Log in Register

Login to your account

Don't have an account yet? Register now!
Username *
Password *
Remember Me

Create an account

Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.
Name *
Username *
Password *
Verify password *
Email *
Verify email *
Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

With a substantial 20 per cent increase in Indian arrivals in the first five months of this year, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is aiming to welcome two million Indians in 2019. This was informed by Charun Ohnmee, Deputy Governor for Policy and Planning, TAT at the last leg of four city Indian roadshows in New Delhi recently. Thailand welcomed 1.6 million Indian visitors in 2018.

With a consistent growth in arrivals, TAT is now putting a lot of efforts for sustainable tourism. Ohnmee informed that Thailand has moved from being a mass tourism destination to a value-for-money destination and now looking at quality tourism to follow the practices of responsible and sustainable tourism. “We have changed the perception of being a cheap destination. We now set our target as tourism revenue only. We do not focus about the number of tourists going to Thailand. We do advertising, broadcast new messages to people and then talk to people on supply side. We tell them that we need quality tourism,” the Deputy Governor said.

Drawing his opinion on a report suggesting Thailand’s aims to receive 10 million Indian tourists by 2028, he said that TAT is looking at India market too seriously with a focussed marketing and promotional strategy for India. “India and Thailand are quite close because we have a strong faith in our strong and similar culture. So, Indians love to visit Thailand,” said.

Recalling the arrival trends from India, Ohnmee looked optimistic to accomplish the target. However, he agreed to the fact that the entitled seats between India and Thailand under the existing aviation bilateral has almost exhausted. Currently, there are more than 300 weekly flights between India and Thailand.

The consistent rise in Indian arrivals to Thailand is due to the directed marketing strategy of TAT for this market. “Now we are focusing on leisure, family and wedding segments. We have to look now for millennials, female and solo tourists, MICE, senior citizens, Golf and honeymooner,” he added. TAT has always been coming up with segment wise marketing strategy for India and it has produced desired result. “We have developed microsites to promote different segments. We have developed a micro-website for first time visitors to Thailand. The site gives all relevant information to first time visitors and is getting very good response from India,” Isra Stapanaseth, Director of TAT New Delhi Office said.

Replying to a question over performance of TAT in China and European market, Ohnmee said, “It is completely different. I think number of tourists from European market is about 6.5 million. China is quite close to us and they can travel year around. China has a large middle class and we are a big market for them. We did not put more money and efforts for the Chinese market,” Ohnmee said and added that the profile of European travellers is quite different. “We try to upgrade our supply side and constantly improving to meet up their requirements. They come to Thailand from September up to March. So, for this period, we try to find some joy activities and do more promotions to draw more European tourists,” he informed.

Pinki Arora, Executive Director, Direct Representation – responsible of marketing Thailand in North and East India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, informed that TAT is actively looking at tier -II & III cities in India to maintain the growth trends to Thailand. “We are getting very good response from cities like Chandigarh, Amritsar, Pune, Nagpur, Lucknow, Jaipur, and Ahmedabad amongst others,” Arora said.

India currently ranks at 6th position as a source marker for Thailand is at number six source market after China, Malaysia, Lao, South Korea and Japan.

Thailand currently offers free Visa on Arrival for Indians and will continue to do so till October 31, 2019.

The hospitality industry in India is set to witness a better performance in 2019 almost after a gap of a decade. During the last few years, the industry was stuck in a crack due to oversupply, disruptions through technological innovations and a slowdown in demand due to macro issues. However, the scenario has changed since last few months and industry is expecting a better performance on major parameters. Experts of the industry believe that increasing middle class, rising disposable income, growing air connectivity and improving road infrastructure, rapid growth in domestic tourism and favorable policy initiatives are set to push the occupancy, Average Room Rate (ARR) and RevPar for the industry this year. Also, industry would witness gradual and sustainable rise in room rates backed with strong occupancies over next three-four years. This will put the industry back into its growth cycle after almost a decade.

According to Achin Khanna, Managing Partner – Strategic Advisory, Hotelivate, the past 24 months have played witness to a consistent growth in occupancy across most hotel markets in India. “Breaching the 65 per cent nationwide threshold, some markets have clocked 70 per cent plus occupancies as well. The ARR story continues to be modest though. While it is true that rates haven’t grown by leaps, it is equally pertinent to note that the blended nationwide ARR appears to grow slowly because a larger portion of the existing supply is budget and midscale positioned. The silver lining, however, is that there is growth in rates across most markets, albeit marginal,” Khanna added.

