations opening up, NTOs are back to their traditional physical campaigns.

Yamamoto, said, “In 2021, we aligned our marketing efforts with respect to changing set of situations due to novel Coronavirus 2019. We focussed our marketing campaigns on the taglines Cleanliness, Hygiene, Safety, Discipline, etc. We built campaign by featuring Yoshinori Tashiro in our official videos [He is familiar face for Indian audience] and received mind-blowing response on our Youtube channel. We are thankful to Indian travellers for their love and support for Japan. Similarly, for 2022 campaign, marketing team will act and react accordingly to the changing situation.”

Thailand is now focusing on the Indian weddings segment. The destination will host series of roadshow to tap this segment. Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai office, said, “We have initiated the session called Amazing Thailand: The Wedding Series. Connected Thai Hotels who are into Indian Wedding to meet with the wedding planners in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai with the support from Neferrtiti, the Great Indian Wedding and Event and in Ahmedabad with support from Absolute Events. We have invited 10-15 wedding planners each city and 10 new hotels in Thailand to introduce their properties and services. Also, with suitable incentives, we hope we can help our partners more. We will also do the trade meet in Chiang Mai and Phuket next year.”

Indonesia is all set to promote their destination during SATTE 2022. Witjaksono, said, “We are pleased to participate at South Asia's Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) as "Partner Country" to showcase Indonesian destinations and new experiences at Indonesian Pavilion at SATTE 2022. 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.”

Akshay Kumar

Sthembiso Dlamini, Acting CEO & COO, South African Tourism shares her views about the trends in tourism sector and strategies for India market

South Africa is aggressively looking to tap the robust Indian outbound with its lucrative offerings. The destination recently organised its maiden virtual roadshow in India. 99 South African suppliers were part of the trade delegation who exhibited their products and services in India.

South African Tourism India has identified certain key focus areas for the forthcoming year. These include aggressively promoting their new regions, building on the destination’s position as the adventure capital of the world, providing increased value for money itineraries and catering to niche traveller segments like runners, bikers, sports enthusiasts etc. The tourism board is also hoping to welcome a large number of Indian cricket fans into the destination during India’s Test tour of South Africa in December 2021.

How has the tourism sector in south Africa reshaped? Do you see a domestic trend or has international traffic started?

In terms of our recovery plan, our predictions are that the sector will recover domestically first and then international. The second layer of the recovery is that the Africa continent will play a key role in driving the recovery and we certainly see that in South Africa. We have never stopped international travel and people were allowed to enter South Africa even in 2020, only negative PCR test was required. The tourism sector in general has started to open up, people are looking at outbound travel. South Africa is one of the destinations which is surely in the consideration when it comes to Indian outbound. 

Could you share overall expectations from the tourism industry over the next year?

For 2021, using the Oxford Econometric model, we will receive 2.6 million international travellers. This figure is inclusive of rest of the continent. We are dealing with the pandemic and we don’t know what we don’t know. We still have a long way to return to our 2019 numbers that was around 10 million international travellers. In terms of other predictions that we are monitoring closely is that globally the tourism industry is set to recover by end of 2023-early 2024, where we will see a lot of tourism activities happening around the globe.

We have started preparing and organised ourselves with norms and standards to welcome these travellers. we are also seeing that travellers are looking at wellness and outdoor destinations along with adventure activities. Fortunately, our USP has always been wide open spaces, scenic beauty, adventure and wellness. We have to upgrade these products and be competitive in the market. We are ready to receive the new travellers.

Where does India stands in your overall scheme of things? 

India is a very critical market for us as we have barely scratched the surface in India. With such a huge population to tap we are barely receiving a small number of travellers from India. There is a lot of similarities in between both the nations and we can actually get in the millions. In the next five years, we can triple the numbers. Pre-covid we identified India, china, Nigeria as top markets to push for growth. We have been improving visa processing, looking at various schemes to ease the entry of travellers, increasing air capacity. In next couple of years, we will be yielding the results and we will be further implementing more effective strategies.

