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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

Vishal Sinha, Chief Executive Officer, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) shares his perspective on the evolving Corporate Travel Market in India

 

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) has been taking innovative routes to help corporate and SMEs to adopt managed travel programme. The company is designing all its services for end employee. CWT has constantly been simplifying the processes to offer a seamless experience to its customers. Excerpts from interview:

How do you see corporate travel market evolving in India?

The Corporate Travel market in India is worth about US$47 billion by end of 2019. It is growing at a CAGR of 12 per cent YoY. We would be a US$90 billion market by 2030 only from the business travel point of view. The opportunity and the size of the market are enormous. However, only 10 per cent of the US$47 billion business is actually managed corporate travel.  Managed corporate travel includes travel policies, compliance, negotiated rates and booking tools in place.

Initially, we had global corporate and we were servicing them out of India. Now, more and more Indian MNCs are looking at being able to consolidate their travel program. And, the benefits come in terms of savings, compliance and duty of care.

It is just not about saving money by booking cheap hotels but to make sure that employs are productive while travelling. Traditionally, our platforms were more of helping in securing better rates to make bookings.  Now, the focus is on offering a better end user experience. We need to make sure that we are helping the employees. Business travellers are travelling to be able to connect with business partners to grow the business. Hence, we are looking at productivity of the business.

Indians are price sensitive. They do look at prices but they are value driven too. So, price cannot be the only consideration.

What is Business-to-Business-for-Employees (B2B4E) and why it was needed?

Our core function of making a booking, securing rate for the corporate and making sure that we are choosing the right airline still remains the same. We want to make sure to offer seamless experience to employee. Travel by itself needs an extra effort and how can we make sure that we are making it easier when one is actually looking at the booking process. There are four important elements for a corporate travel : Plan, Book, Fly and on the road, and submit expenses on return. We are making sure to make these four elements absolutely seamless for an employee. So, planning is easy as we are offering them tool of personalization. The tool looks at giving best options to finalise and book in one click. This is the personalisation that making sure that we are picking up the choice of the customers and than making the booking for him. Also, this is in line with the company’s travel policy.

What sorts of challenges do you see in terms of policy compliance?

We have only 10 per cent of business under managed corporate travel. In this 10 per cent, we see a high level of compliance. We are seeing more and more companies looking at the changing their policies. It is also been able to look at the policy from different perspective. So, more and more companies looking what exactly policy needs to drive. We are at a stage where corporate travel business is evolving in India. There is an element of discipline which needs to be mandated. We are making sure that people are adhering to it. Gradually, it is happening.  Most of Indian companies which are actually looking at consolidating their travel business, the compliance level is pretty high. The adoption of SBT or OBT is also high. It also depends on traveler’s generation. We are working towards making sure that our app has content and it is easy to use.  We do help our clients in drafting the right travel policies and manage the change. The policies have to be under laid with the booking patterns. So, we are integrating a couple of systems to give them a seamless experience. Here, we are investing a lot of time and technology.

How many corporate clients CWT serves in India?

We have close to 220 large corporates and around 2,500 -3,000 SMEs as our clients. For SMEs, we have a product called CWT For You which enables SMEs for airline and hotel booking. There are no commitments from travel point of view. Anyone can book and fly. We offer very good rates as CWT has negotiated rates with airlines for SMEs. The rates allow SMEs free cancellation, book seats and meals but it is the part of the low cost carriers. We have our own contracted rates with hotels which gives SMEs the facility of early check in and late check outs.

Are you finding difficult to convince SMEs?

We have given SMEs a platform for hotel and air bookings. So, rather than going to five different airlines or hotels, one can get all booking related services at one platform. We are creating the awareness though our marketing campaigns. We are working with some of our partners to be able to promote CWT For You, an online tool. We are using social media to reach out to customers. We see a lot of repeat customers on this tool. We are also seeing the increasing adoption of this tool by SMEs. Our SMEs client count grew from 700 to 2,500 -3,000 without any big advertising.

What is B2B4E’s impact on strengthening your leadership position globally and in India?

We make sure that employees are happy while booking their trips. We are helping the CFOs to make sure that they are able to save money through their travel policies. The whole procurement of travel is changing. Initially, it was probably the procurement and travel managers who used to have a major say to look at what exactly are being chosen from TMCs point of view. Now, there is a lot more involvement of CFOs because they are not only looking at saving money but also looking at trends and bigger picture and here we help them from data point of view. Secondly, from CHRO perspective, it is the well being of the employees. Travel is not about savings and bookings. We actually work on happiness index to make sure that employees are happy when they have travelled as duty or care and well being is very important.

