AGENTS – TravTalk India Online Magazine Wed, 21 Sep 2022 11:58:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rupee dip bittersweet for travel Wed, 21 Sep 2022 11:58:56 +0000

While outbound travel gets costlier and inbound becomes cheaper with the depreciating value of Indian rupee, stakeholders of the travel industry evoke mixed reactions.

Nisha Verma

The last few months have seen the Indian rupee (INR) depreciating, owing to foreign capital outflows. This is resulting in imports getting costlier and rising inflation in the country, besides reduced returns on investments and costlier international travel. While many say that with other currencies also falling against the US dollar (USD), it will not affect those planning to travel abroad for study or tour, but overall view is that while international travel will get costlier, inbound on the other hand will get cheaper, which is a bittersweet situation for the industry.

Since January 2022, INR has depreciated by about 7.5 per cent against the USD. This is because of the outflow of foreign investments, tight monetary policy by the US Federal Reserve, surging crude oil prices and general dollar strength. However, it has heightened owing to global uncertainties arising out of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Benefit for inbound
Rajiv Mehra, President, IATO, said that if the INR is depreciating for inbound, the product is getting cheaper. “Outbound is becoming expensive as the USD is `80. In India, what we were selling at `70-80, we can give 10 per cent additional benefit to the clients. However, the problem is that we have not been able to benefit out of it, because of very high air fares from Europe, UK, USA to India and no e-visa for UK and Canada. This is hampering things. Once that is removed, then this depreciation will help the inbound because the clients are getting more value, more Indian rupees for their dollar. At the same time, it is bad for outbound travel as well as for imports into the country. But for inbound, it is fine.”

On the other hand, Ravi Gosain, Vice President, IATO, believes that depreciating INR has nothing to do with the tourism volume. “Usually, USD remains between `75 and `80 range. It is more because of inflation that the things are getting expensive, which will make a big difference. Since India is a self-sufficient country and we have many things which we do not import, I do not think it will have a major impact over tourism, and for inbound it is good as whoever comes to India gets more rupees. However, for outbound it is difficult because you will get less dollars to travel outside,” he claimed.

People will travel
Subhash Goyal, Founder Chairman STIC Travel & Air Charter Group, claims that after more than two years of pandemic, people are willing to travel. “Falling value of rupee is good for inbound, and for outbound things are becoming expensive. However, people who have a bucket list to travel, will travel for sure, but instead of spending 10 days at a destination, they will spend five or six days, as they would like to see the destination. So, instead of staying in a five-star hotel, they stay in a 4-star hotel. Whatever the budget is, they will adjust their travel needs according to that. The travel bug has now caught the Indian traveller and he wants to travel despite the visas getting difficult. However, families or couples who would usually go abroad, and if they did not have a Schengen visa or UK visa, they have chosen luxury destinations in India and domestic tourism to Kashmir and to many other places was booming just because of the need or an instinct of the person to travel,” he said.

Blessing in disguise
Tejbir Singh Anand, MD, Holiday Moods and EC Member, ATOAI, also believes that it is a benefit, when it comes to regulating mass tourism. “As outbound travel starts getting expensive, mass tourism is getting hit, whereas niche tourism or tourism to places that are far-flung or for people who have a different thought process, would not bother much. Since we do not promote mass tourism and are not willing to send people to a country, which already has many people going in. Thus, the depreciating rupee and outbound getting expensive does not affect us much. Our clients do not think much about it because they are all from the niche travel segment and mostly business travellers. Even if they are economy travellers, they are going to do something extraordinary to bring them back in their memory book. For them, it does not make a difference if the trip gets expensive by another `5,000-15,000, and I agree with them, if the priority is to do something extraordinary,” he said.

A temporary phase
Shravan Bhalla, General Secretary, OTOAI, also agrees that the increase or decrease of rupee plays a big role when it comes to holiday travellers, MICE, destination weddings, and social event travellers as the currency used is not INR but their local currency. “Rupee value declining certainly affects their budgets. Currently, we see a lot of international student travel and business travel happening. However, this will not affect their travel, as they have a purpose or specific date to travel irrespective of rupee value. While we have not seen a major side of cancellation as clients are now well prepared, but clients with flexibility with dates do consider the time period when the costing goes slightly cheaper than the preferred dates. We believe it is a temporary phase and rupee should get stronger soon enabling agents to offer much more lucrative travel offers to their customers,” he said.

