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Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar

Boris Zha, Founder & CEO, HappyEasyGo speaks about the upcoming trends and his future expansion plans

One of the recent entrants in the Indian OTA space, HappyEasyGo is witnessing a significant growth in the India market. With a special focus on providing travellers with the best deals, HappyEasyGo also provides the lowest price guarantee, 300% compensation for the difference fare.

How has the year been for the group? With the second wave hitting India, what is the current status of travel bookings? How do you foresee the future of travel industry in India?

The year has been a rollercoaster ride as we saw the second Covid wave and several lockdown phases. But the learnings have been immense through the highs and lows that we experienced in this year. June has been a good month for us and we have seen a 3x growth in hotels and 5x growth in our air ticketing business. We could see a quick growth on both, demand of Accommodation and Flights through search queries in the market.

The year looks very positive for us as travel industry is expected to see the highest spike of the decade in the coming few years considering the restrictions on travel since the onset of 2020. I believe the past two years have made people realise the need and urge to travel like before and it is potentially expected to change the dynamics of the industry for good for many more years to come.

What are your further expansion plans? Are you also looking at international expansions? Are you also further investing on tech-driven solutions?

In a very short span of time, we have been able to experience the best times and sail through the testing times and gather the learnings, understand the dos and don’ts and the what’s and how’s of the industry and bring the best practices into execution to reap benefits for not only HappyEasyGo but also share those benefits with our customers through various cashbacks, discounts and the best fares in the industry. Yes, we would definitely be looking at expanding internationally in the years to come and apply the learnings of the Indian market to other market, because India is the most dynamic market as we can gauge through our experiences.

To further tap the growing domestic market, are you introducing any new campaign? Are you planning any incentives for fully vaccinated travellers to boost travel?

Yes, now we are offering some high discount offers on some reputed hotel brands, through our bank and wallet partners. We will soon be coming up with very competitive offers to boost the morale of fully vaccinated travellers as well. Also, our teams are working on a very robust campaign for the Indian market which will encourage travellers to take the big leap and break free from their comfort zones.

What are the new trends the group is witnessing in terms of booking patterns?

We are seeing the market revive with the start of June. The numbers are quite positive and we are witnessing an upward trend in the number of hotels and flight bookings since the lockdown policies of a lot of states have eased.

We continuously witness from our trends that people are enjoying the culture of "Staycation" and “Workation” booking properties within the city range for a change to break the monotony blues that they have been putting up with for the past few months. Community sales was also our key focus and started during the epidemic.

We have seen a 5x growth on air ticketing business and 3x growth on the hotels business in June 2021 which are very promising trends for us to extrapolate for the current and expect a 200 per cent growth versus last year considering our current trends.

As MICE and corporate segment being an important segment, by when do you foresee the revival of these segments?

The impact of Covid for all the segments has been very unpredictable, so it is difficult to comment on how soon these segments would be able to revive. We are surely hoping for more and more people to get vaccinated before the next financial year. We would like to Congratulate the governments and the medical aid providers and the health departments to collaborate and ensure vaccination to 43.92 Lakh people till date. The faster more people get vaccinated; it will lead to sooner revival of the MICE and corporate segments. We are also focusing on providing more flexible and custom-made business travel plans for SME owners

Earlier the consumer loyalty factor was extremely low in the OTA business, has this trend changed? Also, do you see any change in the consumers behaviour, as earlier OTAs were purely discount driven? What are your strategies?

As the times have changed now and the industry being more matured, consumers expect better; in terms of platform experience, user interface, more customised approach and better customer service. Though it is always our focus to provide the best deals to our customers, but, in today’s scenario safety and hygiene plays the most important role and, in our case, we ensure that we tie up with hotel partners who ensure and adhere to following strict safety and hygiene practices as per our standard protocols. Our Staff Vaccination finder also helps the customers to make more informed choices in terms of planning their travel. Customer Safety is our key focus and goal in current times.

Sharing friendly borders with Bangladesh, Meghalaya is set to harness the potential of tourism along the border districts at East Khasi Hills. The state, known for the wettest place on earth- Mawsynram and the cleanest village-Mawlynnong, is looking to promote unexplored destinations in the district. Recently, Meghalaya Tourism in association with PHDCCI under the Border Tourism Webinar Series.

Speaking during the virtual session, Vinod Zutshi, Former Union Tourism Secretary, said, “Border tourism has immense potential if promoted and marketed well as it gives an opportunity to see the neighboring countries without actually crossing the border. Campaigns like ‘Dekho Apna Aur Padosi Desh’ can be introduced to promote semi international travel. Ease of access to zero line; ensuring last mile connectivity; creating economic activities around border towns will be the key drivers for promoting border tourism in Meghalaya. There is a huge potential for promoting monsoon tourism in the state as Cherrapunji is known for being the wettest place on Earth. Emphasis should also be given on Festivals and the state government should create a mega Tourism Festival on the lines of Hornbill Festival in Nagaland.”

Meghalaya Tourism is currently working on empowering the local community to develop homestays in the state. The destination will soon have an eco-resort in Shnongpdeng.