Where do you see TMCs in triangle of business module of suppliers, corporate and TMC in driving travel spends for a corporate : as partner, advisor or fulfillment wing?

We are the connect between the suppliers and the corproates. We are giving the platform to corporate and suppliers to be able to reach out to the right client, make sure that we are giving them the content, the relevant content. We work very closely with our suppliers and corporates. We work in a very transparent way. We are making things easier for them. We are working towards having a win-win situation for everyone.  We cannot work in isolation. If you give traveler an experience at par with what they get in the personal life, they will come back to you. We are at a stage where corporate travel segment is evolving in India. In US and Europe, it is an evolved space. We need to make sure that travel policy is mandated. 

Delhi-based Destination Management Company Eastbound Group, a congregation of five companies such as 2Hub, Distinct Destination, CHIME, Byond and Eastbound Discoveries catering to different verticals of the industry, is going upward on its growth trajectory. Eastbound is mostly catering to high-end inbound segment throughout the premium markets in the world.

 “We are growing on an average of 15 per cent. However, overall industry is not growing with the same pace like before as market is settled down now. Our main source markets USA, UK, Germany and Australia and these markets have grown for us. We are one of the first ones to reach US market with proper strategies. We need to be much more innovative and competitive to keep growing in these markets,” Manish Pratik, Director, Eastbound, said adding that Eastbound is one of early movers to the US market with proper strategies. Pratik is responsible for inbound division of the company.

Replying to a question over selecting only the high-end segment, Pratik said that there is a huge market available in this segment. “We wanted to create a niche for ourselves. We forayed into the market with certain strategies, expertise and mindset to tap the high-end segment of the business. Due to our specialization and personalized service, we have not seen any de-growth in the business,” he informed.

Elaborating it further, he opined that the industry is facing some challenges. “I think if India is marketed well, it will continue to remain a destination fitting into the bracket of the high quality market due to our heritage, quality hotels and services. Perhaps, the slowdown in the West and our high taxation regime has made India expensive destination. We have competition from South East Asia and Sri Lanka which are cost effective destinations. We need to be competitive on taxation front,” he said.

Talking about the traveler’s profile of the Eastbound, he said that Eastbound caters to clients who spend US$ 4,000-5,000. “They buy expensive tours, looking for unique and experiential tours, and their age is 40 years and above.  We generate 6,000 to 8,000 high-end tourists in a year,” he informed. 

According to him, a lot of British and Germans are going to experiential destinations such as Maheshwar and Mandu, Hampi, Ananda, tiger and tribal circuits amongst others. “Gujarat has picked up for textile tours. Tourists are also opting for river cruises in Eastern India as there is a renewed interest in Kolkata, Brahamputra and Kaziranga. Rajasthan is still famous for Forts and Palaces. There is a lot of interest in islands like Lakshadweep and Andaman,” he said.

On the trends in inbound, Pratik said that the Group Travel is definitely going down unless it is for specific purposes like MICE. “Families and friends travel are on upswing. Small group travel is more popular today. People are looking at experiential travel as they want to get more value. Tourists are now looking at indulging in more and more participative and experiential travel,” he revealed and added that overall quality tourist is not growing which is a matter of concern for the industry. “Incredible India campaign gave a big flip to inbound tourism. We need a strong Incredible India 3.0 campaign to portray India’s image as a tourist destination globally,” he opined.

In mid to long term, Eastbound is looking to position itself as one-stop shop where in it offers products for all segments. “We are trying to gear ourselves on product fronts so that we can cover all sorts of interest areas. We are trying to cater to special interest travelers. We have come up with our product line ‘Eastbound Outdoor’ which is soft adventure tour. We have developed certain products under this with local experts. We have to continuously keep on innovating to be known as a complete service provider. We offer around 30-35 special interest itineraries which are carefully curated by us,” Pratik concludes.

StayWell Hospitality Group, which currently operates 75 hotels across the world with 52 owned and remaining on management and franchise contracts, is targeting to have 250 hotels globally in the next 10 years. India, as one of the fastest growing economy, is also set to contribute to this expansion and growth plan.  “This year, between September to December, we have about 5 openings globally,” Rohit Vig, Regional Managing Director – India, told T3. The Group currently operates 5 key brands :   The Prince Akatoki, Park Regis, Policy, Prince and Leisure Inn. 