Disruptions due to COVID
Valmiki Harikishan, Valmiki Travel & Tourism Solutions and Chairman, Tourism Committee, FTCCI Tourism Committee, said, “We are suffering from COVID disruptions with high rate of 40-50 per cent hike in hotel and flight tariffs. On top of that, with the dollar going high and rupee going down, it is further pinching the pocket of a customer and hence outbound travel is getting badly affected. When compared with domestic travel, the latter is on a rise. Earlier even middle class or lower middle class could afford a trip to Sri Lanka at least, but now with the way rupee value is being depreciated, along with post pandemic disruption, hotel rates have gone up, which is killing the planning direction of travel. On top of that, there are other challenges. We travel agents or tour operators have been waiting for business to start. When the business started, we could not enjoy the business or encash the businesses because of these challenges. One challenge is rupee value going down, which has resulted in tariffs going up. Outbound travel is mostly measured in the dollar component. Thus, when I want to pay package cost in dollars, I end up paying huge INR conversion. While people are still prepared to travel, it is really disturbing for both agent and customer,” he claimed.

Another point he made was that owing to these changes in rupee value, some customers are changing destinations and others are preferring to travel within India, where the difference will not affect much. “Domestic travel is increasing. In fact, international penalties must be paid in dollars, especially since the visas are not coming on time. Thus, on cancellation, the penalties are huge because the conversion rate is so high, and Indians have the habit of calculating dollars or euros into INR. At the same time, there is no disruption in student traffic, which is recession free industry. However, when it comes to tourism or leisure travel, they are willing to postpone, especially to avoid penalties in case of not getting visa on time, which is getting delayed a lot these days. Overall, depreciating rupee is not at all a good sign for outbound travel,” he said.

No impact on luxury travel
Manish Kriplani, MD, Baywatch Travels, who caters to super luxury travellers, claims that packages are getting expensive. “Even a rupee up or down makes a huge difference. However, frankly it has not made a direct impact on the number of travellers, as all are on the edge of the seat and want to take off. They would reduce the number of days, or the level of services required. Overall, it has stopped people from travelling, but yes it has impacted the cost of the package, which they complain about. Since most of our clients are very high-end, they may not cancel, but would reduce a day or two, just to find a balance. The airfare sky-rocketing and declining value of rupee has made travel expensive, which is nothing close to pre-COVID, but still the number of travellers is 130 per cent of pre-COVID level. Thus, it seems travellers have accepted this and understand that there is no choice. I feel this will go on for another one year as there are many factors affecting the entire scenario and pushing the rates higher than usual, like limited flights, crude oil price and geopolitical issues like war,” he said.

Visa concerns on, but agents hopeful Tue, 09 Aug 2022 10:54:54 +0000

Travel agents, getting sleepless nights due to visa delays, urge goverments to hasten visa processes and remove ambiguity over the issue through clear communication. In the current scenario, clients are forced to change their destination to the ones giving quick or on-arrival visas, they say. Are the Missions listening?

Hazel Jain

When countries started announcing opening of borders one by one, the travel trade rejoiced, but little did they expect that a visa jam could force their clients to change their holiday destination.

Ajay Prakash, President, Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), feels that it’s not just the traveller and the travel trade suffering due to the visa delays, but destinations are also facing problems. “If you have 11 million people travelling into the country, there are three times of that travelling out. And a number of our members are serious outbound players. But their businesses have been hampered by the current visa challenges for almost every country. Therefore, it is easier to look at an Asian destination. We have written to all the consulates and have even got replies from some embassies saying they are working out this issue, as there is huge demand from Indian travellers,” he said. “It is in everyone’s interest to get this (visa issue) back on track. The easier countries make the visas and quicker they do it, they will have the first-mover advantage,” he added.

Another veteran from the industry, Hutokshi Marker, CEO, Trail Blazer Tours India, feels that some countries that were easy to get visas for have become difficult now and vice versa. “The bottom line is that visas have become a big challenge for us. Having said that, it is also a revenue-earning facility for us because while clients do their bookings online, they can’t do the same for visas. It must be done via the travel agent. And that is where we have tried to take advantage of the situation because we need to earn somewhere. The biggest one that is giving us sleepless nights is the Canadian visas. People who have submitted their biometrics in October-November are still awaiting their visas. On the other hand, those who have submitted in April have got their visas. So, we as travel agents feel incompetent because we are unable to give our clients a clear answer,” she says.