Cyril V. D. Diengdoh, Director – Tourism, Government of Meghalaya, said, “Meghalaya in the last few years has witnessed huge growth in tourism. In 2018-19 we were 3rd in terms of footfall in North East after Assam and Sikkim. We welcome a huge number of foreign tourists, majority from Bangladesh. In 2019, our CM Conrad K Sangma, led a delegation of tourism to Bangladesh and signed Mou between tour operators of Meghalaya and Bangladesh, which we call mountain to Sea tourism.

“The people in Meghalaya have understood the value of tourism and are all community driven. Under Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD schemes we are creating infrastructure in the state of Meghalaya. We are developing an eco-resort in Shnongpdeng. The Garo Hills also borders with Bangladesh and we want to develop this region as well. We have some of the largest caving systems in Meghalaya, which can be developed for adventure tourism. Homestays are very important to experience the culture of the state.”

Meghalaya has recently introduced a new mobile app and website to provide a seamless experience for travellers. The state is encouraging its stakeholders to register their products under this app to create a end-to-end solution.

“Meghalaya tourism has come up with a new website and mobile app, which is a seamless app where tourists can directly book in a contactless way. We are creating an ecosystem where all stakeholders can be onboarded on this app and it will be a one stop shop. We came up with a restart tourism campaign last year. We want to maintain the sustainability as well in the region. We have been improving on the ease of doing business reforms. We have come up with a PPP Policy as well where tourism is a major part for developing infra,” Dienghoh, added.

Apart from Border tourism, Meghalaya is also set to introduce adventure element in the state. The state is also known for the Living Root Bridges.

Philip F. Tariang, Assistant Director, Tourism Department, Government of Meghalaya, “We have a friendly border with Bangladesh, and we have engaged with them in attracting tourists. Borders have always been a huge draw for tourists. In Meghalaya, Sohra area is a vantage point from where one can see Bangladesh. The Sohra area, Mawlynnong which is the cleanest village can be further developed for tourism. From the department we have worked on a master plan for Mawkdok- Sohra for experiential tourism and for village tourism.

“Living Root Bridges are a very popular attraction. We are sending nomination of Kongthong village to UNWTO for best tourism village. Mawlynnong, Borhill, Umsyiem are other regions we are looking to develop. We want to develop adventure activities like Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking, Rafting in Shnongpdeng. Govt is setting up a resort in Sohra and the work has started. David Scott Trail, Nalphakram National Park, Garo Hills can be promoted for Trekking and Camping.” 

One of the most impacted sectors over the last 17 months, the aviation industry is finally witnessing green shoots, globally. The industry which once ruled the skies remained grounded for over a year across all destinations, resulting into an overall disruption of the entire ecosystem. The new normal for the world, such as social distancing, travel restrictions, virtual meetings instead of corporate and MICE physical meetings, have adversity to already struggling industry.

 

After 17 long months of a rollercoaster ride, the industry has started witnessing a slight uptick in growth. Globally, Governments are now focusing on speedy inoculation of their citizens to put a full stop to the pandemic. With the covid-19 numbers going southwards, destinations are now opening borders and adapting to strategies such as ‘Coexisting with covid-19’. All these conditions are projecting a better demand for the global aviation sector. Moreover, revenge tourism is also driving domestic tourism. Despite these positives, the industry is nowhere close to the 2019 or the pre-pandemic levels. Demand performance for June 2021 showed a very slight improvement in both international and domestic air travel markets.

As per IATA reports, international passenger demand in June was 80.9 per cent below June 2019, an improvement from the 85.4 per cent decline recorded in May 2021 versus two years ago. All regions, with the exception of Asia-Pacific, contributed to the slightly higher demand. Also, total domestic demand was down 22.4 per cent versus pre-crisis levels (June 2019), a slight gain over the 23.7 per cent decline recorded in May 2021 versus the 2019 period. The performance across key domestic markets was mixed with Russia reporting robust expansion while China returned to negative territory.

Willie Walsh, Director General, International Air Transport Association (IATA), says, “We are seeing movement in the right direction, particularly in some key domestic markets. But the situation for international travel is nowhere near where we need to be. June should be the start of peak season, but airlines were carrying just 20 per cent of 2019 levels. That’s not a recovery, it’s a continuing crisis caused by government inaction.”

Current Scenario

Domestic aviation across the globe have been witnessing demand, but there have been a few hindrances but country to country.

“We see domestic passenger markets recovering strongly. The global figures hide the fact that in India, for example, the domestic market is highly regulated at the moment with the government imposing both capacity and pricing restrictions, which is slowing down the recovery. Without those restrictions, I've no doubt that the domestic position in India would be significantly ahead. The June figures were also slightly disrupted by some outbreaks in a number of Chinese cities which caused the Chinese government to impose restrictions,” Walsh explained.

On vaccination, majority of the Asian countries have been lagging behind on their vaccination drive. With vaccination playing a major role in restart of travel, Asia is slowly restarting the aviation and it can take anywhere over six weeks to reinstate healthy numbers.

