In the 1990s, before planning any trip Vidyut Sharma, a resident of Kolkata, had to go and stand in long queues to book a train ticket. After that would be the hassle of reserving hotel and arranging tours, haggling with vendors and hoping he doesn’t get cheated. This would involve a lot of running around and span several days. Dial down to 2017, he can plan an entire trip with just a click of the mouse or flick of his fingers. Online planning and the booking of a trip averages just 49 minutes and involves research through online travel agencies (OTAs), search engines, and Google maps, according to a Google-Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report. “Travelling in the 1990s was a hectic event. Before planning a trip we had to do a lot of research by asking people who had earlier been to the travel destination we were wanting to go. We had to take full responsibility of the needs of our family. But after 20 years, I feel that even my 15-year-old grandson can plan a trip. Things are much easier these days. I wish the power of technology was there during our time as well. I would have travelled more, seen many more places,” said Mr. Sharma.
With the growth of online travel sites and the formation of more active, aware, and engaged travellers, the Indian tourism industry has grown exponentially and ranks 7th in the world in terms of its total contribution to the country’s GDP, according to a new report by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The travel and tourism sector generated Rs.14.1 trillion ($208.9 billion) in 2016, in comparison to Rs.24,241 crore during 1998-99. This sum is equivalent to 9.6% of India’s GDP. During 1998-99, employment generation through tourism was estimated at 14.79 million, and in 2016, the sector created 40.3 million jobs and accounts for 9.3 % of the country’s total jobs. As per a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India was ranked 12th in the Asia Pacific region and 55th overall in the list of the world’s attractive destinations.
The Government of India is taking steps to enhance the tourism and hospitality sector. The government is considering tourism and hospitality as one of the 29 sectors that are priority areas for skill development as this sector faces a major skills gap in business management, customer service, and operations. In the last few years, the Ministry of Tourism has undertaken several initiatives to provide a further boost to the sector considering the new age demand. The government launched new schemes like Swadesh Darshan and PRASAD, revamping existing schemes such as Hunar se Rozgar tak, extending e-Tourist Visas to more countries, developing a Mobile Application for Tourists, introducing an Incredible India Tourist Helpline, and undertaking various skill development initiatives such as setting up of Indian Culinary Institute, approval of new Institutes of Hotel Management, etc. The tourism industry is also looking forward to the expansion of E-visa scheme, which is expected to double the tourist inflow to India. Also developing mobile application for tourists is a further step for advanced tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism launched the 24×7 Toll Free Multilingual Tourist Helpline in 12 languages on February 8, 2016. It can be accessed on Toll Free Number 1800-11-1363 or short code 1363. The languages handled by the Tourist Helpline include ten international languages besides English and Hindi. These are Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, is planning to revise India’s coastal regulation norms aimed at opening up the 7,500 km long coastline for developmental activities like tourism and real estate.
And the efforts of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj coming to the aid of every Indian tourist cannot go unnoticed. Swaraj has earned praise for helping Indians abroad who reach out through Twitter. As she said “Even if you are stuck on the Mars, Indian Embassy there will help you.”
India is becoming a famous tourist destination for the new age foreign travellers. Foreign tourists are very attracted to the age-old cultural significance in the country which is still preserved by the Ministry of India. As per Ministry of Tourism, foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) in India increased 19.5% year-on-year to 630,000 in May 2017. FTAs on e-tourist visa increased 55.3% year-on-year to 68,000 in May 2017. As per the data, India’s foreign exchange earnings (FEEs) through tourism increased by 32% year-on-year to reach $ 2.278 billion in April 2017. The percentage share of FTAs in India during May, 2016 among the top 15 source countries was highest from Bangladesh (20.48%) followed by USA (15.68%), UK (7.56%), Malaysia (3.74%), and Sri Lanka (3.39%).
During 2016, the number of foreign tourist visits (FTVs) to the states was 24.71 million as compared to 23.33 million in 2015, registering a growth of 5.92%. The top five states in terms of number of FTVs (in millions) during 2016 were Tamil Nadu (4.72), followed by Maharashtra (4.67), Uttar Pradesh (3.16), Delhi (2.52), and West Bengal (1.53). The Indian government seeing the growth in international tourists will soon launch “Incredible India Mobile App” to help the tourists in a better way.