Just a matter of time
While this season has picked up for Anshu Tejuja, Managing Director, Ashoka Dream Holidays, the flip side is the visa delays, especially the European and UK visas. “It has been very difficult to get appointments. Even getting the appointments once the visa application is lodged is taking a long time. Many of my clients have been affected by this and have had to change their travel plans. I had a client who had applied for a UK visa on April 13 and till July first week the client had not got the passport. The client finally had to go to Thailand,” she says.

Tina Bathija, Director, Bathija Travel, feels its just a matter of time before things get better. “In fact, just recently, the French, German and the Malta consulates announced they have started opening appointments slots. Even the Spanish consulate is giving visa appointments openly by July end-August first week. In a fortnight from now we will all be a little more relaxed,”she says.

Uptick in demand for luxury Mon, 11 Jul 2022 03:19:34 +0000

With around 30 per cent jump in the number of travellers, luxury travel market is moving in an upward direction. The luxury travellers are seek experiences that are more immersive and exceptional.

Janice Alyosius

As travellers make up for the time lost due to the pandemic, there is an increase in demand for the luxury travel. Year 2022 could see an increase in holiday budgets for luxury travellers, with an uptick in demand for ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures, according to GlobalData, a data analytics and consulting company tracking global data.

In India, a large number of people are looking out to travel in the luxury segments. “There is a jump of about 25 per cent to 30 per cent in luxury travel market,” revealed Riaz Munshi, Managing Director, N. Chirag Travels.

“Despite the hike in airfares and hotel rates, a large number of Indian travellers are willing to travel, so this segment of tourism is booming. The prices of luxury hotels in India are also at peak due to the increase in demand. The starting airfares for Europe are estimated to be around `3-4 lakhs. Despite the high fares, people are not getting air tickets. This indicates the surge in the demand for luxury tourism,” he added.

Interestingly, there is a growing demographic of socially conscious, high-net-worth consumers, who are rejecting overt displays of wealth in favour of inconspicuous and responsible consumption. Their approach to luxury is driven by ethical living, artisanship, authenticity and sustainability. Experience is the new currency for these holidaymakers, who seek self-fulfillment through greener travel and eco holidays, while wanting to ‘do good’ for people and the planet. “If luxury travel brands ignore this trend, it could put them at tremendous risk of total disconnect with an audience who are looking for sustainable options,” Munshi says.

While COVID-19 has changed many aspects of the luxury travel, there are still several defining features that set the sector apart from mass market tourism. This includes hyper-personalisation and exclusivity.

According to a study, as luxury travellers resume travelling both domestically and internationally in the aftermath of the pandemic, they wish to seek experiences that are “more immersive and exceptional” than in previous years. Sharing the view, Munshi says that there has been a change in the travel trends since 2019. “Travellers are now choosing more relaxed and detailed itineraries for travel. Instead of covering four to five destinations in one trip, they are exploring a single destination and opting for longer stays,” he says.

Speaking of the travellers’ preferences, Munshi said that all destinations have the potential to offer luxury, but it depends on the travellers’ demand and choice. “The definition of luxury for one need not be same for the other. Luxury travel is an emotion. How do you feel at certain destinations, attractions vary from individual to individual. For some luxury means exploring only high-end hotels, going aesthetically beautiful hotels and exploring the hotel facilities, for some it may be a jungle track and enjoying the nature, and for some it may be going to the Northern lights and enjoy the experience,” he said.

Visa issues trouble industry Tue, 03 May 2022 13:49:05 +0000

After two years of no travel, opening of borders have paved a visa rush, wherein early appointments are not easily available to those planning to go on summer holidays. It’s a struggle for the agents, clients as well as the visa facilitation centres.

Nisha Verma

As borders have opened, the struggle for visa appointments has resurfaced. Post-COVID, travel agents and tour operators are making sure that they get maximum business, but visa appointments have become a hurdle. Riaz Munshi, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association (OTOAI) and MD, N Chirag Travels, agrees, “Major challenges currently are regarding visa and airline fares. We have written to most of the embassies. However, we know that they are not yet working with full team. Even flights are expensive, and hence we need more flights, so that the fair is reduced. We have requested all embassies to deploy more people because this is the time to capitalise as everyone would like to do business. All countries are looking for business from India, and there is a huge pent-up demand for the summer season. Hence, if these issues can be resolved, I’m sure even this season will be at par with 2019 volume. Apart from writing to embassies we are discussing the same with VFS too.”

