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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

Sharjah Summer Campaign 2022 turns the spotlight on the innumerable experiences that travellers can enjoy in Sharjah. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) shares his views on the growing stature of Sharjah as a global tourism destination. Excerpts from the interview:  

Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) recently launched Sharjah Summer Campaign 2022. What are your expectations in terms of partnership, number, economic impact, hotel occupancy from this campaign? Which are the focus markets for this campaign?

The Sharjah Summer Campaign is one of our most popular and successful annual activations, and its popularity continues to grow this year as more and more visitors and tourists from across the UAE and the world turn towards our culturally rich and naturally diverse emirate to satiate their passion for experiential travel. Until September 30, we expect to welcome a big turnout of vacationers from the UAE, India, Europe and beyond. We have partnered with 16 top brands to offer our guests and their families all-inclusive leisure and hospitality packages at special discounted rates. We are certainly expecting a positive economic impact from the inflow of visitors, especially since our hotel occupancy rates have been promising thus far.    

 

You recently rolled out a new adventure tourism project in Khorfakkan. What are the salient features of this project? Are you planning to position Sharjah as an adventure tourism destination?

SCTDA’s new adventure tourism project in Sharjah’s breathtaking eastern region of Khorfakkan shines new light on the emirate’s expansive potential for adventure tourism and is being developed on a picturesque site overlooking the serene Luluyah beach. Upon completion in Q4 in 2023, the development will be a haven for adrenaline seekers with its offerings of a zipline, a giant swing, a dry-slide track, hiking tracks, mountain bike tracks, and more.  

What new tourism infrastructure projects are in the pipeline in Sharjah?

Sharjah’s tourism infrastructure is at the heart of the emirate’s overall strategy of economic development and diversification. The new developments in Sharjah's tourism landscape are massive both in terms of the vision of each project and their value. We have some bespoke new projects in the pipeline that will have something new and unique to offer. 

Post Covid, what new elements have you incorporated in your marketing and digital strategy?

With the travel industry slowly getting back on its feet, we are working towards establishing Sharjah as the most-preferred destination for all categories of visitors in both business and leisure sectors. SCTDA’s post Covid-19 marketing, and digital strategies are guided by targeted B2B activities that include trade partnerships, designing of campaigns, participation in global trade shows, and more. We have also adopted an extensive, result-oriented approach to our B2C activities. To generate consumer awareness, we launched targeted activations on key global digital platforms and boosted our visibility via direct traveller targeting on prominent travel community platforms.

How do you plan to position Sharjah in the India market?

India has been a key source market for Sharjah, and we continue to maintain our appeal for Indian visitors through well-researched and aggressive marketing campaigns designed specifically to appeal to the sensibilities of Indian tourists and investors. Most Indian travellers value experiential and cultural travel experiences the most and a family-friendly destination is high on their list of priorities when they travel. Sharjah offers all the above and even within these offerings we create bespoke itineraries and experiences for our Indian guests.

We continue to position Sharjah as a one-stop holiday destination, perfect for a short haul, easily accessible from India and the most affordable family destination in the region for wholesome, world-class experiences.

What sort of marketing and promotional activities have you planned for the India market?

Aimed at growing a stronger foothold in the country, generating demand and consumer pull, and to support trade sentiment, we have worked on a holistic plan including a strategic mix of PR and marketing activities. On the B2C front, in particular, we are heavily focusing on digital promotions as it is an effective medium for the large-scale proliferation and outreach of our promotional activities across Indian markets. SCTDA has strategic plans in place to engage India’s digitally active audience which has grown multifold since Covid-19.

You have also been focussed on sustainable tourism. What initiatives have you taken/planned on the sustainability front?

Modern travellers are conscious about their environmental footprint and are increasingly looking to invest in vacations that are authentic and leave the least environmental impact. It is heartening to see the transformation of the concept of ‘responsible tourism’ from theory to reality as all of the sector's stakeholders - businesses and consumers - actively champion sustainable tourism. 

With projects like the ‘Sharjah Collection’ brand of luxury heritage inspired and eco-retreats, for instance, amongst several others, our emirate is undoubtedly leading the sustainable tourism drive in the UAE and the region. To facilitate eco-tourism growth, we are working hand-in-hand with all our partners to ensure that potential visitors are fully informed of the array of wonderful sustainable attractions, hospitality options and cultural activities that our emirate has to offer every category of traveller.

Air connectivity is coming back to normal. What is the status of connectivity between India and Sharjah?

The India-Sharjah air traffic has already gone back to its pre-Covid-19 levels. This is mainly since our emirate is connected to not just the Tier 1 cities in India but also to most Tier 2 cities via a number of short, non-stop flight options. Among 13 Indian cities from where passengers can take direct flights to Sharjah, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai currently top the charts in terms of tourist arrivals to the emirate. Now, with travel restrictions easing up, especially that fully vaccinated travellers don’t even have to take an RT-PCR test, and with multiple flight options available, travelling to Sharjah from India is a breeze.