Who is the new age traveller ?
Technology has brought a new age revolution for the new age travellers. A new age traveller does not want to see the world in a conventional way. The new age travellers are always on the lookout for something new. They need facilities and services, which suit their budget. They do not wait for their family to take them on a vacation but often plans for solo trips, trips with family, with buddies, or even with strangers. They do not stay in one place but are constantly moving to see different places. In the age of the internet, travelling is not about the arrangement or the spectacle, it is about the discovery. What could a man possibly want by travelling in today’s times is way more than what he sees during the trip, it’s about the pursuit of inner self, which is getting lost in the rapidly changing competitive digital world. Today’s traveller wants to discover a new side by living/witnessing within a completely different environment other than the one in which they thrive on a daily basis.
“Every person, some way or the other, is a traveller. I everyday see travellers ranging from 6 to 70 and for me every person who loves to travel is a new age traveller. We come across various travellers and sometimes a man of 70 is more energetic rather passionate about travelling. Travelling has changed a lot but again the passion and zeal remain the same. For me it is the passion for travelling that makes one a new age traveller,” said Riddhi Roy, Operations Manager, Dolphins Travels.
New ways of travelling
Planning a trip these days does not mean round trips to the travel agents’ office. One can plan an entire trip within a day along with bookings. Earlier, before booking, people didn’t go into specifics but today they want to see the pictures of rooms, transportation, etc. before confirming. Tourists are going to places according to their moods. Some like to visit cultural places, some like to just enjoy the luxurious stays, some go for music festivals, some for adventurous trips etc.
“A large section of Fully Independent Tourists (FITs) visits us. Being situated with close proximity to the airport, we also have airline crew and guests during layovers. Our key source markets being Delhi, we mainly have business travellers. We also have long stayers with us and Kolkata being the gateway to the northeast and Bhutan, we have foreign travellers coming from countries like China and Bangladesh,” says Kenneth Scott, the General Manager of Holiday Inn.
The concept of solo travellers has increased these days due to easy access to technology; getting information about a place and booking rooms has increased the concept of solo trips. It is witnessing a steady growth amongst the younger generation, according to experts. According to the search data at Hotels.com from January-August 2016, searches for hotels by overall solo travellers for the top 10 destinations grew by over 90% in comparison to 2015. The concept of online marketplace like Airbnb that enables people to lease or rent short-term lodging including vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds and hotel rooms has made travelling very convenient even at the last moment.
“These days’ travellers look out for comfortable and budget-friendly holidays. Life is moving at a faster pace and people these days hardly get holidays from work and look out for short trips. But even in the short span of time they seek to cover the most as coming back again to the same place isn’t possible again. People prefer good hotels, good food and a hassle-free trip. A new trend which has been seen for the last few years is that travellers while visiting a destination want to mix with the local people and try local food,” added Riddhi.
Demand for international destinations
Indians these days prefer to experience the mesmerising beaches and adventurous journey without emptying their bank balance in sites like Angkor Wat, Cambodia; the city of Bangkok, Thailand; and the scenic views of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. One of the major reasons is haggling where the vendors at most shops do not have price tags and one can bargain whole-heartedly. Another benefit is that you can hire a tuk tuk or a moto-driver for the whole day to take you anywhere you want to go at a very cheap rate. When it comes to budget travelling, this is the way.
Thailand and Sri Lanka have become exotic destinations for many Indian travellers. The room rates of good resorts there are cheaper in comparison to normal hotel rooms in India. “We booked a resort that had big rooms and a jacuzzi in Thailand. It cost us less than what a normal AC hotel room would cost in India. Travelling to these foreign locations make more sense than travelling within India when the cost is more or less the same. You get to see a foreign location plus experience a totally different culture along with delicious cuisine. My trip to Thailand was cheaper than my trip to Madhya Pradesh,” said Tara Bhatia, a journalist from Mumbai . This should be a wake-up call to the government to reduce hotel tax and tariff rates as this makes both foreign and domestic tourists flock to Southeast Asia instead of to Indian tourism destinations.