Echoing what Munshi said, Rajan Dua, MD, Udaan India, shares, “It’s been two years when everything came to a standstill and now we are reviving our work, offices, business, clients and even the internal staff. Everybody, including embassies, airlines, hotels, travel agencies, DMCs – there are issues going on with every aspect of travel. Airline fares have gone sky high. Regarding visas, we have spoken to consulates and embassies. While they knew that the numbers will pick up, but because of the war, especially Eastern Europe and some Schengen countries haven’t got the bandwidth in terms of staff. They are struggling and are incapable of giving us appointments. Although some countries like France and Switzerland are doing well and are the most organised, others have to respond similarly.” Understanding the situation, Himanshu Patil, Owner, Kesari Tours and Vice President OTOAI, says that even travel agencies today are facing the shortage of staff and the same is the case with consulates and embassies. There are many categories apart from leisure, that are waiting in line for visas, including students, and visiting parents. With India’s country size, the travelling population has increased so much that it will take another 2-3 months for the situation to normalise. Everyone is looking forward to that. We have requested the consulates to improve the waiting time at our end too.”

On the other hand, Siddharth Khanna, Partner, Khanna Enterprises ( and Treasurer, OTOAI, says, “Similar situation arises every year when we hit the season. This is a common problem what the industry goes through and we are closely working with VFS and constantly apprise them about the situation. I think it is coming back to normalcy after a while and there’s been a lot of staff reduction at the embassies. However, it’s a problem, which has been long existing in this industry, especially in the 2-3 summer months, when appointments get blocked.”

However, he adds that one needs to figure out a way around it. “Just plan in advance. At the same time, we are closely updating VFS and consulates and I’m sure they’re working towards the betterment and streamlining of the appointment system.”

Statement from VFS Global
“VFS Global works in strict adherence to the service level agreements with its client governments, and this includes appointment bookings. With travel being suspended for a considerable part of the last two years, as travel restrictions ease, the number of available appointments remain limited and according to the capacity given by the Embassies/Consulates. VFS Global and the Embassies/Consulates work towards catering to all our customers, including pending applications and new ones. We request and appreciate your patience and cooperation during this time, and advise customers to plan much in advance.

‘Best’ beach getaway for you Fri, 25 Mar 2022 04:21:32 +0000

A recent survey, sponsored by Tripadvisor, revealed that 32% of travellers globally will take a beach trip in 2022. Browse through the list of award-winning beaches selected on the basis of suggestions made by travellers around the world to make your own choice.

TT Bureau

Visiting a beach is a dream for many. A recent survey, sponsored by Tripadvisor revealed 32 per cent of travellers globally will take a beach trip in 2022. If you are one of them, browse through these award-winning beaches, along with guidance from fellow travellers, on the best ways to experience them to make your pick.

“We know a perfect day at the beach looks different from one person to the next. Some love classic soft white sand and sunbathing, while others love exploring rocky coves. This list has something for everyone, because it was determined by the millions of different travellers all over the world reviewing their favourite beaches on Tripadvisor throughout 2021. Although last year was still far from normal, these are the beaches travellers visited
and loved more than any others,” said Christine Maguire, Vice President, Global Media Business at Tripadvisor. “Whether you are looking for a trip where you can continue to social distance outdoors, or are comfortable heading to spring break, beaches are the perfect place to be in 2022, and the Travellers’ Choice Awards can guide you to the best ones for you,” Maguire added.

The number one beach in the world determined by travellers this year is Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos. With over 7,200 reviews to-date (90 per cent of which are 5-bubble), this quintessential Caribbean paradise has travellers raving about its white sand and crystal clear water.

This year, India still retains the crown of being home to Asia’s most loved beach, but travellers have crowned a brand new winner for 2022: Radhanagar Beach in Havelock Island. It is ranked as the sixth best beach in the world! This year, India also had the most winners on the ‘best beaches in Asia’ list, including Cavelossim Beach (#4), Agonda Beach (#5), Varca Beach (#8) and Benaulim Beach (#10).

Tripadvisor, claiming to be the world’s largest travel platform, announced the second edition of its annual ‘Travellers’ Choice® Awards for 2022’ in the second fortnight of February.