Increasing occupancies, ARR & RevPar

As demand is outpacing the supply, there is a clear indication that hotel occupancy, ARR and RevPar will see an increase this year which will continue for the next three to four years. Mandeep S. Lamba, President (South Asia), HVS Anarock informs that the industry has seen a steady growth in occupancy over the last three years growing from 61 per cent in 2016 to 66 per cent in 2018 along with a corresponding increase in ADR’s from Rs. 5550 in 2016 to Rs. 5950 in 2019 and RevPars from Rs. 3358 in 2016 to Rs. 3927 in 2018. “RevPar grew at the rate of 9.6 per cent in 2018 over 2017 and we expect it to grow by an additional 9.5 per cent in 2019 on the back of higher ADR’s,” Lamba opines.   

Ajay Bakaya, Managing Director, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, also feels that RevPar has steadily improved, primarily driven by rate increase in the last two to three years. “The increase in ARR driven RevPars are more obvious in certain submarkets like Bengaluru and Hyderabad (Hitec city area). Most markets are still doing room occupancies story. The limited supply side additions have definitely helped,” Bakaya says adding that that Sarovar is seeing reasonable growths in both occupancies and in ARR. “We currently have a measured outlook for ARR increases. Properties which are now hitting 70-80 per cent occupancies can certainly do the rate yielding. For the rest, it will not be easy to play the rate yield game except certain dates/periods,” he says. He is confident that markets like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Mumbai will show increase in ARR. “The moderation however comes in form of the macro economic pointers. Currently, they are vague and do not reflect the big demand surge for the coming season as was expected,” Bakaya reveals.

Prashant Mehrotra, Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer, Lemon Tree Hotels feels that the current financial year started off at a slow pace in terms of occupancy going down by 300 bsp as compared to the previous financial year primarily due to elections. “India reported occupancy at 67 per cent, ARR at Rs 6169 and Rev Par at Rs 4153. The slump in occupancy rates has also impacted the ARR downwards by Rs 350. However, from second quarter onwards, we foresee a jump in the occupancy rates across India which is expected to result in occupancies slightly over the 70 per cent mark and consequently create a four to five per cent jump in the ARR over FY 19,” Mehrotra says. 

According to Khanna, occupancy across most major markets will continue to rise. “However, weekday-weekend seasonality does tend to put a cap on the upper limit of this growth. Most corporate/ commercial markets tend to peak in their mid-seventies and even the strongest leisure destinations (save Goa) do not breach late sixties. Given that many markets are already headed in this direction, coupled with the fact that demand is indeed outpacing supply in various locations, the continued growth of ARR is plausible,” Khanna says.

Slower pace of development

While performance parameters of hotels are going up, the pace of development has slowed down due to many issues. Several cities have witnessed an excessive growth in supply over demand in last three to four years impacting the overall performance of the industry. “There are roughly about 52,000 rooms in various stages of planning and development. Almost 35,000 are actively under construction. While the pace of new projects announcements had indeed slowed down in the past couple of years, recent months are showing signs of resurgence,” Khanna says.

Lamaba also believes the same. While the number of branded hotel keys signed in 2016 and 2017 remained stagnant at circa 16000 keys in about 170 hotels, 2018 witnessed a significant growth with over 19000 keys in 210 hotels having been signed during the year, Lamba adds and anticipates a similar number of keys being signed in 2019.

Bakaya, however, feels that the luxury/ultra luxe segment Greenfield investments have decreased considerably due to high capital expenditure and unfavorable lending regime. “The ROIs on these projects have never been more lopsided. However, the mid-segment still continues to go strong in terms of development. We ourselves have a pipeline of 30+ hotels in 25+ destinations slated to open in a time frame beginning this month till next 24 months,” Bakaya adds.

Chander K. Baljee, Managing Director, Regenta & Royal Orchid Hotels, opines that there was a boom in the Indian hospitality industry during 2003 – 2008. “The recession started in 2008 and the market was left with a demand-supply mismatch from here on till 2017. The development pipeline has now slowed down and demand is picking up, which is healthy for the industry. We will see a new pipeline again in two to three years,” Baljee says.

