In­cred­i­ble In­dia 2.0 comes re­freshed

The se­cond In­dia Travel Sum­mit or­gan­ised by Thomas Cook In­dia in New Delhi re­cently saw the stal­warts from the In­dian tourism in­dus­try dis­cussing on how the re­cently-launched In­cred­i­ble In­dia 2.0 might change things for In­dia, or if more work is needed, a

TravTalk - India - - DEBATE - NISHA VERMA

We be­lieve that a good tourism cam­paign should de­fine how a coun­try is per­ceived around the world. A cam­paign should not nar­row down to sell ho­tel rooms, in­stead, we should be look­ing at how much we are pitch­ing in for In­dia. I think In­cred­i­ble In­dia should be­come the mother cam­paign and Make in In­dia and other such cam­paigns should be draw­ing from that strength. We need to go out and cre­ate that frame­work in the mind­set of the peo­ple that In­dia is a great won­der­ful place to be in. There needs to be a lot of work to be done. There are two fun­da­men­tal changes that we are look­ing at cur­rently. Firstly, we have done a gen­er­alised cam­paign till now, un­der which we have been run­ning one com­mon film that is a col­lage of ev­ery­thing that is won­der­ful in the coun­try, and play­ing it in all the mar­kets. We need to change that and cre­ate a sys­tem­atic cam­paign. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion has to be mar­ket spe­cific, and we need to cre­ate that sen­si­tiv­ity around what that mar­ket wants. Se­condly, we need to cre­ate cam­paigns that are prod­uct spe­cific be­cause In­dia has a range of tourism prod­ucts, but the chal­lenge is that it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to mar­ket, be­cause those plan­ning to visit the coun­try have many op­tions, which over­whelms them. The same hap­pens when we want to mar­ket In­dia as there are so many things to do. Hence, we are cre­at­ing prod­uct spe­cific cre­atives, not just on gen­eral me­dia but also on dig­i­tal me­dia, which is one of our main strate­gies to tap the trav­ellers.

In­dia tourism has come a long way, but we still need to cross the 10 mil­lion mark of in­bound tourists and then head for the 20-mil­lion tar­get. Now, apart from tar­get­ing cer­tain high spend mar­kets and e-Visa that has been a big gamechanger, we need to have eas­ier and lib­eral poli­cies as well as good avi­a­tion ac­cess. How­ever, we need to get In­dia ready for the fu­ture and I be­lieve that the In­cred­i­ble In­dia 2.0 cam­paign is go­ing to put us on a dif­fer­ent plat­form al­to­gether. While we will be get­ting cus­tomers, the new cam­paign would change the mind­set of peo­ple in the com­ing years. Another thing we need to be ready for is what hap­pens 5-7 years from now. While In­dia is a dif­fi­cult des­ti­na­tion to pro­mote, we need to see that the av­er­age stay of in­ter­na­tional tourists in the coun­try ranges be­tween 12 and 14 nights, which is much more than many other coun­tries. While in­fras­truc­ture is an is­sue cur­rently, in terms of avi­a­tion, the gov­ern­ment needs to open skies and al­low in­creased flight con­nec­tiv­ity to smaller des­ti­na­tions like Jaipur and Goa. The ho­tels around the coun­try saw 65 per cent oc­cu­pancy last year, which was high­est since 2007-08; ARRs were up by 2.4 per­cent, REV­pars were up by 6 per cent, and the num­ber of rooms in the coun­try are in­creas­ing by the day. From 24,000 rooms in 2000, we have up to 119,000 ho­tel rooms now and we still need more. How­ever, a lot of in­bound de­pends on beach tourism, and ow­ing to CRZ guide­lines in the coun­try, not many ho­tels are com­ing up on beaches around the coun­try, which re­mains a big con­cern for the in­dus­try. Another big chal­lenge is the devel­op­ment of con­ven­tion cen­tres around the coun­try, for which pri­vate in­vest­ment could play a big role in at­tract­ing tourists.