Talking about the India market, Vig said that the Group has currently 6 operational properties in India and 6 properties are under development. “We have 3 Park Regis in India one each in Goa, Kumarakom and Jaipur. We already have over 10 Lesiure Inn all across the world and we have 3 hotels already operational in India one each in Jaipur, Gurgaon and Kochi. We have 6 more hotels under development under Leisure Inn and Park Regis both,” he said adding that the Group is also looking at brining the newly launched brand Policy to India. “The Policy brand is meant for the young and discerning traveler with a lot of concentration on interior design, social/community spaces and our key target cities in India for this brand would be Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai,” he informed.

The Group recently opened the first The Prince Akatoki hotel in London and the second hotel under this brand is set to open in Guangzhou, China in January 2020. “The Prince Akatoki will come to India also in 2020 and the key target cities would be Delhi and Mumbai. This may come through management contract or by acquisition.  If we find the right deal, the right location and the right product, we might go for acquisition,” Vig said.

According to him, the expansion in India will be combination of both owned and management contracts. “We also do investments in India through deposits called Key Money. So, for Park Regis, we are very happy to look at that route of expansion under management contract to grow this brand quickly. We actually have 350-room hotel that we have signed the term sheet and we are looking at signing the final contract within this year which will open doors in Q1 of 2020,” he informed.

As the mid-market and budget segment of hotel industry sees the maximum development, StayWell is also looking to expedite the development of Leisure Inn. “We are looking at opportunities in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Amritsar where we are in advance stage of negotiations with owners to be signed soon. Our focus will be on Leisure Inn. For Leisure Inn, we are looking at opportunities in Tier II cities such as Shimla, Nainital under management contracts,” he added.  All 6 operational hotels in India are performing exceptionally well, Vig informed.

Despite having 70 per cent of the Himalayas, around 7000 kms of coastline, India being among the one of the three countries in the world with both hot and cold deserts, ranks 10th in total area under forest cover and 6th in terms of number of recognised UNESCO Natural Heritage sites, a varied flora and fauna, Indian adventure tourism is yet at a nascent stage but charting its own growth path. The latest emphasis of the Ministry of Tourism to make adventure tourism as the next engine of tourism growth by opening of 124 new peaks definitely augurs well for global adventure market. Of late, adventure tourism is emerging as one of the fastest growing segments in India with more and more travellers are opting for experiential tourism.

As per industry guestimates, inbound adventure tourism in India is growing 5-7 per cent annually and domestic adventure tourism is growing by 20-25 per cent.  According to market research expert Nielsen, over one billion travellers experienced adventure tourism globally and India attracted just over 3.4m adventure tourist visits in 2015. Of this number, about 15 per cent are foreign adventure tourists. Meanwhile, revenue generated from domestic adventure tourist visits to India amounted to approx. US$ 190 mn in 2015, according to Nielsen, while foreign adventure tourist visits to India generated about US$ 70 mn.

Adventure tourism is resilient, supports local economies, attracts   high   value customers   and encourages   sustainable   practices. However, adventure tourism remains a relatively small market in India as compared to the West. The main reason for the slow growth is the lack of clear cut policy and regulations as well as infrastructure. Historically, India has also suffered from an image problem - in particular relating to safety standards. Hence, the facility and support staffs need to be developed to the global standards.

Also, one of the contributors to the accelerated growth of this niche segment is the growing number of operators across different adventure beats. While there is an increase in the number of service providers, the larger question about their regulation needs to be dealt with. The adventure tourism industry still includes an unorganised sector that needs to come under immediate scrutiny.

Current status

According to Akshay Kumar, CEO, Mercury Himalayan Explorations and Former President of  Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), adventure travel in India is estimated to be above Rs 2000 crores. “However, this is only a guesstimate as no official statistics are available.  Globally the adventure travel market is valued at US$ 683billion (ATTA figures) and 41 per cent of all global travellers have been known to devote a part of their holiday itinerary to active and adventure tourism. The segment has been witnessing an average annual growth of 21 per cent. However, all these figures do not take the Indian and Chinese market into consideration but the study suggests that the next decade of growth in the industry will be driven by India and China,” Kumar says adding that India is primarily and un-organised adventure market and we still need to work hard to realise our true potential.