Elaborating it further, Mehrotra informs that the Indian hospitality industry added 93,000 rooms between 2005 and 2017; out of which 49 per cent of the supply was towards seven key cities including NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, and Kolkata. “Currently, there are 128,000 branded hotel rooms across India; and by 2022, 30,000 new hotel rooms are expected to be added to the existing inventory. We envisage demand will outpace supply in the near future,” Mehrotra says.

Rate parity: Way forward

Rate parity is a legal agreement between a hotel and the OTA, providing the same rates for the same room on all the distribution channels. It is an important part of the overall hotel distribution landscape. “However, many brands have pushed for direct bookings in the last two to three years. Offering the best available rate on Brand.com is one of the ways hoteliers are using to incentivise direct bookings. Today, we’re seeing many alternative methods to drive direct bookings such as exclusive room type listing only on Brand.com, packaging of additional amenities to increase the value proposition for the customer and promoting private or closed group rates through the brand’s loyalty programmes,” Megha Tuli, Partner & Co-founder, Hotelivate, says.

Bakaya suggests that it is our fundamental duty to maintain rate parity. “Consumers should choose the distribution channel based on merits of his/her choice. As things are panning out, it is quite clear that the best value is in booking directly on the hotel Brand website. We are looking at period of consolidation of OTAs in terms of Indian markets. Its an interesting dynamic that is evolving every day,” Bakaya informs.

Baljee agrees to this and says hotels must work on value-adds which guests can only get when they book with them direct. “There are many exclusive benefits that guests can enjoy with direct bookings which they don't get when they book with OTAs. This includes F&B offers, bonus loyalty points, complimentary early check-in or late check out, free wi-fi etc.,” says Baljee.

Being more candid while explaining the dilemma, Lamba says that the battle between OTA’s and hotels wages on with no apparent solution in sight. “The relationship is that of Frenemies where hotels are hurting because of the large cost being paid to OTA’s but can’t do without them on account of the massive customer reach that OTA’s have gathered over the years and the technology infrastructure they have created,” he says adding that hotels are making focused efforts to get the customer to their websites and  have attempted to create certain advantages such as availability of loyalty points only if bookings are made through their official websites but OTA’s are countering that by often being able to offer rates lower than that offered by hotel websites and absorb these losses through allocating these to customer acquisition costs as is the norm for online commerce platforms.  Mehrota opines that the industry is surely witnessing rate parity establishing slowly with innovative offers and discounts.

Role of disruptors

Replying to a question over players like Oyo and Airbnb bringing in value to the industry, Khanna says that they have served a clear and evident need to a large populace that constitutes millions of traveller across the country. Bakaya also feels the same and says that they are creating new demand/development by changing the consumer behaviour. “They are driving the domestic travellers to expect a certain standard and comfort in accommodation solutions. This augurs well for the industry in terms of product development and service standard deployments. We are looking at grabbing onto a sizeable portion of the discretionary spends of one of largest consumer markets in the world,” says Bakaya.

Lamba opines that alternate accommodation players are growing rapidly and offering travellers a credible option outside of hotels. “Oyo added over 170,000 keys in 2018 alone which is 700 per cent more than what conventional hotels did during the same period. Since Oyo is largely in the economy space where the branded hotel segment has a negligible presence, there is no significant impact of these players on the performance of the branded hospitality sector,” Lamba says.  Baljee believes that player like Oyo is helping bring a lot of inventory from standalone units within the unorganised sector to the mainstream branded segment. Mehrota opines that these players create balance in the market share of the organised and unorganised sector.

Relevance of agents

The traditional travel agent continues to remain an integral part of the Indian hospitality industry for inbound business as well as domestic travel. “India’s digital penetration is expected to reach 627 million by end of 2019. However, such progress will continue to shape up in the years to come. Till such time, the traditional travel agent will continue to play a significant role, especially for leisure travel,” says Mehrota.

Bakaya feels that traditional travel agents have evolved and their newer business models allow them to cater to all segments of guests and hotels across geography.  “From a pure play travel agent, today he is evolving into a hybrid model combining a TMC, PCO and aggregator. It is THE survival and evolution story. It will continue to be a fascinating development,” Bakaya says.

