We recently caught up with Rajeev Kale, President and Country head – Holidays, mice and Visas, at an event organized by Thomas Cook and its business partners, that aimed at bringing back confidence in MICE travel. In our conversation we try to get some insights into the future and the revival of MICE in India
With Thomas Cook India spearheading the way for tourism industry in revival of MICE travel, when do you see business coming back to normal?
The process of revival of MICE already started back in October 2020. I think most of the corporates have realised the importance of meeting their business partners physically as compared to virtual meetings. Reaching the levels of business that were in 2019 will certainly take time. This is primarily because the international borders are not yet open and the perception of international travel that has been created in the past year.
We need to change the perception of travelling to India. We have a wide range of experiences to offer that still remain unexplored. We need to continue with the India Initiative and make sure that it remains forever.
India is continuing to upgrade its connectivity and infrastructure. We are getting a lot of support from central and state tourism authorities to actually support MICE within India.
I think that compared to the time it took to for MICE business to reach the 2019 levels, this time the revival will be much fast-paced. I see it reaching those levels within the next 2 to 3 years Maximum
Do you think there is a requirement for the Tourism Industry and mainstream media’s partnership to push the growth and revival?
Yes, 100%. One of the main agenda for our today’s event was, that everyone now realises the importance and need for physical travel, however, the connection and communication with our customers are very important. How can we give them confidence that Marriott as a hotel partner is ready, Indigo as an airline partner is ready, Thomas Cook as a tour operator is ready?
There will still be some apprehensions and worries. We need to come together and iron them out. The pandemic will remain, we have to live our life with it. The vaccination and medications will come, we just need to deal with the situation and continue with our activities
With businesses feeling a cash crunch and the increased costs of travelling, do you think this is working as a dampener to customer sentiment to travel?
A- From the cost point of view, neither the airlines, nor the Hotels, or the tour operators such as us have the luxury of increasing the cost. As a matter of fact, the hotels are offering a great deal to customers. From an international point of view, if you look at hotels in Dubai and Maldives etc… they are offering prices as low as 20 % to 30 % of what their prices were in 2019.
When we look at India, there are many resorts that were completely dependent on inbound traffic, they are looking at getting Indian business. So, I don’t think that the prices are going to increase. It will be moderate and more players are going to come into it. Even if the operating costs of tourism businesses have increased, the industry is working on the prices and I don’t think they will increase.
You mentioned earlier that You have worked with insurance companies to come up with insurance covers for clients. What made you feel the need for this and what was the outcome?
There was a time when the quarantine rules were very stringent, even when travelling within India. And there were costs involved with that.
We got in touch with several insurance companies such as ICICI Lombard, Tata AIG, HDFC etc. and discussed with them that this is now going to be part of our life and how the costs related to institutional quarantine during travel be covered.
As a result of our several talks, they came up with multiple products. And most of the companies now offer policies that cover cost relating to medical or Institutional quarantine due to COVID
What trends are you seeing for MICE and FIT travel at Thomas Cook?
In terms of trends, Indian travellers are becoming very innovative. They want to experience what they see. Young millennials have used their time at home to find out what all they can do when they travel. They are well informed and they now want to have new experiences, like diving is a new sought-after experience that all millennials want. When it comes to white water rafting, there was a time when everyone thought of New Zealand or Canada, but now that we know it’s available in Rishikesh, everyone wants to experience it.
There is an increasing demand for paragliding, rafting, soft adventures, some would prefer heavy adventure such as bungee jumping & diving. The trend is certainly moving from just travelling to experiential travelling. And we are taking a lead in that.
Whether it is the experience of food or experience of adventure activities or experiencing the resort, I see MICE travel shifting towards experiential travel.
Do you see any changes to how MICE operates in post COVID times?
No. I don’t see any change. One thing that will happen is the digitalisation & automation of every process. Technology will start playing a bigger role within the entire experience of travel. The processes of Visa, ticketing, insurance, will become more digitalised and communication will shift to platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram etc.
What would you say to your colleagues from the tourism industry?
MICE is never an expenditure. It is an Investment. We need to get together and communicate this to our customers. They want to travel but have some apprehensions and fears of getting infected by COVID if they travel. The fact remains that there is no direct answer to that. One can catch the virus when out for local shopping.
Instead of being fearful, we need to be more cautious and follow the protocols. The Physical travel can’t be stopped.