Tejbir Singh Anand, MD, Holiday Moods Adventures and Vice President, ATOAI, states that the domestic market is booming and it is one of the few segments of the travel trade where the business is hands full and operators and camps are busy throughout the year. “There was a time when only in summers we used to operate adventure trips but now we are busy throughout the year because of the demand. The Gen "X" and the millenials are keeping us hands full. The segment is growing at 15-20 per cent CAGR. The corporates are using adventure activities and trips big time for their offsites and training programs. The school and educational institutions have finally realised the great potential of being outdoors and the real time learning that a child inculcates from adventure and nature based travel,” Anand opines.

Daniel D’souza, President and Country Head Leisure, SOTC Travel,  says that while India is evolving in adventure tourism,  there is still a long way to go. “The SOTC India Holiday Report 2019 revealed that exploration and adventure are major reasons for holidays in the country. 59 per cent of Gen Z travellers choose to travel to experience adventure sports and activities, 42 per cent of Gen X travellers also choose to explore adventure tourism with their families,” he reveals.

Policy issues

The Union Ministry of Tourism has come out with Guidelines for Adventure Tourism in 2018. However, it has not received desired support from the states. While few states are more proactive, others have not paid heed to the guidelines.  “States like Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Chattisgarh have already adopted the Guidelines. Many other state governments are in the final stages of adoption. Kerala have gone a step further by making regulations around adventure activities which will soon be passed by the state cabinet. This will make Kerala the first state in the country to do so,” Kumar informs.

Echoing the similar sentiment, Anand says that the Ministry has requested all states to implement these guidelines. “Few states have been very forthcoming but majority are still yet to adopt and promote them. Not only the safety guidelines, but all states need to immediately adopt the registration and licensing process of recognizing an operator as an "Adventure Tour Operator". I feel that these guidelines should be made mandatory for practising safe adventure travel,” Anand adds.

Prahlad Singh Patel, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (IC), also emphasized at various forums on the need for ensuring safety of those travellers going for adventure tourism. He urged the states to exercise utmost caution while registering adventure tourism operators and also to ensure that the adventure tourism guidelines are followed by the states. 

Giving a major boost, the Ministry recently opened 124 peaks to foreigners for mountaineering and trekking. While this is a welcome move by the industry, there is a rider here as well. “This is a very positive and welcome step. However, mountaineering expeditions now require an 'X" climbing visa to come to India and this further complicates the matter. Ministry of Tourism has promised all possible help to remove this stipulation and also to try and get many other peaks opened. India has 1000s of mountains even in open areas that remain unaccessible to adventurers. We look forward to all our mountains being thrown open in the near future,” Kumar says.

According to Anand, there is no doubt that this is a game changer. “However like all good things, this news also has a rider. A person coming in to India for climbing a peak has to apply for an "X" visa, which sadly takes almost six months to process making it a very frustrating experience. We have been requesting MOT & MHA to kindly consider removing this and letting adventure enthusiasts use the Tourist Visa. Once this is implemented, there would be a surge of adventurers thronging India and promoting inbound adventure tourism,” Anand says.   

Challenges

The segment faces hurdles of centralising safety standards and streamlining practises. There is no framework that adventure tour operators must adhere to which means nearly anyone can begin to conduct adventure sports activities without adequate regard to safety.

Outlining the challenges, Kumar says that Indian adventure travel market is primarily unorganized as only a handful of operators even bother to take the voluntary recognition. “Most of our prime adventure locations either fall in forest or restricted areas limiting the choices for the adventurerers. The new market is focussing on cheap and mass adventure travel. This not only devalues the product but also compromises on safety and ends up ruining pristine natural heritage with no checks on numbers,” he says and adds that there are no set procedures to provide rescue and medical assistance in remote regions. “Communications are a challenge as Sat phones are not allowed in Ladakh, Kashmir and North East regions which are the hot bed for adventure travel. Also, an absence of a national adventure travel policy remains a challenge for growth. We also do not have proper training facilities,” Kumar reveals.