Lamba opines that the role of traditional travel agents is reducing over time. “The only significant role continues in the Foreign GIT & Incentives segment where bookings for these segments are routed through tour operators and travel agents handling inbound travel,” he says. Khanna feels that while the online travel agencies have added to ability of a hotel to showcase and distribute inventory, it would be a folly to assume that they have replaced the traditional travel agents. “On a consistent basis, offline tour & tour operators continue to add value to the sector,” Khanna adds.

While performance of hotels in 2019 had a stellar start in the beginning of the year, it has been dampened by the general elections and the closure of Jet Airways. “We believe that the performance will catch up over the rest of the year and in 2020 we will witness the best ever performance of the hospitality sector since the turn of the century riding on the back of a stable government and an improved economy,” Lamba concludes. 

VFS Global, which processed close to 2.5 million applications in India during Jan - May, 2019, has seen a higher surge than usual this summer possibly due to the increase in UK-bound travel because of the Cricket World Cup. “In fact, for UK alone, VFS Global processed over 200,000 UK visa applications in India between January and April 2019. Last year, we observed a 13 per cent year-on-year growth in visa applications and I expect the growth to be positive for this year too,” Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group COO – South Asia, Middle East and China, VFS Global, said. VFS had processed 5.28 million applications in India in 2018.

Elaborating on the growth strategy for India, Malhotra informed that VFS Global’s operations have grown steadily in India, from one visa application centre in Mumbai in 2001, to the current presence in 17 cities. “Today, we offer visa application service for 47 countries in India, serving an ever-rising number of outbound travellers. We have made significant advancements in visa process technology. India has been the key incubation ground for many new solutions aimed at easing the visa process and experience for governments and applicants alike. We will further extend and enhance our customer service capabilities to better support the visa application processes for applicants,” he added. 

With the rapid growth of international travel, and more and more governments recognising the benefit of promoting tourism to further their economic agendas, VFS Global can expect to reasonably expand its client base. “Paramount to our core service, however, remains our commitment to keep customer-centricity at the front and centre of our services, ensuring better, faster and more flexible services for the end applicants. Our Premium Lounges have indeed been a success among our visa applicants. We have recorded a 121 per cent year-on-year rise in applicants opting for Premium Lounge in India, during period of January to April 2019. This indicates to a very clear trend towards demand for more personalised visa application processes across markets,” he informed.

He further informed that ViVA, the first-ever visa services chatbot already launched for Australia visa applicants in India. ‘Powered by Artificial Intelligence, ViVA tackles applicant queries round-the-clock with highly nuanced responses, significantly reducing turnaround times and acting as an invaluable support to customer service teams. We will continue to identify, prototype and launch innovations that will enhance the visa application process and cross-border travel of the future,” he revealed.

Talking about the trends in easing visas by different governments, Malhotra informed that governments and service providers are constantly building efficiencies in the visa process to firstly, ease the process for customers, and secondly, rationalise processes while maintaining security through the use of tech-enabled services. “For instance, earlier this year, UK Visas and Immigration rolled out its self-upload solution, enabling applicants to scan and submit their visa application form and supporting documents online from the comfort of their home, so they can visit the Visa Application Centre with just their passports for biometric enrolment,” he said and added that e-visas too are an emerging trend.

VFS Global values the travel agent fraternity as one of its biggest stakeholders and engage with them on a regular basis to improve the overall visa services ecosystem. “This is done through regular meetings in all cities of operations, road shows, and special offers and packages, while at the same time, being as being mindful of their requirements so their customers can enjoy a superior visa application experience. Furthermore, we also offer travel agents a wide range of innovative and extremely useful services that smoothens the visa application process for their customers,” he added.

VFS Global, which processed close to 2.5 million applications in India during Jan - May, 2019, has seen a higher surge than usual this summer possibly due to the increase in UK-bound travel because of the Cricket World Cup. “In fact, for UK alone, VFS Global processed over 200,000 UK visa applications in India between January and April 2019. Last year, we observed a 13 per cent year-on-year growth in visa applications and I expect the growth to be positive for this year too,” Vinay Malhotra, Regional Group COO – South Asia, Middle East and China, VFS Global, said. VFS had processed 5.28 million applications in India in 2018.