Which segments of tourism and travellers are focussing on the India market?

Sharjah maintains its unrivalled international reputation as one of the most attractive destinations in the family tourism segment. Additionally, the fact that the emirate is home to a large community of Indian expats, Sharjah attracts a large number of visitors from the subcontinent in the VFR (Visiting friends and relatives) category.

The announcement by Singapore Airlines (SIA), to restore their pre-Covid 19 schedules in the India market by October 30th 2022 is a validation that air travel has picked up and airlines expect demand from India to grow in the months ahead. 

This follows close on the heels of Emirates, which restored their capacity to India to pre-Covid levels in April this year. With this, Emirates now operates 170 flights per week from different points in India. 

 From the beginning of 2022, airlines that see India as a big opportunity have gradually increased their capacity in the Indian market. The Indian market holds a huge opportunity for global airlines. Indians travel across the world for education, VFR, business and leisure. 

According to consulting firm RedSeer, which published a report last year, the number of Indian students opting for higher education abroad grew from 440,000 in 2016 to 770,000 in 2019 and is set to grow further to approximately 1.8 million by 2024. This along with the VFR traffic associated with this segment provides airlines with a compelling opportunity to focus on the Indian market. 

Many more airlines have announced plans to operate flights from India and this augurs well for the travel and tourism industry. In a few months, the Indian inbound season is set to begin and large captive markets in Europe and the Far East with its airline connectivity will enable us to attract traffic to the Indian subcontinent. 

The world is seeing inflation rising to levels not seen in decades. Due to limited capacity, airfares in the India sector were quite high and this discouraged many people from travelling to India. The restoration of air services is bound to make travel to and from India affordable and encourage the growth of traffic. 

The Indian MICE segment is another big opportunity for the outbound sector. This market is price sensitive and they depend on competitive airfares and reasonably priced destinations. The increase in air seat capacity to the Middle East and the Far East will encourage corporates to reward their top performers with a valuable holiday that was missing from their bucket list for two years. 

Revenge travel is here to stay for some time. Airlines have understood the immense potential that India has to offer in this regard. China for instance is going through its Covid-19 waves and is reluctant to open its borders fully. This is an opportunity for airlines to focus on India. 

In India, the government has made it clear that Indian carriers such as Air India, Indigo and others will be given preference when it comes to renegotiation of bilaterals. This will strengthen Indian carriers and also provide direct connectivity from key Indian destinations to long-haul points in the USA and Europe. 

The opening up and the confidence that global carriers have in India is an endorsement of the potential in the country. 

 

Over 900 Indigo flights delayed on the July 2nd weekend as the crew went for a job interview’, according to sources, screamed the headline in a prominent newspaper. While the reasons may be anecdotal, the issue at hand is the scramble for talent across the aviation and travel industry.

Globally, flights have been cancelled and many rescheduled as airlines and airport operators are finding it difficult to hire personnel to service the return of passengers post Covid-19.

In Europe and USA, the shortage of baggage loaders across airports has led to a huge pile-up of luggage at airports and social media was flooded with images of unclaimed baggage at various airports. The situation is so dire that airlines across the developed world are offering a 50 per cent hike in wages for employees and wooing potential employees with sweetened salary packages.

According to a Reuters report, Fabio Gamba, Director of the Airport Services Association, a trade group for the independent ground and air cargo handling industry, estimated that in 2019 there were roughly 220,000 to 240,000 people in ground handling in Europe. Around 2020, there were fewer than 100,000, as ground handlers sought more stable jobs in other industries with better pay and working conditions.

In India, the situation may not be that dire, but there is a genuine shortage of skilled personnel in the travel industry.

Indian aviation is also facing similar challenges. When the lockdown was announced in 2020, airlines had to let go of employees as aircraft were parked and lying idle. The ground staff and cabin crew took a hit and employees were laid off. What has changed for India is the sale of Air India to the Tata group, the revival of Jet Airways and the launch of Akasa Air. This has led to an increase in demand for trained airline personnel, be it ground staff or cabin crew. Pilots are also back in demand after the Covid lull.

For quite some time there have been rumblings among airline staff as they felt short-changed, and their salaries were stagnant with no scope for growth. This has changed with these new developments.

The next few months will see a fierce hunt for talent as the three carriers go on an expansion spree and would like to hire the best.

A similar situation is playing out in the travel industry. During the lockdown, there were mass layoffs and companies sacked staff indiscriminately. Over 60 per cent of the staff found suitable employment in other fields over the course of the last 30 months and they are not keen to return as they feel that life in the travel industry is uncertain.

The industry will now have to invest to get the next set of personnel trained to spearhead the travel industry.

