Interview with Vijay Mohan Raj
President, Skal International Hyderabad
Hyderabad has won the bid to host the prestigious 78th Skal World Congress in October 2017. After trying for two years, the city has finally succeeded in garnering the maximum votes to host the mega tourism event.
Skal World Congress is coming to India after 2003 and Hyderabad will host it in 2017. Please elaborate on this prestigious event.
Skal International is the world’s largest organisation of travel and tourism professionals having 20,000 registered members amongst 85 countries. At the outset, we wish to mention that Skal World Congress will be unique and important as delegates will be visiting India and exploring Hyderabad and its surrounding while attending this mega conference. India shall have an opportunity to showcase the facilities as well as the grandeur of two states – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as there will be fam tours for the delegates.
From United Kingdom to Australia and from Japan to South Africa, a vast number and variety of countries are attending this congress.
As the apex global organisation catering to professionals from all fields of the travel and tourism industry, Skal World Congress in Hyderabad will be a milieu of tourism boards, trade associations, councils, interest groups, travel agents, tour operators, destination management companies, airlines, hotels, resorts, restaurants, cruise companies, technology providers, travel media and any other possible arm of the travel trade.
To ensure maximum exposure, we are staging this event at the plush Hyderabad International Convention
Centre (HICC), which is not only one of the best convention facilities of India but also one of the best in the world. In continuation, we are dedicating 25,000 square feet area of pillar-less exhibition space to ensure that there is adequate display of the global tourist destinations. Such a large international event that is being staged in India after a period of more than a decade (the last one was in Chennai in 2003) requires support from all around. It may not be preposterous to state that there has never been a more comprehensive and larger travel and tourism event in the past. It is going to be the biggest event of Indian tourism industry.
As a leading outbound tour operator, how do you see the current outbound trends from India?
The increase in disposable income has made it possible for more people to look at travel – outbound and domestic. Also, the exposure to destinations due to availability of information from travel portals, Internet and travel agents has made an average potential traveller seek opportunities to experience destinations of their choice. On the flip side, recent developments in the United States of America (US) and Australia that have made jobs for overseas employees difficult and the downsizing of H1-B visas will have a considerable impact on the international corporate travel especially to US and Australia.
Which destinations are the hottest choice and in high demand? Why is it so?
European countries and cities still remain a favourite holiday destination for the matured Indian travellers. However, the first-timers prefer Thailand, Indonesia and other SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) destinations. On the domestic front, favourite destinations are primarily hills, beaches and backwaters. Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala still continue to dominate the favourite list because they already have an infrastructure to assure that foreign tourists are adequately comfortable.
However, I would still recommend historical places and architectural and heritage sites to be advocated with more aggression as part of the tourism strategy since India has such sites in abundance and more than any other international destination. If infrastructure and facilities in these areas are improved, it could be a game changing revolution in the global tourism industry.
What new destinations are Indian outbound travellers taking interest in, apart from the typically popular ones?
Russia, Czech Republic, China, Scandinavian countries, Eastern European countries, Abu Dhabi, etc., are some of the new destinations being experimented with by smart rich Indian travellers.
Luxury and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) outbound segments are taking new measures in India. Outbound group tour operators are playing a key role as Indians prefer to travel in large groups. How do you see the sector developing?
Corporate incentive groups and sponsoring clients for conferences are another avenue growing in outbound travel and there are several travel companies that specialise in this segment. Organising events and conferences for Indian corporate companies, not only as an incentive but also to reduce costs, is another growing segment. It is sometimes cheaper to have a conference in Abu Dhabi, Indonesia or Sri Lanka than in New Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru due to subsidy and incentives from tourism councils and governments of different countries in a bid to encourage inbound (for them) tourism.
Are there any new tourism themes that India has still not explored but there is immense possibility?
India is a country of sports. Sports tourism is an avenue that has not been adequately addressed by travel agents and tour operators as a tourism opportunity and requires networking and product development of packages that would cater to those sports enthusiasts who are interested in participating as spectators or experience playing their favourite sport in different conditions coupled with other tourism opportunities. Golf tourism can be one such option.
Destination wedding is one of the most trending things right now. What sort of demand is there in wedding and honeymoon segments? How are wedding planners playing their roles as influencers?
A big increase in destination weddings within India and abroad, mainly amongst the affluent class, is clearly visible. Honeymoon destinations are traditionally places that are governed by personal choices of the people concerned but have specialised services for newly married couples. Destination wedding is a popular segment and many countries have geared up to cater to Indian style marriages. Thailand, Indonesia and some countries in the Middle East have mastered the art.
In view of more Indians going mobile day-by-day, and in the age of Digital India, more people have online travel accounts, what challenges do you see the outbound tour operators facing? What is the scenario of online booking in India?
Outbound travel is more a travel agent’s product, mainly because Indians require visas in most of the countries for which a travel agent is the most convenient and still a cost effective and reliable option. Digital sources help customers get information on destinations, products, prices, etc. But when it comes to serious action, Indians prefer to go to a travel agent or a tour operator. Online booking is growing very fast but is used more in direct ticketing for domestic travel. For international travel, it is still not a matured option in India.
Taking into account today’s outbound travellers’ special needs, how should a new destination marketer customise themselves? In view of tough competition among other competitive destinations, how to change the game plan?
Utilisation of social media as advertising space is the smart move nowadays. Dissemination of information on destinations by regular social networking and providing consultancy rather than only information to customers is the key today. Easy availability, reliability and transparency are the future requirements of the customers.