Top 10 Beaches in Asia for 2022

Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island, India

Highlights: Waves are awesome with clear blue turquoise
waters and white sand.

Yonaha Maehama Beach, Miyakojima, Japan

Highlights: Visit in the evening when the sun starts to set. It has the best mix of coral and fish.

Railay Beach, Krabi, Thailand

Highlights: The beach is fabulous for either a day of sunbathing or exploring. Kayaks available.

Cavelossim Beach, Goa, India

Highlights: The beach is clean. Walks along the beach on the soft and clean sand is enjoyable.

Agonda Beach, Goa, India

Highlights: This beautiful and huge beach is good for walks or runs, and has a stunning view of the sunset.

Nai Harn Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Highlights: You can enjoy a massage, plenty of restaurants, food stalls, shopping and bathrooms.

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

Highlights: It holds the Guinness record for the beach with most deck chairs. A must go in Busan.

Varca Beach, Goa, India

Highlights: Beautiful quiet beach with amazing soft sand,
perfect to find yourself. Clear waters.

Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Highlights: Good waves for surfing or body boarding. A
relatively long beach if you like to run.

Benaulim Beach, Goa, India

Highlights: Beautiful and peaceful place for morning walks/jogs. You can fish in mornings and evenings.

Top 10 Beaches in the World for 2022

Grace Bay Beach – Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

Varadero Beach – Varadero, Cuba

Turquoise Bay – Exmouth, Australia

Quarta Praia – Morro de Sao Paulo, Brazil

Eagle Beach – Palm – Eagle Beach, Aruba

Radhanagar Beach – Havelock Island, India

Baía do Sancho – Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Trunk Bay Beach – Virgin Islands National Park, US

Baía dos Golfinhos – Praia da Pipa, Brazil

Spiaggia dei Conigli – Lampedusa, Italy


‘Create equal opportunity’ Thu, 17 Mar 2022 04:47:09 +0000

Samina Munshi, Director, N Chirag Travels, says that gender equality is need of the hour and that all travel groups address and pursue this issue on a priority basis.

Janice Alyosius

Women in the travel and tourism business are setting an example of women empowerment all over the world. Whether they are licenced tour guides, pilots or entrepreneurs, women are defying stereotypes and making a mark in the field.

However, it is vital to provide a gender-equitable atmosphere for them to grow as leaders and innovators. “Commitment to gender equality is the need of the hour. I strongly advise that all travel groups address and pursue this issue,” said Samina Munshi, Director, N Chirag Travels.

“Establishing and implementing a thorough equal pay policy, as well as recruiting women into high-level tourism employment, will help the sector create equal opportunity for women in the travel and tourism business. Work-life balance should be encouraged, and childcare obligations should be shared equally by both partners to avoid women from falling out of the workforce,” she recommended. “The majority of our workforce is women, and it is our effort to ensure that the business culture honours, rewards and promotes men and women equally,” Munshi said of the unique perk granted to women working at the company. “Our primary values are unquestionably equality and inclusivity. We also prioritise communication and transparency, as well as other fundamental efforts such as healthcare benefits, secure transportation, paid vacation days and flexible working hours,” she added.

About the policies and actions aimed toward women, Munshi said, “As women take on more and more positions in the tourism profession, focus on gender equality needs to be revived.” In light of the pandemic’s impact on small and medium-sized women entrepreneurs’ businesses, special credit lines for women in tourism should be developed, and governments should emphasise women-owned firms in public procurement, she added.

Unease over pre-travel testing Fri, 04 Feb 2022 10:43:44 +0000

M!CE business hasn’t been able to catch a break since COVID-19 broke all over world and the industry is worried if immediate corrective action it is not taken, it may not recover at all this year.

Hazel Jain

In a bid to adjust to the new normal, the UK has scrapped pre-departure travel tests for vaccinated passengers. The travel industry in the UK played a huge role in calling out the measures as ineffective now that Omicron was spreading widely.

In another development, the World Travel & Tourism Council welcomed the French government’s decision to reopen borders for the UK travellers. “Once a variant is endemic, closing borders is pointless and only damages livelihoods, especially in travel and tourism,” stated the global tourism body.

Closer to home, an open letter was sent by 35 prominent doctors in India requesting the Indian government to stop the “unwarranted” practice of testing, medication and hospitalisation. Now, the question arises whether the Indian government will take note of the situation and act promptly in order to ensure that the events industry, which is struggling to revive itself, recovers in due course.

