Insights from industry leaders on a year of aggressive marketing & making direct connections, ET TravelWorld


In a dynamic and insightful panel discussion at the second ET Travel & Tourism Conclave & Awards on November 30 in New Delhi, leading voices from the travel and tourism industry engaged in a comprehensive conversation on India’s outbound travel landscape. The central theme focused on the effectiveness of the aggressive marketing and direct connection strategies employed over the past year.

The conversation, moderated by Nitin Sachdeva, CEO, Venture Marketing included insights from GB Srithar, Regional Director, India, Middle East, South Asia, & Africa, Singapore Tourism Board, Mukul Sukhani, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Mastercard, Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head – Holidays, SOTC Travel and Rohit Kohli, MD, Away & Co.

The panel discussion on India’s outbound travel market highlighted the strong recovery and growth seen over the past year. National tourism boards like the Singapore Tourism Board have focused on partnerships and engaging communities to promote destinations.

Whereas, global payment service providers like Mastercard are seeing close to 40 per cent rise in outbound travel spending from India in 2023 compared to 2022. Data insights allow them to curate offers and understand changing customer behaviour.

Tour operators like SOTC and Away & Co, which is part of Creative Travel Group, noted a rise in experiential, event-based and wedding travel. They believe customers are taking more, shorter trips for unique experiences. While challenges around visas and TCS on overseas tour packages remain, the confident Indian traveller is less price-sensitive if getting value.

All the panellists unanimously agreed that Indian outbound travellers now prioritise experiences over price. Curated high-end trips see strong demand despite high costs. The pandemic has made people realise the importance of creating memories through travel.

The moderator of the panel discussion, Nitin Sachdeva kicked off the discussion by querying GB Srithar about the Singapore Tourism Board’s marketing strategies over the last year. Srithar detailed the board’s adaptability to post-Covid consumer behaviour changes, emphasising aggressive plans and creative marketing strategies. Despite a competitive landscape, Singapore Tourism consistently positioned itself as a creative and inclusive destination in India.

Srithar, representing the Singapore Tourism Board, highlighted the challenge of staying relevant in India’s competitive market. Singapore has focused on creative, impactful, and inclusive marketing. He stressed the shift from information dissemination to cooperation, community engagement, and fostering conversations. Despite increased competition, Singapore remains a favourite destination for Indian travellers.

Industry leaders discuss strategies for tech-led growth & business expansion in travel sector

The panel discussed leveraging technology to gain operational visibility and scale through platforms like predictive analytics and real-time tracking. Partnerships across the ecosystem, from airlines to startups, were highlighted as critical. While raising funds, the two founders on the panel emphasised the importance of strong governance, a clear path to profitability and founder autonomy.

Tourism marketing strategies, partnerships & shift in consumer behaviours
The conversation further delved into the importance of cooperation, community engagement, and conversations in promoting tourism. Mukul Sukhani highlighted the success of partnerships, citing Mastercard’s collaboration with travel companies to promote mobile payments. The outcome was a positive shift in consumer behaviour, showcasing the impact of strategic alliances in the travel industry.

Sukhani then shared insights into changing consumer behaviour. With a 39 per cent increase in outbound travel spending from India in 2023, Mastercard leverages its extensive acceptance network to provide seamless payment experiences globally. “The focus is on curating offers and collaborations to enhance customer value.” During the discussion, Sukhani also touched upon the emerging segment of travellers seeking priceless experiences and explained Mastercard’s ‘Priceless Cities’ program, offering bespoke curated travel packages.

Evolving travel trends and challenges post-Covid
The discussion between Sachdeva and D’Souza revolved around the impact of Covid-19 on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) strategies. D’Souza also discussed the evolution of Thomas Cook Group’s strategy in response to changing consumer behaviour. He said the company adapted to a surge in domestic travel post-Covid and witnessed increased business-leisure trips, and demand for experiential journeys. He also emphasised on the shift in travel patterns, with customers opting for more frequent, unique experiences such as event-based travel and cruises. The discussion unveiled changes in Indian consumer preferences, influenced by movies and food, with a spotlight on shorter trips.

Leveraging partnerships for experiential travel
During the interaction, Sachdeva also stressed on the importance of partnerships in enhancing outbound travel experiences. Rohit Kohli from Away & Co echoed this sentiment, underlining the company’s focus on experiential travel through collaborations with tourism boards and private entities. Kohli said his company focuses on highly personalised, experiential trips, catering to a segment willing to invest in unique and priceless travel experiences. The emphasis of the discussion was on creating unique and memorable experiences for travellers and tapping into the growing appetite for luxury travel.

Kohli also emphasised on the resilience of the industry in overcoming challenges and adapting to changes such as TCS compliance, visa issues, and increased competition.

Catering to India’s evolving travel market
Srithar further highlighted India’s young and confident traveller demographic, noting a preference for unique experiences and value for money. Despite price sensitivity, the Indian consumer is willing to pay for quality, making Singapore a desirable destination. Sukhani said Mastercard’s Priceless India initiative aligns with this trend, offering bespoke travel packages that prioritise experiential travel over price.

In conclusion, Kohli and D’Souza shed light on challenges in the travel industry, including confusion over TCS compliance, visa issues, and supply-side challenges. Sukhani emphasised on the need for companies to adapt to changing customer behaviour. Srithar added insights into Singapore’s popularity as a destination despite the competition, attributing it to historical ties and a positive trajectory for India.

The panel’s discourse painted a comprehensive picture of India’s outbound travel industry, highlighting successful strategies, emerging trends, and challenges. The consensus was that despite the hurdles posed by the pandemic and geopolitical tensions, opportunities abound for businesses to cater to India’s evolving travel market by prioritising unique and priceless experiences.

Shifting the narrative: Sustainability experts call for regenerative tourism practices, industry collaboration

At the 2nd edition of the Economic Times Travel & Tourism Conclave, the sustainability experts converged to discuss what lies ahead of India’s travel future. Emphasising deeper carrying capacity studies and local community engagement, they also proposed taking up the responsible traveller guidelines and industry cooperation for improved destination management while avoiding ‘degrowth’ of the sector.

  • Published On Dec 8, 2023 at 08:20 PM IST

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