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The first edition of the India International Travel & Tourism Exhibition (IITT) 2014, organised by Asian Business Exhibition & Conferences and ITE Group PLC, witnessed more than 250 national and international exhibitors. Held at the MMRDA exhibition centre at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai from January 16-18, 2014, IITT 2014 witnessed participation from national tourist organisations, state tourism boards, car rental companies, convention centres, cruise liners, golf courses, resorts, hotels, travel agents, tour operators to name a few. Turkey who has a long relationship with ITE Group PLC was the partner country for the event. Apart from the exhibition, IITT 2014 concurrently conducted panel discussions on the first two days of the exhibition, i.e. three discussions on the first day followed by four on the second.

The first panel discussion held on the first day touched upon the topic – ‘Preservation of national heritage a tourism concern – need for the formulation of a national policy’. Moderated by Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), the discussion saw prominent personalities from the tourism industry including Iqbal Mulla, president, Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI); Pushpraj Singh, chairman, HHR Group; Vidya B Kumar, IFS, executive director, Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion Board (PHTPB); and Kishore Mandhyan, former deputy director, political, peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs – United Nations. Starting the discussion was Singh who stressed upon the need to promote untapped heritage sites apart from the popular ones. He opined, “If you talk about heritage at large inside India, there are just about a couple of forts, palaces which are known in destinations like Udaipur, Jaipur, Gwalior, Bikaner, Jaisalmer. But heritage tourism isn’t limited to these areas and there is a need to promote other heritage sites as well.” He further went on to elaborate the need for the state and central government to allocate money for the conservation and restoration of heritage sites but the allocation needs to be made to the field people.

Offering his view, Mulla stated, “Despite the size of India, there are only 6-6.5 million arrivals into our country every year. Our international arrivals are just one per cent. The time has come for the state and central government and various other stakeholders to identify the problems and revaluate what we have achieved from last year.” Mulla also agreed to Singh’s view on restoration and opined that conservation of heritage sites is of prime importance since it will improve connectivity in the country and that the government needs to make firmer policies, and we need to hold more trade shows abroad to display our heritage areas.

Speaking on the efforts being taken by PHTPB to restore and promote their heritage sites, Kumar stated, “Clean and green practices are being promoted in Andhra Pradesh. We want to encourage preservation of our heritage sites at the panchayat level. We have stared other restoration initiatives like illuminating the Charminar in Hyderabad with dynamic lighting. We are also trying to organise night tours in Hyderabad and we have started tourism clubs for schools to teach responsible tourism to students so that they can practice the same.”

On a concluding note, Mandhyan pointed out the issues causing low footfall in heritage sites. “The first issue is that if the elite level is unaware then there is no awareness in the popular level. Hence both the levels need to be enlightened. The second concern is access to the heritage sites and the environmental cleanliness of the surrounding areas. For this, there is a need to have solid infrastructure and also teach students about our heritage in a critical way.”

Going international

The second panel discussion witnessed interesting exchanges on the topic – ‘Tourism moving towards 21st century’. The discussion was moderated by Guldeep Singh Sahni, president, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) and managing director, Weldon Tours & Travels and witnessed participation from Rajeev Wagle, managing director, Kuoni India; Sujit Banerjee, secretary general, World Travel & Tourism Council, India Initiative (WTTCII); and Vasudha Sodhi, managing director, connectworldwide India. The discussion started with Sahni stating the growth of international tourism. “International tourism arrivals have increased to about five per cent in the first nine months of 2013 and international arrivals has been around 845 million worldwide which is 41 million more than the previous year for the same period. India is also one of the fastest growing outbound market and by 2015, there will be 20 million tourism departures from India,” revealed Sahni.

