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Gour Kanjilal's Article
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Mid Tier Conundrum - Diversify became the key word

Since the last few years tourism business was greatly impacted by the global economic recession. This forced the tours operators to keep a low profile as they felt it was not the right time to spend money on exploring markets, do publicity or go in a big way. As these efforts would not have helped in improving the business. May be a few big tour operators would not have cared for spending money but the general feeling was to have a depressed sentiment.

Infact, Mid Tier tour operators don’t have the resources to invest in diversifying the new tourism products and look for new opportunities and most of them continued with the safe and traditional saleable Circuit of the golden triangle of Delhi – Agra – Jaipur with some extension to see Madhya Pradesh Wild Life sanctuary or Delhi – Agra – Gwalior – Orchha – Jhansi - Khajuraho another traditional circuit. There was very cautious approach to ensure safety in business operations. A few enterprising one added Sri lanka, Bhutan and Nepal also. But revision in the VISA norms created so much of confusion that the mid-tier tours operators nearly avoided such extended tours to neighbouring countries temporarily. Good that, there is some relaxation in visa norms for visit to neigbouring countries, though some confusion still continues. But these small tour operators did try to provide value additions in the packages which made many overseas tourists to come to India. This made mid-tier operators to have their revenue earnings continued. But one good thing happened, many of these inbound tour operators arranging promoted Domestic Tourism packages as foreign tourist movements were limited. During the recession, these tour operators also realized the importance of diversifying beyond tourist business by putting consultancy services through their service expertise like amazing Nightclub shows in Europe/ USA, Gourmet specialties etc some of them also offered thematic tours on Dance, Music, Photography, Rail tours. But a few selected one put themselves into Niche Segment of MICE, Medical Tourism, Golfing Holidays, Reijvinetion packages through Ayurvedic massages, Pilgrimage tours, Wellness, Wilderness trails, Gourmet, Royal Heritage experience and really came out of “Golden Triangle” Cocoon. This really attracted up market traffic and the rich clients, who were not affected by economic recession, took advantage of these unique offers. This worked out very well for our tour operators and as country, we bounced back in international tourist arrivals with 10% plus growth where as global overage was 4% to 6%. Our tour operators started investments in tourism products and even took greater risks. They developed selected niche products based on market demand and kept Middle East, South East Asian countries, China etc than traditional market of Europe or USA for focused marketing.

Infact, Medical tourism segment worked wonders as this segment does not care for recession. It is life & death question and affordability was the key factor with value additions in our services. Such treatments are also time bound. India had developed infrastructure and expertise with doctors and hospitals of international repute and all the more one could visit from any international entry points of India to get medical treatments.

Many tour operators also became specialized for pilgrimage packages mostly for Buddhist circuits, Eco-friendly packages or pilgrimage packages for NRI’s/ PIO’s to Hindu Pilgrimage centers.

Products on Rural Tourism, Horse Safari, Rail Tours (Luxury Journeys), Festivals and fairs, High Attitude Trekking  - which in course proved high reward products. There were special educational packages for IT operations, Dance, Music, Yoga, instrumental music etc.

Specialize was the buzz word during the recession time and small/mid-tier tour operators made best use of it; “Specialty” became the key word of success. In the changing phase, it is essential to package it well and show benefits to customer and churn out business from selected markets. Good, our mid – tier tour operators showed their professionalism.

By Gour Kanjilal

(The writer presenting his own view is the former Deputy Director General, MoT, Govt of India and recently working as Executive Director with IATO) .

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