Genuine visitor increase in India hinges on aggressive consumer-facing, visibility campaign, ET TravelWorld

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<p>Image used for representation only</p>
Image used for representation only

It’s the end of the year. It really feels like 2023 whizzed by a lot faster than normal. 2022 saw tourism restart in India after a few horrid years. 2022 was the year of rebuilding. Tourism saw joy and new levels of business. Then came 2023 with even more expectations. And lo & behold, we are already at its end! It feels like this year was in fast motion, like how I hear all my WhatsApp voice notes to get through them quickly.

2023. What should we say about it? Lots happened. The economy grew, or at least that’s what we are told. We put a spaceship on the moon (Yay, India!). We saw some great cricket, even if we lost the finals (well played). Laws were changed, elections took place, taxes collected, and festivals celebrated. Just another day in the life of this confused, chaotic, evolving, but incredible country. Never a dull moment is there.

But let’s step back and ponder what happened in our micro-universe, which is the tourism industry.

The single biggest problem our industry has is its size and complexity. When our nation’s finance managers tell us that we are very complicated, we really have much to be nervous about. Unlike what the average person or policymaker thinks, tourism has never been a unitary economic activity. We have more sub-segments than an Octopus has tentacles. Inbound, outbound, domestic, VFR, wedding, wellness, medical, business, MICE, religious, adventure, educational, wildlife, volunteerism, rural, cultural, arts and so on.

Then, we have all the different stakeholders. Hotels, airlines, restaurants, inbound operators, outbound operators, travel agents, guides, rail agents, shops, restaurants, and the list goes on & on. Every travel interest has a different style and need, and every stakeholder has a different role.

Different segments and stakeholders experienced a different journey in the year gone by. Multiple reports claim that tourism boomed in 2023, and whereas this is not wrong, not everyone was watching the movie from the same seats.

First, who did well? Hotels for sure. No matter where they were located, the vast majority of hotel operators did see record revenues generated. This has predominantly been on the back of domestic travellers. Corporate travel has also risen, which has helped city hotels. MICE business is busy. And most importantly for the cultural cities, weddings have ruled the roost. It’s important to recognise that destination weddings are not all for the ‘rich and famous’. These come in all different shapes, sizes and budgets. And mummy-daddy have to show the world how much they love their kids. The grand Indian wedding helped the hotel industry not only rebound but also grow.

Airlines are a strange one for me. I do not understand what possessed them to fight on fares and then go bust. I Googled that there have been over 30 Indian carriers that evaporated since the early 1990s, including some major players. Now we have Go First and SpiceJet on life support and Jet vying for a new incarnation. I wish they would hire economists who could give them lessons about the elasticity of money and understand what balance means. India needs stability and growth in its aviation space. We never seem to get even close to that. 2023 was just another example of this.

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Outbound also struggled because of visa backlogs, but it still did very well. This was evident by the fact that international airlines had record load factors with record fares. If I look at the social media of all my friends in the outbound space, they all had a great year. Happy for them. I am not very sure how the domestic folks feel about the year gone by. Same for the adventure lot. Both segments have been relatively quiet. I hope that means they are content and busy.

Now to inbound, my home turf. This is one segment that hurt probably the most and continues to do so. Industry reports indicate the inbound industry is sitting at around 60-65 per cent of 2019 levels. There is very little demand for the destination in our source markets. No matter where we all travelled to this year for sales, the feedback is the same. There is a complete lack of visibility and promotion anywhere outside India. International travel trade is uninspired to invest any money on cold destinations. Whatever we are getting, is purely organic and on our own steam. Yes, there will be exceptions, but the general mood is sombre. The fact that the Government of India, at its core, has somewhat abandoned us is really worrying for the millions in our workforce who have for years depended on global visitors for their livelihood. Unless we have a complete U-turn and a rollout of an aggressive consumer-facing campaign, there is no way to increase genuine visitor numbers.

Tourism is an industry that is in the middle of a whirlpool of emotions. Nothing is ever static. Every day unfolds a new story with new challenges and also new opportunities. But I can be sure of one thing. We who depend on tourism for our livelihood are an obstinate, resilient, and thick-skinned lot. We thrive on adversities and have always come out of the deepest pits with a grin on our faces. No matter what nature throws at us or whatever the government does or does not do, we have stood fast in front of every challenge, and I know in 2024, we will not only continue to do so but will be done with optimism and vigour.

So here is raising a toast to all of us for a wonderful, exciting, happy and fun-filled year ahead. Let’s work together to make it happen.

The author is Joint Managing Director at Creative Travel, an India-based Destination Management Company.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETTravelWorld.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETTravelWorld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.

  • Published On Dec 30, 2023 at 09:58 AM IST

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