Fiji is building on the positive momentum post its successful reopening. Tourism Fiji recently partnered with Havas to execute the next phase of our strategic plan. Tourism Fiji recently launched Corporate Plan 2022-2024 targeting US$1.4 billion visitor revenue by 2024 

How is Fiji gearing up to revive tourism post-pandemic?

Fiji has one of the safest programs in the world as the ‘Care Fiji Commitment’. When we opened last December there was a requirement for every operator to be part of the Care Fiji Commitment. So, in terms of the product on the ground, that readiness is 100% ready.

Fiji was so resilient over the years in preparing to revive the tourism post pandemic. Tourism in Fiji is slowly recovering. We are here in India to connect with our partners again and also to tell them that Fiji is ready to welcome Indian guests. We're picking up the low-hanging fruits with our partners who usually sell Australia in New Zealand because Fiji is an easy add-up from there. Ultimately, when things are totally restored, we'll be pushing our sort of mono destination in Singapore, Hong Kong etc.

Tourism Fiji recently launched Corporate Plan 2022-2024 targeting US$1.4 billion visitor revenue by 2024. What are the main elements of the plan and how confident you are to achieve the target?

The Corporate Plan 2022-2024 was initiated by our CEO. As a strategy, Tourism Fiji is looking to reach 2019 tourist numbers in 2024. And one of the key drivers for that is to sustainably develop the destination. We are not only just targeting business to Fiji but ensuring that our on-ground infrastructure and support is able to support that. Because, initially when we opened, not all the operators were open. We are developing accessibility and supporting the ground component to complement it. We are totally focused on growing tourism sustainably.

You aim to achieve 447,000 International visitors in 2022. Where do you stand today i.e in the first 6 months of 2022?

I think we are close to that. So far, we've been hitting our monthly targets which is really good. We just look forward to growing constantly and continuously.

What is the new marketing and promotional strategy?

we also just appointed Havas as a global and media and creative agency. We just made the announcement literally just this week.  The agency will support Fiji’s post pandemic recovery as a destination, and implementation of Tourism Fiji’s strategic plan. The scope of work includes evolving Tourism Fiji’s ‘Where Happiness Finds you’ brand platform, supporting its strategic focus on sustainability, and leading on global media strategy and buying. The team will also help to build digital capabilities across the Tourism Fiji team and develop digital experiences across the visitor booking journey.  There are a couple of exciting things coming. It may head towards a new look and feel for the destination and our brand. So that should be happening really soon.

How do you see India as a market and what is your expectation from India in short-mid to long term? 

India has always been one of the strategic markets for us. Our short-haul markets will always provide the volume. So, all our long-haul markets will be the partners to hopefully provide volume but also yield for the destination. We obviously will always hope for healthy growth. But it'll depend on the market conditions also.

How are you positioning Fiji in India post-pandemic?

Fiji is always going to be the most experiential destination. Fiji offers you more serene and more homely island experience. People think Fiji is just one island, but they don't understand we have 333 islands. There are different personalities and different charms of the island. So, when you come to Fiji, don't come to expect to be like shopping. It's not a commercial, you need to literally come to Fiji to disconnect and reconnect with yourself and your family. We are a safe, visa-free destination. That's a big deal for us. We are positioning Fiji as an experiential destination in the India market.

Which segments of the India market you are planning to tap?

Primarily, our targets have always been honeymooners and couples. Before pandemic, we saw kind of demand from families and MICE. We want to revive the family and the MICE business again. We've spoken to few partners to renew this. We are established now in honeymoon and couples’ segments and need to expand in families and MICE.

Amit Mehta, Country Manager, South Asia, Malaysia Airlines, talks about the latest development and India market

Malaysia Airlines progressively ramping up our capacity and introducing strategic route expansion in view of the reopening of borders to international destinations, as we anticipate travel demand for international travel to pick up.

Last decade had been quite challenging for Malaysia Airlines (MH). Then the impact of Covid -19 for airlines globally. How is MH coming back to normalcy? 

Malaysia Airlines has come a long way amidst unfortunate circumstances. However, our agility and the way we adapt to the changing climate will allow us to be better prepared as an organisation to better serve our customers and mitigate any future shocks to the organisation. Whilst the pandemic resulted in a full-scale global transportation crisis, it also allowed us the opportunity to reset our balance sheet.

Now, as nations progressively reopen their borders and approaching a sense of normalcy, we are seeing a strong pent-up demand among travellers.

This year, we have launched three new routes, including a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur - Doha and the upcoming Kuala Lumpur - Haneda beginning August 2022. We have also established an agreement with the Uzbek government to operate charter flights between the two countries: expanding our presence beyond our current network through smart partnerships. 

Our priority remains the safety of our passengers, and we are committed to facilitating safe, seamless and memorable journeys so guests can continue to Fly Confidently with Malaysia Airlines.