Rajeev Jain, Managing Director, Rashi Entertainment, who is also one of the significant voices in the events and wedding industry, says, “Restaurants and hotels are functioning at 50 per cent capacity, but no such provisions have been made for the wedding industry. Moreover, all other states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra are allowing a higher capacity of guests. Therefore, key stakeholders from the events and wedding industry in New Delhi went to meet Health Minister Satyendar Jain and requested some relaxations.”

Pre-travel testing has to goHaving conducted a few corporate events during the pandemic, Abhik Dutta, Director & Co-founder at The Wanderers, Outdoor Wilderness Learnings (OWL), and Colour Purple Events & Air Bookings LLP, makes his point very clear. “By now, I think we can all agree that these tests have become impractical, irrelevant and futile with most people not submitting to tests anymore… So, why continue with pre-travel testing that clearly harass passengers?” he opines.

Roshan Abbas, President, Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA), echoes similar sentiments. “Every time the restrictions come into place, the first and foremost step taken is towards the closure of events or limiting crowds. We have always believed in and adhered to the guidelines shared by the government. But in doing so, the people in this industry have suffered a lot. A rally is held during the day and a curfew is imposed at night,” says Abbas.

A phygital world
Birju Gariba, Founder and CEO of Iskra Events & Celebrations, feels that events and celebrations have never stopped existing; they have only gone through a temporary metamorphosis. “The corporate side has gone hybrid or phygital and the social side has gone intimate. However, the scale of events on the corporate side has shrunk drastically due to the constant threat of a pandemic. Socials, however, have adopted the intimate model quite well,” he adds.

Defer, not cancel
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook India has been witnessing strong demand from M!CE groups and this is reflected in the fact that most corporates are opting to defer rather than cancel their plans. “With corporates keen on utilising their unspent budgets before the financial year ends, this continues to be a significant opportunity for the MICE sector,” says Meera Charnalia, Senior Vice President & Head, MICE, Thomas Cook India.

She feels that the domestic M!CE business has been a boon over the last 20-odd months. “We welcome the government’s support through the inclusion of corporate M!CE under IGST to help companies avail GST input credit. Suitable incentives, tax exemptions and budgetary allocation for the setting up of M!CE infrastructure; identifying and incentivising M!CE zones for the setting up of exhibition centres in high-potential regions of the country will help inspire demand,” Charnalia says. “Of course, uniformity of health and safety protocols across state borders would be a considerable relief,” she adds.

GRNconnect expands horizons Mon, 20 Dec 2021 13:13:57 +0000

GRNconnect, apart from excelling in providing tech and hotel booking services to travel trade has now opened its DMC business in USA and will soon be expanding it in Egypt and India.

Nisha Verma

Deepak Narula, Managing Director, GRNconnect, has revealed that with innovation and adaptability being the key qualities of GRNconnect, in 2021, they will go live with Amadeus, i.e., Amadeus Values Hotels and their Switch module. “Very soon we will be available on their web service too. This apart, we are also connected with some major tech players, which has helped us with our inventory, price competitiveness, and ease of integrating APIs into our product. We launched a US DMC for which we were able to secure a good response,” he shares.” In 2021, Narula said that their flagship product for hotel bookings, both the Login module and the API Out module, did well. “Also, our US DMC got a good response from our global agent base, especially from India and the Middle East,” he claims.

He added that during COVID-19, they focused a lot on technology and product upgradation by adding some key suppliers to their portfolio. “We have ambitious plans on the distribution front. We have made some major tie-ups and we will go live on these platforms as early as January 2022. We are also planning to launch a DMC for Egypt and a DMC for India,” he revealed.

Sharing more details on his international business, Narula says, “The tourism sector is opening fast in European, North and South American countries. As such, our overseas business share is increasing consistently through our subsidiaries in Dubai and the US, as many new agents have started consuming our login and API out feed. Also, with the launch of our US DMC, we can cater to even the minute requirements of our agents for destination USA.”

However, when it comes to the future looking brighter, Narula asserts, “Barring the few hiccups due to new COVID variants, we are hopeful that we will end this financial year on a high note, and we expect that in 2022, the tourism industry will boom back and will surpass the pre-COVID levels.”

