If you are in the business of designing and delivering the finest experiences of life than this article will help you know more about the Indian luxury experiential traveller.

With over 1,00,000 dollar millionaires and close to 125 official billionaires, the Luxury Indian Traveller with a collective wealth of 8 trillion dollars has already grown to over 6 billion dollar a year business, and is your top 5 source market for luxury travel by 2020 by which time an estimated 50 million Indian travellers will be traveling across the world.

Lets help you fine tune your strategy to market your amazing luxury lodges, exclusive experiences and bespoke luxury travel services to India, which is the 2nd fastest growing luxury travel market in the world after China, and grew strongly in 2014 despite recession resulting in more than 6 million Indians travelling outbound from India this year.

Here is a quick look at some important luxury travel statistics

  1. Indian outbound market size is $8 Billion right now and growing at over 20% per year, it is estimated to cross $15 billion by 2017.
  2. India has more than 1,00,000 Millionaires right now, which will grow by 400% to 4,00,000 with a collective wealth of $2.65 trillion dollar by 2017.
  3. India has more than 115 dollar billionaires right now worth a combined wealth of U$195 billion.
  4. India has over 8200 Ultra High Net Worth (UHNW) Millionaires right now with a minimum net worth of $30 million and this will grow to 30,000 by 2018 with a collective wealth of $4.7 Trillion dollars.

Now that you are intrigued by the possibilities of getting serious about India, lets know what makes them tick.

A. Knowing India & its Expected Service Levels

i. Service Levels

One of the first thing that strikes a first time Indian outbound traveller is that the quality and depth of services that is taken for granted in India is more often than not simply not available in Europe and America at even Upscale level. Since the cost of blue collar human resources in India is one of the lowest in the world, its room to people ratio in India is one of the highest in the world – see below for more information.

  1. In a 2 star (Budget) its typically 1:1 i.e. 1 person per room
  2. In a 3 star (Mid Rate) its typically 1:1.5, i.e. 1.5 person per room to as high as 2 person per room in a Mid Rate Deluxe
  3. In a 4 star (Upscale), its typically 1:2, i.e. 2 person per room to as high as 2.5 person per room in a Upscale Premier
  4. In a 5 star (Luxury) atleast 1:2.5, i.e. 2.5 person per room to as high as 3.5 person per room in a Luxury Deluxe

Consequently the quality of services in India also is one of the highest in the world resulting in Indian travellers being a pampered lot. Room service, bell boys etc. are a given and not an exception even in a budget hotel and hence the luxury Indian travellers are taken by surprise if they are expected to pick up luggage or walk in to the hotel restaurant at 10 PM only to be told they closed at 9 PM. Its simply not acceptable.

ii. Cancellation Fee

Another point of importance is the Cancellation Fee. The luxury Indian traveller is an entrepreneur or a senior leader in a mid size to large firm. They often book or cancel last moment and agencies who handle them are capable of attending to a last minute request at 12 in the night for a 6 am departure, and often quite loathe to load any cancellation fee on their important clients.

Very lenient or zero cancellation fee helps in retaining the client, who is spoiled for choice when it comes to service providers.

Tip – Its important to understand that luxury as of now to the Indian traveller means very high quality of services. Its might be a simple luxury lodge thats high on content but it needs to be also high on service levels if it wishes to succeed with the Indian luxury traveller.

B. Knowing India & its Food Preferences

They say that in India, every 100 Km the food and language spoken changes and that India is like a continent when it comes to diversity of its people. A luxury travel outfit needs to understand not only the food preferences of the luxury Indian traveller but also fathom their custom, some of which are very quirky.

For instance, the trading community and possibly your biggest market like the Marwaris and Gujaratis are often not only vegetarian, which is easy but often they are also Jains. Now Jains dont eat anything grown under the ground so potatoes are out along with garlic, onions and other root vegetables. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jain_vegetarianism for more information.

Very often the meat eating majority also abstain from eating meat on certain days of the week. So on a Sunday they relished the lamb but on Monday they will suddenly become vegetarian.

Its ofcourse known that coming from a tropical land famed across the world for its spices, Indians are extremely fond of their spices and consider European and American food dull and tasteless. A huge majority of them carry packets of chillies and other favourite spices to sprinkle extremely liberally on food served on the continent before they even taste it. Even in India people from Maharashtra are known for such a fiery palate that most Indians will give it a miss.

Unfortunately the stereo type that Indians have very fiery palate is also not true in entirety. The Gujaratis from west coast like their food sweet and are known to add sugar or jaggery to most of their food.

Again and regrettably so, Indians are not adventurous when it comes to food and beyond a token local delicacy will insist on familiar food. The luxury Indian traveller look forward to some local cuisine and may not be rigid about being served Indian food as long as food served is not bland.

Some of the ways that luxury lodges have succeeded in getting it right is as follows

  1. Hiring one or two Indian cooks as CDP or Sous Chef
  2. Hiring cooks that has served on the ships and are familiar with Indian palate.
  3. Acquiring speciality skills in cooking Indian or similar food by sending their cooks on gourmet trails in Asia, where they learn new recipes in specialty gourmet resorts that caters to F&B professionals.