While many think In­dia needs to open its skies and have more bi­lat­er­als for in­creas­ing flights into the coun­try, I don’t think it is the case. There are many coun­tries with which we have open skies. How­ever, I think there is an ex­cess of sup­ply cur­rently from In­dia, be­cause of which the air­fare is very low. It is cheaper to fly to Dubai and even a few Euro­pean coun­tries from In­dia than fly­ing do­mes­tic, and do­mes­tic fares are cheap too as com­pared to global stan­dards. The pric­ing is an in­di­ca­tor of the de­mand and sup­ply bal­ance and the fares are so low that it shows that the de­mand is very high, be­cause we drop fares to fill the seats. I don’t think our chal­lenge is not hav­ing enough flights. We have a great des­ti­na­tion in In­dia, but it needs work in terms of in­fras­truc­ture, clean­li­ness, ease of travel and com­mute. The coun­try gets good at­ten­dance from lux­ury trav­ellers who travel in chauf­feured cars, op­u­lent ho­tels and es­corted vis­its; as well as from back­pack­ers like stu­dents from Is­rael. How­ever, for the vast ma­jor­ity of mid-seg­ment trav­ellers, In­dia is a very dif­fi­cult des­ti­na­tion. Many other smaller coun­tries are do­ing bet­ter than us and hence, we need to have a tourism in­fras­truc­ture, which is just not the tourism min­istry’s job. We need par­tic­i­pa­tion from all quar­ters. In terms of avi­a­tion and ho­tels, it is world class and much bet­ter than many other places. For In­cred­i­ble In­dia 2.0 we need to cre­ate a safe en­vi­ron­ment where any­one can roam around freely any­where in In­dia, with­out any hes­i­ta­tion. I think un­til we fix all th­ese prob­lems, it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for us to leave a good im­pres­sion amongst the tourists com­ing to In­dia. We need to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in In­dia where peo­ple feel safe and com­fort­able.

The big­gest chal­lenge in In­dia, ac­cord­ing to me are the ho­tel rates. In terms of rates of re­sorts, we are com­pa­ra­ble glob­ally, but the lux­ury ho­tel rates in cities are low­est in the world. The high­est rate for a city ho­tel in In­dia goes be­tween The Leela Palace, New Delhi, Taj Ma­hal Ho­tel in Mum­bai, or The Oberoi, Gurgaon, with an av­er­age room rate of around USD 250 through­out the year. It is half of what city ho­tels charge glob­ally. That leads to our se­cond prob­lem—the in­vest­ments that have gone into the ho­tel sec­tor make most of the com­pa­nies in­cur losses. Amongst the four ma­jor ho­tel chains in In­dia, two have recorded quar­terly losses. The big­ger chal­lenge is not fur­ther in­vest­ment into ho­tels and cap­i­tal con­straints, but re­turn on cap­i­tal. More peo­ple want to open up ho­tels, but long ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods, li­cens­ing and the time it re­quires to open a ho­tel, prove to be a hur­dle. In terms of beach ho­tels, while it’s dif­fi­cult to even see the ocean from a ho­tel in Goa, ho­tels in Mal­dives of­fer rooms in the mid­dle of the sea. Un­til CRZ guide­lines in In­dia are taken out, we will be killing beach tourism com­pletely. In Mum­bai, if only 10 cruise ships are docked on the coast­line, the en­tire in­fras­truc­ture around the area could change and there will be in­creased room nights, shop­ping, restau­rant vis­its and there will be a vi­brant econ­omy sus­tain­ing on that. Cap­i­tal runs af­ter vi­sion. Even in terms of con­ven­tion cen­tres, the en­tire econ­omy of a place changes if it has a state-of-the-art con­ven­tion cen­tre, in­clud­ing ho­tel busi­ness.

The ques­tion here is that how we can cre­ate a bal­ance be­tween growth of tourism and sus­tain­abil­ity. I am hope­ful that the cam­paign would draw fo­cus on that as well. We know that many coun­tries have ho­tels right on the beaches, but that does not mean that it is the right way to go be­cause many times the ef­fect comes in 10-20 years down the line. Aus­tralia to­day has lost its Great Bar­rier Reef ow­ing to in­creased tourism ac­tiv­ity. Timely in­ter­ven­tion could have saved it. One should abide by the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple, as the coast­line is shift­ing and com­ing nearer to the shore could be dan­ger­ous to the tourists as well. The same goes for moun­tains. We need to ed­u­cate the tourists and tell them that en­vi­ron­ment is the king and not the cus­tomer. They will un­der­stand as ev­ery­one has an in­nate sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity, and they would re­spect us for the same. I have been run­ning camps in the Hi­malayas for 38 years and have never had a camp fire, as it would mean tak­ing the wood, which is the liveli­hood of lo­cals there, away from them. When we com­mu­ni­cate it to the trav­ellers, they re­spect it. The in­dus­try needs to bring in a lit­tle bal­ance be­tween what the sci­en­tists sug­gest and what they plan to con­struct, and I am sure cus­tomers will be hap­pier and feel­ing bet­ter about do­ing things in the right way.

Di­pak Deva Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Des­ti­na­tion Man­age­ment, Sita, TCI and Dis­tant Fron­tiers

Mandip Singh Soin Founder & Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Ibex Ex­pe­di­tions and Founder Pres­i­dent, Eco­tourism So­ci­ety of In­dia

San­jiv Kapoor Chief Strat­egy and Com (Tata - Singapore Air­lines)

Su­man Billa Joint Sec­re­tary Min­istry of Tourism, Gov­ern­ment of In­dia

Kapil Cho­pra Pres­i­dent The Oberoi Group

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