The Kingdom of Bhutan recently reopened its borders after two and a half years. Now the country is eyeing the Indian market for tourists as it is one of the top source markets. Marriott International’s Bhutan operations leg, which offers the country’s two top luxury hotels, Le Meridien Paro and Le Meridien Thimphu. These two hotels are all set to welcome guests putting their best foot forward to present Bhutan as a ‘destination of choice’ for the travellers. The brand is also mulling to expand its luxury segments in the country. In a conversation with Asmita Mukherjee, Arun Kumar, Market Vice President – North India, Nepal and Bhutan, Marriott International explains…
How important is the Indian market for Marriott in Bhutan? What percentage do the Indian tourists contribute towards your revenue?
One of the key factors which influences the Indian market is the proximity that Bhutan shares with India. It has always been considered as the preferred short-haul destination of choice for an off-beat travel experience, and Indian travelers have grown to explore unconventional travel itineraries and destinations. For Bhutan, India continues to be a major source market for tourists, and the reopening of the country bears greater significance for the markets which have thrived largely on short haul travel. For us at Marriott International, the Bhutan leg of operations has two stunning properties Le Meridien, Paro and Thimphu, one of the larger properties in the region which have often been the preferred choice among both the premium as well as frequent travelers. In this regard, Indians comprise close to 50-55 percent of inbound tourists, with the mix of guests consisting of traveler segments from across the globe.
How have you utilised the 2-year covid time-period when business was suffering?
The hospitality landscape during the pandemic years underwent a transformative phase where the challenges turned out to be great learning experiences for most of us. While players across various industries were making efforts to best navigate the pandemic-led jolt to regular operations, we took this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the prevalent methods and practices. The break was an opportune moment to restructure and modify the functioning in a manner that has given the entire industry a fresh boost of motivation. The same has also resulted in the speedy recovery of business and re-energized workforce, which ensures a quick bounce back of operations in full swing, in some instances, better than before.
What are the marketing activities that you have planned for the Marriott properties?
A careful study on a travellers sentiment, often guides most of our communication effort across markets. In this respect, Bhutan which was largely away from a travellers cognizance, needs the necessary push to bring back the same fervor around travel in this region. At Marriott International we are putting our best foot forward to present our guests with messages around the best experiences that Bhutan as a “destination of choice” has to offer. While we’ve taken special care to ensure that the guests receive all possible information around our stunning properties therein, in all our channels and in our internal marketing collateral, including mailers to our esteemed Marriott Bonvoy members, the marketing initiatives are skillfully aligned to the same goal.
Are you seeing any changes in the booking behaviour of guests?
Traditionally, most of the business is done through our travel agent partners both in Bhutan and India alike. But with the growing demand for destinations, guests have also explicitly shown interest in terms of exploring avenues to avail our stays and services. Over time there has been a notable change in the bookings recorded, with travelers now booking directly with personalized travel plans & itineraries and working out stays and reservations in personal capacities. Nonetheless, with the double-digit growth observed in traffic, the reservations continue to come through our vendor partners and travel agent associations.
How attractive is Bhutan as a market for MICE and weddings?
The kingdom of Bhutan boasts of a pristine environment with stunning and breath-taking landscapes, which makes it an absolute short-haul international destination of choice, not just for vacations, but weddings, honeymoons, and corporate events. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city it provides a relaxing atmosphere for clear thinking and reflections. Both our Le Meridien properties in Paro and Thimphu offer the best in class services along with warm Bhutanese hospitality, which resonates perfectly with a destination aimed at becoming one of the first choices for destination weddings, events, team bonding sessions, seminars and corporate meetings.
Marriott has two Le Meridien properties in Bhutan. Do you have any plans to introduce other brands of the Marriott Group in Bhutan?
Both our existing properties in Bhutan wonderfully showcase the rich Bhutanese culture and is the most appropriate reflection of the hospitality infrastructure of the region. Le Meridien Paro and Le Meridien Thimphu have become testaments of the Marriott properties which symbolise the ethos of craft and elegance. The reception that our signature properties in the region have received, gives us an optimistic view/perspective to expand our portfolio of properties in the region. Additionally, we are looking at expanding in Bhutan to further broaden our luxury offerings in the country and to cater to the expanded set of premium traveller base who have significantly grown in number in the past couple of years.