For the future, his advice to travel agents and operators is, “One should try and achieve value addition and uniqueness in the products and services offered, and initiate use of technology, though in small but consistent steps.” Personalised services can never be replaced by an OTA, so don’t fear OTAs. COVID is just a phenomenon, and this too shall pass. Stay positive,” he requested.

He also stressed the need to concentrate on niche products. “Staying focused on a single product and making a niche for oneself is important, but not for a retail agent. Selling multiple products with consistent efforts and total transparency is the key to success for a retail agent,” he asserted.

Year 2021 for GRNconnect
In 2021, with the tourism sector opening in Europe and American countries, we were able to generate some volume. However, that was still not close to pre-COVID levels. We are hopeful that there will be a boom in the tourism sector and we will surpass pre-COVID business volume.

Overtourism: A double-edged sword Mon, 16 Aug 2021 02:48:44 +0000

Although over-tourism can bring many benefits to the local communities and the country at large, including income,
employment and international recognition, it can also lead to environmental and social damage. If not managed carefully, it can destroy the very assets on which it depends. Does over-tourism pose a real threat in the post-COVID world?

Hazel Jain

Benefit to local communities

There is no denying the benefits and people’s livelihoods are connected to tourism. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a temporary salve for over-tourism, it has also revealed how reliant many destinations, jobs and industries are on the tourism industry. Even though tourism generates massive dollars, creates wealth, and provides an opportunity for growth, the sword has another side.

Environment suffers

The downside is that destinations that become popular with visitors struggle with increased pollution, waste management, overcrowding, noise, and higher property values and costs. As more property owners rent out their rooms on online sites, locals have found it difficult to find an affordable place to live, forcing them out of the city. And cities aren’t alone facing these issues.

Garners global attention

Lesser-known destinations and attractions that even the domestic population is not aware of, can receive national and global recognition once it starts to receive high footfalls. Social media has helped many a hidden treasure to receive the attention it deserves from not just domestic but also international visitors.

No social distancing

Countries are investing huge amounts of money and efforts in ensuring that their citizens remain safe during the pandemic. Once travel resumes, governments will have to continue to ensure that social distancing norms remain in place. In Machu Picchu, tickets are now time-limited, with dedicated time slots. Venice has introduced a new fee for day visitors, and Taj Mahal in India has increased entrance fee while reducing visit time.

Better infrastructure

Government investment in public works is considered one of the cost-effective measures in creating jobs. Infrastructural upgrades to residential precincts earlier affected by over-tourism in terms of traffic congestion, garbage, sewage and environmental pollution would go a long way to improve emotional well-being of the residents as well, while at the same time providing a better experience for visitors and more jobs for locals.

Economic problems

The trend of mass-tourism has brought out the economic problem of inflation and displacement of traditional occupation due to the uncontrolled increases of tourism activities. For instance, it has impacted the economy of Fort Kochi in Kerala as it saw a significant change in trends of tourist shopping. Over-tourism and a factory-made market has led to endangering of traditional craftsmanship, threatening it with extinction.


Punjab needs biz Mon, 02 Aug 2021 16:25:31 +0000 A surge in tourism business before the 2nd wave saw stakeholders in Punjab rejoice. But, the state still has a long way to go.

Nisha Verma

In Punjab, while the second wave saw business dropping for most hotels and tour operators, things were not that bad before March, especially in the domestic sector. Rupjeet Saggar, Owner, Sagger World Holidays (Ludhiana), agrees, but adds that business was nominal as people were getting better rates directly. The same thought is echoed by Kuldip Sondhi, Partner, Sondhi Travels (Jalandhar). “Domestic hotels are giving better or similar discounts to customers directly, leaving us with zero or thin margins,” says Sondhi.

Explaining this further, Manmeet Singh, Chairman, IATO Punjab Chapter and ADTOI Haryana & Chandigarh Chapters, says, “Before the second wave, bookings were mainly for surrounding hill stations like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir. Our loyal clients trust us for their holidays. However, general customers initially opted for self-drive and booking of hotels. It was only when they reached hills and found it difficult to find a good hotel because of overcrowding that some of them started calling travel professionals.”

Paramveer Singh, General Manager, Taj Swarna, Amritsar, shares, “Post the phase-wise unlocking across the country last year, green shoots of travel began to emerge driven by an increase in demand for domestic travel, with people keen to explore all that India has to offer. Further buoyed by the festive season combined with facilitation of interstate travel, leisure domestic travel saw a steady growth, and our hotel saw a significant increase in bookings.”