Anand feels that there is a need to have focused strategy. “India has all the ingredients to be the best seller, but what is holding back? There is no dearth of vision, skill set, talent or leadership. Geographically, we are endowed which no other country can boast of. Perhaps a focussed strategy with a very strong intent is what is lacking. Globally, people don't even know that 73 per cent of the Himalaya lie in India. We need to launch a persistent campaign of creating awareness globally,” Anand says. Kumar agrees that there is a need to have a dedicated promotional campaign  for positioning India as a adventure tourism destination. “The time has come for India to realise its potential through utilising our natural heritage. We have to move away from selling only monuments and culture and focus big on selling our mountains, rivers, forests and deserts,” he says. Anand also feels the same when he says that it is high time Incredible India wakes up and focuses on the ‘Incredible Indian Himalaya’ as everyone now knows where the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Goa and Kerala is.  

According to D’Souza, lack of basic infrastructure facilities, appropriate tented accommodation sites, scarcity of skilled and professional trained instructors, lack of financial support from government or private entities for procuring and maintaining equipment, establishing high standard of safety and need of up-scaling the marketing and awareness campaigns to promote adventure destination are some of the challenges that this niche segment has been facing.

Trends

Replying to a question on quality and standards, Anand says that our safety standards in the organised sector are comparable to the best in the world. “In service standards, we leave the world behind. Nowhere in the world, a client gets so much attention and personalised services as in India. The "Athiti Devo Bhavo" is very true sentiment in every tourism stakeholder.” Kumar also shares the same thing. “A few operators are as good and even surpass international standards. However, most adventure travel operators in India are still way below par,” Kumar adds.

Commenting on the trends, Kumar says that soft adventure still remains the most selling product. “However, more and more Indian travellers are now looking at harder and more active holidays. Amateur Mountaineering, long multi day treks, scuba diving, off roading, motor bike trips, cycling holidays, Ziplines are all growing exponentially,” Kumar informs.

Anand says that cycling and motorcycling, marathon, travelling with family, health and wellness travel, school groups and honeymooners are the emerging segments.

 They are of the opinion that it is the domestic market that is and will drive the adventure segment.  “A majority of adventure travellers in India are domestic. However they remain a budget market. There has been a subtle shift towards high paying adventure holidays picking up for domestic tourism,” Kumar says.  Anand feels that Indians are trailblazing new destinations across the globe. “The future of an Indian traveler is not in sedentary travel for sure. It is the bucket list driving the business. Indians are seeking some of the latest aspirational destinations such as Trans Siberian train journeys from Moscow to Beijing across Mongolia and Siberia,train travel in South African covering lesser visited wildlife national parks, experience Gorilla's in Rwanda, experiencing Northern Lights and exploratory cruises to Antarctica, North pole, Amazon River, Nile River, Mekong River and Yellow River where ancient civilizations flourished.

The issue of sustainability does come on the fore with the growth of this segment. “Sustainability and responsible tourism is now the main objective of our business now. We have even gone to the extent of removing itineraries that do not support the ethos of sustainable tourism. We firmly believe in conservation.  Our trips have minimal impact on the physical, cultural and social environment of the area,” he says.  Mercury Himalayan Explorations takes pride in its SOPs that focus on responsible and sustainable practices. “Our maximum group size is 12-15 pax. Our instructor to client ratio is 1:5. We follow no single use plastic on treks, lodges and camp sites we operate. We ensure to bring back all non bio degradable waste to nearest town.And, we leave the maximum profits with local communities,” Kumar adds.

In conclusion, there  is  an  immense  potential  for  development  of  adventure tourism  in India  since India has all the requirements for developing all kinds of adventure tourism activities possible. Globally, people are looking for experiential tourism and are not satisfied with just looking at monuments. Adventure Tourism is a low-hanging fruit for India and with a little bit of investment and focus the country can become a preferred adventure travel destination. Adventure tourism is a space that needs to be looked upon in more depth as it does not only contribute to the overall growth of the industry but ensures the ecology, mountains and the forests are safe.

Asian Hotels West which owns the JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity and Hyatt Regency Mumbai and developed properties from mid-scale to high end is aiming to acquire small boutique hotels. “Our expansion plan is limited due to the high cost of funds within the country but are open to small boutique hotels’ acquisitions,” Sandeep Gupta, Executive Director, Asian Hotels West, said. Gupta is of the opinion that the financial health of the India hotel industry is still strong. “The entry of PE players and large Real estate funds will make assets more Fund owned and less individual run,” he said citing the example of the Leela Hotels.