Speaking about the Asian markets, during the CAPA virtual aviation conference, Tony Fernandes, Group CEO, AirAsia, stated, “We’re kind of 18 months into the pandemic, and we’re still in lockdown, cases are record high. Domestic travel is very small at the moment. I’d say, overall, on the fleet, would be maybe 10 per cent of our fleet flying right now. So, we’ve probably got another six weeks of this and then I think things are going to start beginning to open up permanently.”

India is witnessing a positive sign in the domestic market. State Government’s reducing restrictions and allowing people to travel has once again created demand. But the Government’s price capping has not gone down well with the industry. Indigo is hopeful that it will return to the 80 per cent capacity seen in February and March. Speaking about domestic market and the price capping, William Boulter, CCO, IndiGo, explained, “We do see demand has come back - some observers think it's coming back faster than it did after the first wave… we look forward, optimistically. We've made it clear that we would like to get back to 100 per cent capacity and we would like to see the price limits removed. We would obviously like to get back to the situation as it was in 2019.”

In the European market, aviation sector has witnessed a steady restart and now are working towards building capacity. The EU passport initiative has helped to boost confidence amongst travellers which is contributing to the boost in tourism growth.

Eddie Wilson, CEO, Ryanair DAC, stated, “I think it's been a relatively strong build driven by much lower fares coming back from around a million passengers in April to the five million as we made our way up into June. I think we're seeing that we originally had said we're going to be north of 60 per cent of capacity and reasonably confident for the summer months that we will get up to around 75 to 80 per cent of capacity for this summer. The EU passport, the digital COVID certificate has given people the confidence to book, and with the UK and Ireland lagging, but I think the UK have with the announcement recently by the prime minister that they're getting back to normal, we expect that will make its way into travel and we will see the return to travel without restrictions for member countries.”

International tourism

Despite opening up, international aviation is still only at one fifth of what it was pre-covid. There have been a lot of encouraging decisions by governments across the globe to open up their borders.

As per IATA reports, Canada and Singapore have recently announced timelines for the reopening of their borders. In the case of Canada, initially for people traveling from the US who are fully vaccinated from August, and it will open for other international destination from early September. The UK announced that people who are vaccinated from Europe or from the US can travel to the UK without restriction.

“International travel continues to lag significantly behind—still only about 20 per cent of where we were in 2019. And I think the message is simple. It's clearly not where we expected to be, particularly in the context of transatlantic. But also, the performance of international travel markets is not where we need to be,” Walsh adds.

Airlines across the globe are now looking at various strategies to further get back to pre-covid levels, both in terms of passengers as well as revenue. The African continent recently witnessed the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will further boost aviation demand across the region.

Yvonne Manzi Makolo, Chief Executive Officer, Rwandair, said, “We've managed to restart most of our African routes. We suspended some of the thinner routes, so we have about three routes which we've suspended for a few months now. We're not ready to restart until things change, but most of the African routes are up and running, especially the regional routes, and we really want to focus on connecting Africa even better than we were before. It's still an underserved market and we believe that there's a lot of potential in terms of blinking the African market to each other and beyond the African continent. We're likely to see a lot of trade between African countries, a lot of movement of goods and people across the African continent, so that's huge potential for us and that's another reason why we need to get this pandemic under control and get Africans vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, the Asian countries have been very cautious in terms of opening up their borders, even for the regional destinations. “International, we’ve seen Thailand kind of talking about opening October. Indonesia wanted to make a go of Bali a few weeks ago, but that may have slowed down, Philippines wants to open up tourism. It’s kind of a big thing. I think those with two vaccinations will start to be allowed to fly, but I think probably towards the end of the year, October or November we’ll start seeing it,” Fernandes adds.

Vaccine inequality

Air travel recovery is also linked to the rate of vaccination across the globe. Today, due to socio-economical challenges, in most of the low and middle-income countries, the vaccination rate is way below the global average. Also, another major hinderance for the international aviation recovery is the approval of vaccinations. WTTC believes that the lack of international coordination to agree on a list of approved vaccines, is creating yet another major stumbling block for the restart of international travel.

Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President WTTC, stated, “Reciprocal recognition of all vaccine types and batches is essential if we are to avoid any further unnecessary and damaging delay to restarting international travel. The failure of countries to agree on a common list of all approved and recognised vaccines is of huge concern to WTTC, as we know every day travel is curbed, more cash-strapped Travel & Tourism businesses face even greater strain, pushing ever more to the brink of bankruptcy. We can avoid this by having a fully recognised list of all the approved vaccines - and vaccine batches - which should be the key to unlocking international travel, not the door to preventing it.”

As per WHO, vaccine inequity will threaten all countries and risks reversing hard won progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Sharing his views about the vaccine inequality, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization, said, “Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19. Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries' best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all.”

These effects have been witnessed, especially, in the Asia and Africa market. The aviation industry has also been majorly hit by the vaccine inequality challenge which has prolonged the recovery time.

Fernandes, stated, “I am ever optimistic, that there is an ending to the pandemic. The vaccines are coming in and we can see from our brothers in Europe and America, that life is becoming to go back to normal. Now, due to the inequality, I don’t know, however you want to look at it, of vaccines, we’re about five months behind everybody, but we’ll get there in the end.”

