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Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 12 : 06 PM [IST]


After some roller coaster rides in 2017 due to various policy-level developments, the travel & tourism industry is hopeful of steadily returning back to track in 2018. Despite the challenges faced last year, the industry is positive that the government will help businesses grow across every vertical of tourism industry. TravelBiz Monitor spoke to a cross section of travel service providers on how promising will 2018 be amidst the challenges that they foresee for the year.

Zubin Karkaria, CEO, VFS Global Group
India is one of the few global travel markets recording double-digit growth rates, and the outlook remains positive. Outsourcing of visa services also remains strong. I am convinced that this is a huge opportunity for Indian travel and tourism companies to tap into. However, the way to do business is changing rapidly with the digital medium playing an ever increasing role, and companies need to leverage technology and have very strong customer and market orientation to succeed. Developing geopolitical situations around the world are near term challenges.

Peter Kerkar, Group CEO, Cox & Kings Ltd.
We believe that this year would be promising as demand for travel is growing at double digits in India. Demonetization of 2016 and the implementation of the GST in 2017 have brought about an attitudinal change when it comes to buying travel. Travellers prefer the organised players as they are now assured of a level playing field. There is a boom in domestic air travel, and this augurs well for leisure and business travel. In the last quarter of 2017, many new airlines have started operations and existing players are adding capacity. This indicates that outbound travel will also grow connecting new markets and destinations.

Vishal Suri, Managing Director SOTC Travel
There is dynamic growth in all verticals across all industries related to travel such as aviation, infrastructure, policies that augment and boost business. The geopolitical uncertainty is also one of the biggest challenges. The emerging middle-class, rise in disposable incomes, smartphone penetration, emergence of tech- savvy millennials and changing consumer traveller behaviour is an opportunity that will lead to introducing new experiences. The advances in mobile technology have revolutionised the way we live and the way we do business, and the world of travel is no exception. With mobile data reiterating the Indian travellers’ shift to e-commerce, coupled with India’s booming smartphone market, we would continue to invest in enhancing this channel. Thus, travel technology will increasingly be used to optimise revenue and enhance customer service experience. We will continue to focus on seamless customer service and strengthen our Omni channel presence. Visa process is getting simplified and streamlined, thereby maintaining quick turnaround periods and on-time delivery to enhance the overall travel experience. MICE is another segment that will continue to contribute substantially to the growth of the business. Corporate entities expanding their business interests globally will see a further rise in Business Travel. The primary value proposition for us is to continue to be consumer centric. Personalisation and excellence in service is at the center of what makes us valuable.

Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head Leisure Travel and M.I.C.E, Thomas Cook India Group
India’s brand image for tourism is changing in the minds of the people. Owing to our pro-tourism government, there has been a significant change in industry in India. They have implemented various schemes and opened up avenues that will strengthen the tourism industry. The E-visa scheme and Udan scheme are examples of such developments that will play an instrumental role in boosting tourism. The aviation industry is also growing at a fast pace. Airlines offering more options as well as competitive airfares is directly impacting the tourism sector. Demonetization was a big challenge and another challenge is with more holiday bargains on the Internet than you can imagine, along with a host of small agencies and big hitters vying the attention of potential travellers, loyalty is becoming rare in today’s market.

Sriram Rajmohan, CEO & MD, Club7 Holidays Ltd.
Year 2017 started with challenges of post demonetization. We took this challenge in our stride and grew our business by more than 150% in 2017 summer. GST implementation had created moderate slowdown with our MICE and FIT customers. However, 2018 Summer looks exciting for travel and hospitality. We have received an overwhelming response for our Summer 2018 tour bookings. However, we are closely watching the industry and external factors for volatility. We at Club7 are geared up to face the new challenges ahead.

Claudio Zemp, Director India, Switzerland Tourism
Bookings have started early and look strong for 2018. We definitely see an increase in interest for the winter season. Our new product, First Ski Experience, caters to Indian guests who travel in winter and want to spend an afternoon on the slopes. You will get skis, instructor, outfit and ski pass in one ticket. It’s never been easier to sell this activity to guests from India.

Nishant Kashikar, Country Manager – India, Tourism Australia
India is today among the fastest growing economies in the world. The stability of the economy and the increase in the disposable income of middle class households has led to a rise in the outbound travel market. Massive opportunity lies there. The idea is to tap into the rising aspirations of these new age travellers and promote Australia as the most desirable destination in the world. While the introduction of the electronic lodgment of visas for Indian passport holders will give us an edge, the direct aviation access and capacity on the India– Australia route will remain a key challenge.