Talking about the performance of the industry, he said that there is definitely a slowdown in the economy. “The next four to five quarters need to be watched and see what’s the latest financial crisis brewing,” Gupta said. He revealed that Hyatt Regency Mumbai is stable in its market at above 70 per cent occupancy and JW Marriott is a growth asset looking at above 75 per cent occupancy year-round. Also, the contribution of F&B and MICE in overall revenue of these hotels stands at 25 to 30 per cent and 40 to 45 per cent respectively. “F&B is a great driver now for luxury hotels and top Chefs of the world like Heston Blumenthal want to come in too. However we need to have an open mind about other cultural preferences as well in cuisine. We have just one restaurant in the top 100 in the world,” he opined. Both these hotels get 35 to 40 per cent business from domestic market and remaining from the oversea markets.

Talking about the challenges, he said that disruptors like AirBnB and OYO have started making an impact, and general consolidation is also happening with large brand companies. “The bottom end of the market is being disrupted by OYO and Airbnb will first affect the leisure segment, and then the corporate travel segment,” he added.

Gupta said that Delhi Aerocity is a classic example of PPP working well with hotels, restaurants, large corporate offices and retail along with the airport hub helping the growth of the entire destination. Speaking on the growth propect of Indian hotel and tourism industry, Gupta said that it needs to grow at least 20-30 per cent annually to make it in the top ten destinations. “Hopefully, as infrastructure of air rail and road networks improves so will tourism. India needs to project itself as a “Clean and safe” destination first,” he said.

Shifting its strategy to the tune of changing market dynamics in order to maintain the growth momentum in the India market, Brand USA, the tourism promotion agency of the USA, has decided to replace ‘India Sales Mission’ to ‘Travel Week India’.  India is the second country to host Brand USA Travel Week after Europe.

“We just completed the Travel Week Europe in the beginning of September. It is a new way of doing business in Europe. It is like bringing buyers from all over Europe and USA’s destinations & organizations and conduct business meetings and seminars about the market. Travel Week India will be organized almost on the similar lines in New Delhi. India is the second market for Travel Week programme. It will be a 5 day programme from October 5-9, 2020 focused on educating Indian travel through augmented content,” Jackie Ennis, Senior Director, Global Trade Development for Brand USA, told on the sidelines of the 8th India Travel Mission 2019. Travel Week Europe attracted 97 US exhibitors and 180 ‘pre-qualified’ buyers from more than 20 European countries.

She expects participation 60 companies and organizations in the 1st India Travel Week. The objective is to have a deeper understanding of the demands and prevailing trends in the India market to the US suppliers, she said adding that the Travel Week is all about providing a forum that is the best for the US and offers the most effective stage possible for selling the US. While India Travel Mission was a multi-city event, the Travel Week India will be hosted in New Delhi and attended by buyers from pan India.

Talking about the performance of the India market, Ennis said the numbers from India has more than doubled in the last seven years. “In 2018, USA received 1.4 million Indian travelllers, reflecting a growth of 7.2 per cent over 2017. With this, India ranked at 10th position in terms of source market,” she said that Brand USA targets 22 countries within its area. “However, India is at number 5 position when it comes to visitors spend. The spend by Indian visitors was US$8.1 billion 2012 that jumped to US$15.8 billion in 2018,” she informed.

She said that Brand USA is again going to witness a growth in arrivals from India. “In July this year, Indian arrivals went up by 7 per cent despite some challenges. Our goal is to welcome 1.9 million Indian visitors by 2023. However, it depends on connectivity. We are hopeful to have more direct non-stop flights as we see the potential in the market,” Ennis opined.

Replying to a question over only 35 per cent of the people taking professional’s advise and remaining depends on other channels, she emphasised that  trade is equally important. “All destinations look to the trade as this is the way to focus resources. We can’t possibly go to all and promote the destination. The reality is that we have to be sensible in terms of touching the every level of trade whether it is product, retail and sells. We need to keep on evolving in our strategy by acknowledging the trends in the trade. So, we have to work with OTAs. Today, with digital platforms, we have the opportunity to marry travel trade with consumers. It is very important to work with trade,” she opined.

Brand USA, established by the Travel Promotion Act of 2010 to promote the country as a travel destination, is seeking reauthorisation as the current authorization lapses in September 2020. “Brand USA has to reauthorize the Brand USA programme in 2020. When TPA was signed in 2010 and renewed in 2014, we were authorised for five years each time. We are hopeful of getting reauthorization for another seven years. All segments of the industry are supporting the continuation of Brand USA,” she said.

