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Karishma Sen

Karishma Sen

With the launch of its first Keys Klub property in Viman Nagar, Pune, Berggruen Hotels have forayed into the upscale market in India. Keys Klub Hotel Parc Estique in Pune was recently launched under this brand. The 115-room property is the first franchised hotel of Berggruen Hotels and is an outperformer in the business area of Viman Nagar and Pune airport as per a release. “All properties under this brand will be owned, managed or franchised by Berggruen Hotels across India. The properties under the brand will house 100 or more rooms, each of 275 sq ft and with a price bracket of Rs 4,000-6,000,” shared Sanjay Sethi, Managing Director and CEO, Berggruen Hotels.

Further commenting on the launch of Keys Klub Hotel Parc Estique Sethi added, “We hold great pride in announcing our foray into the upscale category. After having extensively studied the consumer and having successfully established Keys Hotels chain across India, we designed the personality of Keys Klub, which is meant to be elite, stylish, world-class and cheerful with cutting-edge technology and infrastructure support. This move is in the direction of turning Berggruen Hotels into a holistic hotel company catering to all categories of customers.”

Elaborating on their expansion plans Sethi said, “By 2016, Berggruen Hotels is targeting 75 hotels with an inventory of 6,600 rooms. We plan to add at least two Keys Klub Hotels into our bouquet every year in our target cities at Mumbai, NCR, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Jaipur, Kolkata and Hyderabad, and by 2016, we are expecting combined revenue of Rs 410-430 crore from owned and managed hotels.” With its new addition, the hotel group has 34 properties in 20 cities under its umbrella, of which 13 are operational.

Jai D Advani, Managing Director, Keys Klub Park Estique and Owner, Central Park Smart Hotel., said, “With state-of-the-art distribution technologies, international representations, and several sales offices at our disposal now, with this association we will be able to cut through the clutter of various other competitor hotels and increase our reach and profitability by great lengths. Keys is a rapidly growing brand that is gaining huge traction and enjoys great visibility across the country. The company is professionally operated with the rich experience of its core management team, and is very promising in terms of the value it can add to Hotel Parc Estique.”

Sethi further shared that the new property is Pune’s only full-service boutique hotel. “A typical Keys Klub property will include an all-day global cuisine restaurant, a specialty restaurant, a lounge bar, banquets and conference halls. Other features include a board room, a business centre, a 24/7 gym, a swimming pool, an elite club lounge, a bookshop and a spa.”

At a recent press conference, Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism, Government of India announced the second edition of the Ministry of Tourism’s (MoT) travel event, International Tourism Mart (ITM). The Mart will be held on 17 and 18 October in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. “With ITM, we want to create a platform for tourism stakeholders from North East India to showcase the region as a tourist destination and promote their products to domestic and international buyers.”

The first edition of ITM, which was held in Guwahati, Assam in January this year, enjoyed participation of travel trade delegates from 23 countries. Elaborating further, Dewan said, “This year we expect to witness participation of 150 international buyers from 25 countries. The international participants will include tourism boards as well as travel trade members from both ASEAN and SAARC countries.” Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram as well as West Bengal Tourism will be part of the Mart and exhibit its tourism products at the two-day event.

The event will be held right after the Shillong Festival, ‘Abode in the Clouds’, which will be held on 4 and 5 October, 2013 and will precede the Tawang festival which will be held on 17-21 October 2013. “Through these festivals, we want to showcase the beauty of North East India and also reach out to people within India to travel and see their own country. Tawang is a fairly new destination and we are at a very nascent stage of promoting it to the world. We expect close to 14,000 tourist arrivals to Tawang during the peak season. To further leverage tourist arrivals MoT has decided to organise a post event FAM for international as well as local tour operators to have a better understanding of the destination,” Dewan informed. The Government hopes that the five-day tourism festival will take Tawang a notch higher in the tourism map of the world.

Commenting on choosing Tawang as the preferred destination, he stated, “Tawang is a famous tourist destination in Arunachal Pradesh. It is strategically located for any traveller who wants to explore neighbouring countries as well. Tawang shares boundaries with Tibet in the North, Bhutan in South West and is rimmed by the Sela Range of West Kameng.”

Speaking about connectivity to the destination and accommodation Dewan informed, “Tawang is a 55 minute helicopter ride from Guwahati. We are looking for people who love travelling and love the adrenaline rush. We are planning to have a private chopper service provider on board specially for the event. We will also have campsite accommodations and home stays in addition to a hotel with a huge inventory that will open soon in Tawang.”

For an industry that was focused on drawing foreign tourists, the mounting influx of domestic travellers has been a wakeup call. Despite its great impact on the economic development, domestic tourism is yet to receive adequate attention in the process of development planning. Industry experts view domestic tourism as the lone unifying force that builds a bridge between various linguistic, religious and communal groups living in different parts of the country. In present day India, the phenomenon of domestic tourism with its effervescent and altering dimensions can make a great contribution toward strengthening the Indian tourism industry.

Parvez Dewan, Union Tourism Secretary, revealed that there has been the almost modest and yet inevitable rise in domestic tourism in the Indian paradigm. Ajay Prakash, Chief Executive, Nomad Travels shares the same opinion, that domestic tourism is the backbone for India’s tourism. “It is the foundation on which the pyramid of international tourism is laid. A total makeover in mindset is needed to steer in a tourism affable atmosphere. India is a vast and varied country, in food, language, custom and religion. Tourism contributes drastically to our culture of unity in diversity. Hence, domestic tourism deserves more importance than it has received,” he said, further adding that in order to draw foreign exchange and promote India across the boundaries, each country should first and foremost develop its domestic tourism industry to strengthen its potential as a tourist destination and also use it as a stronger economic structure.