Seeing the demand for international tourist destinations among Indians travel agents are trying to come out with attractive offers. “When it comes to international tourist destinations, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Dubai, and Sri Lanka are preferred as they are beautiful, tourist- centric and pocket-friendly,” said Riddhi.
Ipshita Ganguly, Director of Sales and Marketing, JW Marriott, Kolkata, believes that the reason Indians choose to travel to countries in Southeast Asia rather than within India is because it’s an economical destination as Indians tend to opt for cheaper accommodation, spending more on flights and food. Also because of the airfares, as some of the Southeast Asian countries have cheaper air deals compared to domestic airfares.
“Amongst the world Asian millennial generation, India after China makes the largest global consumer in the travel growth. The most frequently visited destinations of Southeast Asia are Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Burma and Indonesia, with Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Macau. The Indian traveller, meanwhile, is second only to the Chinese in terms of spending per trip. However, Indians tend to opt for cheaper accommodation, spending more on flights and food. This has less to do with budget constraints, than with the desire to get the most bang for their buck. Thus, it is important to understand the preferences of each set of travellers and the differences between them in order to attract their patronage,” added Ipshita.
The Indian tourism and hospitality industry has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth among the services sector in India. Apart from business travellers, the increasing sub-segments within the leisure category like single-travellers, transit travellers, backpackers and group travellers of all kinds, are looking to explore and experiment with practical and stay smart options to optimise their spends rather wisely. New age travellers look forward to places that are affordable, hygienic and provide safe accommodation at a centrally-located place with a good ambience and feel coupled with good internet connectivity.
To cater to the needs and services of the new age travellers, hotels are coming up with modern, technologically-superior interiors. Karan Tanna, Founder & CEO, Yellow Tie Hospitality Management LLP, said, “The hospitality industry has grown at a tremendous pace over the years and has emerged as one of the key drivers of growth of the service sector in India. The industry is witnessing a cumulative annual growth rate of 14% every year and is expected to grow further leading to several expectations of what the future holds for the hospitality industry. Earlier tourists mostly preferred pilgrimage places. With the evolution of time and culture, the new travellers want to discover more of India and the world outside. This gave a boom to the hospitality industry.”
The Indian hotel industry thus expanded into business hotels, budget hotels, heritage hotels and resorts that are generating huge profits due to the spiralling of travellers in India. Radisson Hotels India, Taj Group of hotels, Park Group of hotels, JW Marriott, etc. have been providing unique amenities and exclusive accommodation arrangements. These hotels are extended to various cities including Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, and Mumbai that have successfully broadened the business activities in India. “Corporates were the first to bring a different culture of off-sites, taking employees away for the weekend and arranging business meetings and conferences in five star hotels. The entire concept of tourism changed. We have great inflow of corporate groups, dealers and wedding groups throughout the year. There is an increase in the arrival of individual travellers who book online or through companies we contract special deals with. They are predominantly on-the-move and seek short or long hotel-stays travelling from all parts of the world,” said Ipshita Ganguly.
Varun Kumar Shrian, Director of Sales and Marketing, Radission Blu Paschim Vihar, New Delhi, said, “Throughout the year there is consistent share of occupancy. We get a fair share of Corporate and MICE. Customers mostly opt for MICE and Inbound leisure here.”
The concept of tourism thus took a new dimension with the entry of the new age traveller. These travellers are tech savvy and they want to finish up their entire planning of travelling with one click. This has been the biggest game changer in the market. With a rise in online competition, popular models have come up with online travel agents (OTAs) offering a single marketplace for all travel-related needs. Metasearch engines like TripAdvisor and MakeMyTrip operate like travel discovery platforms. Further, online accommodation reservation services like Oyo Rooms have gained popularity. Apart from this, branded budget hotels are seen operating direct bookings through their websites. The report by Google- Boston Consulting Group on Indian hospitality estimates that by 2020, one in three hotel rooms in India will be booked online.