Sheetal Munshaw, Director, Atout France India
India outbound represents today an unprecedented growth opportunity. The travel patterns have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. An earlier price-sensitive market is today a value-conscious one with more emphasis on experiences which has certainly given further impetus to not just the quantity, but also the quality of outbound tourism fro, India.

The Indian market is no longer just a summer market. This enhanced seasonality has also played an instrumental role in increasing traffic throughout the year ex-India. In a nutshell, travel is now a lifestyle and not a luxury in India it is part of the new age DNA who prioritise travel for a slew of reasons, which is a very encouraging trend for all outbound players. In terms of challenges they seem few and far between vs the great Indian opportunity that lies ahead. The only thing to truly watch out for would be to find ingenuous and new marketing methods to keep pace with the maturity of the market and appease to the new age traveller’s ever evolving palate. And of course to hope that India will not foresee any drastic fiscal reforms in 2018 that would have an impact on travel.

Alpa Jani, Acting Hub Head MEISEA, South African Tourism
India is one of the most booming outbound travel markets in the world and has always been an important focus market for us. In fact, it is the 8th largest international source market for South African Tourism.

Indian travellers at times face a challenge with regards to availability as they tend to book much later than their American and European counterparts, and South Africa’s peak season also coincides with Diwali and New Year. We try to turn this into an opportunity by showcasing destinations beyond top tourist spots. Another challenge is direct air connectivity between India and South Africa, but efforts are on to increase seat capacity on relevant flight routes ex-India.

In 2018, we look forward to welcoming the Indian cricket team set to tour South Africa starting this month and also the travelling cricket fans. Our trade and consumer efforts will be focused towards driving awareness and demand for our adventure and wildlife offerings and we will also be equally focused on promoting the new regions of South Africa. We are excited about re-connecting with all our trade partners through our annual roadshow which will travel across 5 cities this year – Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Ahmedabad.

Soraya Homchuen, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched a campaign ‘Amazing Thailand Tourism Year 2018’ to support the government’s national tourism development plan featuring an action-packed schedule of unique Thai local experiences and international events. The campaign will highlight activities based on 13 core niche products like wedding and honeymoon, medical and wellness, leisure, MICE, night tourism, etc. This year, the emphasis will be on inclusive tourism, that maintains a balance between the economy, environment and benefits the Thai society. The campaign’s overarching objective is to ensure that Thailand remains a preferred destination and delivers quality product, thus boosting the average length of stay, expenditure and repeat visit.

Hassan Madah – Director, Israel Ministry of Tourism, India
2017 has been outstanding for tourism and 2018 will be better. We recently announced relaxed visa rules for Indian tourists who have completed travel to any of the Schengen countries, US, Canada, Australia or Israel, and we will soon implement express visa services through VFS for quicker processing. Air India and Arkia announced they will soon start connectivity between India and Israel. We collaborated with Dharma Productions on a song in ‘Drive’ with Jacqueline Fernandez and Sushant Singh Rajput, showcasing some fun and unique attractions in Tel Aviv to the Indian moviegoers on the big screen.

Todd Arthur, Vice President, Sabre Travel Network Asia Pacific
Rolling-out the New Sabre Red Workspace across APAC is our main priority for 2018. As we continue to invest in our platform, listening closely to our client’s needs is essential, as their success is also ours. Sabre is committed to transforming the industry by providing efficient, multi-channel distribution, and implementing new standards and technologies that address each market’s unique needs.

Dr. Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director, Bird Group & Member of CII’s Core Committee on Aviation
With the consistent surge in domestic tourism, 2017 started on a positive note for aviation, travel and hospitality industry. India became the third largest aviation market as domestic air traffic showed consistent growth. The hospitality industry however faced several roadblocks, but has made an encouraging recovery in the last quarter. The industry’s dependence upon technology is growing to improve efficiency, accelerate profitability, and we expect GDS to become more deeply embedded across these sectors.

2018 for aviation, travel and hospitality industry will be a promising one as domestic travel and MICE picks up resulting in business growth. With the upcoming Union Budget for 2018-19, we are looking forward to reforms supporting the industry. While the government is aggressively marketing brand India globally, it is imperative to focus internally and address issues around taxation, infrastructure and inconsistent regulations imposed by various states to achieve the potential of these industries. We also hope the Union Budget will empower each of the industries to take full advantage of varied opportunities ahead.