According to Subhash Verma, President, ADTOI, domestic tourism is a tool of poverty elevation, employment generation and national integration in the country. “The main focus of ADTOI has always been to promote every tourist destination of India. Therefore, this year onwards, we will highlight new destinations, tourist attractions, products, facilities, new infrastructure such as entertainment centres, accommodation and MICE facilities, etc., in the country,” he said.

Further elaborating on the importance of domestic tourism, Rajat Sawhney, Managing Director, Rave Tours & Travels said, “Domestic tourism is the key to national growth. Development of a tourist destination will provide more economic benefits to locals and tourism stakeholders. Today, in pilgrim tourism alone, there are millions of people travelling within the country each year. This is a large chunk of people travelling and spending money on food, travel and lodging. The economically backward regions benefit on account of the visit of domestic tourists, from creation of employment and income opportunities.”

Domestic tourism was confined to a lower spectrum of spending and so did not figure in hotel and restaurant receipts. Now the domestic tourist demand is shifting to expansive tourist hotels and resorts. According to HVS’ Hotels in India Trends and Opportunities in 2012-13 report, the hotel industry in India is showing signs of a rebound with demand for rooms in tourist towns and leisure locations such as Agra, Jaipur, Goa and Kerala growing last fiscal, helped by a 20 per cent rise in domestic tourist visits.

The report further shows that the surge in Domestic Tourism will open up newer opportunities for development along the coasts of Odisha and Maharashtra, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and help newer townships suvch as Lavasa. Manav Thadani, Chairman, HVS India, said, “With the falling rupee making holidays abroad more expensive, Indian tourists are increasingly turning to domestic destinations, and with the rupee continuing to depreciate, this trend is expected to continue. Just as the economy, hotels too have seen a down cycle and will soon start seeing positive momentum .”

The 21ST edition of SATTE, South Asia’s leading travel and tourism event, will be held in New Delhi at Pragati Maidan from 29-31 January 2014. Over the last decade, SATTE has become an extremely popular platform providing immense opportunities for buyers and sellers from across the world to come and experience Indian culture, showcase their latest offerings and build long term business ties. It has proven to be the best avenue to promote inbound, outbound and domestic tourism, and has been growing year on year.

The Indian travel and tourism market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. This is especially true of the domestic market within India, a country of over one billion people, which has a growing middle class with a sizeable disposable income and a huge captive market for travelling overseas. Owing to this, SATTE continues to receive tremendous response from national tourism boards, Indian states, hotel chains, airlines, and tourism products from across the globe.

SATTE has always played a vital role in promoting diverse segments of tourism. The vast participation of many major Indian and global players and the presence of the who’s who of the travel industry, is testimony to the importance the travel and tourism industry gives SATTE. SATTE has grown in terms of exhibitors, visitors and buyers, and is today the biggest networking forum for the travel and tourism industry in South Asia.

SATTE 2014 will be spread over 17500 sqm gross, thus making it India’s biggest travel and tourism event. SATTE 2013 witnessed 590 exhibitors from 35 overseas countries and 23 Indian states, who met, engaged and interacted with buyers and attendees from over 43 countries and 74 cities of India. With an estimated 7,419 unique qualified buyers and sellers, excluding repeat buyers and unregistered walk-ins from all over India and abroad, SATTE 2013 received 9,764 appointment requests from visitors and exhibitors.

SATTE continues to receive positive feedback from destinations and tourism products such as Seychelles, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Philippines, Brand USA, Kenya and Singapore’s Changi Airport along with a host of private sector participants from Singapore and other countries - all of who have become aware of the immense potential of the Indian market. SATTE 2014 will also enjoy participation from upcoming destinations and tourism products.

Key exhibitors from the Middle East region are also now looking eastwards to do business with India, and many countries and individual Emirates from the UAE are optimistic about the Indian market. Prominent names include Dubai, Fujairah, Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al-Khaimah among others.

International players who continue to show keen interest in SATTE include Abu Dhabi, Argentina, Bhutan, Dubai, Egypt, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Macau, Malaysia, The Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, Fiji, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and many more. State Tourism Boards such as Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Lakshwadeep, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have also expressed their support for SATTE 2014.

The Buyer Programme at SATTE has consistently attracted top quality buyers to meet with international and domestic exhibitors from all sectors of travel trade. It serves as a platform to build a more collaborative relationship between Buyers and Exhibitors. It is a unique opportunity for the travel trade to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business under one roof. The buyer-supplier chain is fiercely competitive and SATTE’s focus is to introduce new suppliers and products in the Indian market and help explore and dissect the changing trends in the industry.

The enhanced buyer programme for SATTE 2014 offers an incentivised Pre-Scheduled Appointments (PSAs) system that allows buyers to schedule appointments ensuring opportunities for international and regional senior level buyers and decision makers to source new destinations, travel products and services on the show floor. SATTE 2014 looks forward to welcoming international quality buyers from countries like USA, UAE, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, China, Israel, Philippines, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Singapore, among others.

International organisations and governing bodies including World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP), Indian trade associations such as TAAI, TAFI, IATO, ADTOI, ATTOI, ETAA, OTOAI, IAAI, among others will continue to actively support SATTE this year too.