Ritesh Agarwal, Founder & CEO, OYO, told BE, “The new age Indian travellers’ trip-planning and purchase behaviour have undergone a paradigm shift. Increased adoption of smartphones and mobile internet has accelerated digital adoption in everyday life. This behaviour has fuelled a phenomenon that we refer to as “Impulse Paradox”. As the young travellers have become comfortable enough to make plans at the last minute, service providers have a greater responsibility to ensure that they are able to meet this demand and that the experience continues to be consistently delightful. At OYO, we witness many guests who make short-notice accommodation bookings for variety of reasons. These include days when they are working late and want to avoid a long commute, or they are partying with friends or colleagues and want to avoid driving or going back home too late. Young Indians want freedom to choose, change and decide at a moment’s notice. Our promise is to ensure that affordable, good-quality accommodation is always available near you, wherever you may be.”
Kenneth Scott, of Holiday Inn opined, “Online travel agencies (OTAs) have the resources and ability to provide their clients a wide range of accommodation options, thus enabling them to make an informed decision after doing price and facilities comparison among various hotels. In fact, online reservations have become a norm as travellers find it much easier to book hotels/rooms of their choice from the convenience of four walls of their guests who book directly on our website and who are members of the IHG Rewards Club, world’s largest loyalty program reap heavy discounts throughout the year and also accumulate points which can be redeemed. Direct hotel bookings are more popular with loyal, frequent, unmanaged and leisure business travellers who focus more on the convenience and schedule adherence during their travel. While hotel websites particularly cater to this audience which demands a greater level of personalization, OTAs are appealing to other category of travellers who prefer infrequent leisure holidays at their own convenience.”
Oftentimes, traditional cookie-cutter packaged tours do not hold interest for today’s Indian consumers. Today, the new age travellers fancy a customised holiday with freedom to create their own tailor made itineraries specific to their interests, be it cuisine-culinary, art-architecture, culture-history or wildlife and adventure. In the current season, the Indian travellers increasingly prefer being on board in a well-equipped “floating resort” with a delightful array of entertainment options. The resorts are witnessing huge inflow of guests during the weekends. Relaxing during the weekends from the hustle and bustle of life are making the resorts generate huge profits.
The mind-set of the Indians has undergone a huge transformation. They want to celebrate every occasion in a gorgeous and an exclusive way. This has paved way for the big hotels in the cities who are offering outdoor catering for weddings, baby showers, kitty parties and theme parties. This gives a tremendous opportunity to the catering business to showcase their service quality to the customers. Mohd. Khalid, Managing Director Mughalnama, said, “Our catering business earns significant revenue from the end of October and it goes until the February of the subsequent year. It’s the time for wedding and festivals. India’s favourite festivities happen during this season only. Plus, the weather allows us to make the lavish menus and arrangements. The season brings in a charm of catering to all.”
The new age adventurer-explorer is looking for experience in everything he/she does and hotels of the future are actively trying to reach out to the expectations of the travellers. This is boosting a healthy and a tough competition amongst the various hotel chains. Each hotel is trying to come out with new innovations and facilities to beckon more customers. Ipshita Ganguly elaborated, “JW Marriott, Kolkata has introduced new strategies to set ourselves apart from the others, we have a field sales team who proactively meet corporate to drive sales and close deals with special contracted rates. Additionally, we emphasise on online businesses driven with special deals offered on our website and through online travel agencies. There is a constant focus to balance between occupancy and yield.”
On the other hand, Sandeep Basu, the General Manager of Jameson Inn Shiraz, managed by Cygnett Hotels & Resorts Pvt. Ltd., opined, “Jameson Inn Shiraz, has established a growing success trail by virtue of their immense ecosystem synergies, fast expanding distribution network, a seamless IT infrastructure, an efficient support system, unmatchable dining experience and an insightful experience and knowledge pool, all coming together fulfill the interests of the new age travellers.”
And while these trends will shape the future of the hotel industry, government initiatives with financial support can boost the industry to a greater extent and attract more travellers from India and around the world.