While we are bullish for 2022, we remain cautious of the environments and will deploy fleet and network expansion opportunistically during peak periods to service high demand/capacity sectors.

What is the current operational profile of MH in India? Are you planning to increase the frequency in the near future in India? Any new Indian destination on the radar for connectivity? 

Malaysia Airlines currently operates 29 weekly flights from India from five major cities in India, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai. In early 2020 we were flying to six destinations (including Kochi) with 60 times weekly flights.  We will be gradually increasing these frequencies by year-end to cater to growing demands and will add new routes when opportunity arises.

What is the response, current load factor and yield from India market? By when are you expecting to come to the pre-pandemic level? 

Current load factor for the market has been encouraging with up to 70% load factor on these flights and forecasted forward load factor of up to 80% by 2022.

There is a strong pent-up demand in India to travel again leading us to increase frequencies and upgrading to wide-body aircraft on certain flights/routes. We are expecting closer or short-haul destinations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore to see a strong uptick in the next few quarters, among the first-time international leisure travellers. We are also seeing lot of demand coming in for Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and other Asia Pacific destinations on our network from India.

We are bullish for 2022 and are looking at achieving pre-pandemic capacity back for India by end of the year.

Earlier, MH was getting a lot of Indian traffic who used to fly beyond KL hub. How is the situation now and which destinations?

As a member of the oneworld alliance and through our extensive codeshare partnerships with global airlines, we are striving to develop Kuala Lumpur as a leading aviation hub in the Southeast Asia region by seamlessly connecting Malaysia to the world. To further encourage travel, the airline has also extended its previously launched ‘Bonus Side Trip’ programme to India, allowing passengers to add an extra leg to their journey and explore cultural gems at minimal costs, as well as extending its MHflypass programme to ASEAN destinations.

What is your marketing, promotional and trade engagement plan for India?

We have an excellent relationship with our trade partners. In terms of our marketing strategy, we have deployed curated campaigns and product offerings to stimulate and cater to the growing demands in local markets. This includes joint consumer promotions with local OTAs to attract the leisure consumers; roadshows with Tourism Boards; corporate travel programmes through MHBiz Pro and MHBiz Plus; MHexplorer platform for students; attractive flight and holiday package deals via MHholidays, and other fare products to suit different traveller needs.

You recently operated your first SAF powered flight. What other initiatives MH is planning on sustainability and green front? 

One of Malaysia Airlines' top priorities is to operate in a sustainable manner. As an airline under the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG), it will focus on four near-term priorities in the journey to net-zero emissions: aircraft efficiency, technological enhancements to aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), as well as carbon offsets. The MAG Sustainability Blueprint sets the course for Malaysia Airlines and its subsidiaries to play its role in a net zero carbon emissions future by 2050 and we are proud to be taking tangible steps towards that goal.

As a pioneer for the use of SAF in Malaysian aviation, we have conducted the country’s first cargo and passenger flights using SAF. In December of last year, Malaysia Airlines flew the country’s first registered commercial aircraft using SAF from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and recently completed its first passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore powered by SAF.

Anything more you would like to add?

Customer behaviour and demand patterns will continue to change, as more will demand flexibility as a core service attribute to account for unforeseen travel circumstances. With a certain level of uncertainty still prevailing, customers are on the lookout for bookings and fares that meet their requirements.

Understanding this need, Malaysia Airlines offers customers a flexible fare based on their travel needs, preferences, priorities and purchasing capabilities through the Horizontal Fare Family (HFF). It is a fare brand name which consists of Lite, Basic and Flex where each fare family has different benefits such as baggage allowance, seat selections, priority services. These fare brands also offer different flexibility in terms of refunds and rebooking.

Deepak Rajawat, Chief Commercial Officer, Vistara shares his perspectives on the status of the Indian aviation industry as well as performance of Vistara.

Full-service carrier Vistara currently has a fleet of 53 aircraft, including 41 Airbus A320, five Airbus A321neo, five Boeing 737-800NG and two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline is on course to ramp up its fleet to strengthen its network globally and expects to take the number to 70 aircraft by 2023. Excerpts from interview: 

 

How would you explain the unfolding scenario of the Indian aviation industry?

India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), India has become the third largest domestic aviation market globally and is expected to overtake UK to become the third largest air passenger (International and Domestic) market by 2024.

The Indian aviation industry is showing signs of strong recovery with domestic travel witnessing a consistent increase in the number of passengers. There has also been a consistent surge in demand on international routes since the resumption of scheduled international operations. The demand is mainly driven by visiting friends & relatives (VFR) and leisure travellers, along with a gradual return in corporate travel.

How have the performance been for Vistara during the Jan - May 2022?

The demand has been reasonably good. We have also scaled up frequencies on several of our international routes, including Delhi-London, Mumbai-Singapore, Delhi-Singapore and Delhi-Bangkok to daily flights.