Speaking on similar lines, Wagle mentioned, “The Indian society comes with the need to travel and with more airline connectivity, more people are travelling outbound. Visa on arrival has also increased the numbers. The rising middle class is travelling a lot. However, the recent devaluation of the rupee has made travelling abroad expensive. As an outbound travel company, we are caught on the wrong side when the rupee depreciates as long haul converts to short haul and international travel to domestic travel.” According to Banerjee, Asia is a booming market with respect to its travel industry’s contribution to GDP. “In 2012, the region which contributed maximum to GDP was Africa with nine per cent, followed by Latin America with 8.8 per cent, Asia with 8.6 per cent, North America with 8.4 per cent, Europe with 8.2 per cent, Middle East with 7.7 per cent and India with 6.6 per cent. By 2023, the region which will contribute the most towards GDP will be Asia, followed by Africa, Middle East, Latin America, North America, Europe and Oceania. Asia’s growth will be the highest and this will bring increased income to the middle class, thereby leading to increased destination competition, more opportunities for increasing outbound spending, and increased investments by destinations within and outside Asia in developing their infrastructure. By 2023 China will become the largest outbound travel and tourism market in terms of spending,” he opined. However, he highlighted the Indian government’s failure to recognise the travel industry’s contribution to GDP. “Government investment is bound to decrease in travel and tourism in India. Therefore, the private sector needs to come in a big way and government will act as a catalyst,” he stated.

Talking about hotels investing in India, Sodhi commented, “Though India is an important market, but for most international destinations it is an emerging market and not a primary market. Despite this, hotels are willing to wait because India has the potential to grow. Also hotels are investing hugely in this market to setup their brands. This increases the infrastructure for domestic and inbound tourism and brings in the much needed investment.” The discussion concluded with Sahni asking whether OTAs will overtake offline travel agencies to which both Sodhi and Wagle stated that offline travel agents will exist since they provide customised holidays, add a personal touch and provide the option of experiencing multiple destinations.

Film tourism

A panel discussion on the first day focused on a popular topic – ‘Promoting destinations via film tourism’. Moderated by Sudhanshu Hukku, director, Novel Event Works, the panel discussion consisted of other prominent participants like – Aleksandra Mandic-Kauzlaric, project manager – convention bureau, Zagreb Tourist Board and Convention Bureau; Hanneli Slabber, country manager – India, South African Tourism; Aashish Singh, vice president – production, Yash Raj Films; Chang Chee Pey, executive director – South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Singapore Tourism Board; Lubaina Sheerazi, India representative, ministry of tourism, Sultanate of Oman; and Romit Theophilus, director – sales and marketing, India, German National Tourist Office (GNTO). At the beginning of the discussion, Hukku pointed out the importance of film tourism for outbound destinations. “India produces more than 1000 films for which billion dollars are spent, out of which 10 per cent is spent on outdoor locations.”

Sharing her opinion, Slabber stated, “50 Indian films have been shot in South Africa over the last few years. The film industry contributes around US$ 3.5 billion to our GDP, which leads to more job creation. We offer two types of incentives – the DTI incentive purely from a film point of view, while from a tourism point of view, we support films provided if the film depicts the country as it is and employs the locals. In the latter case, we need to be careful about product placement.”

Singh went on to say that many tourism boards are looking at the potential of Indian films and are tapping this segment. “We took producer and director, Rakesh Roshan to Singapore to bring the country alive in Krrish 3. Once the locations were selected, we designed the movie around the destination and spoke to the government to help us,” opined Pey. Reiterating the same, Theophilus stated, “Berlin is positioning itself as a top destination globally. The PR surrounding Don 2 brought Berlin to the forefront.” Adding to this, Sheerazi mentioned, “Our mandate for the film Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara was to showcase Oman in an appealing way. We undertook many promotional activities like press conferences, interviews, endorsements by the actors, before the film’s release, which gave visibility to the destination.”

The second day of the exhibition also witnessed panel discussions on various topics like – A forum for research in the field of sports tourism; Aspects and facets of leisure tourism: Increased demand from emerging markets; Are hotels moving towards OTA (Online Travel Agents) / Are hotels friendly with the partners?; and The hottest travel trend for leisure enthusiasts.