Similarly, the entire African continent has witnessed a severe shortage of vaccine and only less than two per cent of the people in the continent have been vaccinated.

Echoing similar opinion, Makolo, added, “A lot of African countries have managed to contain the pandemic pretty well for the last, almost, year and a half now, including Rwanda, which is where we operate from, but unfortunately, given the issue of vaccine inequity, a lot of African countries have not been able to get the vaccines that they had hoped for, including Rwanda, so we're seeing a situation where for the entire African continent, less than two per cent of the population is vaccinated, which is very worrying, and which gives us a lot of concern in the aviation industry in terms of the food we start off of the industry.”

Fleet expansion

Despite challenges, IndiGo is receiving its fleet delivery as scheduled. The airline has witnessed a 15 per cent improvement in terms of fuel burn.

 “There's no change in our aircraft delivery schedule due to COVID-19. We are very much still on schedule, we have not delayed or deferred any aircraft orders from Airbus or ATR. I think I'm right in saying that in 2020 IndiGo was Airbus' largest customer in terms of the number of aircraft delivered, at around 44. We find that receiving these aircraft as scheduled helps with our fuel bill, we're taking delivery of A320neos and A321neos, and the improvement in fuel burn is around 15 per cent, which obviously assists greatly in reducing our cost per available seat kilometre,” Boulter says.

RyanAir will be inducting over 60 Boeing- 737 MAX aircrafts in 2022. The airline is set to witness a better sustainability and revenue with the new fleet.

“As I say, there's over 60 of them arriving for summer '22, and we're just working through where they're going to go at the moment. They've got 16 per cent less fuel, burn 40 per cent less emissions, and eight more seats, and it really is, as we say, going to be a game changer for this airline, particularly on its cost and environmental footprint as well, and that will gradually become a larger part of the fleet over the next number of years,” Wilson adds.

CWT has launched a new customer experience (CX) platform. The 360° real-time solution shows where a customer is in their trip, their travel policy and trip history, as well as their channel contacts - via a consumer-grade service screen.

Niklas Andreen, President & Chief Operating Officer, CWT, said, “With customers’ expectations at an all-time high as a result of the pandemic, the need for more personalized content as well as streamlined and concise interactions each and every time customers engaged with us, regardless of channel, became apparent.”

By combining internal data (historical customer bookings, travel policies, channel preferences, personal traveller preferences, contact history etc.) with data from real-time interactions (online search history, in progress or upcoming bookings, real time travel information etc.), CWT’s new CX platform will prioritise the streamlining of email, telephony and messaging channels this year, with all other channels scheduled for platform integration throughout next year.

Key improvements expected include:

Email: using Natural Language Processing (NLP) fielding 16 languages and Artificial Intelligence (AI), inbound email management will become more efficient - whereby the intent and language of each inbound email will be detected. This enables each request to be prioritized, specific to deadline or urgency and fielded to the best counselor in terms of native language and expertise, to process.

Telephony (available across EMEA, APAC and NORAM): with accurate amalgamated customer contact, travel, preference and policy viewable on one consumer-grade service screen, counselors are able to provide truly informed and personalized customer conversations, on every single call.

Messaging (available across 100+ countries where CWT messaging is live): using NLP and AI, customer queries will be categorized, prioritized and effectively addressed by a seamless blend of chatbot & counselor interaction.

John Pelant, EVP Chief Technology Officer, CWT, said, “Having made significant investments in customer channels and data to date, we needed a solution that could operationalize these insights, simplify our existing CX applications & tools, and provide our customers with the most personal and relevant actions at each stage of their journey. Our new CX platform does just that, with one view of the traveler’s journey across all channels, allowing for more dynamic customer conversations.”

Towards the end of 2020, the cruising industry had started gearing up to welcome travellers with all stringent health and safety protocols in place. The cruise players started building confidence amongst their patrons to restart sailing. Destinations across the globe began to ease their travel restrictions and borders started to reopen. The hopes crashed once again with the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic putting a total halt to the tourism industry early this year. However, cruise Liners are now positive about the accelerated vaccination drive globally, that the industry will soon be back on track.

Ben Angell, Vice President and Managing Director APAC, Norwegian Cruise Line, said, “The second wave has been extremely tough for agents and travellers alike, but with the acceleration of the global vaccination drive and our international return to cruise, we’ve seen renewed optimism, interest and demand. As more people complete their vaccinations and borders begin to open up, there’s a sense in the community that we are slowly getting closer to reaching our ‘new normal’.”

India has been one of the top fly-cruise destinations for majority of the cruise liners. With borders shutting due to rise in covid-19 cases in India, cruise liners have to further wait to tap the Indian outbound cruisers.

Naresh Rawal, Vice President – Sales (India & South Asia), Genting Cruise Line, added, “The second wave of the pandemic in India has indeed led to a suspension and delay in opportunities for the new travel bubbles within region to ignite the travel and cruise industry. However, we are closely monitoring both the local and international situation to identify new and safe opportunities, especially for the Fly-Cruise segment in the near future.”

Despite these challenges, India still remains one of the top potential source markets for cruise liners. Now with newer travel bubbles coming up in the region, opportunities will once again arise for cruise liners.