We are currently operating flights to/from nine international destinations including Paris, Frankfurt, London, Kathmandu, Singapore, Dubai, Dhaka, Male and Bangkok. We are also starting operations between Mumbai and Jeddah with effect from 2 August 2022 and bolstered our connectivity to Thailand with 5x weekly flights from Mumbai.

In our domestic network, we launched Coimbatore as the 31st domestic destination, connecting it with Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and have introduced several new routes like Mumbai-Srinagar, Bengaluru-Indore, Mumbai-Indore, Mumbai-Bhubaneshwar, Mumbai-Dehradun, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, etc.

What is your domestic and international expansion plan?

While we hope the demand continues to grow, the industry has entered the weakest quarter (historically) for domestic operations i.e. July to September, and we will have to see how the market performs. We are focussed on increasing frequencies where we already fly to and look at other commercially viable destinations around the world. We remain committed to densifying our domestic network while introducing new routes and viable destinations to expand our presence across the country.

The recent hike in ATF prices is becoming a damper for the industry. How is this impacting the overall performance of airlines in India?

ATF is one of the key determinants when it comes to aviation economics. Jet fuel makes up to 35-40% of an airline’s operational cost, and at present, it is at a record high price. While it has a significant impact on the airfares, it is not possible to pass on the complete incremental cost to customers in a price sensitive market like India.

TATA Group has now Air India, Vistara and Air Asia India under its fold. How do you see synergy shaping up amongst the three?

While the acquisition of Air India by Tata Group is a positive development and has been one of the biggest events in the industry, our plans remain unchanged as we continue to focus on our organic growth, until we are told otherwise by our parent organisations. Vistara continues to operate as an independent entity, in competition with all other Indian carriers and both our parent companies remain invested in our growth and expansion plans.

What new elements do you plan to incorporate into your service offerings?

Vistara has always tried to differentiate itself in the market through intuitively thoughtful offerings like introduction of Premium Economy, serving freshly brewed Starbucks coffee, mood lighting, value-based loyalty program – Club Vistara and much more. Keeping in mind the preferences of today’s highly health-conscious traveller, we have made a conscious effort to add healthier options in the menu such as a selection of thoughtfully crafted salads enriched with whole foods, superfoods, and protein and raw pressed juices. 

As a customer centric airline, we are always aiming for customer delight, consistently working towards introducing new enhancements at various customer touchpoints to offer a world-class flying experience. We are on course to introduce a slew of new wellness offerings on board to ensure our customers have an elevated flying experience with us.

How important is b2b travel agents for you? Currently, what is the percentage ratio of your bookings coming through offline and online?

Just like for other airlines, B2B agents are one of the oldest and key contributors in sales for Vistara as well. 70% of our bookings can be attributed to online channels and 30% to offline.

What measures are you taking on sustainability fronts?

We are moving towards carbon neutrality by reducing emissions through operational efficiencies.  One of our strengths is our young fleet of aircraft. Vistara had decided to invest in modern and advanced aircraft with fuel efficient engines from the very beginning. The current fleet of A320NEO, A321NEO and B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft are powered by leading edge technologies and advanced systems, resulting in reduction in engine noise as well as nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Using new generation aircraft contributes significantly towards keeping CO2 levels low and achieving better fuel efficiency. Vistara was also recognised for having Asia's 3rd Youngest Aircraft Fleet Award 2022 by ch-aviation.

This World Environment Day, we launched the Vistara Green Miles initiative under which, we organized a tree plantation drive across our network that aims at increasing the green cover in the country. We also activated an e-waste recycling initiative, where the IT team has been instrumental in streamlining an effective e-waste management process in a bid to overcome the challenge of safely discarding Vistara’s electronic devices.

We are incessantly looking for improved ways to do business, and sustainability takes center stage among those innovations.

Caravela Beach Resort, in association with Consul General of India in New York, recently organized an interaction to promote Goa in the US market. The Consulate had sent invitations with a colourful flyer of Goa to travel agents, media, event planners, opinion makers and NRIs. The meeting saw the participation of Sunder G. Advani, CMD, Advani Hotels & Resorts (India), Randhir Jaiswal, Consul General of India in New York and Dr Varun Jeph, Deputy Consul General of India in New York amongst others.

Addressing the gathering, Advani said that Goa has something for all. Citing TripAdvisor’s rating 2022, he said that 4 of the top beaches in Asia are in South Goa and these are Cavelossim, Agonda, Benaulim and Varca. “There are so many beaches in Goa and every beach is distinct from others.  Some are purely for relaxation while others are for merry making and nature lovers. The Goa government has appointed an agency which provides lifeguards at important beaches.  The Govt has made arrangements to monitor the beaches and fine the offenders to keep the beaches clean and prevent vehicles on the beach,” he said and urged attendees to visit Goa once in their lifetime. 

