The fourth edition of the signature event of RARE India witnessed participation from more than 250 travel designers and tour operators from over 120 inbound and domestic travel companies.
The RARE Showcase 2022 held at The Imperial in Delhi in a limited-edition format with 32 conscious luxury hospitality brands from the RARE Community, saw active participation from more than 250 travel designers and tour operators from over 120 inbound and domestic travel companies.
Ganji Kamala Vardhana Rao, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, was a special invitee on this occasion and met with all the exhibitors who were mostly owners of their respective hotels and hospitality brands. Discussions between the hoteliers and the travel agents present at the event centred around responsible travel, the revival of inbound travel as well as the changes and innovations through the pandemic.
“We are thrilled with this no-frills event model that gave our independent owner hotels the opportunity to present to the travel trade and media in the classic setting of The Imperial. The Travel Designers did us proud with their attendance,” says Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India.
“We also had a session to laugh and a session to learn, which was the perfect end to a day of product learning. After all, this is what RARE is all about — creating value for people all around,” she adds.
Responsible travel, which puts people and the planet first and endeavours to preserve local heritage, art, culture and wildlife of the destination, was a key topic of discussion at The RARE Showcase 2022.
Shobhana Jain, Head of Sustainability at RARE India, says, “For the first time, there was a table dedicated to Responsible Tourism at an event to drive conversations around the topic. RARE has been a keen advocate so far and now the information and action points are moving down to the end consumer. There was immense curiosity at the event to understand how as a travel designer and tour operator one can include sustainability in the curation of programmes. Questions ranged from what constitutes sustainable travel to how one can avoid single use plastic, save water tables, preserve our natural heritage to how to calculate carbon emissions. The RARE Touchstones were seen as simple first steps to communicate these aspects.”
Travel agents shared their opinions on how aware the global traveller is about sustainability and how much importance is being given to sustainability by travel agents when they discuss itineraries.
Mona Kapoor, owner of Indian Vistas, a DMC, says, “There is a growing number of people who are conscious about how and where they are travelling. They are passionate about sustainability in every aspect of their life, including travel. Fortunately for us, there is a whole group of hotels like the RARE Community Hotels, who are offering that experience to a traveller coming to India. As a DMC, it’s our job to firstly work with the correct kind of hotels, then introduce that experience to our travellers. The whole concept of luxury is changing; it is no longer about staying in a fancy hotel and being waited on hand and foot. So, when our clients ask us what to do and where to go, we have to educate them that there is this band of hoteliers who are offering conscious luxury and sustainable travel experiences.”
Vikas Abbott, Managing Director, Vasco Travel, says, “In terms of sustainability initiatives within our company, we discourage FTOs from offering animal rides, we give stainless steel water bottles to our clients and use recycled paper for all our print material. RARE is a preferred partner for us and we work with most of the RARE Community Hotels. I like the idea of the RARE Touchstones and it is now a part of our speech on why we are recommending a particular hotel to a guest. We started catering to the domestic market only in the last couple of years and I feel that the domestic travellers are not aware about sustainability. The more we talk about it, the more people will hear about it and somewhere down the line it will have a trickle effect.”
Ekansh Saxena, Founder, Touch Down, a travel company that primarily caters to the millennial travellers, adds, “People are slowly but gradually shifting towards sustainable and responsible travel but we as travel companies have to be proactive in educating our guests about sustainability. I have come to realize that once we start talking to clients about various sustainability aspects of a destination, including preservation of the local heritage, art and culture, they are quite intrigued about it. But we travel designers have to be conversation starters. For instance, after attending the sustainability presentation today at The RARE Showcase, I plan to add details of the sustainability practices followed by the hotels while sharing accommodation options for a destination with our guests. This will help them make an informed decision about the choice of hotel during their travel.”
While the focus of the hospitality industry shifted to Indian travellers during the last couple of years, enquiries and bookings from inbound travellers have now resumed. However, most hoteliers present at The RARE Showcase 2022 have learnt the power of Indian travellers and want to maintain a balance between domestic and inbound traveller in the future.
Vidyun Goel, Director of Old Delhi-based Haveli Dharampura, says, “When we opened the Haveli in 2016, we focused on international travellers. India is a consuming economy and there is a niche for everything. So our focus included the domestic traveller during the pandemic. Now, I want to strategize and strike a balance between domestic and international travellers.”
Lipika Dudhoria, Co-Owner, Bari Kothi in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, seconds the opinion. She says, “Our domestic travel started after the first lockdown; it was a very good change for us and we learnt a lot from the experience. We realized that there is a word called ‘sold out’, which is very easy to achieve when a hotel is used for vacations and celebrations. Since we are at a drivable distance from Kolkata, families come to us for weekend getaways. We soon realized the expectations of the Indian guest and tweaked our menus and itineraries to suit the Indian palate and their interests.”
According to John K Simon, the host at Windermere Estate in Kerala, “Uncertainty is the norm, but now there seems to be a growing sentiment to adapt and move on. Inbound has been a key focus area for us, partly as we are in Kerala and today we are seeing interest building up in travelling from overseas. We hope that the momentum continues, and the coming season brings about many visitors.”
Husna-Tara Prakash, Owner of the Glenburn Estate in Darjeeling and The Glenburn Penthouse in Kolkata, says, “Our big learning from the pandemic was that there are quite a few Indian guests who will travel to a property like ours and they will pay the price once they understand the value and exclusivity that we offer at our Tea Estate. In Kolkata, we spent the entire pandemic strengthening our food and beverage experience so that we could be a walk-in dining venue as well as a hotel in a city. Going forward, in Kolkata we will try to balance having a full house of in-house guests and also catering to F&B walk-ins. In Darjeeling, we have had a good two years and look forward to having a mix of domestic and international travellers.”
Trupti Wesley, Resort Director at Cabo Serai in Goa, says, “The pandemic was excellent for the travel and tourism industry in Goa as it saw a big boom. Everyone in India came to Goa and it has been full since the last one and a half years. During the pandemic, there was so much focus on hygiene, cleanliness and maintaining social distance. These are learnings that we should take for life. Going forward, hotels can charge more but have a smaller inventory and create a space that is appreciated by all demographics and nationalities.”
Avijit Singh of House of Rohet, the collective brand that runs multiple properties in and around Jodhpur in Rajasthan, says, “Our properties are very niche and catered to specific travellers from around the world. In the pandemic, we have learnt to become much more well-rounded, learnt the capabilities of handling a wide spectrum of guests with varied demands and ensure that all of them are happy. It has been a great journey and we have come out stronger for it. The silver lining of the pandemic has been that Indians have discovered India and it will be going hand in hand with the international market, which definitely will return. The Rohet House was opened just before the pandemic, we saw that the Indian traveller loved it and believe it is tailor-made for the international traveller.”
In the spirit that the industry should learn and laugh simultaneously, evenings at The RARE Showcase 2022 were a full house for a stand-up comedy gig by Anshu Mor on Day 1 and an inspiring talk titled, ‘Promoting our Natural Landscape’ by renowned naturalist and author of ‘Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide’ and ‘Jungle Trees of Central India,’ Pradip Krishen on Day 2.