Despite the sluggish and steady growth of the sector, cruise tourism still remains in its nascent stage in India. Of the ever increasing globetrotters of India, cruise travellers account for less than 2 per cent. Experts believe that the fastest way to grow is to have cruise ships of international standards positioned in India and have home ports developed within the country

Cruise: Trending

Cruise as a holiday option is gradually picking up in India and travellers have steadily started understanding the benefits of cruising. Amit Mathur, Country Head, MSC Cruises believes that a better connect with the consumer is required to educate them on the benefits, and more importantly, help them understand that cruising is not just being in water for seven to eight nights - it has a lot of excitement packed.

As one of the first entrants in this market, Royal Caribbean International, over the past two decades has seen a sizable growth in demand for cruise in relation to the absolute volume, preferred destinations as well as variance in the ship and category preferences of Indian travellers. Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, Tirun Travel Marketing, which represents Royal Caribbean International in India, opined, “Indians are increasingly open to trying newer itineraries, seen by the growing demand for destinations such as Alaska, Scandinavia, South America and more, as well as explore longer sailings with options of more destinations whereby they optimise their time at every port.” She further added that, while initially the industry was driven primarily from the metro cities, today they see demand emerging from all corners of the country.

Overall, the cruise industry has seen a slow rise by 10 to 15 per cent on average, while the rest of the travel industry, especially travel to Europe, has received a setback due to uncertain market conditions, said Faisal Siddique, Director, Maison de Voyage (MDV), which represents Uniworld Boutique River Cruises in India. “There are a number of cruises which have entered the Indian Market in recent years. Now, that Indians have travelled extensively, and many are done with the usual ‘must do’ destinations, they are ready to try out cruises. Cruises are also family/child friendly which urges more people to opt for them,” he shared.

SOS: Challenges

According to Sidhartha Roy, Senior Vice President, Indian Tarvel Promotion Company & TRN Marketing, which represents AmaWaterways in India, the travel trade is yet to adopt cruising for its customers as a primary offering in their portfolio. “Globally, the total cruising population is about 20 mn and driven mainly by the North American markets. Of this, the Asian share is a mere 4 per cent; from India the cruise customer numbers has just about touched a 100,000. It is the trade channels that have to play a more positive role ‘by active counseling’ not ‘mere selling’. This needs more mature and trained effort. Instead of focusing on the price point only, the trade attention should shift to marketing content.

Echoing Roy’s sentiments, Mathur stated, “Our trade partners play an important role in distributing the products and its imperative that they are educated to sell cruising as a concept. The industry is seeing a slowdown and that has affected the business. At an estimated 100,000 travellers, we are still at a nascent stage though numbers are showing a gradual increase,” he said, and added that the growth is dependent on multiple factors such as connectivity to the sailing port, strength of Indian currency and an awareness of the benefits of cruising.

Elaborating on the challenges, Siddique said that there is a preconceived notion that cruising is for the rich or retired. “Cruising, especially, river cruising in India is perceived as luxury travel only the rich and famous can afford, which is not true because booking a cruise nine to 12 months in advance can avail more than 50 per cent discounts on cabin fare. However, as India is a late booking market it works adversely.”

India v/s international market

American/European markets naturally believe cruising is a grand way of holidaying. International vacationing itself is still very young in India if not exactly early days; even now 50 per cent of Indians go to the Far East. “One important reason is India, despite a 5,000 km of coastline, does not have the environment for domestic cruising options. The little that is there, firstly not of any set standard and secondly it is not pursued with some passion by the domestic or inbound operators. Hence, the onus of customer education has to shift to the trade,” Roy commented.

“With enough data and trends available in international markets, cruises are sold well in advance. Indians do not want to cruise for longer duration. Cruise liners are trying to build numbers by giving value for money packages to their clients,” Mathur opined. According to Chadha, India is unique in its diversity, culture and affluence, which is a high quotient therefore, the strategy is different in approach, communication and value v/s the rest of the world.

Popular Routes

MSC cruises dominate the Med region and northern Europe. Mathur said, “We are seeing enquiries coming in for our sailings in Miami, South Africa and UAE during the winter season.” For Ama Waterways, the Danube sailings are the most popular. “This route traverses the core of European history from the hanseatic period to the more recent events surrounding World War II. The cities touched are Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Karlovy Vary, Nuremberg etc,” informed Roy.

“The main itineraries which continue to be popular with the Indian audience include the Mediterranean (Average five/seven Night Eastern and Western Mediterranean), Alaska, Caribbean and Singapore. Demand is steadily increasing for destinations such as Australia/New Zealand, Scandinavia and Russia, Baltic, South America and more. With a portfolio of 34 ships across three brands, TIRUN is effectively geared to cater to any preference of the Indian traveller,” shared Chadha.

Siddique informed that the River Rhine and River Danube cruises are always asked and requested. These sailings also get sold out well in advance. “Our Danube Discovery & Prague, Legendary Rhine and Moselle and Castles along the Rhine itineraries are most popular as they cover Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Czech Republic.” He said, adding, that their Far East destination covering countries such as Cambodia/ Vietnam are also in demand.

The Way Forward

While awareness is increasing, the effort is to monetise the mindset. The trade has begun to accept cruise as a viable product, though selectively. “Over the past two decades, we have successfully marketed the concept of cruise vacations via various mediums including direct marketing, print and electronic advertising, trade programs and more. We are constantly conceiving newer mediums and technologies as well as interesting campaigns to reach out to our consumer segments,” said Chadha.

Roy added that AmaWaterways push European sailings primarily on the Danube, the Rhine and the Seine in the Indian market. The reason being, cruises cover the best of European heritage. Mathur believes that B2B forms a critical part of their distribution network, “MSC will continue to support the channel partners through regular marketing to help connect to consumers directly and generate healthy leads,” he revealed.