West Bengal Tourism is now focused to reveal the untapped tourism potential of the state to the travel and tourism market. The state recently hosted the 35th Annual Convention of the Indian Association of Tour operators (IATO) in Kolkata. The city has changed remarkably in the last 10 years and we want to showcase the new face of Kolkata as a hub city and the tourism potential of the state to the India travel trade, Atri Bhattacharya, Principal Secretary (Tourism), Government of West Bengal said on the sideline of the IATO luncheon meeting in New Delhi last month.

Talking to media about the tourism potential of the state, Bhattacharya said that the state offers number of tourism circuits. “We are now going to aggressively promote heritage tourism with private parties because I believe that the Government should not extend its involvement in investment in business of tourism. There is a very nice circuit in the south western part of the state where one can have wilderness and adventure tourism with rivers, mountains and forests. We also have a great circuit in Dooars. We also have opportunities for business and recreational trips in the entire stretch from Kolkata to Durgapur to Asansol,” he said and announced that the State Tourism Department is planning to have a new slogan: “Ocean to the Sky”. “We may not necessarily change our tagline but we want to promote the diversity of the state,” he said

Replying to a question over promoting cultural tourism, Bhattacharya said the state has planned a series of festivals. “We have Durga Puja in October, followed by Kali Puja. Then, we have Kolkata International Film Festival in November which is growing in scale. In December, we will have Christmas Carnival in Kolkata. In January, we have Sangeet Mela,” he said and informed that the state is looking to organize River Festival in January. “We have signed a MoU with British Council and British Government for doing a River Festival in January. We would like to do it not only in Kolkata but at other two venues as well,” he revealed. Apart from these, the state tourism department is also focused on promoting the state’s cuisines in a big way, he said.

Talking about cruise tourism, he said that cruise tourism is growing from the last 5-6 years. “We have 4 vessels and we are taking two more.  We have two houseboat type vessels which can be used for meetings and we are getting two more to put up in other water bodies like Muktmanipur and Chandan Nagar,” he informed.

J K Mohanty, CMD, Swosti Group and Chairman, Hotel & Restaurant Association of Odisha & IATO Eastern Region, speaks about Odisha’s hotel industry and his Group as well.

The overall scenario of the hotel industry has improved a lot during the recent years. Various attractive campaigns of Odisha Tourism in the National TV Channels as well as tourism roadshows in domestic and international market have been very helpful in branding Odisha’s rich tourism potential and increasing tourist arrivals to our state. Excerpts from the interview:

How would you explain the latest trends in Odisha’s hotel industry?

Hotel industry in Odisha is on the rising trend. There is ample investment opportunity in tourism sector and our government is making all efforts to attract investment in tourism sector by creating land bank and engaging key state-based hoteliers to tap the franchise business model with flagship brands like Hilton Group, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, Raddison Hotels, Taj Group and Starwood.

Large hotel brands such as Taj Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, ITC Hotels and Crown Plaza have lined up plans for putting up properties in the state. Collaboration with the hospitality brands of repute could help showcase Odisha as a global tourism destination.

What unique challenges this industry is facing and what are the possible solutions according to you?

One of the biggest challenges faced by the hotel industry in the Odisha is lack of proper infrastructure in every tourist places of the state. The state has several places for tourist’s attraction, in the form of ancient monuments; beaches; religious places; hot springs; forest and wildlife; etc. But due to shortage of good quality accommodation tourists visiting these places are finding difficult for their stay. As per current demand-supply scenario, Odisha needs a minimum of additional 5,000 good quality star category rooms across the state, particularly in the key tourist destinations of Odisha to attract more high-end foreign as well as domestic tourists to the state.

With growing air connectivity, how do you see tourism scenario unfolding for Odisha?

Direct flight connectivity to various international destinations will definitely go a long way in attracting international tourists to Odisha . We definitely need more direct flights between Bhubaneswar Dubai and one European Connection.

What is your expansion plan?

Swosti Group currently operates 4 properties namely Swosti Premium Bhubaneswar, Swosti Grand Bhubaneswar, Gopalpur Palm Resort, Gopalpur-on-Sea and Swosti Chilika Resort. The Group is coming up soon with two beach resort projects, one at Gopalpur on Sea and another in Puri.  We already have land at Puri and acquired a patch of land at Gopalpur on Sea. 

