Sanjeev Mehra

Director, Aaryan Leisure & Holidays, Secretary, Skal International (India)

Insight

December 1, 2016

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India Outbound

November-December 2016

Sanjeev Mehra -Director, Aaryan Leisure & Holidays, Secretary, Skal International (India)

Sanjeev Mehra -Director, Aaryan Leisure & Holidays, Secretary, Skal International (India)

South Asia is thriving with luxury tourist hotspots galore. While the Indian outbound travel patterns are seeing gradual changes, Thailand remains the favourite for the diversity of its offerings. Thailand enthrals!

As a leading outbound tour operator, how do you see the current trend in India? 

India has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing outbound market. Chronologically following China, India is likewise marked by strong economic growth, which also manifested itself in two-digit growth rates of Indian tourism. The burgeoning Indian outbound market has been recording 10-15 pc growth in the last five years. UNWTO predicts that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020. With the entry of new airlines into the Indian market, outbound tourism is going to scale upwards. Also, the market is witnessing higher participation of young travellers. MICE and business travel are the segments that are driving outbound travel from India. Nowadays, Indian travellers are evolving rapidly and increasingly getting keen on unique experiences and discovering niche destinations. Many countries are opening their tourist offices in India sensing the opportunity in the market. But we should note that by 2020, it is anticipated that 65 pc of the population will be under 30 years of age, so it is obvious that the trends emerging in the coming years will be defined by the younger Indians.

Are Thailand and Malaysia still the hottest choice? What other destinations are outbound travellers looking at from South East Asia? 

Thailand and Malaysia are still the hottest choices because geographically they are closest and similar to the Indian destinations. But nowadays, Dubai is also a sought-after destination for Indians. South Korea and Taiwan are emerging in this region. Myanmar and Bhutan are well in the loop as we are getting new flights for these neighbouring countries.

Luxury and MICE segments are taking new dimension in Asia. Outbound group tour operators are playing a key role as Indians prefer to travel in large groups. What is the scenario here? 

Yes, it is true that Indians prefer to travel in large groups but in the meantime, they have also started preferring luxurious travel. I believe, access is one thing but an experience that satisfies a greater sense of purpose is the ultimate luxury. And that is what we are suggesting our clients and getting outcomes as well.

What are the offbeat destinations in Asia and how do you foresee the trends? 

I have just visited the Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, taking a group of 50 pax. It was a diverse experience with a great weather.

I have also escorted a group from a top International liquor brand to TransSiberia covering China-Russia-Mongolia using The Trans-Siberian Railway network that connects Moscow with the Russian Far East. With a length of 9,289 kilometres, it is the longest railway line in the world. It is a lifetime experience and the mesmerising Mongolia needs to be explored in a broader way. Burma (Myanmar) is a goldmine for the curious travellers if they look past the political strife. Former capital Yangon is lined with golden pagodas. Many politicalminded travellers have avoided Burma since the 1990s at opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s behest. Thanks to her calls to drop the boycott last year, it is back on the tourist radar. Many direct flights are now connecting this countryeasily.

South Korea, Indonesia and Japan are also in the radar now.

Destination wedding is one of the biggest trends now. What kind of demand is there on wedding and honeymoon segments? How are wedding planners playing their roles as influencers? Can you give an example of any grand wedding or honeymoon you handled?

Nowadays, Millennial, a generation passionate about travel, are increasingly choosing the destination wedding route. Usually, destination wedding couples also have high levels of education and income. A special, fun and exotic locale is their top consideration. The hottest locales for destination weddings are not about just sun and sand. Beach locations are frequent destination wedding sites, like we arranged in Bali, Indonesia. Honeymoon travel has grown to be a significant market segment as well. Safety, excellent quality of accommodation, and reasonable travel cost were the three most important attributes determining the attractiveness of a honeymoon destination. The traditional role of Nowadays, Millennial, a generation passionate about travel, are increasingly choosing the destination wedding route. Usually, destination wedding couples also have high levels of education and income. A special, fun and exotic locale is their top consideration. The hottest locales for destination weddings are not about just sun and sand. Beach locations are frequent destination wedding sites, like we arranged in Bali, Indonesia. Honeymoon travel has grown to be a significant market segment as well. Safety, excellent quality of accommodation, and reasonable travel cost were the three most important attributes determining the attractiveness of a honeymoon destination. The traditional role of wedding planners in the west differs vastly to the wedding planners here. Wedding planning services in India revolve around lavish multi-day affairs that involve a lot of planning, executing and arranging.

In view of more Indians going mobile day by day, and in the age of Digital India, more people are having online travel accounts; what challenge do you see in the near future for the outbound tour operators? 

The average Indian travel agent deals with customers who are extremely price sensitive and are inherent shoppers. Bargaining is a cultural trait and here we can get some relief. And yes, the outbound marketing in India is not yet dead as internet penetration in India, especially in rural areas, is quite low and buyers still want the sellers or companies to reach them instead of the former going to the latter, which is precisely what online travel accounts demand.

Taking into account today’s outbound travellers’ special needs, what is your advice to the new destination marketers? In view of tough competition among other competitive destinations, how to change the game plan? 

Simple! While you would have to do all the basic stuff right, the more creative you are the greater are the chances of success. Unleash the power of co-operative marketing by partnering with medium and large tourism partners, like we are doing with Dubai Tourism. Give the tour operator special deals and promotions for a fixed period in exchange of access to their high spending customer base. Focus on selected trade shows which attract a good mix of end customers and trade. Add excitement by getting your industry partners from home to come on board with special packages for these events. Nowadays, the new trend is showcasing the destination to Bollywood and other language movie makers. The success that Spain achieved with Zindagi Na MilegiDobara is well-documented.

Are Indian upper middle class travellers still more into value for money or they are now ready to pay that extra for that extra? 

Frankly speaking, the Indian travellers are now ready to pay any amount of money for their favourite destination.

You are in charge of Skål International in Eastern India. As a leading global association of tourism professionals, Skål has always tried to bridge Europe, the Americas and Indian tourism industry over the years. Please elaborate on Skål International’s activities focussing on Indian outbound sector. 

Skål is the only professional organisation promoting global tourism and friendship. It is the only international group uniting all sectors of the travel and tourism industry. Skål International has 16,000 Members in almost 400 clubs in 87 countries and it always tried to organise networking sessions for Skålleagues, partnering with various marketers of new destinations, associating with embassies and VFSconducted informative sessions for touroperators.

Skål World Congress is coming to India. Hyderabad will host this event in 2017. What are the expectations? How is the Indian tourism sector going to be involved and be benefited, inbound as well as outbound?

India is hosting Skål World Congress the second time after Chennai in 2003. It is going to be an unforgettable congress in the history of SKAL. The Infrastructure India provides an impressive combination of accommodation and other conference support facilities to hold a successful event of this scale. This congress is going to maximise the networking opportunities that will definitely procure more business in both inbound and outbound sectors of Indiantourism.

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