Uniworld will also continue to participate in road shows. “We also regularly send out fliers to our database (consisting of agents as well as corporate and walk in guests) with attractive offers that they can avail. We have a dedicated sales team across India that goes out and promotes/talks about our product to agents in the industry,” he added.

After being bracketed as a vital sector by the new government in its election manifesto, the Indian tourism industry is looking forward to a positive year with the Narendra Modi-led Government keeping its promises. An industry that, for so many years, was being neglected and ignored by the Government, with only a short-lived cite in the previous Budgets, the focus on tourism in the Union Budget 2014-15 came as a huge sigh of relief. Lauding the new Budget, industry stalwarts have termed it as practical and well planned.

In the Union Budget 2014-15, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced an allocation of Rs. 500 crores for the formation of five new tourist circuits in the country. In addition to the new circuits, Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist circuit will be en suite with world class tourist amenities. Jaitley further announced the launching of National Heritage city Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), in conjunction with academic institutions and the local community, for the conservation and preservation of heritage characters in cities such as Mathura, Amritsar, Gaya, Kanchipuram, Vellankani and Ajmer on a tourism budget of Rs. 200 crores. Rs. 100 crores has also been allocated for archaeological sites’ maintenance. To boost religious tourism, Jaitley has announced the setting up of national mission on pilgrimage, rejuvenation and spiritual augmentation drive (PRASAD).

To push tourism even in tier I and II cities, Jaitley announced a scheme for the development of new airports in those cities to be launched through the Airport Authority of India or Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The Minister also announced that e-visa will be introduced at nine airports across India to encourage inbound tourism.

The service tax issue has been controversial, but this year the budget proposed service tax exemption for inbound tour operators. Further, in response to the request of the tourism sector, services provided by Indian tour operators to foreign tourists in relation to a tour wholly conducted outside India, has been taken out of the tax net and CENVAT credit for services of rent-a-cab and tour operators has now been allowed by the Government.

The proposal to expand sea port and airport infrastructure will further enhance travel infrastructure in the country in the coming years. The home constituency of the Tourism Minister, i.e. Goa, will benefit from the international convention centre proposed through PPP mode with government support by Viability Gap Funding (VGF).

Giving an impetus to infrastructure, new tourism circuits and easy visa regimes, the sector is expected to get a much-needed push after a sluggish performance last year. While the Rail Budget ensures an efficient transport system in the country, the Union Budget acts as a blue print for economic recovery by recuperating the investment norms in the country and warming up to select sectors of the economy for FDI and domestic private investment.

Keeping in mind the government’s emphasis on travel and tourism in this year’s Budget, the industry’s faith in the Union Budget has been restored. Experts believe that this government has shown the enthusiasm to use travel and tourism to promote inclusive growth, as this sector contributes roughly 7 per cent of India’s GDP and helped create over 40 million jobs last year.

Connecting the world to Indian culture and traditions

Stressing on the nation’s cultural, historical, religious and natural heritage, the Finance Minister opined that the sector provides immense potential for development and employment opportunities.

Praising this move, Peter Kerkar, Director, Cox & Kings opined that the thrust on pilgrimage and heritage tourism with emphasis on Buddhist tourism circuit centered on Gaya in Bihar will enable India to attract this segment of tourists from South East Asia, Japan and Sri Lanka. “The proposal to earmark a sum of Rs. 100 crores to revive heritage tourism will lead to development and promotion of new tourism circuits. The proposal to develop five more tourism circuits will enable India to broad base its tourism offerings, which till today is concentrated on a few circuits,” he said.

Sharing his sentiments Madhavan Menon, Managing Director, Thomas Cook (India) stated that the Government’s pro tourism focus also sees manifestation via key initiatives announced in the Budget highlighting India’s culture, heritage, arts, traditions and much more.

Building five tourist circuits will not only help channelise domestic tourist traffic, but also boost tourism infrastructure development while generating employment and speeding economic progress for the region. Vikram Malhi, Managing Director, Asia, Expedia further added, “This motion helps the tourism industry build a strong base of domestic tourism and will put India on the map as a niche culture and heritage destination. The proposal of ‘Namami Ganga’ will help preserve our country’s heritage, which constitutes a major part of India’s tourist attractions.”

This year’s Budget is a blessing in disguise for the tourism industry, said Jyoti Kapur, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI). “The need of the hour is new products, destinations and circuits. Although the new Budget has proposed funds, the amount is not at par with the financial backing needed for infrastructure development. But this is a huge step forward and ADTOI welcomes the Budget and hopes that this will lay more importance on the growth of tourism.”

According to Neelu Singh, COO, Ezeego1.com, the Budget’s proposal to create five tourist circuits around specific themes is likely be a big boost for the development of tourism resulting in creation of several new jobs within this industry. “Development of the Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist circuit with world class tourist amenities, along with development of archaeological sites of national significance, will attract tourists from all over the world and significantly augment pilgrimage and heritage tourism,” she added.

Welcoming the world with open arms

Another step taken by the Government to boost inbound numbers to India is the new visa regime. Electronic travel authorisations (e-visa) for countries have been identified and will be introduced at nine airports in a phased manner with infrastructure support in the next six months.

Implementation of the new e-visa scheme for international tourists at nine airports will increase inbound tourism, thus increasing foreign exchange earnings, opined Zakkir Ahmed, President, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI). “The Government identifying tourism as a major industry in the Union Budget is a very positive sign for industry. As a member of the industry this year’s budget came as a huge surprise, especially the e-visa scheme,” he said.