Advani also reminded the NRIs present of the message conveyed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Finland that they should ask their friends to come with them to India. 

He further informed that Goa is secure and steady with exciting dive places for scuba diving.” Beginners in addition to non-swimmers can start on the shallow aspect of the sea, while skilled and expert divers can choose directly for the extra adventurous dive sites along with cliffs, caverns, reefs, pinnacles and wreck,” he highlighted.  

Also, Grande Island is well-known for offering the best adventure water sports like snorkelling and scuba diving in goa. With an intensity from 7 meters to twenty-five meters, the vicinity gives a few outstanding dive sites to pick out from.  Grande island is very close to Dabolim international airport.

Describing more about the product offering of the state, Advani said that Goa has 11 rivers. “A new parallel bridge is almost completed over the Zuari river which connects the airport to the capital and North Goa.  This will be a big tourist attraction to match the Eiffel Tower. Another popular tourist attraction is the Doodhsagar Waterfalls.  Goa has a large forest cover which is habitat of tigers, leopards, other wildlife and birds amongst others,” he informed adding that Goa celebrates Carnival on the same day as done in Brazil.

Goa has three golf courses including the first one at the Caravela Beach Resort.  Goa is a favourite destination for Weddings and get togethers. 

Goa is also the only state having casinos. “Six full-fledged casinos on ships are anchored in the river in Panjim.  There are also a dozen electronic casinos in 5-star hotels.    I had the luck to own the first electronic casino in Goa in our resort and also the first full-fledged casino on our ship called Caravela. We sold our Casino Caravela to a company that owns three of the six casinos, he revealed.

Americans who had visited Goa said they loved Goa.  He suggested that they should make Goa the first entry point to India as it would be a lesser cultural shock and also be the last stop in India to recuperate after seeing the monuments such as the Taj Mahal. “Goa is now a 365-day destination and tourists come to Goa throughout the year although room rates are lower in the months in the period between July and September,” he informed. 

The CMD informed that 937,000 foreign tourists visited Goa in 2019 but this number declined to 303,000 in 2020 due to COVID-19.  “Goa suffered most because international flights were restricted to a few cities until 27th March 2022.  Goa is the only state in India which had been receiving international charter flights that started from Frankfurt and London 35 years ago. Goa also received foreign tourists on scheduled flights of Qatar Airways and Air India,” he said. 

He also informed that the Government of Goa is also focused on developing world class tourism infrastructure in the state. “The Chief Minister of Goa, Dr Pramod Sawant is spending huge amounts on improving the infrastructure of Goa. He is very interested in providing support to the tourism industry and was planning to join me at this event but could not come due to pressing issues,” Advani informed. 

On the accommodation, Advani, citing Ministry of Tourism’s statistics, said that Goa has 44 hotels with 4400 guest rooms which are approved by the Govt of India. 15 of these hotels have been classified as 5 star deluxe. Another 15 are classified as 5 star and the rest are in lower categories. The Taj Group has 6 hotels in Goa including a Convention Centre hotel as part of a tie-up with Cidade Hotel.  Marriott has hotel in the capital city, a ‘W’, Le-Meridien, Westin and Fairfield.  Hilton has 2 properties in Goa.  IHG has a Holiday Inn.  Radisson and Grand Hyatt and Novotel are also present in Goa. 

Tourists can reach Goa from New York on direct flights of Air India to Mumbai or Delhi and take one of the frequent connecting flights to Goa.  They can also fly to Dubai or Doha and transfer directly to Goa.  There are now connecting flights from most major cities in India to Goa airport.

He said that he had visited Hawaii, Barbados, Mexico Puerto Rico, Bali, Thailand etc but fell in love with Goa and decided to build a hotel in Goa in 1988 using the same architect firm which designed the Bellagio and Wynne in Las Vegas as well as the famous resorts in Hawaii.

Murari Mohan Jha

Saudi Tourism Authority (STA)is on an incredible journey of transformation with tourism at the forefront and committed to building the world's biggest new destination. The Authority last month participated in SATTE 2022 as premium partner country to create awareness amongst the Indian travel trade. “The feeling is amazing. There is really a good vibe, energy and excitement about Saudi as a destination. We are also extremely thrilled to be working with the trade partners in India because we have prioritized India to be one of the key source markets for Saudi Arabia. So, we are keen to work with tour operators and agencies to let them know about Saudi and what we have to offer,” Alhasan Aldabbagh, Chief Markets Officer – APAC, Saudi Tourism Authority, said in an exclusive interview with T3. 

The Authority is working on creating right packages and experiences for the Indian travellers. “We aim to attract a significant number of inbound from India and to ensure that they have the most delightful experience when they come to Saudi Arabia,” he added. 