Elaborating on the growth strategy for India, Malhotra informed that VFS Global’s operations have grown steadily in India, from one visa application centre in Mumbai in 2001, to the current presence in 17 cities. “Today, we offer visa application service for 47 countries in India, serving an ever-rising number of outbound travellers. We have made significant advancements in visa process technology. India has been the key incubation ground for many new solutions aimed at easing the visa process and experience for governments and applicants alike. We will further extend and enhance our customer service capabilities to better support the visa application processes for applicants,” he added. 

With the rapid growth of international travel, and more and more governments recognizing the benefit of promoting tourism to further their economic agendas, VFS Global can expect to reasonably expand its  client base. “Paramount to our core service, however, remains our commitment to keep customer-centricity at the front and centre of our services, ensuring better, faster and more flexible services for the end applicants. Our Premium Lounges have indeed been a success among our visa applicants. We have recorded a 121 per cent year-on-year rise in applicants opting for Premium Lounge in India, during period of January to April 2019. This indicates to a very clear trend towards demand for more personalised visa application processes across markets,” he informed.

He further informed that ViVA, the first-ever visa services chatbot already launched for Australia visa applicants in India. ‘Powered by Artificial Intelligence, ViVA tackles applicant queries round-the-clock with highly nuanced responses, significantly reducing turnaround times and acting as an invaluable support to customer service teams. We will continue to identify, prototype and launch innovations that will enhance the visa application process and cross-border travel of the future,” he revealed.

Talking about the trends in easing visas by different governments, Malhotra informed that governments and service providers are constantly building efficiencies in the visa process to firstly, ease the process for customers, and secondly, rationalise processes while maintaining security through the use of tech-enabled services. “For instance, earlier this year, UK Visas and Immigration rolled out its self-upload solution, enabling applicants to scan and submit their visa application form and supporting documents online from the comfort of their home, so they can visit the Visa Application Centre with just their passports for biometric enrolment,” he said and added that e-visas too are an emerging trend.

VFS Global values the travel agent fraternity as one of its biggest stakeholders and engage with them on a regular basis to improve the overall visa services ecosystem. “This is done through regular meetings in all cities of operations, road shows, and special offers and packages, while at the same time, being as being mindful of their requirements so their customers can enjoy a superior visa application experience. Furthermore, we also offer travel agents a wide range of innovative and extremely useful services that smoothen the visa application process for their customers,” he added.

Bolstering its position as a premier international cruise destination, Dubai concluded its 2018/2019 cruise season with a record increase of over 51 per cent in cruise tourist footfall and a 38 per cent increase in cruise ship calls season-on-season.

Dubai welcomed through Mina Rashid Cruise Terminal, the award-winning cruise tourist destination in the Middle East, 846,176 cruise visitors via 152 ship calls during the season, compared to 558,781 visitors onboard 110 ships in 2017/2018. An additional 211 ship calls are now confirmed for the upcoming 2019/2020 season.

The 2018/2019 season witnessed 14 maiden calls and welcomed leading international cruise liners such as TUI Cruises, AIDA Cruises, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Pullmantur Cruises, P&O Cruises and Royal Carribean cruise line to the homeport in Dubai, all expected to return in the upcoming season. The season concluded with the departure of the ‘Karnika’, India’s first premium cruise ship from Jalesh Cruises which has recently homeported in Dubai.

Mohammed Abdul Aziz Al Mannai, CEO-P&O Marinas & Executive Director, Mina Rashid, said: “We are pleased to move in the right direction in promoting Dubai as a popular destination for international cruise tourists. As the Middle East’s premier destination for cruise operators, Mina Rashid offers a value proposition to global luxury cruise liners. It is reassuring to see the steady double-digit increase in tourist traffic at Mina Rashid each year. Central to this stellar performance is our flagship Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal, capable of handling 14,000 passengers a day.

“The increasing popularity of Dubai as a homeporting choice among international cruise liners will further boost luxury cruise tourism, with opportunities to connect Dubai to newer places. We will continue to work closely with our valued partner, Dubai Tourism, to support the efforts of the Dubai Cruise Committee and strengthen Dubai’s position as the ‘cruise hub of the region’.”