We understand that easy accessibility is a key consideration when planning travel. With that in mind, we want to assure Indian travellers, corporates and our trade partners that we are actively pursuing opportunities to initiate direct flights from India to South Africa. We also intend to make good on our promise to roll-out e-visas for the India market very soon.

How will you tweak your strategy to tap the Indian millennials?

Technology has accelerated during the pandemic. One of the strategies especially for India is to tap the millennial travellers. We know that millennials make up 700 million of the total population. These are the digitally savvy travellers. Our key strategies in India will be digital in approach which ensures targeted marketing along with hyper-personalised strategy. Digital marketing is here to stay, and we will significantly invest into this segment.

Kingshuk Biswas is on the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts and currently working with Gujarat Power Corporation Limited. The views expressed are his personal.

Sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, responsible tourism, eco-tourism, etc are now the hot topics of discussions in any tourism seminar/webinar. Many international destinations/hotels/tour operators have started certifying themselves with 'sustainable tourism' certificates. This trend will gain momentum tremendously soon. Excerpts from the e-interview:

How do you see the emerging trends in the Indian tourism industry?

The Indian Tourism industry is certainly waking up to the benefits of sustainable tourism in the post-covid scenario. During the last two years most of the tourism webinars taking place in the country have focused on the subject of 'sustainable tourism'. Unknown destinations, cuisine, handicrafts, adventure sports, etc have been spoken about and discussed passionately by the Industry stakeholders.

 

Stayacations have been widely promoted by the hotel industry. Group tours are now a no-no and FITs will prevail in the post covid scenarios. Enriching fulfilling experiences are now high on the agenda of every tourist. They are no longer just satisfied with mundane activities like boat riding, monument vists, etc. Tourists are seeking engagement and thus new innovative tours are on the agenda. Virtual destination experiences/shopping experiences are on the rise. During the covid period, many websites have emerged exclusively selling authentic handicraft items from across the country.

 

On the operational side, there has been a downsizing with the hospitality industry laying off in large numbers and only essential staff being maintained. Tour operators/agents have found virtues in work from home (WFH) and thus rented offices are on the decline.

 

The pandemic has brought the sustainability, green and responsible tourism in the focus. What is your opinion on this? Are these going to remain in the focus?

Covid-19 has impacted our lives tremendously. Our life choices have also undergone a massive transformation.  We want to live healthier, eat healthier, work healthier, enjoy healthier and so on.

 

Given this scenario, it is natural that tourism must adopt a greener, sustainable, and responsible practices.

Tourists nowadays are seeking 'enriching experiences'. Tour Operators have a major role to play in this area. For example, anyone who has visited Agra would have come back with a packet of the famous 'Agra Petha'. So, hotels can introduce 'Petha making' workshops on their premises. Tour operators can arrange for a visit to a sweet shop and demonstration of this unique delicacy. Or a visit to the ancient city of Banaras should be coupled with a visit to the famous Banarasi sari loom factory.

 

Opportunities are endless in our culturally strong country for showcasing such unique experiences. Destinations does not belong to the tourists; they are merely visitors. Destinations belong to the community who are residing there. Their culture, customs, beliefs, rituals, etc are entwined with the destination. If tourism supports the local community by providing employment opportunities, preserving and showcasing their culture, then tourism can be said to be truly sustainable.

 

Health & hygiene becomes main concern for tourist’s these days. Where do we stay on these fronts globally and how can we achieve these?

In a mall in Ahmedabad, one of the shops had a nice display stating that 'All our staff are fully vaccinated'. The Tourism Industry should also start displaying such boards, whether it is airlines, hotels, restaurants, tour operators, guides, souvenir shops, etc. That is the way of reassuring tourists that 'All is well'. Many tourism associations, airlines, hotel chains, etc in India have vigorously started vaccination programmes for their staff. It is time to highlight/promote this hygienic practice boldly and prominently to the tourists. Not only it is a healthy practice, but it is also a good business practice too. Safety and security of tourists should be paramount.

 

Social distancing is focus today and tourists are looking for lesser-known destinations globally. What will be impact on the major tourism destinations in the country? How will it help in achieving equal distribution of tourism across the country?