Replying to a question over positioning the Saudi Arabia in the India market as the destination is established as a pilgrimage, Aldabbagh agreed that Saudi has an image of religious destination due to the holy land of Mecca and Medina.  “Saudi is the location for the two holy sites and that will always be important. We have made it much easier now for any travel agent or tour operator to book trips to Saudi Arabia for Umrah. Earlier, it was a bit more limited, only for authorized agents. Now, it's a free market. The Umrah Plus package is now being promoted. It is a great way to visit the twin holy cities and experience other cities and parts of the Kingdom. We are now inviting people to extend their stay and explore different parts of Saudi.  Also, we have now put a lot of focus on the leisure travel specifically for India. We believe that Indian travellers are going to be targeted to come to Saudi as part of their Middle East plus experience. So, when they go to visit different GCC countries, they also spend a couple of days in Saudi Arabia,” he informed.

Also, there is a lot of Indians who travel to Europe. STA’s strategy is also to have the stop offer program to woo these Europe bond traffic to stop in Saudi on their way. “We're also targeting students. There are about 750,000 Indian students who are living abroad. We also want them to come and visit Saudi on the way to their resident countries,” he said. 

This requires a very vibrant air connectivity between the two countries. “Today, as part of the bilateral agreement between India and Saudi, there is 56,000 seats out of which 28,000 seats has already been utilized by airlines such as Saudi airlines, Air India and indigo. We are working on increasing the number of slots and in conversations with Indian airlines to increase those number of flights in the next coming few weeks,” he added. 

Saudi is coming up with some mega tourism projects such as The Red Sea Project, Neom, Amaala and Qiddiya with an eye to become amongst the top global destination. “We are investing more than any other destination in the world and developing the infrastructure in the entire ecosystem for tourism. In the next eight years until 2030, we're investing over US$ 800 billion, and this shows the level of commitment and ambition that we have to grow our tourism sector in Saudi today. AlUla, a living museum of preserved tombs, sandstone outcrops, and monuments, is already operational,” he said adding that each one of them offers a different value proposition to attract different consumer or traveler segments.

While developing these projects, Saudi is keeping the sustainability and green as the focus. “Sustainability is not only important but is absolutely necessary to be a major competitor on the global stage. So, all these new projects that are coming up takes sustainability as a key aspect in their design, master planning and development. The plan is to be carbon by 2030 and it seems project is planning also on to have regenerative sustainability to give back to the ecosystem.

Responding to a question over the demand keeping these mega projects in mind, Aldabbagh said that there is enough demand from the international market. “We are we are positioning Saudi to be a leader. We have a different value proposition. Our offering is very diverse.  Therefore, we are confident about our ability to achieve these targets,” he said confidently. 

Talking more on India, he said that India is a key source market as the country has a thriving outbound market with numbers touching around 27 million. “We are planning to get 20% of this by 2030. This just shows the level of commitment that we have for India. We are in the final stages to create a much more seamless process to obtain visas in India,” he informed. 

 

With right strategy and right products, Dubai is firing on all cylinders to tap the potential of the growing might of the Indian outbound 

Dubai has been aiming to increase the number of Indian arrivals with accelerated pace. Dubai welcomed 910, 000 Indians in 2021, making India the number one source market. This is the result of the carefully crafted strategy and decisive measures taken by the Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism to counter and manage the impact of the pandemic.

During January – March 2022, Dubai welcomed 3.97 million international overnight visitors, up from 1.27 million visitors during the corresponding period last year, reflecting a massive 214% YoY growth. And the growth reaffirmed Dubai’s position as the most sought-after destination in the global travel and tourism market. Dubai also ranked No.1 globally in hotel performance with 82 per cent occupancy in Q1 2022.

Bullish over the response from the India, Dubai has developed a multi-pronged strategy to further boost the arrivals from India. “We know that the potential is much bigger in India. We want to keep the numbers growing as Dubai has been continuously adding more and more to its landscapes and attractions. Its a family-oriented destination. Dubai is a very safe destination. English and Hindi are widely spoken in Dubai. I feel whoever comes to Dubai feel at home and those who still considers Europe as their primary destination, we want to change that mindset and perception,” Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said during a media interaction on the sideline of the recently concluded Arabian Travel Mart 2022.

Talking about the new strategy post Covid, Kazim said that Dubai launched its strategy from the global perspective. “Our plans and strategies are still relevant today. We talked to our partners, and we could always repeat the same strategy to increase our numbers. Dubai is not 1–2-day destination; we want to increase the average length of stay. We want to increase the spends, not by becoming more expensive, but by offering much more to people to do and experience in Dubai. Today, 25 per cent of visitors that come to Dubai are repeats and by repeats it does not mean 24 months. It is within 12 months. The fact that we have 1/3rd of the world's population within a four-hour radius and India contributes to that quite a bit,” the CEO added.