Sandeep Dwivedi, COO, InterGlobe Technology Quotient
The year 2018 is going to play a vital role in making travel & tourism industry one of the key growth drivers in Indian economy. Government initiated reforms like e-visa extension, launch of UDAN along with clean India movement during last year, has already acted collaboratively in positioning India as one of the top travel markets by 2022. However, all this growth and success has also brought the travel sector face to face with certain shortcomings such as: Secured Payment Gateway. To overcome this challenge IATA has mandated the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) Compliance for all IATA-authorised travel agencies to ensure complete security for all types of online payment transactions. This is a great step for the security of online transactions within the industry. And together with Travelport, we are committed to help our customers achieve necessary PCI DSS certification through a simple, low-cost and streamlined process.

Rajesh Magow, Co-founder & CEO India, MakeMyTrip
Online travel space is treading on a faster growth and keeping with this momentum we foresee significant opportunities in 2018. One of the biggest opportunity lies in the online hotel booking segment, which remains underpenetrated, literally in the low double-digits. We have about 55% of the business now coming from hotel and holiday packages and 45% from flights. We are looking to grow the contribution from hotels and to about 70-75% in the next 3 years or so. Another opportunity in the travel tech space is the intersection of mobile and Artificial intelligence. This space will find huge growth in travel market and the products will become more personalised and consumer-centric. We are already making significant investments focussing on products and tech that will take online travel experience to the next level.

Manmeet Ahluwalia, Marketing Manager, Expedia in India
Today millennials are more keen on experiences than acquiring materialistic possessions. With travel being a priority, we are witnessing interesting trends that could become a rage in 2018:

  • A new trend that will catch up fast in 2018 is digital detox. A concept where people avoid technology while on vacation.
  • Get up and go- One interesting trend that is picking up with the Millennials is to just pack their bags and go out exploring. These sudden plans will be one trend to check out in 2018 and they are fast becoming a stress buster for the new thrill-seeking working generation.
  • Experiential travellers have started recognising the fact that the rush on weekends/extended weekends at times comes in the way of enjoying the vacation and relax completely. Hence they have started planning their trips on weekdays and we expect the weekdays to catch up w.r.t. bookings.
  • Married women travelling solo/ with female friends, seeking for a break from household chores and responsibilities.
  • Group travel catching up again- This is where families or 2-3 couples will come together to enjoy a vacation where they stay together and book fancy villas or havelis as either homestays or customised properties to enjoy quality time with family and friends.
  • Women bikers have grown in India over time and prefer to go on trips with their own set of gangs.

Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C),
The Indian travel market is growing in double digits and we expect this trend to continue in 2018 as well. The government push towards digitization of the Indian economy coupled with the increasing penetration, especially in Tier-II and III cities, of smartphones and cheap and widespread access to mobile data are going to only further accelerate the growth of the online travel market. Therefore, we see tremendous upside for increased penetration of online travel which makes it imperative that OTAs continue to invest in customer acquisition and market expansion.

Neelu Singh, CEO & Director, Ezeego1
Adapting to evolving travel preferences and rising demand for innovative offerings, will be the biggest challenge at the same time the biggest opportunity for travel providers in 2018. Indians have finely tuned in with the global travel ecosystem, and they will continue to drive the travel and tourism industry at an increasing rate. The growing propensity to travel is thereby redefining the travel patterns of travellers. To keep up with that, diversification of travel offerings, personalisation and innovation is critical for travel providers to shape the travel needs and offer the right product to the right traveller.

Vikas Bhola, Head of Indian Sub-Continent,
In 2018, we foresee an increase in booking preferences towards non-hotel and ecofriendly accommodation options. Villas, B&Bs, apartments and home stays are some of the options that will gain popularity in 2018. We need to ensure that we have the broadest and widest range of accommodation options available to satisfy their needs. Hence, our team is constantly working towards bringing more partners on board and making more accommodation options available to travellers.

Vasudha Sondhi, Managing Director, Outbound Marketing
The challenges that we witnessed in 2017 are most likely going to continue. The mass FIT and family group travel has been typically fuelled by the small to medium business persons, who are still grappling with GST and trying to work within a framework. Therefore their travel for leisure has either been cancelled or postponed. 2018 may also see big election campaigns which will again be a deterrent to travel. The years that see the best spend on travel is when there is a huge feel good factor in the market with business as usual and positive policy decisions. 2016 and 17 have been tumultuous years, 2018 may be marginally better if we have a good budget year.

