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Monday, 06 February, 2017, 12 : 30 PM [IST]

Bringing Britain closer to Indians

Disha Shah Ghosh
Panellists and members of the VisitBritain team with Vikas Sheth, (third from left) Visit Britain’s newly-appointed Country Manager for India; Sumathi Ramanathan (fourth from left), Director Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (APMEA), VisitBritain and Vishal Bhatia, B2B Manager – India VisitBritain

India having ranked among the 7 priority source markets for VisitBritain, the ‘Destination Britain India’ sales mission at Hyatt Regency Pune was the first step in marking its footprint beyond the gateway cities of Mumbai and Delhi. While the excitement among the 28-member supplier delegation was evident at the inaugural, the feedback from some of the buyers after a series of pre-fixed appointments was satisfactory. However, the result of this initiative, undertaken after a gap of three years, will take some time to reflect on the ground, considering the Indian market requires consistent engagement, and rigid consumer demands are a reality. In the words of S. D. Nandakumar, Business Head – B2B & Ecommerce, SOTC Travel, “Indian customers are difficult to deal with considering their requirements are very India-centric. While the aspiration to travel is growing, Indian food, especially vegetarian food is paramount on an international trip.”

Currently, VisitBritain operates its offices in 76 countries, and India stands with the likes of priority markets of US, Germany, China and Gulf region. While the dynamics of the Indian traveller is constantly changing, it was imperative for the supplier delegation to get a first-hand update from their Indian counterparts. Without mincing words, Ashwini Kakkar,

Executive Vice Chairman, Mercury Travels, said, “Asia is the crucible for world growth, and one out of three passengers emanate from India. With the rising middle class, more and more domestic travellers are now undertaking international holidays. Gradually, the GITs in India are becoming FITs, and this transformation is exponential. Once a traveller becomes a FIT, there is no reverse journey towards GIT. This is one of the biggest trends as holidays are now a journey of experience. The spend per person per trip is increasing, and Britain is the perfect choice for FITs, but the trick is in conversion of enquiries into bookings. This process takes a lot of time.”

Vikas Sheth, Sumathi Ramanathan, Vishal Bhatia with members of the VisitBritain team

Seconding Kakkar’s views, Karan Anand, Head, Relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd. spoke about the three important criteria to be met for catering to the Indian clientele. These are security, language and Indian food. “The complexity of long-haul travel keeps agents relevant in business because consolidation of variety products and services is a difficult proposition. The largest group travel movement of around 80-85% is undertaken during school holidays and this trend will continue. Group travel today is not just about a large number of travellers undertaking an escorted vacation, smaller groups of niche passengers going for a study tour or a shopping extravaganza or an experiental trip are now the new-age group traveller.”

An increase in adoption of digital technology and mobile bookings gaining ground, it is expected that Internet users will surge to 730 million by 2020 from 92 million in 2010. “Mobile technology is the future because of its reach and information available. The challenge for a supplier is to offer the right pricing and the right deal at the right time. Therefore, attention to detail and deeper penetration are the key,” said Deepak Rawat – Sr VP-International Markets, MakeMyTrip. Rawat agreed with his contemporaries that in India regional differences and gender requirements are crucial, therefore itineraries and experiences are bespoke, making the customer profile more complex.

With consumers spending more than 3 hours per day on mobile devices, Siddharth Dhabade, Head of Industry, Google, urged the VisitBritain delegation to adopt video promotion to engage with their target audience in India. “Britain is a complex long-haul destination, most of the travellers search about their destination on YouTube. The top three countries researched by Indian travellers are the US, the UAE and Great Britain. Therefore, it is time to engage with the consumers through video content.”

Amid all the discussion on digital technology, Anand made a strong point that received a thumbs up from his Britain counterparts. “Despite the evolution of technology, travel brochures still play a crucial role for group travel. The holiday season for group travel in India actually begins when the annual travel brochures are launched. This will continue for years to come,” Anand affirmed.

Exhibitors and Buyers during panel discussion on ‘Tourism Trends from India

Britain for India
Inbound tourism is worth more than GBP 26 billion to the UK economy, and India is one of Britain’s most important markets for inbound tourism. In 2015, there was a record 422,000 inbound visits from India to the UK, an increase of 8% on 2014 and the third successive year of growth. This continues a long-term trend which has seen visits from India increase by 55% in the 10 years since 2005, with spending levels almost doubling. With Brexit leading to a devalued currency, group travellers from India are now adding extra room nights to their stay in Britain. Talking about this upward swing, Sumathi Ramanathan, Director Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (APMEA), VisitBritain, said, “We have firmly set our eyes on the Indian market, which is the world’s fastest growing economy. With the value of the Sterling at a 30-year low, this development will play a big role in bringing more Indians to Britain. This year, we will maintain our investment in India. But, the spent will be sharper and focused in the market, especially through digital technology. With Britain ranking third on the consumer search behaviour in India, our challenge is to ensure conversion of enquiries into bookings. Therefore, we are working with top performing agents in India for our Brit Agent online training programme.”

Traditionally, for Indians, Britain has always been a destination combined with the rest of Europe. However, customers are now evolving and realising the various experiences that Britain alone can offer. Taking cognizance of this, Ramanathan said, “We would like to promote Britain as a mono-destination in India, and are working with the travel trade to create mono itineraries for the Indian traveller. These itineraries have been chalked out to enable travellers to spend 8-10 days in Britain, dividing their time between iconic structures, musicals, Shakespeare trail, sports, lake districts, Scotland, etc.”

Additionally to penetrate further into the Indian market, VisitBritain will move towards curation of content. “We don’t necessarily use social media for advocacy and would like to move into that direction, where we share the travel stories of customers having visited Britain. Getting the relevant content and creating an interactive video strategy is our consumer outreach focus this year. We will explore projects in local languages besides our main communication language, English,” Ramanathan said.

Exhibitors & Buyers during pre-fixed appointments

The selection of Pune to host the sales mission was strategic, considering the potential of Tier- II and III cities in India, which are now driving outbound growth. Ramanathan stated, “India is a large country and there are ample opportunities outside Mumbai and Delhi. The potential of Tier-II and III cities needs to be explored since the customers there are emerging travellers, seeking destination and product information. The role of the travel trade in these markets is of a consultant and an advisor. Travel agents and tour operators are influencers in these cities, and Pune is a great start.”

Destination Britain India 2017 saw 76 buyers from 9 cities familiarising themselves with new products and updating their knowledge on the familiar ones from January 10 to 13. Big Bus Tours, VisitScotland, Marketing Birmingham, Tourism Ireland, Wimbeldon Lawn Tennis Museum and Tour, Historic Royal Palaces, were some of the suppliers showcasing their products to representatives from 25 organisations in India.

Buyers’ Feedback
Guldeep Singh Sahni, President, OTOAI & MD, Weldon Tours & Travels Pvt. Ltd.
The Destination Britain India sales mission had a limited number of suppliers, completely Indiacentric, which was effective. The selection of equally focused buyers ensured that meetings were fruitfil.

Tarun Malhotra, Director, Inorbit Tours Pvt. Ltd.
Destination Britain India was a very good initiative by VisitBritain, with a good mix of historical venues exhibiting. These venues can be incorporated in our itineraries for gala dinners. The palaces and other dedicated event venues were a good insight for me.
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