Replying to a question over the air connectivity, Kazim said that Dubai has an open sky policy. “We are looking at every potential market as an opportunity. We work with Emirates and flydubai. The Chairman of Emirates and our airports are the same person. He is not protecting Emirates. He kept the competition open so that Dubai can benefit. We don't want to limit ourselves. If Emirates and flydubai are not able to increase their numbers for whatever reasons, we are willing to go and initiate a dialogue with local carriers and convince them. And Dubai Airports, whether it is DXB or DWC are willing to have that dialogue and facilitate more carriers coming into the city as well,” he informed.

He informed that Emirates’ flights from India is on an average 90% full. “But, we only get maybe 30% of that to Dubai and this is not good. We are working on to get some more Indian visitors to visit Dubai as a stopover,” he said adding that Dubai Tourism is working closely with airlines and hotels to tap this beyond Dubai traffic as well.

On the marketing and promotions, Kazim said that Dubai Tourism is working very closely with its private and public partners and ensure that they have all the relevant information. “I think that's the unique position that Dubai is in. Because out of necessity, we did not have oil and gas and natural resources to rely on but travel trade became our biggest bread earners. That’s why we work as a team with the private sector, and we feedback to them. They listen to us, they adapt the change and come back to us. When it comes to promotion, we work very closely with a defined target,” he said and added that we're working a lot more digital today to become a lot more targeted with our messaging, pushing the right message to the right audience at the right time with the right product at the right price so all of those things are quite important. Then, of course, the trade would understand the needs of their own database, clientele,” he informed.  

He further said that Dubai Tourism tells the private players about the campaigns and segments that we're looking at, we are interested and where they are in terms of interest. Accordingly, those partners will put all of their offers into the system and take it forward with our support.

Talking on the segments, the CEO said the leisure is big right now, almost 80 per cent but 20 per cent is still business. “MICE is a big segment for us. Meetings and incentives are a big opportunity for us to capitalize on. Conferences and exhibitions are historically doing well. But that doesn't mean that we will rest on our laurels by any means. We still want to expand because their still exist right opportunities,” he said.

On seat entitlements being saturated between India and Dubai since last few years, Kazim said that it will impact the potential as the demand is right there. However, the concerned authorities are looking into this and will present the case to find a solution.

On Dubai Expo 2020, the CEO said that 192countries participated in the Expo that was visited by 24 million visitors. “During the preopening of the expo, we had expectations and if I compare that to what we achieved I would say that if it wasn't a pandemic, I can only imagine how much bigger and better could it be. we still had 192 countries that participated. We had 24 million visitors for the Expo 2020. Dubai opened up post pandemic with the RTPCR testing being so easily available processing. We have more than 97% of our population vaccinated. And this augurs very well for us,” he added.

Murari Mohan Jha from Dubai

(The trip was sponsored by Dubai Tourism)

It takes close to 45 days to obtain a UK tourist visa and other Schengen countries are not far behind in terms of delays in processing visas. These were the complaints emerging from various tour operators and travel associations that have appeared in the media. This has put the plans of a vast majority of Indians, who wished to travel for a European holiday, in jeopardy. 

This summer was expected to be a profitable year for a large number of tour operators who have emerged from the downturn of the pandemic induced weak travel demand of the last two years. Their hopes of turning their fortunes around rest on the uptick of Indians travelling overseas, however, this year looks like a dampener for most of them who sell Europe. 

Embassies complain of a lack of staff, whereas the VFS makes the case that they are only a processing entity that does non-judgmental work and has no say on when the visas will be issued. Overall, this has impacted the holiday plans of Indians travelling to Europe, to escape the harsh Indian summer. 

However, for those intending to travel to Europe all is not lost. There are a few countries in Europe such as Turkey, Norway, Sweden and Croatia among others who either allow visa-on-arrival or speedier visa clearance in order to attract tourists. 

Many European embassies claim that they are short-staffed and do not have the personnel to process visas. This is at a time when a vast majority of countries, are opening their doors to tourism to counter the lack of opportunities in other sectors and to tide over inflation that’s burning a hole in everyone’s pockets. 

Another challenge that tourists face is that while the visa processing time takes its time, their passports are in the custody of the embassies which makes it even more difficult for them to opt for another destination. It’s time the government intervenes and highlights this issue with the respective countries as it’s unfair on Indians whose passports are withheld by the foreign embassies. There needs to be a mechanism to address this pain point in the visa process. If the processing time takes beyond the threshold limit of the number of days, the applicant should be given the option of withdrawing his/her application and saved the hassle of waiting endlessly. 

This has been a perineal problem, and this was widespread even before the pandemic. 

The only short-term solution is for tour operators to advise potential travellers to shift their choice of destination and thereby save the traveller’s holiday. 

Hopefully, lessons of this year will help embassies to work out their plan for the next season and reduce the hassle for the traveler and the tour operator who is more often than blamed by the traveler. 

 

 

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