During pre-covid times, 'overtourism' itself was a major issue in the mature tourism markets in Europe, South America, etc. International organizations like UNWTO, WTTC, ITB, WTM etc had brainstormed vigorously on it and many solutions/technical papers, etc were written on it. One of the solutions proposed was to divert the mass tourism traffic from the major tourism centric destinations to lesser-known destinations within the country. Tourism heavy destinations like Venice, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, etc badly needed breathing space literally for its residents.

 

The same logic applies to the major tourism destinations in India too. Unless and until we discover and promote lesser-known destinations, our major destinations will be overflowing with tourists.  Not only lesser-known destinations should be promoted, but the major destinations can offer off-season discounts/offers so that the traffic in tourist season is dispersed.

 

How hotels and tourism industry is adopting renewable energy measures? What should be the way forward?

A recent news item mentions that in India, some of the hotels that have Google's eco-certified badge. The major Indian hotels chains like Taj group, ITC and Oberoi have already their renewable energy measures in place.

 

However, the challenge for the hospitality industry lies in the budget hotel segment, which is the majority in India. I understand that when the big hotel chains have already gone ahead and adopted renewable energy sources, soon the smaller hotels will follow suit. Pre-covid times, hardly anyone knew about the 'sustainable tourism' certified hotels and even today in India, no has an accurate data of how many such hotels exists. As times change, so does business models and so does customer expectations.  It needs to be seen how the inbound tourism market will reveal itself in India, when international borders open soon. Will the foreign tourists seek 'green certified hotels' when they land up in India? With Google and booking.com and other mega travel portals now boldly displaying the 'Sustainable tourism practices' in their hotel search list, the market conditions itself may encourage hotels to adopt green practices. 

 

The future is of renewable energy and the sooner the tourism industry adopts it, it is better for their businesses and also better for our mother earth.

 

What should be the marketing strategy of State Tourism Board’s in the changed scenario?

Post covid, at the global level many countries have already adopted marketing strategy focusing on sustainable tourism practices. e.g. Switzerland, Germany, Slovania, Thailand, Denmark,etc.

Many state tourism boards in India have been promoting unknown destinations on social media platforms in the recent past and that should continue. Focus can be on tourism activities which promote social distancing, nature, wildlife, community participation, etc. Every state in India has lot of hidden treasures in terms of intangible heritage such as cuisine, handicrafts, arts forms, literature, etc which will certainly attract both domestic and international tourists.

Over the last few years, India has grown significantly as a source market for the cruising industry across the globe. Mediterranean cruising, Asian cruises, river cruising, expedition cruises, etc, every segment have welcomed Indian travellers and further foresee demand. There is a market for every product and segment in the India market. Today, also players are looking to develop river-cruising in India to tap the domestic segment.

According to industry data, the cruise sector supports 1.2 million jobs and contributes US$150 billion to the global economy every year. Tourism is vitally important for Small Islands States, where it sustains millions of livelihoods and brings substantial socio-economic benefits.

As per the latest reports by DataM Intelligence, the Global Cruise Tourism Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10 per cent during the forecasting period (2021-2028). APAC is expected to be the fastest-growing market with a double-digit growth rate due to the demand from developing nations such as China and India.

One of the most positive movement in the India market has been the launch of Cordelia Cruises with its first ship – the Empress. By August 2022, the cruise line is planning to add another ship to its fleet and, by 2025, have between four and six ships. Its first itineraries are around India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Speaking about the India market said Jurgen Bailom, CEO and president of Waterways Leisure Tourism, stated, “We believe that India has a huge potential. Given the fact that cruising is growing up to 15 per cent a year here and India having the third largest coastline in the world with 7,600 kilometers, it made automatic sense that India deserved its own cruise line.To further examinate and assess the strategies of the cruise industry and to understand the way forward, T3 recently organised a conference session during SATTE GenX, titled ‘Cruise Tourism: Sailing through the storm’.