While there was no ‘big bang’ announcement, according to Ashwini Kakkar, Executive Vice-Chairman, Mercury Travels, the one thing that is exciting is ETA or e-visa at nine airports in the country. “While the previous government had initiated e-visa, the new government has put a time frame of six-month to implement it and this should help boost inbound tourism.”

Subhash Goyal, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) is sure that international tourist arrivals to India will grow by 30-40 per cent on a yearly basis once the e-visa is introduced. He further believes that this will also generate additional direct or indirect employment for 50 million people and a substantial increase in foreign exchange earnings.

Agreeing with Goyal, Sarabjit Singh, Vice Chairman, Federation of Associations of Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) said that he was delighted to know that the Union Budget has paid heed to the association’s demand of the implementation of e-visa. “While the first step has been taken in this interim budget of developing tourism, we plan to associate more closely with the Ministry of Finance for the next Budget for incorporating further suggestions.”

The decision of introducing e-visa in a phased manner at nine airports will present the much needed boost to the tourism sector, said Jagat Mehta, Acting President, Enterprising Travel Agents Association (ETAA). “This will help in bringing in investments from foreign airlines as well for generating employment.”

Connecting Cities

The Union Budget 2014-15 proposed plans to develop more airports through the PPP model, especially in tier-II and III cities. Experts believe that this will open up opportunities for the aviation sector. “New airports will allow domestic carriers to reach out to newer markets, and help international airlines expand their footprint in India through code-share agreements,” said Menon.

Malhi opined that developing new airports through PPP mode in tier-II and III cities is progression and will increase domestic air traffic. The next generation of aviation growth in India is expected to be triggered by regional airports, he added.

“There are a host of measures that have been announced like infrastructure development in terms of airports in tier-I and II cities, development of 16 ports, smart cities, highways, rail connectivity and much more. This will only generate more employment and hence more disposable income,” shared Kakkar, further adding that connecting smaller cities will help tourist inflow and put India on the tourism map.

The topic of debate: Service Tax

The service tax issue has been controversial, but this year the Budget proposed that services provided by Indian tour operators to foreign tourists in relation to a tour wholly conducted outside India be taken out of the tax net and CENVAT credit for services of rent-a-cab and tour operators be tax exempted so as to promote tourism.

Akshay Kumar, President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) termed this Budget as optimistic and progressive. “This year the Government has acknowledged the tourism industry and provided sops. We are happy that finally some of our demands are met. The fact that service tax has been waived off for foreigners travelling to other countries through Indian operators offering CENVAT credit for tour operators makes life a lot easier.”

“We are happy that our demand for extension of CENVAT credit of service tax paid by rent-a-cab operators and tour operators has been met. We are optimistic that our request pertaining to air travel agents, bringing service tax under the ambit of Reversed Charge Mechanism will also be met in the future,” shared Sunil Kumar R, Acting President, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI)

Exemptions from service tax is a step towards sustainable growth within the sector, said Rajeev Wagle, MD, Kuoni India. But the exemption of service tax for broadcast and online advertisements and print advertisements also holds importance to travel and tourism companies.

“It provides several opportunities for effective marketing undertaken by tour operators and tourism boards. This will help tap the prospective within the outbound market,” he added.

Growing businesses with India

Ponda, Goa will soon be a Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism hub. This decision follows the Budget where the Finance Minister allocated funds to make Goa the MICE tourism hub of India.

The move to develop an international convention centre in Goa is great as India can then attract huge conventions and conferences that do not consider India at the moment, said Kerkar. He further opined that this segment does not consider India as an option as the country does not have world class convention facilities. “Goa is the ideal venue with its air and rail connectivity and this will encourage more air traffic to the destination.”

Echoing these thoughts, Neelu Singh added that the decision to develop an international convention centre in Goa can put the city on the map as an attractive MICE destination, in addition to being a leisure tourist’s hot spot. “This will also change the notion wherein people do not consider India as a MICE option owing to lack of world class convention facilities.”

“I am very pleased that the government has taken measures to increase the inflow of foreign exchange through inbound tourism by focusing on infrastructural development. Destinations like Goa already draw a high share of foreign tourists, building a world-class convention facility will also help attract a larger share of MICE to the country,” said Kumar R.

Hospitality sector: The Budget disappoints

After the optimistic Union Budget for tourism, it has been very disappointing from the hospitality point of view and has been unsuccessful to meet expectations. Experts believe that while tourism was supported and taken care of, the hospitality sector was completely neglected.

S M Shervani, President, Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI) explained that the hospitality industry is disappointed that no tax relief or other specific incentives have been proposed for the sector.

“As tourism was identified as one of the five priority areas, we were expecting that the government’s budget would take crucial steps to update the sector’s multiple tax regime, which has been the primary obstacle deteriorating India’s tourism industry. With the development of new tourism circuits and better air connectivity to tier-II cities being planned, the Government should have simultaneously reduced minimum project cost in order to build budget and mid-segment hotels. However, we applaud the initiative to set up a Rs 10,000 crores fund to provide equity, soft loans and other forms of risk capital for start-up companies,” he added.

“Though the Union Budget has cemented the development of tourism in India, the hospitality sector that functions as its base has been completely mistreated. Not a single sop was given for development of the hospitality sector. But the future looks bright and I am sure that the Government will soon realise that we are an integral part of the industry. We expect similar support in the future,” said Kamlesh Barot, Immediate past President, Hotel And Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI).

