Experiential travel set to boom in India
Experiential travel set to boom in India
26 NOVEMBER 2019 9:18 AM

Hotels in India can benefit from the array of experiences the country offers, which is exactly what today’s travelers are looking for.

REPORT FROM INDIA—Experiential travel is growing rapidly in the industry, and it’s now beginning to take root in India, according to sources.

The biggest selling point remains India itself and its multifaceted diversity. Hotels are rolling out the red carpet for guests with experiences such as bungee jumping, swimming in the icy Pangong Lake in the Himalayas or biking across the Ladakh region in Kashmir.

Jose Ramapuram, executive director of Evolve Back, which operates three resorts in India, said he has noticed the increase in experiential travel in India, although he decries the lack of “quantitative data to back up my claim.”

“Today’s tourist is driven by a quest for new experiences. He is looking to enrich his life and broaden his horizons through meaningful travel. At the same time, he does not wish to adversely impact the destination with his presence,” Ramapuram added.

Steve Borgia, chairman and managing director of Indeco Hotels, which also operates three Indian properties, says he considers India as very much an experiential country allowing guests to be as adventurous or non-adventurous as they wish.

“There is something to experience at every nook and (cranny). Since the last decade, we have moved from experience to emotions. I have no problem whether the tourism is going up or going down or flopping or not flopping, we seem to be doing very well,” Borgia said.

India is a vibrant destination with something to offer for every traveler, and the hotel industry needs to integrate that message in sales strategies, and all the way through the journey, sources said.

Akanksha Maheshwari, director of destination marketing for India at Hilton, said this desire is being translated into consumers spending more on hotels.

“We have certainly seen an increase in Indians spending more of their disposable incomes on travel. In fact, recent industry studies indicate that the proportion of disposable income spent on tourism in India is at par with that of the developed markets of the United Kingdom, United States and Australia,” Maheshwari said, noting one report she had seen shows that spend to have increased from 7% of disposable income in 2013 to 11% in 2018.

That 2018 percentage is likely to rise, said Jaideep Dang, managing director of hotels and hospitality at business advisory JLL.

“While experiential travel constitutes a very small portion of tourism in India, there has been a clear growth in this segment, which can only be expected to increase further. India has an extensive offering ranging from culture and heritage (to) spiritual and wellness tourism to adventure and eco-tourism. There are limited reliable figures on the growth in this segment as it is partly driven by the informal tourism sector,” Dang said.

“The travel market (in general) is largely driven by domestic travelers. However, with increased marketing and the introduction of the electronic visa system there has been a rise in the number of international travelers. Domestic tourism constituted approximately 87% of total tourist expenditure in 2018, as per the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Economic Impact 2019,” Dang added.

One reason for the rise in experiential travel is millennials, fueled by social media, according to Maheshwari.

“By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years, making us the youngest country. Consumer behavior shows that the millennials are tuned to doing things unique and different. … (and) with disposable incomes, they have sizeable spending power. It is not uncommon for them to travel by train or to select more ‘budget’ lodging and instead spend more on the unique experiences,” Maheshwari said.

Responsible experiences
Indeco’s Borgia said there is a requirement to approach the experiential trend with caution and care.

“We need to be responsible. (India is) a country that speaks 2,000 languages and writes in about 50. We are the only country that can sell emotion,” he said.

Borgia said Indeco has conserved three dilapidated villages as part of its asset in Swamimalai.

“We have redefined tourism and hospitality to cater to (experiential travel), and that is where India should go,” Borgia added.

The genre is not only open to those who have a month’s leisure at their disposal.

“We cater to bleisure experiences at our city hotels as well. If a guest has a few hours before catching a flight, we can curate an experience for them to get an insight into the local culture or cuisine of the destination. It could be sightseeing, shopping, musical shows or even street-food binging,” Maheshwari said.

“What we do is to soul-stir the tourist such that the guest does not want to leave. He is pampered from the time he sets foot in the resort. At Swamimalai resort, the tourist is transported to a different period or world. … (Our) Coorg (resort) is in a 300-acre working coffee plantation,” Borgia said.

Nature, wellness and organic produce all blend together in India’s experiential offer.

“I am confident that given Indian ingenuity and entrepreneurship, experiential tourism in India will get better and better, and it would not surprise me if we emerge as world leaders in this segment,” Evolve Back’s Ramapuram said.

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