Rawal said, “India is an important market with immense potential as a cruise hub in the region, including the Fly-Cruise market to neighbouring countries. For Genting Cruise Lines, India has always been close to us, as we had previously homeport and call on the various local ports in the past and also build a healthy Fly-Cruise market. We are optimistic as we continue to monitor the situation and with the rolling out of vaccination, coupled with preventive measures locally, new opportunities for travel bubble will arise in the future that will lead to new viable travel options, including for the cruise sector.”

Norwegian Cruise Line has already started witnessing strong demand for the upcoming years. The cruise line also witnesses guests looking at longer trips. Angell, said, “Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, with the acceleration of the vaccine rollout and our global return to service, we’ve seen a very positive upward trend in the number of bookings and enquiries from India over the past few weeks, which tells us there is significant interest and pent-up demand. We are seeing a good volume of interest from Indian cruisers in the last quarter of 2021, and particularly strong demand for 2022 and 2023. In 2022 and 2023, we are seeing guests plan longer trips, further afield.”

Majority of the businesses across the globe stalled their further expansion plans. On the flipside, cruise lines have re-strategiesed their expansion plans and most of the players have further invested during the lull period.

“In general, our cruise itineraries are depending on the local requirements and evolving pandemic situation. For instance, in Singapore, at present we only offer Super Seacation cruises on the open ocean. In Taiwan previously, we were only offering domestic cruises and soon in Hong Kong, we will similarly be starting off with the Summer Super Seacation cruises. Our fleet deployment will also be fluid as we adapt to the evolving landscape and situation,” Rawal said.

Norwegian Cruise Line has further invested to refurbish its older fleet apart from constructing new class vessels. “On the contrary, we have invested during this pause in operations to both upgrade our existing ships, as well as construct an entirely new class of vessels. Norwegian Prima is the first of our highly anticipated new Prima Class. We’ll be delivering six new ships in six consecutive years, from 2022 until 2027. Shortly after announcing Norwegian Prima, she became our most in-demand ship ever – the single-best booking day and best initial booking week for any of our newbuild sales in our 54-year history. Meanwhile, Norwegian Epic went through an upgrade of The Haven by Norwegian – our exclusive ship-in-ship concept –at the end of 2020 and now boasts 75 reimagined suites combined with redesigned experiences like the all-new ‘The Haven’ Restaurant and ‘The Haven Courtyard Pool and Sundeck’”, Angell informed.

Rebuilding the consumer confidence will be the priority for the cruise industry. To further tap the India market, cruise liners are unveiling new itineraries and various offers in India market.

Angell said, “We want to grow brand awareness amongst travellers, while working closely with travel agents to optimise their selling potential. Our brand-new ship Norwegian Prima will take centre-stage as we announce more details about her onboard experiences, but we’ll also be showcasing our ships and itineraries in The Mediterranean, Hawaii and Alaska for Indian guests. We’ve launched our most popular promotion in India – known as BOGOHO or Buy One Get One Half Off. For every cruise fare purchased, the second guest in the same stateroom will receive a 50% discount. The offer is available for a limited time only and allows travelers to choose from more than 250 sailings.”

Genting Cruise Line has also been promoting unique products such as thematic cruises in India. “Rebuilding consumers’ confidence on the safety of cruising and providing peace of mind for vacationers will be crucial. As such, we will continue to inform and educate consumers on the enhanced safety and preventive measures that I had previously mentioned, complemented by a series of unique offerings including special and exciting thematic cruises - bringing the world aboard the ship. For instance, we introduced various thematic cruises like Amazing Thailand, Rhythm of Korea and at present Wonders of Japan. Also, for the Singapore deployment, World Dream is the first cruise ship to receive the Vegetarian certification from the GVCS-Global Vegetarian Certification Services,” Rawal added.

Set to lead UFI as President in 2022-23, Michael Duck, EVP - Commercial Development, Informa Markets & Informa Group, shares his perspective about the current scenario of the global exhibition industry and the way forward

The global exhibition industry has witnessed a major setback with the second wave of the pandemic further deterring the industry to get back to normal. Few Governments have been successful in understanding the socio-economic benefits of this industry and assisted the stakeholders to restart exhibitions with stringent protocols. UFI, the global association of the world’s leading tradeshow organisers and fairground owners, is working towards enabling the industry to restart exhibitions, seamlessly.

Covid-19 pandemic has brought down the exhibition industry to a standstill, how is the scenario unfolding in terms of revival of the global exhibition industry?

Well its unfortunately much slower than we all thought it was going to be. Some events have restarted in different geographies such as China, Japan and Korea around six months ago. All of these are domestic exhibitions with domestic exhibitors and domestic buyers, though some International buying offices and international trade offices are attending or exhibiting.

In Dubai as an International hub some major shows have taken place such as Gulfood, ATM, Arab Health with good numbers of international exhibitors and visitors. In Florida, few domestic boat shows have taken place in Miami and Fort Lauderdale over the past few months. Las Vegas, which has been shut for nearly one year, the World of Concrete show took place post re-opening of the city. Let’s all hope that this is a start in having many other cities/ countries and regions to open up.