The tradition of getting married in a temple/church or marriage hall is slowly going out of vogue with the arrival of newer trends such as resort weddings and destination weddings, making the wedding more than just a celebration. While traditional weddings are in no way passé, they have undoubtedly been given the western twist. Theme weddings are fast becoming a popular facet of Indian weddings, with hotels deploying dedicated teams to cater to the wedding parties. Heritage properties see a steady stream of weddings that prefer a historical background to add to their special day. Beach weddings have become an aspiration for several youngsters. Indian couples have gone past the phase of run-of-the-mill honeymoon getaways to the latest exotic and scenic destination showcased in a recent movie or advertised on television. They now demand more of everything, be it quality, activities or experiences.

Wedding and Honeymoon tourism, as an authentic and imminent part of the tourism industry, is a sensation that has taken off worldwide in the past three-four years. NTO’s, state tourism boards and hotels are cashing in on this popular trend and are tapping this market aggressively.


India: The next exotic wedding destination

Wedding tourism in India is becoming prevalent as more and more foreigners, NRI’s and Indians are taking interest in the ‘Big Fat Traditional Indian Wedding’. India is a culturally rich country abundant in customs and traditions. Several high profile celebrities globally are increasingly showing an interest in celebrating their wedding in true blue Indian style. The opulence and splendour of the destination, as well as the vibrant Indian customs, evoke a lot of interest among the foreign nationals. Most international couples making their way to India are looking out for two types of Indian weddings, the ‘Maharaja’ or ‘Royal’ Wedding and the Brahmin Wedding. The former is replete with riches, exoticism and palaces, while the latter is all about spirituality, mysticism and Vedic rites.

State Tourism boards want to leverage on this new trend to increase inbound arrivals as well as domestic tourism. Wedding tourism has become a huge hit with states receiving record inquiries for hosting marriages. “During the peak season, between November and February, it is very difficult to accommodate all the queries that we get. Sometimes we have to turn down a few marriage parties due to unavailability of dates, which clearly highlights the popularity of Rajasthan as a wedding destination. Last year alone Rajasthan hosted around 50-60 NRI weddings and we expect the numbers to grow next year,” informed Randeep Dhankar, Chairman, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC). He further added that, on special occasions, RTDC has hosted royal wedding parties on their two luxury trains – the ‘Palace on wheels’ and the ‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels.

Goa’s growing popularity as a wedding destination is reflected in the fact that some very high profile weddings have taken place in the state. To cash in on this growing trend the tourism department has recently introduced a single window clearance system for issuing permissions, including those required for destination weddings. Since the introduction of the system this year, the state has hosted about 20-25 wedding events already, this information was shared by Nilesh Cabral, Chairman, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC). Apart from these, states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh among others are also trying to tap the growing potential of this segment.


NTO’s betting big on wedding and honeymoon arrivals

Countries have turned their attention towards the big fat Indian wedding over the past few years and are positive that this trend will further drive tourist traffic from India to their destination. Thailand has firmly established itself as a perfect venue for Indian weddings. In the year 2012, over 100 couples from India celebrated their weddings in Thailand. “Thailand has for long been positioned as the preferred destination for Indian travellers. We are pleased and proud that we have established ourselves as a tourist destination and now are turning our attention towards the growing wedding and honeymoon segment. The Indian wedding market is massive and couples today do not want compromise on planning their honeymoon. People tying the knot in Thailand often extend their trip and plan their honeymoon in Thailand itself,” said Runjuan Tongrut, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) New Delhi Office..

TAT has also recently launched the second edition of ‘Weddings and celebration in Thailand’, which has all the information an Indian needs to plan a wedding or honeymoon in the destination. “TAT works closely with Thai tour operators and event management companies who take up the entire responsibility of organising the weddings, including airport transfers, wedding ceremonies, receptions, shopping and local commutes,” Tongrut added.

In a bid to increase tourist influx from India, Tourism Malaysia will promote itself as a premium wedding and honeymoon hub. “With the growing disposable income, Indians want to go out and do something different on their ‘Big Day’. India is Malaysia’s second largest tourism source market, with a total of 7,80,000 Indian tourist arrivals this year, and an expected 8,00,000 Indian arrivals next year. There has been a significant rise of Indians tourists, who are coming to celebrate important occasions such as weddings and honeymoons, and also to experience our adventure offerings,” said Amran Abdul Rahman, Director, Tourism Malaysia.

Oman has also joined the bandwagon and is all set to promote itself as a popular wedding and honeymoon destination. Lubaina Sheerazi, India Representative, Ministry of Tourism, Oman at a recent press conference revealed that Indian weddings and honeymoon are two very important markets that Oman needs to capture. “The Indian wedding industry is worth a whopping US$ 25 billion a year and is enjoying a 20 per cent year on year growth. Oman is a short haul destination with excellent connectivity with India. We want to tap this market and increase tourist arrivals from here. Muscat serves as an excellent venue for an Indian wedding with several world class hotels and resorts in its vicinity.”

This year Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing (DTCM) is promoting themed weddings in India. Carl Vaz, Director, DTCM- India shared that, owing to record visitor arrival numbers from India last year, DTCM will now be venturing into different market segments in India such as weddings. “Our key focus for 2013-14 will be wedding and honeymoon tourism. We plan to work very closely with all the wedding planners, Hotels and tour operators in Dubai to make this strategy a huge success. With this we aim to achieve double digit growth over 2012 by end of 2013,” he said.

Even tourism boards of Kenya, Maldives, Indonesia, Switzerland, UK and New Zealand among others have included wedding and honeymoon segments in their India centric marketing strategy.