How is the response from the market for Swosti Chilka Resort?

Within a short span of time, Swosti Chilika Resort has already made name as one of the best resorts in India. It has been widely acclaimed across the globe and has become a major tourist destination of the state.  VVIPs from different places, domestic and foreign tourists who have visited the property have highly appreciated the resort and its top class hospitality.

Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi, Tourism Minister of Odisha, talks about the plan of the government to establish Odisha as a better tourism destination

As the current tourism policy is meeting its time period, Odisha Tourism has started the process to formulate a New Tourism Policy. Excerpts from the interview: 

What approach Odisha Tourism is adopting to bring the state at the forefront of tourism?

We have adopted multi-pronged approach. The approach starts from policy changes which is going to happen in 2020, changes in Government’s plans and programs, the chief Minister’s charter to take Odisha at the newer height in the tourism by improving the performance of the Department of Tourism like other performing Departments in the government. We are looking at new projects, new investments, aggressive marketing and other fields.

Also, the Centre recently announced 17 iconic tourism sites and Odisha was not included. We all had to take up this very seriously because Konark is one of the UNESCO heritage sites. Now Union Tourism Minister has declared that one of the sites of Odisha will be included in the iconic sites list.

Our Chief Minister has also a written to the Union Tourism Minister. I met the Union Tourism Minister during State Tourism Ministers Conference. It was an error of omission.  Most likely, Konark will be included in the list of the iconic sites of the Government of India.

Are you coming out with a New Tourism Policy?

It is not a new policy. The current policy is going to complete it term. The draft policy should be ready by October and the new policy will be in place by January 2020.

What new elements will be incorporated in the new policy?

We are looking at the elements of the different kinds of tourism. We are clearly focused to position Odisha as a good tourism destination. We are developing circuits for religious, Buddhist, coastal etc. We have decided to develop 9 circuits. The idea is to offer all kind of tourism to visitors to the state.

How about air connectivity?

We are coordinating with the Civil Aviation Authorities. We are in talks with AirAsia and they are also interested.

What sort of increase in Tourism Budget is in place?

There is a marginal increase. However, we are going to get more funds in the Supplementary Budget in December and the 2020 Budget will have more funds as it will the year of tourism.

Odisha is majorly welcoming domestic tourists. Are you looking at tapping the potential of South East Asian countries for Buddhist tourism?

We are looking at all markets. We are going for international promotions through roadshows and travel marts starting from September to February. The plan is already in the place. We are going to 12 international destinations across the world.

In a recent meeting of state tourism ministers in New Delhi organized by the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel rightly said that India’s Tourism cannot meet its set target without the active participation, cooperation and support from the states. As Tourism is in the concurrent list of the Constitution, the Centre does not have much say in the state’s matter. The Union Tourism Ministry has already been supporting states through marketing support as well as financial support to develop and strengthen tourism sector of the state.

Going by the historical trends of state’s performance on the tourism matters, we can easily say that tourism is not in the priority list of majority of states. Kerala is exception here. Few more states like Madhya Pradesh, Goa and Rajasthan are slightly more focused than others.

We also noticed that many states do not have a rational tourism policy. The fundamentals of the most of the tourism policy are the same while states need an exclusive and specific policy. And, even they have good policy; the implementation mechanism is too weak. Like, most of the states have given emphasis on Public Private Partnership model to invite investment in tourism sector. Result on the ground states that only few states have succeeded in getting private investments that too just to an extent. We have a successful Kerala Model of tourism but states are not eager to adopt this. There is a total lack of will power among states for tourism.

The fund released by the Ministry of Tourism under PRASHAD and Swadesh schemes to develop tourism infrastructure has not been utilized. The fund utilization by many states stands at 20% -30%.  This itself says about the importance given to tourism by states.  One of the reasons is that tourism does not matter for most of the states. Even they know that tourism can be an important growth engine for the state’s economy, states are not according much importance to tourism. Most of states do not have a clear vision for tourism. Some of the states do not even wish to have.

So, what should be the way forward? As Patel said that there is a need for collective effort to position India as a perfect tourism destination in the global market. He urged all Tourism Ministers to share their issues related to tourism development. We, at T3, believe that its high time states should join hands with the Centre and work collectivity to reap the benefit of tourism. Without the support of states, the Ministry of Tourism cannot do much even they are trying give a due place to tourism in the India’s growth story.

 

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