In some countries, the Delta variant of Covid is causing increasing infection rates which is meaning that yet again some borders to be closed. However, in most countries the vaccination rates have risen, and people are feeling more confident and that those industries like restaurants and other service industries are once again open, albeit slowly.

In India, we all know the Covid numbers a few months ago rose to very high levels and fatalities were sadly much too high. The rates are reducing but we need to bring them down further. Indian vaccination levels are improving markedly which is encouraging.

What situation do you foresee for Indian exhibition industry? What timeframe do you anticipate for physical exhibitions getting back to 2019 levels in India?

I have been involved heavily with the Indian industry especially in the last 15 years and I hope and pray that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. Just at the time when we have excellent exhibition space newly built in Delhi and also in Mumbai, this is the time to grow.

I have no doubt that it will happen. India will be one of the most exciting markets of the future. I am confident that we need to have a “restart date”, possibly January 1, 2022 When we can say the Indian market will take off…. I hope I am right!

How challenging it has been for the members of UFI to face the current situation?

It has been very challenging for all members of UFI around the world. All businesses in our exhibition world can only run on positive cash flows. If the organisers have no exhibitions, then the venues have no cash flow and everyone else in the ‘supply Chain’ such as stand contractors, freight forwarders, registration specialists, marketing professionals, food & drink suppliers etc. Also, hotels, restaurants, shops and airlines have dry bank accounts. Hence, there is a need to restart our industry.

How governments across the globe have been facilitating for the growth of exhibition industry?

Some governments are better than others as some understand our business model and what fantastic value flows it brings to cities/ countries/ industries etc.  In Hong Kong, for instance, right from the start of the pandemic, the Government offered to pay for the venue costs. This brought a lot of positive recognition to Hong Kong and helped with confidence and the several B2C shows that have taken place. It then marked Hong Kong as a leading trade fair centre. Others should follow their example.

What would be UFI’s short-mid to long term strategy to revive the exhibition industry? What support is UFI extending to its members?

UFI has done a huge amount of work this past year in information flow to the industry across the world. UFI is also working with international associations and governments in advising how best to restart and relaunch trade fairs in a safe and secure way.

A lot of work is going on from all the UFI offices led by the MD Kai Hattendorf and by the President Anbu Varathan to talk with the highest authorities in each country to assist and help the Trade fair industry.

As the incoming president of UFI, what will be your strategy towards further strengthening the association?

I will be supporting President Anbu Varathan and after November this year President Monica Lee-Müller. Like them, I will be working hard in reopening our industry and also showing all media and governments as to what a fantastic force trade fairs are in restarting economies and especially helping SME’s to grow.

Do you see digital and virtual exhibitions as the way forward or do you foresee pre-covid level demand for physical exhibitions?

I see, as everyone else does as well, that digital is here to stay, but as a part of a hybrid offering. Virtual trade shows for some verticals may well stay, depending on how good the software and databases are. I have no doubt, especially in India that people will be back attending physical trade shows very quickly. That’s the nature of the exciting Indian market.

How UFI plans to support its members on implementing green and sustainable measures?

As the founder of the UFI sustainability committee some 15 years ago, I know that UFI like all other industries are and will keep implementing green and sustainable measures. The United Nations and every country attending the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow soon are leading the way for all of us to follow and ensure we leave the earth in a better state than when we came in. 

Neliswa Nkani, Hub Head – MEISEA, South African Tourism speaks to T3 about the current scenario in South Africa and the new developments

India continues to be a priority market for South Africa post pandemic. This year, the destination is set to tap the niche tourists from India market. The Tourism Board also foresees speedy recovery in terms of MICE.

What is the current scenario of the tourism sector in South Africa?

South Africa is currently open to all international tourists. Travellers intending to visit the country will be required to produce a negative PCR test, not older than 72 hours from the time of departure from the country of origin to South Africa.

Concerning the situation on-ground, the National Department of Tourism is currently engaged in a policy review that will look into improving air access, protecting the supply side, value pricing, using technology to advance tourism and conservation. Additionally, the government started a 1.2 billion-rand (US$79.4 million) Tourism Equity Fund aimed at reviving the tourism industry earlier this year. The funds will be used in particular to help black entrepreneurs start and sustain businesses and projects in the sector.

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

South Africa was seeing tremendous interest by Indian travellers right before the pandemic  hit the country in March 2020. For the months of January and February 2020, we saw a ~7 per cent YoY increase from the India market with 14,437 business, leisure, and MICE tourists visiting the destination during this period. Prior to the pandemic, India was the 8th largest international market for South African Tourism. India remains a core market for South African Tourism globally and holds much promise in the coming years.

Prior to the pandemic, we announced the rolling out of e-visas for the India market. While pilot runs were ongoing, the pandemic hit us, thus delaying the process. We want to assure Indian travellers that we are focused on issuing e-visas as soon as possible, as we want to make it as easy as possible for Indians to come to South Africa. Given that India is a priority market, we have continued robust investments in this market.

How are you tweaking your marketing strategy for 2021?