Commenting on the success of the 2018/2019 cruise season, Hamad Bin Mejren, Senior Vice President, Dubai Tourism, said: “The success of the 2018/2019 cruise season stands as a true testament to the robust growth of Dubai’s cruise industry and the city’s growing appeal as a year-round ‘must-visit’ destination. We are delighted to welcome leading cruise lines once again to operate regular international itineraries out of the city. We will continue to actively work with our valued network of local, regional and global partners to further highlight Dubai’s ease of accessibility, driven by efficient cruise terminal operations and continual enhancements that have welcomed an ever-increasing number of operators to anchor in the emirate.”

The Dubai cruise season 2019/2020 is set to commence on 19 October with Mein Schiff, homeporting cruise liner carrying over 6,000 passengers.

Hong Kong, which received over seven per cent growth in Indian arrivals during the first quarter of 2019, is aiming for an accelerated growth from India market this year. “In 2019, we expect a growth in our Indian arrivals especially with improved air connectivity on Cathay Pacific from all six key Indian ports and two new LCC’s Indigo and SpiceJet flying from New Delhi and Bengaluru and a strong demand in Incentive group travel and fly-cruise segment. we are positive about the increase in market share this year,” Puneet Kumar, Director, South Asia & Middle East, Hong Kong Tourism Board, said. 

Hong Kong has witnessed a de-growth for seven quarters starting 2017 and 2018 but India arrivals are now on growth trajectory since Q4 2018. “In Q1 2019, we registered a growth of 7.3 per cent YoY, close to 83,000 Indian visitors arrived into Hong Kong. Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are the top three source markets; we have also noticed growing demand for travel to Hong Kong from Ahmedabad, Cochin and Pune,” Kumar informed.

In order to achieve the increased numbers, the Board has lined up multi-phased promotional campaigns in partnership with leading media, trade, and non-trade partners to engage with leisure, cruise and MICE segment in India. “In 2019, our focus is to creatively communicate and engage with the young affluent Indian travellers to bring alive Hong Kong’s core experiences such as living culture and festivals, rejuvenated local neighborhoods, soft adventure in green great outdoors, vibrant dining and nightlife scene, action-packed global events and cruising from Hong Kong along with iconic sights and sound of top attractions,” he added.

Currently, India is among the top 15 source markets for Hong Kong and the Board aims to increase the number of arrivals and spends from India to be among the top 10 markets for Hong Kong. “80 per cent of our India overnight arrivals into Hong Kong come on multiple destination itineraries. For Indians, Hong Kong remains the main draw among the other destinations in Greater Bay Area. In 2018, on average Indian travellers stayed for four nights with an average spends of HK$6,003 per trip,” he revealed. 

Speaking about the growth in MICE segment from India, Kumar said that Hong Kong sets off to a new MICE tourism era in 2019 and it will be highlighting a world of opportunities for MICE planners through the city’s latest product offerings, enhanced connectivity and new experiences and new MICE privileges of the Hong Kong Rewards! programme, all designed to lure incentive planners for choosing Hong Kong as their next destination. “India is one of the key strategic source markets for MICE arrivals into Hong Kong with a high growth potential in Meetings and Incentive group travel. We are aiming for a high single digit growth in 2019,” he revealed and added that Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK) announced a further upgrade to the 2019/2020 Hong Kong Rewards! Programme recently. “This year, the programme includes 51 hotels offering complimentary cocktail receptions, complimentary meals at some of Hong Kong’s top attractions, as well as shopping vouchers and exclusive access,” he informed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has the occupancy and ARRs been for your hotels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How important is travel trade for heritage hotels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the emerging tourism trends in Asia and India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

.

UBM Travel Portfolio

  • slider-logo1.png
  • slider-logo2.png
  • slider-logo4.png
  • slider-logo3.png

  1. Events
  2. Webinars

World Routes 2019

From: 21 Sep 2019 To: 24 Sep 2019

WTM London

From: 04 Nov 2019 To: 06 Nov 2019

PATA Travel Mart

From: 18 Sep 2019 To: 20 Sep 2019

ITE HCMC

From: 05 Sep 2019 To: 07 Sep 2019

ITB Asia

From: 16 Oct 2019 To: 18 Oct 2019
Webinar Archives
  1. Appointment