The session, moderated by Nishith Saxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals, witnessed eminent panelists including Kathleen Randolph, Manager, International Sales, Princess Cruises; Peter Kollar, Head - International Training & Development, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA); Rakesh Nair, Head – Crew Lifecycle Business Support & Operations, Carnival Support Services India; Hans Lagerweij, President, Albatros International; Cdr Nevil Malao, V.P. Operations, J M Baxi & Co.

Current scenario

The good news is Cruising has restarted globally and has picked up well over the last couple of months. Experts feel that over 80 per cent of the vessels will be back in action by December 2021.

Speaking about the global cruising scenario, Kollar, says, “There has been a lot of discussion with all the stakeholders across the globe to restart this industry. More than 1 million passengers have now cruised across Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, US, Caribbean and 200 CLIA ships back in operations. By December we expect 80 per cent of the vessels to be operating. Following a robust covid protocols that the industry is committed to.”

Further sharing CLIA’s role in encountering the pandemic he added, “The past 18 months, we have gone through extraordinary times and now we are on way to resumption. There were a lot of challenges encountered during the repatriation phase. CLIA joined with the most respected medical experts around the world and have come up with a Covid-19 safety guideline which is amongst the most stringent. We have always been the leaders in the health and safety standards even before the pandemic. We always had the expertise onboard, the medical facilities, experience and these are our core functions. This will remain the foundation to rebuild confidence amongst the public. All the cruise sellers should be familiar with all the protocols in place, there are over 70 protocol. Prevention in terms of testing and vaccination, medication and detection, comprehensive response strategies along with the ports are three key areas.”

India is growing at a steady pace in terms of cruise ship port of calls. With increasing awareness cruising is now becoming a mainstream tourism product.

Speaking about the Indian market, Malao, says, “We are the representatives of the shipping line in India for all the communications with the Government and the vendors. We strive to be the single window for the cruise so that we can enable their operations to be successful in India. In India we have seen a steady growth in terms of cruise ships coming which has grown at 10-12 per cent year on year. India handles about 140-150 ships annually with the main cruising season starting from October to May, as monsoon hinders the operations during the remaining part of the year. We have handled ships of various sizes right from expedition ships to ships of the spectrum class which has around 5700 passengers. We have to adhere to covid protocols in operations now which makes our efforts more important.”

The year that was

During the early phase of the pandemic, many major cruiselines were stranded globally. One of the major challenges during the initial phase was to rescue and repatriate passengers and crew members to their respective nations.

Nair said, “When the pandemic struck last year, one of the ships in spotlight were Princess Diamond in Japan, because of the impact it had globally, we had close to 225 Indian crew members onboard, we had a lot of positive appreciation notes from the passengers as the crew handled the situation. This is a testament for the trainings that we provide and handling situations during such crisis times.”

JM Baxi were one of the companies who have handled over 30,000 crew changes in the last 18 months. The group initially had to re-strategise and plan the repatriation as it was a totally new scenario.

Speaking about the initial challenges, Malao, stated, “We had to take approvals and convince the government as cruise ships are the safest bubbles as crew were already onboard for six to eight months. We were one of the few countries in the world who took quick decision of getting our crew back to India. It all started off in March end when we had a cruise ship waiting on Indian waters for six days with 145 crew. We did covid tests and crew were quarantined for 14 days before going to their final destinations. By June we got Ovation of the Seas with 900 passengers and a week later we got a cruise with 3000 Indian crew members. These were challenging but teams worked in tandem to solve these challenges. Regulations changed quickly and state to state had different regulations. Overall, not only cruise companies we handled, but we have also done 30,000 crew changes in last one and half years.”  

