For agents who sell India— and the tough customer they must appeal to— don't look for cookie cutter catalogs and Golden Triangle cut-outs from the up and coming inbound India tour companies entering the U.S. market.
A recent event put on by Pacific Asia Tour Association (PATA) and the Los Angeles office for Incredible India presented a new breed of inbound tour operator to the region – one that focuses on the experience rather than the destination.
Sure agents should recommend the Taj Mahal in Agra and by all means offer visits to the palaces of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. But what about having clients follow a chef around as he shops the bazaars for ingredients, puts them all together in a masala of strange scents and colors and comes up with a mad curry? And punctuate that with a morning yoga class and healing Ayurvedic spa treatments in the afternoon, said Vikas Abbott, director of sales and marketing for Vasco Travel, a new entrant into the U.S. market.
Or consider playing a match of polo atop an elephant, spend time in rural villages visiting with the children or engage in a lively political discussion over a family dinner table in Kerala, said Roman Singh, sales &andmarketing director for Travelite.
India is coming up fast, noted Sujit Banerjee, secretary for India's Ministry of Tourism, second only to China in its burgeoning economic growth and its rising middle class. The country is developing its tourism offerings at a breakneck pace ensuring there are plenty of reasons to visit and plenty of new places to see that were not there the last time.
Seven luxury train products, for instance, now ply the extensive railway system around India where, for many years, Palace on Wheels was the only way to go in style. The latest is the Maharaja Express taking passengers from Mumbai to Delhi and Delhi to Calcutta in serene luxury. Others, such as the Golden Chariot, explore the southern regions while other options head to the Himalayas all in the fashion of royalty.
New experiential options to be considered for a vacation to India include an adventurous river rafting trip down the Ganges, destination weddings Indian style, private jetting around the sub-continent, exotic dinners served in a maharaja suite or on a private beach or on a sand dune in the Hindu Kush. There are luxury camps for hiking and wildlife tracking, wellness resorts for rejuvenating and shaping, golf vacations (consider the fact that there are 16 world class courses around Delhi alone), and highly focused hands-on help to facilitate all elements of a medical procedure and recovery.
“No trip to India should be shorter than 10 days,” said Madhu Sudan, senior vice president of Le Passage to India. “For Americans to travel half way around the world to this very large and overwhelming place, it simply does not make sense. There is too much to do.”
With “do” as the operative word these days, taking over from “see,” the key to visiting India is arranging customized trips for clients, whether two people or a group of 25, and choosing carefully from a towering menu of possible experiences, he adds. For that the help of an expert inbound operator is needed.
The lobby at the new Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad
Meanwhile, a modern new $2.6 billion airport terminal called T3 opening at Indira Gandhi International Airport this summer more than doubles the facility’s current capacity to become world's third largest passenger terminal with the aim of making India a hub for tourism in Asia and the Middle East .
Taj Hotels, too, has been busy building, adding and restoring. The Taj Falaknuma opens soon in Hyderabad. It was once the residence of the sixth Nizam Nawab Ali Kahn and has been used as a royal guesthouse for the past century. Much of the grandeur remains as it was in furnishings and fixtures for a rare immersion into another time and place. At the same time July brings celebration and fanfare as the destroyed historic wing of the Taj Hotel Mumbai reopens.