Focussing on experiential tourism
For the young, aware and hungry-forexperience travellers of today, tour operators are required to be updated and prepared with immediate answers, says Guldeep Singh Sahni.
How has travel business been this holiday season for outbound travel? Can you share the numbers and volumes?
There is growth of 7-9 per cent, but it does not match our expectations as last year there was marginal growth due to election process. Short haul outbound tourism is growing year after year, thanks to the 250 million families (UN figures) that are moving into higher bracket of middle class and desire to travel more. However, outbound is more than inbound as people think domestic destinations could be covered anytime and tend to travel to short haul destinations such as Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Dubai.
What kind of growth do you anticipate in the travel industry? How has the growth been so far?
In totality tourism is in for boom due to various factors from and into India. There has been growth of 7.3 per cent overall. We expect double-digit growth this year due to government’s initiatives.
What are the innovative measures that one can expect to see in outbound tourism in the times to come? How proactive is the organisation in promoting novelties in the itineraries?
More NTOs and representative companies are going to set up their offices in India as they look at India as the most potential country after China in tourism. They are even spreading to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and launching specialised products specific to the their destinations. They also provide training to tour operators to add those things in their itineraries. We, at Weldon Tours and Travels, advertise aggressively in the national dailies and our intention is to promote the products and activities among people. So we are focusing on activity based itinerary. We advertise on social media, coming out with mobile apps and more proactive in the activities that are going to be there.
People now wish to go for experiential holidays with activities such as bungee jumping, sky jumping, skydiving, scuba diving, deep sea diving and hot air balloon. Earlier people never used to go to wine tours, now they want to go to see how wine is made, how grapes are grown, plucked and see the process. Then they spend the day having lunch and tasting different wines. Similarly, golf has picked up, now people travel to play golf overseas. Travellers also demand for specific activities such a stay at country side near lake and go for fishing. People want to go for water sports, live sports and track and drive themselves.
With the widespread use of internet, there was a fear of online portals taking over the offline segments initially and we do face competition. However, offline business is sill progressive, because all demands of the customer are not fulfilled through the online sources. They require agent’s advice on the specifics such as what activity should be done where. So travel agents advice them on what should they do, what will fit into their budget and give them a wider picture. With the young travellers, the trend of experience based tourism is more in demand. Therefore, different tourism boards and their representatives in India are now introducing surprises that people didn’t know existed. The Indian driving license, for instance, is valid in any part of the world. You don’t have to get international driving license as most of the countries accept it as opposed to the past when Indian license used to be in Hindi. The Indian license now has a validity of a month in any country. This is one of the innovative initiatives that our organisation is taking use of to enhance our tour packages and make them more experiential.
Which were the initial destinations and circuits that you launched? And how have they evolved over time?
Initially we launched far east, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, etc now we have added eastern Europe, Seychelles, pacific Islands, Philippines, Korea, Canada, USA etc in our advertising campaign. We were intitially focussed on destinations such as New Zealand, Europe, Australia and Dubai, although we are doing other countries as well. But looking at the demands of the regular travellers who come to us for destinations such as Combodia and Vietnam, we are expanding our network to new and unexplored segments. People who would earlier go to the Bahamas and take a cruise now want to stay at Bahamas for 6-7 days. Similarly, in Canada they would only visit Toronto or Vancouver, but now they want to go to places such as Alberta and Canadian Rockies. They want to go to experiential trains and train journeys in USA. Earlier while popular places among the travellers were Washington, New York, Chicago and Orland, now people want to experience Northern USA, stay in Nevada and explore the beaches of USA. I recently had a customer who saw the Santa Barbara, a television series based in Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles. So the demands of people are getting very specific.
South America is also picking up as well; people now want to got Brazil, Argentina and Chile. So we are now expanding our knowledge and contacts to countries that were not so familiar, although the volume may not be as much, there is a demand among the travellers. There is also a growing demand for Korea and Reunion Island and other new destinations are picking up. This year we will also be promoting Kenya and Tanzania also, so these are some new products that we have added.
What is the difference between the earlier Indian tourists and those of today? What are the principal factors behind this evolution from your experience? What is the organisation doing to answer to the demands of the evolving travellers?
Earlier a traveller had one family travel agent like a doctor and CA, but now the present generation is driven by the first hand information they get on the internet. As a result it has become extra work and low profitability for the agents offering a package, as they now have to match every component of the package.
Now customers are evolved, they do not ask but already come with information with them with a slight knowledge of the prices. So the travel agent has to be faster than the internet now, we have to keep up training ourselves, keep on updating our knowledge, and the cost involved because the awareness of people has increased and they cannot be fooled anymore. Earlier, as a travel agent ,we were scared that people will get itineraries made from us take their leads henceforth. Now we charge them an amount for our professional services, and provide them with information that the internet can’t. People spend too much time on the internet but the moment they walk into travel agent’s office, they get immediate answers to all their queries. A travel agent, therefore, has to be prepared and updated to answer to the growing specificity of the travellers.
So every morning we have two hours of training and development and we ask each employee of new destinations or experiences that they have heard about recently. We have a discussion for three hours post which they disperse to research on it for a week and to meet again after a week to take that forward.
Which destinations/players are most dynamic and proactive and have the potential to pick up?
Year after year their budgets of NTO’s in India are expanding. However, I am surprised why Malaysia has reduced budgets because Malaysia is struggling with the episode which happened last year. Most of other countries are expanding their budgets for tour-ism in India, because they have an eye on Indian and china as big potential markets. This year you see countries like USA, Australia, UK, Philippines, canada, Oman, Jor-dan, South Africa and even small islands like Mauritius, Reunion Islands and Maldives are becoming aggressive in the Indian market. Europe was popular once but from last couple of years they have been trying to recover their economy.
How prepared are you for the upcoming holiday season? What is the anticipated trend?
We have tied up with certain hotel chains to market their products with special rates and add-ons. With certain agents who are aggressive in ticketing we have taken some blocks so that we can be competitive. We are also into an aggressive ad campaign.