Niche markets and innovations

With India becoming a major hub for outbound tourism and with the growing appetite for unique experiences, cruise lines have started promoting exclusive niche products in this market. Expedition cruises are gaining popularity in India market due to the uniqueness of the product. The restriction in passenger numbers and the price points further makes it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lagerweij said that expedition trip to Antarctica is quite expensive and has a higher price point. He further explained, “This will not change a lot even in the coming times as all the expeditions are done on vessels which has a capacity of 200 pax per ship. From a cost point we miss the big scale to lower the pricing. The reason why we all work with 200 pax is we are only allowed to land 100 pax at a time in Antarctica. From an expedition cruise perspective, I don’t see any dynamics changing. There are bigger vessels with close to 500 pax, but that is a product where visitors can see Antarctica from a distance, and you might be lucky to get out once or twice during the trip. With a true expedition product one can spend 7-8 hours outside the ship per day. There will be more attractive price points with bigger ships. But its about the experience which customers look for. We see a lot of people onboard who have saved money for expeditions for a long time as it is a dream of their life. India as a destination has everything to offer to the world except some few experiences like these expeditions. We see a lot of interests from India for our products.”

Cruise lines are now further enhancing their products to further make the experience seamless and contactless. Princess Cruise has further invested into technology to provide unique offerings.

Randolph added, “More than ever technology has become extremely important. We have always been investing into technology, but now we have increase and improved a lot of aspects in the business. We have introduced a lot of new features and options for travellers with the launch of MedallionClass. With MediallionClass app passengers can put up all their information online before their cruising and it helps in a seamless check-in experience. Once passengers are onboard, they have various experiences and options. One of the newest features is the virtual safety drills. We have also introduced Dine my way feature where passengers can book or reserve tables for dining, this helps us to control number of people in the dining rooms. As our fleet gets back all our vessels will be equipped with MedallionClass capability.”

Way forward

The pandemic has further increased the importance of a travel agent for booking cruise holidays. Cruise agents need to update and be ready to cater to the market once cruise tourism is fully back on track.

 

Kollar, stated, “The real value of having a trusted cruise agent is clearer now than ever. In US and Australia as well travel agents are now moving to become travel advisors as they are specialists. Agents needs to grasp all the opportunities and cruising remains very strong with a lot of offerings. Travel agents should be ready with their knowledge and about the products available as the floodgates have already opened and there will be a lot of queries soon. Be confident, be honest, address and acknowledge the complains and communications. In India one of the most common questions are about misconceptions of cruiselines. We know people are going to travel, we need to educate travellers how cruising is different and more value for money. Cruise is the safest bubble of tourism right now.”

 

 Cruise liners across the globe are looking at India as a homeporting option with the growing demand. Malao, added, “A lot of challenges are being addressed in India now. There are 12-14 international cruise lines operating in India and 2-3 are looking to homeport in India. This industry is growing, and we see a healthy market in the coming times. We now have Cordelia cruise which has started, and we want to make this successful to welcome the world to India. In the near term our endeavor is to welcome cruise lines to come back to India.”

In terms of expedition cruising, travellers should look out for various parameters. Speaking about how to go about selecting the right expedition cruise, Lagerweij, added, “We deliver specific products where one needs a lot of permits and guides need to be high skilled for the desired experience. It is not easy sailing to Antarctica like other cruises. The first criteria while booking an expedition is passengers would check if the company is an IAATO member. Second is to know who the expedition staff are and how experienced are they. Also, one should know the entire itinerary in detail and look at the activities offered.”

JB Singh, President and CEO, InterGlobe Hotels, speaks about expansion plans and the trends in hospitality

With India still being severely under-penetrated in terms of quality inventory, InterGlobe Hotels aims to increase its footprints in novel territories and densify in key markets.

What are your expansion plans in India market and internationally? What kind of investment are you looking at? Which are the regions that you look for expansion?

InterGlobe Hotels, a JV between InterGlobe Enterprises and Accor, has invested around Rs. 2,700 crore in India since 2004 and has 18 operational properties. Our current inventory is 3,808 keys and we are further investing another Rs. 500 crores to develop five more hotels with around 800+ keys in an active stage of development. Once operational, our total inventory would be around 4,500 keys by 2024. We have a presence in 13 cities, and we have a solid pipeline ahead as we open our new-gen hotels over the next three years in Bengaluru Hebbal, Thane, Bengaluru City Centre, Goa Vagator, and our 5th ibis in Mumbai in Kalina.

