The recently held second Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) mega convention in Bali, was witness to major milestones including signing of an MoU with the Turkish Indian Tourism Council as well as knowledge sessions on the changing dynamics in the industry By Steena Joy
The scenic and expansive Pan Pacific Nirwana Resort & Spa in Bali, Indonesia was the venue of the second annual convention of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) held from March 17-21, 2016. The theme of the convention was ‘India Outbound – the Game Changer.’ While the convention saw a series of deliberations and business sessions, there were also B2B Table Top sessions so that Indian buyers could meet with Indonesian suppliers directly.
Guldeep Singh Sahni, president, OTOAI, said, “The intention has always been to show results to destinations which host conventions. There has been marked growth in terms of Indian visitors to the Philippines since the association held its first convention last year in Manila.”
The convention chairman, Riaz Munshi added, “Bali, despite its immense strength as a tourism destination, hasn’t been able to lure Indian tourists in a big way so far. The convention will, therefore, open up opportunities for the destination.”
Conference delegates were flown in by official airline partners Malindo, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines from Mumbai, Delhi and other Indian cities. Boosted by the free visa entry initiative for Indians by the Republic of Indonesia, the Indonesian ministry of tourism is looking to increase Indian tourist numbers. Speaking at the opening of the convention, Taufik Nurhidayat, deputy director, ministry of tourism, Republic of Indonesia, said, “This year we are looking to increase the number of Indian visitors to Indonesia to 350,000 from the current 272,000. Already the India market has shown a 35 to 40 per cent growth year on year over the past three years. The visa free access and hopefully direct flight connectivity will boost these numbers. We are hoping Air India and our own national carrier, Garuda Indonesia, will start direct flights soon. Both airlines have the permissions but certain technicalities have to be worked out and probably in the next few months we will see some action.”
Nearly 240 delegates attended the convention which also saw an MoU being signed between the Turkish Indian Tourism Council (TITC) and OTOAI. Supported by the ministry of tourism, Turkey, TITC is an organisation of tour operators, hoteliers and restaurant owners in Turkey committed to developing bilateral ties between Turkey and the India market.
Commenting on the OTA vs tour operator challenge, Munshi said, “Traditional and digital will coexist as far as India market is concerned. I am not discounting online. Maybe online will take away from the travel agents, simple and point to point itineraries but online cannot take away from us adventure travel, luxury travel, special needs travel, etc because of our domain expertise. We have to be innovative with our products and we should know our product well.”
Speaking about OTOAI membership criteria, Sahni informed, “We refuse a lot of applications. We only have a 25 per cent acceptance rate because we are not into the numbers game. We have strict criteria even while choosing international DMCs as our members. We do checks on them before we take them on board OTOAI. We do a lot of workshops with PACTO, Lama Tours, etc. We plan to invite embassies to conduct training workshops for our members.”
Winds of change
The first business session, Parivartan – India Outbound – The Gamechanger, was moderated by Sahni. Speakers were Emin Cakmak, chairman, TITC; Dhananjay Saliankar, regional director, sales & marketing and Starwood Sales Organisation, South Asia, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; Gilda Sagrado, promotions, Bali Tourism Promotion Board or locally known as Badan Promosi Pariwisata Daerah (BPPD) Bali; Alka Jha, area sales manager, Tiger Airways; Rayomand Choksi, regional director, Titlis Cableways – Hotels & Restaurants, Switzerland and Radhika Krishnan, head of sales & marketing, German National Tourist Office (GNTO), India.
Cakmak stated that the profile of Indian tourists is completely different – their expectations and interests are different. “Many DMCs in Turkey have India market as their core business. Nearly 115,000 Indians visited the country last year. Similarities in our cultures is also a pull. Food was a problem earlier but we have now overcome that. We want to tap secondary markets like Chennai, Bengaluru, etc.” Sagrado informed that Bali alone saw a 35 per cent growth from the India market with 118,000 visitors. Sahni added, “I see a 25 to 30 per cent growth from India if we have direct flight connectivity between India and Indonesia.”
Jha reiterated that India is a very important market for Tiger Airways. “The India market contributes 25 per cent to our entire network. We are also focusing on the Tier II cities, though keeping in mind that Malindo and Air Asia are also in those markets. But we have just added Lucknow and we have plans for Vizag as well. Our target segment is the middle income group. An interesting trend these days is that even HNI groups are looking at flying low cost airlines – spending less on travel and more on the destination.” Saliankar opined that it is personalisation and innovation that pushes growth. Sagrado shared the opinion. “It is all about the experience. Transform from travel – tourists have to feel transformed after their visit.”
Krishnan believed that the sign of a developing market is that the growth moves from Tier I to Tier II cities. “This is happening in India now. Even NTOs are doing roadshows in Tier II and III cities. Many airlines are including even Jain meals onboard. Disposable incomes in India are rising and it is a maturing market now,” she affirmed. Choksi agreed, “We got 80,000 overnights from India. Many Swiss hotels have Indian chefs. Shops now close at 5 pm and reopen at 8 pm to accommodate Indian love for shopping. Indian tourists stay for longer duration as compared to Chinese tourists and spend an average of 350 euros a night.”
Speaking about the love hate relationship between OTAs and brick and mortar models, Saliankar felt that the biggest hurdle is our mindset. “It should change. Travel agents should leverage on the opportunities and not think negative. I suggest that a fee should be charged for designing an itinerary. We need to adapt, change and seize opportunities.” Cakmak agreed, “The tour operator’s understanding of India needs to change. European DMCs share their profits with mid size agents. Turkish Airlines carries more Indian passengers to worldwide destinations and not just to Turkey. We are more like India’s national carrier! Ironically, there are no Indian carriers flying to Turkey.” This session was followed by presentations from Travel Boutique Online (TBO), FXKart, Starwood and Travelport. The second business session was Badaltey Rishtey – Vendor – client – Agent changing dynamics. The moderator was OTOAI Western India chairman, Mahendra Vakharia. Speakers were Ankush Nijhawan, co-founder & CEO, TBO; Arjun Shroff, managing director, Shroff Travel, Philippines; Sujit Nair, founder and group managing director, Akquasun; Himanshu Patil, director, Kesari Tours; Umberto Cadamuro, chief operating officer inbound, PACTO, a leading DMC in Indonesia and Kanwardeep Singh, director, Travel Bullz India. Cadamuro opined, “ We are selling expertise. So we have to bring up our product knowledge to give our customers a reason to buy from us. Change is inevitable.” Vakharia agreed, “We have to upscale our business models. And maybe we should have IPRs for creating our own exclusive itineraries.”
Patil stated, “Our customer is more knowledeable than us these days. He knows where he wants to go and what he wants. So we have to put our own house in order to garner his trust.”
Nijhawan informed that today 350 million people are on their smartphones. Mobile apps are the buzzwords. “So what stops a Flipkart or PayTm from entering the travel space? Product content on your website is also very important. We have to go niche – in adventure, pilgrim tours, women tours, etc,” he elucidated. This was followed by Mann ki Baat, an open house interactive session, where the entire OTOAI executive committee, chairpersons and committee heads were on call, responding to questions, feedback, observations from the delegates.