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Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 11 : 30 AM [IST]

OTOAI Convention 2016 reiterates ‘offline operators are here to stay’

The second edition of OTOAI Convention in Indonesia recorded an attendance of 250 delegates, including overseas participants and spouses. The event pushed the envelope for Bali Tourism among the Indian travel trade, facilitated buyer-seller meets and brainstormed on the future of the offline tour operators, Akansha Pandey reports.
Despite being planned and organised within a stretch of only 28 days, the second mega Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) Convention under the Chairmanship of Riaz Munshi (Vice President, OTOAI) and Co-chairmanship of Gurdeep Gujral (Joint Secretary, OTOAI) concluded successfully. The event was held from March 17 to 21 in Bali, Indonesia. Not only did the convention give a first-hand view of Bali to the Indian travel trade, but also facilitated effective buyer-seller meets. As per the feedback given by the travel trade, the B2B meetings were a good opportunity to understand the diverse offerings of Bali with a number of takeaways for the Indian trade.



Delegates who attended the FAM tours termed them “quite informative”. While the weather was hot and humid, Bali Tourism and their assigned guides left no stone unturned to showcase the best of the destination. However, with no direct flight between India and Bali, the travel took approximately 12 hours, but the hospitable destination of Bali wooed the delegates with the delectable variety of Indian food from Queen’s Tandoor (F&B brand) and its cheerful locals. The positive vibe of the destination was contagious enough to create a recall value in the minds of the delegates.

Day one witnessed two business sessions, open house (discussions among OTOAI members) and buyer-seller meetings. Some industry concerns were raised in the open house and were addressed by Guldeep Singh Sahni, President, OTOAI. However, apart from the ‘Vendor-Client-Tour Operator Dynamics’ session, there wasn’t much food for thought at the convention. Discussion on concerns of outbound travel or utilisation of technology in boosting business, and highlighting newer products, were missing.

INDIA OUTBOUND – THE GAME CHANGER
Speakers at the first session deliberated on how outbound travel is growing at a lightning pace and India is a game-changer in that regard. The global tourism industry is bullish on India and NTOs  are also attempting to ride on the bandwagon. The session highlighted the initiatives taken up by the outbound players to attract Indian visitors and how they personalised the itineraries and experiences as per the demand from the Indian market.



Emin Cakmak, Chairman, Turkish Indian Tourism Council, elaborated on how they recognised India as a prominent source market. We realised that Turkey would be an exciting destination for the Indian travellers. But instead of the regular vanilla packages, with time, we opened up niche offerings for the Indian clientele such as cave resorts; Kusadasi, a beach resort town on the western Aegean coast; and historical, cultural and shopping experiences, thereby addressing the food challenges, he said. Pramod Sahni, Consultant, Turkish Indian Tourism Council, added that they are expecting more direct flights from India, post which an increased growth will be witnessed.

Gilda Sagrado, Executive Director, Bali Tourism Promotion Board (BPPD), informed that Bali as a stand-alone destination has recently tapped the Indian market in association with Representation World LLP. Currently India ranks as the 11th source market globally for Bali, and with 118,000 Indian visitors last year, BPPD has witnessed 33% growth and a strong average expenditure being made by Indians.

Talking about the Indian market, Alka Jha, Area Sales Manager – Sales and Marketing, Tigerair, asserted that India is a significant source market with 25% of business share, second to China. Jha said that they are looking at launching flights from other Indian destinations this year. “FITs from aspiring middle class and high-end travellers are the key target audience today for Tigerair. For outbound travel, travellers want to spend more on sightseeing rather than flights, which is why Tigerair is a preferred carrier,” she highlighted.



Diversion of our focus from Tier-I to Tier-II cities for inbound to Germany in itself is a big sign of growth, said Radhika Krishnan, Head - Sales and Marketing, German National Tourist Office, New Delhi. As Germany records increasing number of Indian visitors, we have been re-innovating ourselves in terms of offerings for the Indian travellers. Today, Germany boasts of offering Indian as well as specialised Jain cuisine to visitors. Moreover, Indian travellers are also evolving and trying novel itineraries of self-drive and spa vacation in Germany, she exclaimed.

Throwing light on a novel approach, Rayomand Choksi, Sales Director – India, Korea, Japan, GCC, Australia, Titlis – Cableways, Hotels & Restaurants, elaborated that how he tapped the Indian market for travel to Switzerland during the otherwise dull months of April to June. Today the product witnesses a number of overnights from India and the graph has only been scaling up. Almost all the regional cuisines are available at the destination. Ample of opportunities for shopping and activities are being promoted in the Indian market. “India is a significant market as visitors are staying for three nights, longer than expected and spending EUR 350 per night,” he said.

VENDOR-CLIENT-TOUR OPERATOR DYNAMICS
The moderator - Mahendra Vakharia, Chairman - Western India, OTOAI, threw the floor open to discussion on why the OTAs, hotels, DMCs going directly to the end customer and bypassing the traditional channel of the offline tour operator, the experts existing in the market.

Commenting on the same, Kanwardeep Singh, Director, Travel Bullz India, said that with the role of technology growing bigger and better, there is a dire need to adapt as per the changing times. He added, “The offline tour operator is here to stay. Even the zero commission from ticketing affected us badly but couldn’t dilute our identity. Same is the case with OTAs taking a growing share of business. The offline tour operators need to acquaint themselves with the strong power of digital media and promote themselves accordingly. Though it is noticed that select DMCs are approaching the end user, but none of the companies would opt for that in the longer term and finish the goose that lays golden eggs for them. The only strategy to survive successfully is to add value to both our vendors and the end user, thereby innovating with offerings and promotions.”



It’s time for the offline tour operators to wake up, stressed Himanshu Patil, Director, Kesari Tours, as technology has changed the way the business needs to be conducted. All mediators will try to own the customer, but embracing technology will give us an edge over the others as Indian customers need human touch and hand holding for outbound travel. “Traditional operators should offer personalised and specially curated thematic tours which are not available online. This will in turn drive new business as well as increase the repeat ones. On the other hand, there needs to be a regulatory body which controls the ethical practices in the travel trade and safeguards the interests of the players in the sector,” he said.

Ankush Nijhawan, MD, Nijhawan Group, said that its high time traditional tour operators need to realise the severe threat by the OTAs offering big discounted packages to the travellers. With 350 million smart phone users already in India, the same is growing at a rapid pace. “Today, we are habituated and addicted to our smart phones. So what is stopping the offline tour operators to tap the medium? As of now 35% of hotel bookings are being done online. I am feeling the heat too. It is a serious threat and thus we need to evolve technologically. Content is king and hence your websites need to display original and catchy content. Moreover, you can divert potential customers to yourselves by differentiating with the offerings. Tap something which cannot be sold online such as niche adventure travel packages, women special tours or student travel,” outlined Nijhawan.

Arjun Shroff, Proprietor, Shroff Travels, stated that the traditional tour operators need to perform or perish. “We don’t need to be frightened of the online players as we rule in the in-trip assistance. Given the big discounted offers by OTAs, customers may do air and hotel bookings but for the in-trip engagements and experiences, travellers will ultimately knock our doors. The understanding of the destination will keep you running, thus keep reinventing with the same,” he concluded.

akansha.pandey@saffronsynergies.in
 
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