Our marketing and communication approach is extremely focused and targeted – we are looking at maintaining a consumer-centric approach, while also building trust and aspiration, and instilling confidence in consumers intending to travel. Even before the pandemic, we realized the importance of localized, targeted and relevant content, and thus, increased our digital presence in India.

We launched our Complete Confidence campaign, where we released a series of videos showcasing precautionary measures employed by the destination.

In India, a consumer-oriented campaign targeting the desi audience is in the pipeline. South African Tourism is also working closely with Netflix to ensure that authentic and uniquely South African stories are told to a global audience. This partnership will also play a major role in internationally promoting the country’s must-visit sights through its locally produced series.

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

We are looking to build on and showcase our 3000+ adventure offerings to the adrenaline-seeking Indian market. This year, we will be specifically targeting niche communities.

A large focus area for us will be mobilizing niche communities in India. We want to invite biking groups to explore the vast, South African terrain. We are also looking at having more runners from India participate in South African ultra-marathons like the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Marathon.

We expect self-drives to be popular with Indian travellers given that South Africa has some of the most beautiful self-drive routes in the world. The fact that Indian licenses are valid in South Africa is a huge bonus.

Travellers are predicted to seek offbeat destinations, with good connectivity and a large number of activities within confined areas. We, hence, anticipate that South Africa’s new regions and geographies will be a hit with Indian travellers in the second half of 2021 as well as in 2022.

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

We expect MICE travel from India to rebound later this year or early next year, albeit with smaller group sizes and hybrid models. However, pan-Africa MICE travel and corporate travel can be expected to bounce back sooner, especially since travel brands across the supply chain are now extremely deliberate about traveller wellbeing and providing safe group experiences.

That being said, it will be crucial to keep our ears to the ground going ahead. Especially within a market as dynamic as India, MICE & corporate packages and promotions for each region will need to be customized and rolled-out, depending on the status of vaccinations and the pandemic.

With a view to explore the tourism potential in the border districts of India and to create awareness about the lesser-known destinations across the country, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) recently launched its Border Tourism webinar series. The first webinar was on Arunachal Pradesh focused on Anjaw district and other destinations like Mechuka, Anini for the promotion of Border Tourism in Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal is exploring opportunities to develop border tourism in the state.

Speaking about the scope of border tourism during the webinar, Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said, “Border tourism is of immense interest to the Government of India. The connectivity to these destinations were always not up to the mark which has made it difficult to promote them. The major requirement and the thrust that the government is having is to creating airstrips and also develop road connectivity. Under UDAN 4.0 North East is a major focus for the government.”

She further added, “Capacity building and skill development should be a major focus. The areas we are looking at we should create more homestays and bed & breakfast facilities. Travellers are ready to spend on experiences even in the domestic market. Also, we should not focus on mass tourism as it degrades a destination. Tourism should lead to socio-economic betterment and should not overstep the carbon footprint. In Arunachal the Central ministry has sanctioned a project in Parshuram Kund recently.”

Ayushi Sudan, Deputy Commissioner – Anjaw District, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, said, “Popular destinations in Anjaw district are Walong, Kibithu, Hayuliang, Dong. It shares border with China and Myanmar. Dong is a proper camping site and is a very cruitial for tourism. Anjaw has a history in terms of 1962 war and there are beautiful elements which tells the story. There is also a possibility of Bunker tourism if infrastructure is developed.

“A light and sound show in Walong has been sanctioned in the war memorial. Kaho will be projected as the first village of the country. There is a lot of scope for eco-tourism especially for bird watching. In terms of future development bird watching festival and trails need to be developed as a part of our eco-tourism. There are a few trekking circuits on the Myanmar border as well which needs to be promoted. We also have a great potential for adventure tourism which yet needs to be explored. We have potential for ziplining, river rafting, Paragliding, etc.”

PHDCCI will be organizing a series of 18 webinars to promote Border Tourism across the Nation. India shares borders with seven countries and at present border tourism has been one of the most neglected segments.

Anil Parashar, Chairman – Tourism Committee, PHDCCI, said, “India is the largest country in South Asia with a varied topography and we share borders with seven countries. Despite having such tourism potential, the border areas haven’t seen major development in terms of tourism. There is also a lack of knowledge how border areas can become a tourist destination. PHDCCI will be organizing a series of 18 webinars along with Ministry of Tourism to promote 18 border districts which needs to be developed. Aspirational India has deep desire to travel and due to pandemic, there is a strong domestic market. This is a perfect time to introduce Border tourism.”

Another major destination to be developed in Arunachal Pradesh is Dibang Valley. The destination is looking to create Adventure offerings to woo travellers.

Minga Sherpa, Deputy Commissioner – Dibang Valley District, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, said, “In Dibang valley, we have extreme scope for ethno-tourism village with all modern amenities. We have one of the best and difficult treks in our district. Adventure activities like River rafting, river crossing, zip-lining, Bungee and Para-motoring has a huge scope. We are trying to promote caravan tourism and camping sites. We will look at hosting bloggers, trek meet, etc. to promote the destination. We want to organize bird-watching and butterfly watching event which can be a great success. We are also trying to create minimal tourist infrastructure. We are looking to create a mini adventure park with ATVs ziplining, river-crossing, rock climbing, Burma bridge. We also are looking to create small scale eco-friendly assets like camp, tented, mud, bamboo hut accommodations,” he added. 