Hotels cash in on unconventional weddings

Through lean periods and peak seasons, the one segment Indian hotels never face a dearth of is the wedding segment. And with increased disposable income and exposure to global practices, the demand for upscale weddings in the perfect hotel has become somewhat of a norm and not just a need for a good venue. As per the Taj Wedding Barometer, a survey commissioned by Taj Hotels and conducted by IPSOS, 25 per cent women prefer buying a combined wedding ceremony and honeymoon package from a 5 or 7 star hotel.

The Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre has hosted 95 weddings during the last wedding season and is looking at hosting more than 100 weddings this year. At HICC, approx 30 per cent of annual business comes from social events and weddings.

The Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre & Hyderabad International Convention Centre has done traditional theme for weddings like Mandaps in a temple setup, as well as fusion and floral themes for various receptions. The property has a dedicated events team who assist the guests and provide customised solutions by recommending vendors to plan and execute theme weddings.

“Wedding are either themed traditional or contemporary. A majority of couples are opting to incorporate fresh and tantalising elements to their wedding rather than following the traditional way. Today, some of the more popular unique Indian wedding themes include Village theme, Goan wedding, and Arabic/Roman/Egyptian wedding themes. Couples are also opting to bring about an amalgamation of the East and west in their Indian weddings. Guest books, save the date cards, thank you cards which are not very common in traditional and conventional Indian weddings are being increasingly used by couples to add uniqueness to their wedding ceremonies,” said Rasika Singh, Director- Sales & Marketing, Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre & Hyderabad International Convention Centre.

In an effort to meet the business and leisure needs of the international and domestic traveller, K Raheja-owned The Resort in Mumbai, is focusing on emerging markets to tap the growing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibition (MICE) and Wedding segments.

According to Anuj Prakash, General Manager, The Resort, a comprehensive long-term strategy is being planned to tap the Indian market and increase Indian visitor arrivals. The focus will be to tap MICE and Wedding segments and to encash on the trend of weekend breaks to increase FIT traffic to India. “We are working on an incentive scheme for the Indian travel trade to promote and sell our property as the perfect destination for MICE and Weddings. We have already launched weekend packages to woo domestic tourists,” he added.

According to Singh, the biggest challenge is to meet the varied expectations of the guests within the budgets restrictions. Theme weddings also involve huge logistics coordination and planning which becomes tiresome for the family members, she added.


Weddings and honeymoons undeterred by Rupee depreciation

The depreciation of the Rupee has put the tourism industry in something of a pickle over the forecast of outbound travel in the coming months, especially the holiday season that is a popular travel period. However, Indian weddings have carried on unfased by the Rupee value drop, and so, of course, have honeymoon travels. Indian travel agents and tour operators have not held back while dipping their feet in this pool, especially for honeymoons. And not just because travelling abroad is the new norm for honeymoons. Indian traveller has become more experimental and is ready to pay for the comfort and luxury of a quality honeymoon while also opting for new activities, giving tour operators a chance to serve them better with newer options.

According to Karan Anand, Head-Relationships, Cox & Kings, Honeymoon packages contribute 20 per cent to Cox & Kings’ annual business with the growth being approximately 10 per cent year on year. “Weddings and honeymoons are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Planning for these are done and accounted for. For Indians, travelling overseas is an aspiration and they will not give it up just because of the rupee depreciation. Indians work with a budget in mind when they plan their holidays and a fluctuation in exchange rate is not a factor that can act as a deterrent in holiday,” said Anand.

Agreeing with him, Vishal Suri, Chief Executive Officer, Tour Operating, Kuoni India stated that, With rising disposable income and increasing desire to have unique experiences, they do not compromise on budget while planning a honeymoon. He further opined that honeymoon couples have begun to prefer international destinations over domestic ones. “Despite the depreciating rupee and rising airfares, honeymooners are not willing to compromise while planning their honeymoon. They do not mind spending more than what they had originally budgeted for in order to have a memorable holiday experience,” he added.

“Indian honeymooners are increasingly opting for packages to off the beaten track and not the usual run off the mill destinations. Couples have begun to prefer destinations that offer new attractions and activities to indulge in such as skiing, self-drive in luxury sedans, spa, luxury cruises, castle-stay, helicopter rides and soft adventure. Adventure sports are also generating considerable interest from honeymooners. Scuba diving and white water river rafting are preferred by adventure seekers. We have to keep bringing innovation into our packages as a large number of couples want to see and engage in outdoor romantic activities. Whether it be enjoying a hot air balloon ride through the Avon valley of Australia and sipping champagne, or dining in the middle of a tropical rainforest, Couples seek for a number of romantic activities for them to engage in,” revealed Suri.

The perfect addition to a happy experience is to pamper bridal couples and newlyweds, and Indian tour operators are more than willing to go the extra mile to add to the couple’s happiness with the best possible arrangements. Cox & Kings, Anand stated, has specific Romance packages which include candle-lit dinners, chauffeur driven cars, romantic boat rides and excursions to islands, etc. “Since these packages are customised, we can adjust/add any factor that the couples desire, depending on the budget,” he said.

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Web In Travel (WIT) together organised the inaugural India Travel Executive Forum in Bengaluru. The half-day event, themed ‘Deconstructing the India Story’, welcomed high-level speakers from India’s travel and tourism industry.