Ankush Nijhawan, Managing Director, Nijhawan Group of Companies
2018 will be a phenomenal year for the industry because despite demonetisation and GST, outbound travel grew at double-digital rate in 2017, and this year it will only augment further. The demand for destinations like Seychelles, South Eastern Europe and Scandinavia will gain momentum. The challenge for the industry would be to keep up with the fast pace at which technology is growing because its adoption is imperative in this dynamic and competitive atmosphere.

Joseph Fernandes, General Manager India, AVIAREPS
Social media and access to content especially videos is driving Indians to want to ‘Experience what they see’. The burgeoning number of aspirational Indian travellers is the opportunity that awaits the travel industry in 2018. However, the present travel infrastructure like airports and air connectivity just isn’t enough. The challenge in 2018 would be managing the growing demand for travel with current infrastructure.

Lubaina Sheerazi – COO, Blue Square Consultants
We hope to expand our scope of services to include a wider spectrum of clientele and penetrate through newer geographies that will enable us to explore varied opportunities and enhance our skill set. We are strategically aligning as a full-fledged PR agency wherein we would delve into more associations with the Indian film fraternity and other similar areas. To further expand our footprint in India, we are also looking at having more offices in key traveller centres. Every time a new client comes on board we view it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Sujit Nair, Founder & Group MD, Akquasun Holidays Pvt. Ltd
2018 looks promising for outbound tourism with opportunities created by increase in disposable incomes, and with the Indian economy going strong, outbound travel will continue its growth trajectory this year as well. The upward trend will be complemented by launch of flights to destinations like Bali and the Philippines, offering newer options for travel. As far as challenges for the year are concerned, we will realise the implications of GST only this year, and we wait to get more clarity from the government on the taxation front for outbound travel.

Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN Travel Marketing, India Representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
I just see opportunities for the cruise segment in 2018, because challenges are taken care of by dialogue. The opportunities for the segment are huge because hitherto cruise tourism was not even an area of focus. Any development on the cruise tourism front is better for the country, people, because if there is brand visibility it will create economies of scale, promote domestic tourism. Our coastline has been ignored for too long and now is the time to realise its true potential.

Naresh Rawal, Vice President – Sales, Genting Cruise Lines
We are optimistic of the steady growth as cruising today is fast reaching the wider leisure market in India, especially with the emergence of new visible trends in the local cruise tourism market. Indian vacationers no longer take long annual holidays they prefer 2 or 3 short holidays throughout the year as they are spoilt for choice. Hence, we see a upward graph wherein guests are also choosing for longer cruise itineraries i.e. 5 nights & 7 nights.

Year on year we are finding an increase in the number of guest celebrating their special moments, cruise weddings are getting very popular.

Manoj Singh, Country Head – India, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd
There has been a paradigm shift among the outbound Indian travellers opting for cruise holidays, as against traditional holidays. We have witnessed tremendous growth in our luxury business from Indian market. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has seen great response; this is one of steady space for us in the coming year. To further develop the brand in India, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will focus on promoting Norwegian Bliss, the newest ship to be launched in June. We strongly believe this market has potential to grow at an Alaska. By 2025, the group aims to introduce seven more vessels across all three brands. With more and more Indians opting for cruise holidays 2018 looks promising year for us.

Kunal Sampat, General Manager, India, MSC Cruises
Looking at the growing demand for cruise holidays in the India market, there are loads of opportunities and multiple segments getting generated, which is a good sign. The major challenge for India market has been the late booking trend as compared to developed countries. With the increase in Corporate culture, Indian travellers have started planning their holidays in advance, however there is still miles to go before we can see India becoming a part of developed market as far as cruising in concerned.

Anju Tandon, CEO, ARK Travels
Year 2018 will belong to the consolidators. Next year will be all about the survival of the niche market players. We have to wait and watch what government has planned for travel and tourism industry in the upcoming budget but we hope the industry will see upheaval. Cruise tourism is bound to grow and with investments flowing in from both government and private sector the future looks much brighter.