Yoel Razvozov began serving as the Minister for the Israel Minister of Tourism on 15 June 2021. Razvozov, who first entered the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in 2013, having served as Chairperson of the Sports Lobby of the Knesset and Chairperson of the Generation and a Half Lobby since 2015. From 2013-2015, Razvozov was appointed Chairperson of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Minister of Tourism Yoel Razvozov said that he intends to work vigorously to bring the tourism industry back to full operations. “My first task as Minister of Tourism is to build a correct and effective outline for the easing of conditions for tourists to enter Israel - of course, without endangering the citizens of Israel and in cooperation with the professional bodies in the Ministry of Health.” said Minister Razyozov.

Razvozov sponsored laws that encourage urban renewal and laws to lower the cost of living. He has also spearheaded the fight for civil burial, designed to allow for a proper burial for anyone who is not Jewish according to Jewish law or for anyone who wants a burial service that is compatible with the secular lifestyle.

Razvozov has worked to promote the rights of Holocaust refugees and to increase veteran allowances. He has promoted the integration of immigrants in the public health system and education system, and sponsored persistence bonuses to immigrant teachers. Razvozov has also promoted assistance for lone soldiers and worked to integrate immigrants in the job market. He has also worked for harsher punishments for violence in sports, for professional athletes and to promote sport in the community.

Razvozov initiated a revolution in the salaries of Olympic athletes in Israel, in which the salaries of professional athletes and that of athletes with the potential for success was doubled. A million shekels were allocated towards increasing the salaries, and an additional NIS 30 million were added per year to develop infrastructures and to support future athletes in the less popular sports. Just prior to the dissolution of the 19th Knesset, Razvozov passed a law for harsher punishments for violence in sports.

Razvozov is a former Olympian judoka. At the age of 16, he was Israeli champion, and held this title for 10 consecutive years. He served as captain of Israel's national Judo team, winning two silver medals in the European championship, and represented Israel in the 2004 Athens Olympics.  Prior to entering politics, from 2008-2013 Razvozov served as Chairman and Director of the Israel Olympic Committee and held the sports portfolio in the Netanya City Council.

Born in 1980 in Birobidzhan, Russia, Razvozov immigrated to Israel in 1991 at the age of 11. He holds a BA in Business Administration with a specialization in Financing from the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. He is the father of two daughters and a resident of Netanya.

The outgoing Minister of Tourism and the incoming Minister of Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen wished Minister Razvozov success and said, “I entered the Ministry of Tourism in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic.  This is not a period that characterizes tourism ministers, and I felt a very high sense of mission and pushed a lot of things for the industry. Mostly I want to tell the employees of the ministry that we worked under difficult conditions because of the corona pandemic. You entered my heart, I hope you will only succeed.”

The German National Tourist Board (GNTB) is focusing its Knowledge Days 2021 on how digital transformation is shaping the present and future of international tourism. On June 23 and 24, high-profile guest speakers and GNTB experts will present current trends and technological innovations, future scenarios and the practical application of digital tools for its members and sponsors.

Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman, GNTB’s Executive Board, said, “We see leadership in the digital transformation as an opportunity for future challenges. Together with our partners in German tourism, we want to discuss current trends during the Knowledge Days that we believe will shape incoming tourism in the post-corona phase. In this way, we provide practical support to our members and strengthen the position of Destination Germany in the increasingly fierce international competition among destinations.”

As keynote speaker, company founder, tech investor and author Frank Thelen will present his view of digitization as the beginning of the greatest revolution in human history under the title of his bestseller “10xDNA – The Mindset of the Future”.

Under the title ‘Rethink & Unlock: Using Digital Technologies in Tourism’, the Knowledge Days will address, among other things, new developments in conversational marketing, which is already an integral part of the GNTB’s digital strategy with voice recognition systems, AI-supported chatbots or skills for smart speakers. This also includes possible applications and functionality of voice technology in Knowledge Graphs – a direct link to the German tourism industry’s Open Data project, which the GNTB is coordinating. The trend topic ‘Social Listening – digital listening’ leads from social media marketing to the targeted positioning of brands‘.

The strategic GNTB theme of future-oriented and sustainable tourism, which has been established for around a decade, is the focus of the presentation “The Conscious Traveller of Tomorrow: Why travel and sustainability must be thought together in the future”. The topic ‘Recovery & travel data insights’ will focus on possible uses of digital data sources in the tourism industry post Corona.

The Knowledge Days are the central format with which the GNTB annually addresses the latest trends in digital transformation for its members and sponsors, incorporates the expertise of prominent pacemakers from the industry and demonstrates practical applications for tourism marketing in the present and future. The external presenters in 2021 will come from Triple Sense Reply, one of Germany’s most successful digital agencies, Talkwalker, one of the leading providers of social media analytics and monitoring, the Lufthansa Innovation Hub and Google, among others.

The GNTB is organizing the Knowledge Days 2021 as a virtual event.

 

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