With technology adoption enveloping the travel and hospitality arena, it is imperative for the operators to fast track and be in sync with the connected travellers and latest trends in the sector, believes Yeoh Siew Hoon, Editor and Founder, WIT. “The Forum is a stark reminder that deconstructing the India story is never easy. But in the half-day event I believe WIT India tapped into a new optimistic mood for travel,” she added.

“Working with WIT to bring key insights from Singapore’s TravelRave to India enables the travel ecosystem here to plug into latest trends in travel technology, entrepreneurship and innovation across Asia,” said Chang Chee Pey, Executive Director, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Singapore Tourism Board.

The Big Picture

The role of technology in travel comprises of a staggering percentage of the travel industry’s revenue – keeping up with its key trends is make or break if you wish to remain competitive in this space. “India’s online travel market is booming with online leisure/unmanaged business travel bookings projected to account for one third of the total Indian travel market,” Animesh Kumar, Head of Marketing, Yatra.

Agreeing with this fact, Mohit Gupta, Chief Business Officer, MakeMyTrip shared, “If you look at internet users in the past few quarters, the numbers have grown from 120 million to 210 million, and maybe another quarter down the line, it will be 230-240 million. This in itself is proof that it is imperative for the travel industry to evolve and keep up with this trend. MakeMyTrip in the past few years has recorded a significant growth in revenue and this is all due to the tech savvy Asian Millennial Travellers (ATM).”

The Indian online travel space is extremely optimistic on the internet penetration in the country. “With the increasing use of smartphones and tablets, the internet user base is also increasing. The said medium has become extremely popular among travellers,” opined Subramanya Sharma, Chief Marketing Officer, Cleartrip.

Internet: A boon to Travel

Asian travellers are not just booking travel on their devices, but are also sharing their travel experiences and researching on mobile more readily than their Western counterparts, shared Vikram Malhi, Managing Director, Expedia Asia. “Mobile is a huge area of investment for Expedia, and the findings reinforce our aim to offer travellers a complete experience, from pre-booking to post-vacation, across devices,” Malhi added.

Expedia’s Flip Flop Report documents that Indian travellers posted the most photos/videos while on vacation (50 snaps per week).

“The Indian opportunity for the travel industry is phenomenal, the biggest story being mobile. At Expedia India, we are witnessing 40 per cent traffic and 20 per cent bookings through the mobile channel. With a promising future for travel, India needs more travel-focused events,” concluded Malhi.

Keeping it traditional

A majority of Indian travellers still rely on traditional sources such as travel agents and tour operators. This suggests a penchant for more information rather than online information, opined Ashwini Kakkar, Executive Vice Chairman, Mercury Travels. “We are well aware of the importance of the internet but we are the ones that offer our travellers customised service when they are stranded in a different country facing a mishap. An OTA cannot reach out to you with help, but we can.”

Madhavan Menon, Managing Director, Thomas Cook (India) further mentioned that, despite India’s fast-growing online travel market, traditional players still have a strong hold on cash-rich, time-poor segments of the market while leveraging technology to adapt to changes and transform.”

Technology is the traveller’s best friend

The outlook for travel and hospitality looks buoyant with the latest innovations in cloud based hospitality management systems and better connectivity through effective communication equipments apart from efficient back-office accounting systems. Online booking engines, location- based services and many more are contributing towards an enhanced customer experience enabling the traveller on the move.

Aloke Bajpai, CEO and Co-founder, ixigo said, “For the industry, the key lies in identifying most relevant technology investments in line with the company’s goals to reduce the time spent on operations and connect with customers in a better way. With the growth of mobile and the use of big data, the opportunities to reach the right customer at the right time area endless.”

In the system of travel distribution, hotels, flights, car rental, local accommodation are all commoditised and readily available online, but tours and activities, which are the last step in travel distribution online, is a niche still highly fragmented.

Shedding light on his product offering, Clement Wong, Founder, BeMyGuest said, “Most activity providers generate sales of well under S$1 million annually and lack the resources to invest in modern distribution technology and none of the leading online travel agencies have their own tours and activities content. BeMyGuest empowers local businesses with free technology that allows them to digitalise their products and grow their business online.”

He further opined that, having worked in the area of travel technology and distribution, the conclusion drawn is that the long tail of travel – anything outside of air and hotels, has barely been covered. BeMyGuest aims to be the travel intermediary to aggregate and distribute the long tail of travel and capture everything post flight booking.

Their main focus is on emerging markets around the world while targeting core tourism markets at the same time. “We want to be the booking engine with the most comprehensive local travel experience content. It is very exciting for us to foray into the India market. We want to be forerunners in this niche space,” Wong said.

Talking about connecting with the trade, Wong stated, “We empower the local providers of tours and activities with our content management technology. Our technology enables them to market tours and activities with both consumers directly and through using syndications who manage digitalised content for the travel ecosystem.”

Wong commented that working in India will present a unique set of challenges every day. “We are scaling up our team regionally and aim to cement our market leadership position in Asia within the next 24 months,” he concluded.

Adding a feather to its cap SATTE will now brandish the Incredible India! logo. The Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India has officially decided to extend its support to SATTE 2014. Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India opined, “SATTE has evolved into the most important tourism event in India. It is a platform that helps India showcase it’s diverse tourism offerings to the overseas market. I really hope SATTE grows to greater heights, and I commend the organisers for putting up a great show.”

SATTE has evolved into a one of the biggest travel trade events globally and has enjoyed much acclaim in international business circles, having worked closely with renowned travel associations and organisations. To be held between January 29 -31, 2014 and February 3-4, 2014 in New Delhi and Mumbai respectively, the event aims to bring together stakeholders of the industry under one roof.



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