Sunder G Advani, Chairman, WTTCII (World Travel & Tourism Council India Initiative)
MICE and cruise tourism are huge areas which India needs to step into aggressively. Userfriendly policies, which spur growth and help keep money in the local economy is the need of the hour. 16 million Indians travel abroad every year; this is an enticing and lucrative outbound market for many countries and tourism boards. Why doesn’t the Government incentivise domestic holidays (air ticket, hotel stay, transportation services taken for 2 or more people at a go, paid for by electronic transactions) taken by Indians, with income tax sops? The money stays and flows in the local economy, it spurs more jobs and it’s a win-win for both the government and our citizens.

Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, FAITH
FAITH is confident that 2018 will be a much better year for the travel and tourism industry as compared to 2017. We are still recovering from the aftermath of demonetisation and GST. Things are slowly coming back on track, and we hope 2018 to be the year of stabilisation. We predict both inbound and outbound tourism to grow by 15 to 20% in 2018. FAITH demands that the government should work on framing policies and decisions that favour the industry e.g. to have biometrics at the airport for easy e-visa processing and exemptions of taxes on foreign exchange for travel agents.

Praveen Chugh, President, TAFI
India’s travel and tourism industry is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of about 7% from the year 2018 onwards. The tourism industry is looking forward to expansion of e-visa Scheme which is expected to double the tourist inflow to India. In 2018, air fares in India are expected to increase by about 9%. At the same time, hotel prices are forecast to increase by about 3% to 4%. Meanwhile, ground transport prices are expected to increase by about 2%.

Despite drastic fluctuations in the rupee value recently, number of outbound tourists from India continue to grow. As a result, India is emerging as the world’s fastest growing outbound market. It is predicted that India will account for nearly 30 million outbound tourists by 2018.

In the year 2018, we expect that the Internet, technology solutions, software & hardware and communications modes have made the processes of travel industry a lot easier for every participant.

Capt. Swadesh Kumar, President, ATOAI
Adventure Tourism expects a significant growth in 2018 as the Ministry of Tourism given has given their full support to our initiatives to celebrate 2018 as the Year of Adventure Tourism and a lot of promotional activities are being planned. We do sincerely hope this will be a major step towards the growth of adventure tourism in the country.

Jagat Mehta, President, Enterprising Travel Agent’s Association (ETAA)
Year 2018 looks positive for the travel and tourism industry. Government of India has become quite active in its role and therefore we are seeing a lot of infrastructural development happening for example building of cruise terminal in Mumbai which will help cruise tourism grow leaps and bounds. Numbers are tend to grow be it for inbound, be it for outbound or be it for domestic tourism. The challenges that I foresee in 2018 are the OTAs and reduction in airlines commission for travel agents. Travel agents need to adapt to the technological trends to stay in the competition. Also, the travel industry demands an input tax credit of 5% on tour packages from the Government.

Mahendra Vakharia, President, OTOAI (Outbound Tour Operators Association of India)
Delays in visa processing is a major concern affecting the Outbound Tourism and affecting the working of many tour operators. India is recording good growth in numbers of outbound tourists, which includes leisure, business, mice, convention, VFR, religious, honeymooners, weddings and adventure seekers. So there are plenty of opportunities for operators if they create unique and out of the ordinary itineraries. Also the shadow of the GST demon is fading away and this will also help the operators to effectively create opportunities.

Tadesse Tilahun, Regional Director, Indian Sub-continent, Ethiopian Airlines
We genuinely hope discovering more of the world for business or pleasure is part of our esteemed customer’s New Year Resolution. Despite lingering political and economic conditions affecting the aviation industry, we are pleased to report that we carried nearly 9 million passengers to more than 100 international destinations across five continents during the year. Our passengers were delighted to board 92 of our youngest fleet of aircrafts besides the newly introduced B787-9. We have also been honoured with several awards such as Skytrax for the Best Airline in Africa, African Airline of the year 2017, Airline Reliability Performance Award, and Cargo Airline Award for Network Development and Outstanding Food Service by a Carrier in Africa award. Looking forward we are expecting 2018 to be even more promising.

Shikhar Aggarwal, JMD, BLS International
We resolute to turn around all the challenges into yet another business opportunity. We provide high quality service, secured operations coupled with technology and commitment to highest customer satisfaction. We have set newer benchmarks for service delivery with swift rollouts and excellence in execution of all our contracts. BLS supports the consular framework with streamlined processes and work flows which has brought us amongst the top three players globally in this niche sector.

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