The biggest challenge for travel operators will be new innovations, AI & Augmented Reality

A veteran in the travel and tourism industry in India, E M Najeeb, Senior VP of IATO and President of the Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry, has seen many changes including the rise and fall of tourism and the golden rise of the God’s own Country. The tourism industry veteran brings with him a wealth of experience. Tourism News Live spoke to EM Najeeb about his experiences and his thoughts on tourism and the outlook over the next few years.

Tourism brings people together from all over the world. How do you see the role of tourism in society?

The world belongs to the people living in it. They are of different nationalities, races, cultures, nature zones, and climatic conditions. But the common factor among them all is the eagerness to go and see places and experience life at different parts of the world. They also go to places where they can enjoy the great gifts of beautiful nature.

Travel helps to build-up understanding and integration among people of different regions. Though, in the beginning travel began for visiting places for health purposes and pilgrimages, later tourism evolved as a phenomenon of “Travel for Travel sake”. When a bigger flow of people travelling for travel sake happened, it emerged as tourism, and became a commercial activity of extending a range of services to the travellers.

Tourism has evolved as a highly sophisticated activity now involving selling of different services like airline seats, surface transport, hotel accommodation, eateries, entertainment houses, guides and escort services, and so on. Now tourism is one among the three largest industries in the world such as petroleum and arms and ammunitions. Tourism is supposed to be a peaceful industry, unpolluting, and building-up human fraternity.

Are there any new tourism themes that Kerala has still not explored but there is immense possibility?

Apart from the other existing tourism attractions and thrust areas, tourism based on the Inland waterways in Kerala will be unique and unparalleled. There is no better way than leisurely sailing through the Inland Waterways to experience the culture, heritage, human life, and the ecology of each location covered on the stretch. One would get the opportunity to disembark at places and explore attractions around. It is highly experiential because it satisfies the senses of watching, listening, tasting, and also interacting with people. Though developing the Inland waterways project is in priority with the government, it is seen delayed for many reasons. It should be completed on a war footing basis for the sake of Tourism in Kerala and to project this uniqueness to the world.

E M Najeeb with MInister for Tourism for State, Alphons K J

Destination wedding is one of the most trending things right now. What sort of demand is there in wedding and honeymoon segments? How are wedding planners playing their roles as influencers?

‘Big Weddings’ is a trend right now in India as well as at some other destinations like Malaysia, Dubai, South Africa, Mauritius, Turkey, the Mediterranean locations, etc. They choose locations close to the over whelming presence of nature like the sea with Blue water and golden beaches, and even other exotic locations which are well connected and easily accessible. Hotels and resorts of international standards with superior service is an essential factor in the choosing of the destinations. Goa is already a destination that attracts such Big Weddings. The people arrive by chartered flights and given exclusive transfers to the location. They are provided pamperingly beautiful rooms to stay. The events are well planned and conducted superbly. High class performers entertain the guests. If we can provide such facilities at our locations in Kerala we can definitely compete in that market. Once the wedding planners become aware of the facilities naturally they will influence the clients for the location. Kochi has a potential for it right now.

In view of more Indians going mobile day-by-day, and in the age of Digital India, more people have online travel accounts, what challenges do you see the tour operators are facing? What is the scenario of online booking in India?

The internet revolution and digitalization have led to big ‘disruption’ in almost all sectors of business, including Tourism and Travel. The principal service providers have started reaching their products directly to the buyer through this platform surpassing the intermediary agencies. Online Portals and Global Distribution Systems have started selling airline tickets, surface transport, hotel rooms and other services. ‘Brick and Mortar’ travel offices started seeing less number of clients walking in for services. The modern day disruption has also created an environment of door step, and individual services delivery. Indian domestic travel is increasing, but prices are fluctuating based on various factors. The future of travel within India is growing and it looks very bright. Indian Outbound Travel is also increasing. For Inbound Tourism India is still an attractive destination. Within this scenario the Tour Operators should learn the nature of the Global Disruption in the industry and evolve themselves suiting more to the emerging needs of the markets. They have to keep exploring the technological advancements and evolve themselves smarter in the new scenario.

What are the challenges that you see which needs to be addressed with the support of the state government and the Government of India and what should be the new strategy to give a big push to the tourism sector?

The challenges we have got to face in tourism sector, which have to be addressed by the support of the Government, are primarily Infrastructure related, and policy related. Only the Government can address the infrastructural upgradation, pooling the strengths of various Government departments. Tourism friendly and tourism supportive policies should be put in place to ensure growth of the Tourism industry. The private sector then can concentrate fully on their Destination Management activities.

What do you see as the latest trends in India’s outbound and domestic tourism? What gets Indian tourists excited?

We see more and more Indians travelling and are on the move unlike before. 65 per cent of the Indian population is the youth segment. A good percentage of them are earning and have disposable income. Disposable income is one of the motivating factors for travel. Educated people have knowledge about other destinations and locations, and they want to visit and experience them. Within India there are great attractions for domestic tourism such as cool locations, grand Indian cities, pilgrimage centres, historical & heritage places, etc.

Many overseas destinations offer economical packages to travellers and they also aim at the potential Indian tourists. Indian travellers are considered to be high spenders. They prefer to travel with family, go for sightseeing, experience cuisines, and do shopping.

What is the biggest challenge travel agents/tour operators will need to face in the coming years?

The biggest challenge travel agents or tour operators will need to face in the future would be heavy competitions, new innovations, the extreme internet revolution, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality deployed in the business. Creation of experiential packages that keeps changing, thinning profits, and the need for huge investments in the marketing and sales, and the seasonalities in Tourism are prime challenges.