India’s Ministry of Tourism is hedging on the bleisure trend among incoming MICE travellers to promote longer stays and travel to attractions surrounding the primary cities.
“For example, if you’re coming to Mumbai for a business meeting, you could take an hour’s flight to Jodhpur and visit the beautiful palaces,” said Rupinder Brar, additional director general, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
However, the primary challenge that the country is grappling with is the lack of awareness of its numerous attractions, opined Brar. She said: “Travellers who want to visit India (tend to) feel at a loss of where to start and where to go. The feedback that we get from a lot of people is that one time is not enough. The challenge is how to strategically pitch the right products for the right customers.”
Local tour operators are well aware though, and are jumping at the opportunity to build up greater awareness in South-east Asian markets, with several joining forces with the tourism ministry to promote lesser-known activities in the destination.
For instance, Swagatam Tours is hawking unique group experiences such as village visits and dining with a local family, and religious tourism specialist Lotus Trans Travel is diversifying into arranging group travel via luxury sleeper trains that traverse India.
To extend their outreach to South-east Asian agencies, these tour operators are participating in an Incredible India roadshow that is making its rounds in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok this month. The roadshow, Brar said, is part of the ministry’s strategy to bring about better destination awareness in South-east Asia.
Moreover, next year will bring big plans for the destination, with the International Buddhist Conclave in late-September to early-October set to become a ripe bleisure opportunity. Brar revealed that local operators are working to “try some mixing of itineraries” with the event.
This bleisure push is a timely move, after India relaxed its visa requirements for business travellers, explained Brar. She said: “MICE is a growing segment for India, and to encourage more business, the government has introduced electronic visas not only for participants of government conferences, but also private conferences.
India extended its e-visa coverage from 30 days to 60 days in 2017, whereupon e-visas were also subdivided into three categories: tourist, business and medical. The government also reduced its visa registration fees this year; dropping tourist visa fees to US$40 from US$80.
As a result, India’s cities have risen in popularity. In a recent report by UK-based global market research company Euromonitor International that ranked the top 100 cities by tourist arrivals in 2019, Delhi and Mumbai rose by three places and one place to rank eighth and 13th respectively. Five other Indian cities – Agra (18th), Chennai (31st), Jaipur (34th), Kolkata (74th) and Bengaluru (93rd) – also rose in rankings from 2018 to make the 2019 list.
“Goods and services tax rates have also recently been lowered, and we believe that is providing a huge boost given the growing demand for MICE tourism to India,” said Brar.