This portfolio of hotels represents one of the most sizable financial commitments in the mid-market segment by an Indian corporate entity and an international hotel brand. Our immediate focus is to operationalize 4,500+ keys and continue with our long-term endeavour to grow this network.  We remain committed to increasing our footprint by densifying in key Tier – I cities and making strategic investments in growing Tier –II markets.

We are not looking for any international markets to grow as India itself is a massive market, and it is severely under-penetrated in terms of quality hotel rooms.

With the pandemic hampering the hospitality segment, has the pace of expansion slowed down?

The two rounds of lockdowns announced across the country and the health and safety situation in the last 18 months did have some impact on the pace of construction, but our teams have worked hard to cover up the time lost, and we are proud to say that there is no major impact on the planned openings.

Right at the outset of the first lockdown last year, we worked on our business continuity plan to mobilize the labour force and make the necessary arrangements to resume the site operations after the unlocking. There were even other challenges with the supply of goods and materials and even the guidelines permitting to resume the site work leading to some delay, but we worked with all stakeholders to ensure this whole process was dealt with and mitigated in the right manner to ensure the site work was back on track.

Our development timelines in any case have a buffer period for any unforeseen delays and the scheduled opening of our three hotels which are due to open next year fit into the permissible timeframe and we have enough time to cover up for the lost time.

By when do you see the corporate and MICE segment bounce back?

While most of this business has been driven by a strong pull from the leisure travellers, there has been a strong growth in the corporate travellers as well. Our business hotels are witnessing a very improved demand as most business sectors like Manufacturing, Pharma, IT/ITeS and SME’s have started work related travel and the room sales have been on a continuous upward trend.

The revival is also clearly visible in the MICE segment as after the pandemic while there have been restrictions on the number of gatherings for social banquets, our hotels were able to design a wedding product with a special campaign called [email protected] We have already hosted over 200 social gatherings which is incredible and from a demand point of view.

Soon business is looking very promising in properties which are in premier corporate destinations like Mumbai, Gurgaon, Aerocity, Chennai, Bengaluru and even in the tier II markets with support from the local market accounts and regional corporates.

Has the pandemic impacted or forced changes in hotel designs or in terms of revenue strategies?

Our design story is not something new which has been pushed down on us by the pandemic. Even prior to the pandemic our hotels have always been planned with a Future-Minded approach as we aim to make our hotels more rigid and lean which helps control energy consumption, maintenance, and manpower requirements.

We consciously try to stay ahead of the latest design trends and our aim is always to ensure that our latest hotel is designed more thoughtfully than the previous one and we continuously improve upon them with every new opening.

Our continuous focus has been on improving the methods of building our hotels as we have experimented with pre-cast construction techniques and new age construction equipment’s, materials, furniture, and fixtures. We continue to raise the design benchmark of the smart economy hotels India with high quality buildings, state of art design, efficient operations, all of which are totally focused on the new emerging Indian traveler.

How has technology enhanced the customer experience and efficiency over the last couple of years? What kind of technological investments are you looking at?

As the world is converging digitally, I strongly believe that Industries need to coexist and must be able to intersect and connect with each other to remain relevant and enhance customer experience.

During construction, we rely on technology to bring down costs and improve our time to build. An example of this is the building information modelling which brings us efficiencies in engineering coordination. Technology is also helping us in better scheduling and construction management. In one of our upcoming hotels, we are using technology for energy reduction in the ventilation and air-conditioning systems. We are also exploring a new Energy Control Building Management System which would help our team identify operational energy conservation methods based on data analytics. 

Our teams have been focusing on cutting-edge tech-integration in numerous aspects of our operations right from e-audits, revenue management, sustainability practices, central procurement, and centralized finance processes. We have already implemented an interactive property management system which links all key departments and guest interfaces to ease operations that can be monitored and reviewed, cementing a balance of manpower even on high occupancy days. We intend to overhaul the whole revenue management system with a comprehensive single platform with a dynamic pricing solution for room rates, additional sales channels, credit management and price listing across different OTAs. 

 

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