Narayan Tharoor, General Manager, Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur, also says that they were getting domestic bookings at the hotel before the second wave. “Chandigarh attracts a lot of transient travellers. Hence, we have seen a good demand for the hotel in the market. Zirakpur is a convenient location for a halt for pre and post-travel to the northern belt of India. Hence, we host a lot of leisure travellers at our hotel,” he shares.

Speaking on behalf of Radisson Blu Hotel MBD Ludhiana, Sonica Malhotra Kandhari, Joint Managing Director, MBD Group, says, “The roll-out of vaccination did bring back the confidence of travellers for staycations, leisure and business trips during the second wave in Punjab. It was good in terms of the road to recovery, as 50 per cent occupancy was good in the new normal during the second wave.”

Impact post second wave
The second wave of the pandemic has impacted lives and livelihoods across the country severely, says Paramveer Singh. “With many states across the nation undergoing various phases of lockdown and varying travel restrictions being implemented, business was definitely affected. We witnessed cancellations, with people wary to travel unless necessary,” he opines. Sondhi agrees. Manmeet Singh puts forth a pertinent question – “Whenever there is a lockdown or curfew, how can any business or work be possible barring groceries and medical or essential items-related business?”

Tharoor says that while business was slow for a few weeks due to the second wave, Himachal opened and they started seeing good demand in terms of rooms business, and with the relaxed guidelines even started getting enquiries for wedding and related events.

At Taj Swarna, Paramveer Singh brought in some changes. “We extended our signature services by bringing hospitality at home. We identified the changing requirements of our customers in the ‘new normal’ and relooked at our business and services to cater to the same,” he shares.

Green shoots 2.0
“After the second wave, queries for banquets and corporate bookings started flowing in. Even the restaurants could operate at 50 per cent capacity that brought the regular guests back to the hotel,” claims Kandhari.

Even Paramveer Singh accepts that the recent phase-wise unlock and ease in travel restrictions has seen domestic travel begin to resume. “The recent relaxation in government rules in the state are encouraging for travellers looking to visit the historic and beautiful city of Amritsar, and we have been getting increasing queries from guests. With many people looking to travel to drivable locations and boundaries between work & home increasingly blurring, people are looking for ways to break away from the routine while enjoying with family and loved ones in a safe manner, even if it is a short getaway. Staycations are, hence, seeing growing popularity among guests,” he says.

The same goes for Radisson Blu Hotel MBD Ludhiana. “There are a lot of queries that have been converted into confirmed bookings. The queries for rooms, social events, corporate events and business meetings are there in the market and people are showing faith in the brand for following all the new normal safety protocols,” adds Kandhari.

Holiday Inn Chandigarh Zirakpur has started receiving wedding, transient and corporate enquiries again. Tharoor shares, “We foresee that the trend will continue for the next few months before it starts getting stable and consistent over a period of time.”

Queries have also started trickling in for travel agents and tour operators, but Saggar says, “I don’t think that it is going to start significantly by next year.” He also adds that tourists are not as attracted to Punjab as they are to other states, like Goa. Kandhari explains the reason. “Being an industrial town, most of the travel is for business purposes. Business travellers prefer hotels here because of its strategic location,” she says, adding, “The state is doing its bit to promote tourism by promoting heritage locations.”

How to lure tourists
While Tharoor suggests actively promoting local attractions amongst domestic travellers to encourage more tourism in the state, Paramveer Singh recommends a vigorous vaccination drive and creating relevant awareness about it. “This, combined with flexible travel guidelines, gradual ease of travel restrictions and favourable policies, will boost the sector’s economy,” he believes.

Kandhari says, “The government can help in boosting business by reducing property taxes, electricity rates and excise fees, and by introducing one window for all compliances. The long pending demand is that the government should grant industry status to the hotel sector.”

Tharoor also hopes for continued support from the government to recover from the drastic impact on the hospitality sector, including providing one-time waivers in terms of property tax, various licences and fees. “Incentivising travellers for visiting local destinations is also expected to give a boost to the tourism sector,” he says.

Saggar adds, “If people start getting vaccinated, other countries will open doors for our country. MoCA had said that commercial flights will not resume before March 2022 except some air bubbles and special flight corridors. By that time the country should run the vaccination drive aggressively.”