Tip – So getting the food right is critical to ensure success when it comes to succeeding in your endeavour to attract and service the Indian traveller.

C. Knowing India & its Traveling Preferences

Months – Demand originating in India is asymmetric but predictable like any other country. The peak demand season in India also coincides with its holiday season which is typically

  1. Diwali Vacation – Its 10 days of holiday that usually falls in October or November
  2. Christmas Vacation – Most public schools in India close between 24th Dec to 1st Jan and some even longer
  3. Summer Vacations – These are the longest holidays in India and schools and colleges close in Mid April to reopen in June or July.

These are the days when you will see the bulk of Indian business. Similarly the lean period are March and April when its exam times in India and also financial year ending, and once again in September just before Diwali, which is when you will do well to create special offers to stimulate demand.

Travellers with children constitutes the largest chunk of Indian traveller keeping in mind that the average age of India is 29 years of age. The luxury Indian traveller is most likely between 35 to 55 years of age, and are most likely to travel with children than without.

Tip – Since the children are now the decision makers, its very important for a luxury leisure lodge or tour to have plenty of content that engages and enrolls the children and hence experiential lodges that specialises in something for everyone in the family will get the bulk of this business.

Duration – While the mainstream Indian travellers is primarily a checklist tourist who likes to do visit 15 destination in 8 countries in a 12 day trip, the luxury Indian traveller is open to staying longer in one place and doing one region per country per week instead of one country per week.

Having said that a 15 days tour has to be at least two countries with perhaps a 2 night stopover in a third if they can help it. It will probably take another 5 years before the luxury Indian traveller chooses to spend all 2 to 3 weeks of their holiday in one region of one country.

A typical duration will be 2 or 3 nights and anything beyond is not usual. Recently a new trend is being noted where the luxury Indian traveller wants to stick around in the same region pursuing special interest experiences or exploring the region at leisure for at least 4 and sometime as much as a week.

Tip – Hence a collaboration or an alliance with similar to your luxury lodge in other important tourism areas of your own and neighbouring country to create a luxury circuit will go a very long way in selling your own lodge more often to the Indian luxury traveller.

Companions – Another quirky trait in the gregarious Indian traveller is their preference for traveling as a friends and family group. The Great Indian Family Get-togethers can be as small as a group of 6 guests requiring two rooms to as high as 110 guests requiring 45 rooms. Its almost like doing a MICE but of course being Indians, they are most probably Only Much Louder.

Even on a honeymoon trip, its surprising to know that they prefer to have another couple around with whom they can travel together and share meals with.

Tip – An ability to cater to family groups will go a long way in positioning your lodge or tour amidst the luxury Indian traveller.

D. Knowing India & its Experiences Preferences

In Destination and In Lodge Experiences is a big subject in itself and requires a separate article. While I will elaborate more on this domain at a later time, here is a quick preview in this domain. If you are in a hurry to know this subject in greater detail, write to me and I will be happy to help.

Meanwhile if you wish to know how does a 21st Century Travel – Experiential, Bespoke & Enriching look like and know How to transform into an Experiential Travel company all you have to do is click and read these articles on Linkedin Pulse.

Briefly Life Enriching Experiences includes Heritage Tours & Day Trips that are based in that Destination, and Events & Learning programs, which are usually based out of the Lodge.

A. Heritage Tours & Day Trips i.e. the classic See & Do based in that Destination includes

  1. Tours & Attractions is a much deeper experiences category of what in the past was simply known as Sight Seeing
  2. Adventures also known as Activities in the classic plain vanilla format includes 7 sub categories of adventures. These are Urban, Mountaineering, Mounted, Wilderness, Camping, Aqua and Aero Adventures.

While these may be an in resort experiences, these are usually a customised bundling of different Experiences by various speciality Excursion & Adventures Operator Outfits in that destination, and which are typically within 90 minutes drive time of the Experiential Lodge where the guests have chosen to stay.

B. Personal and Corporate Events & Learning programs, which are usually based out of the Lodge. Beside the classic Meetings & Conferences, and Outdoor Management Program for the corporate, a Luxury Lodge should built competencies for more enriching experiences. Some of them could be

  1. Outdoor Inside & Indoor Outside Playrooms – Similarly Playrooms that has something for everybody, from a child of 5 to an adult of 75 years of age is another way to engage and entertain the experiential luxury travellers. Beside the classic indoor games room equipped with modern PSP, chess, snooker and a billiard table, it must offer newer innovative ways to make the adult rediscover his/her inner child. Some of the ways it can be done is to bring in the outdoor and take out the indoor. For instance an indoor rock climbing wall, mountaineering adventure and skating rink set up to facilitate classic outdoor sports in an indoor environment. And in a role reversal taking outdoors classic indoor games like chess, ludo etc. by changing the format to human size.
  2. Wellness & Workouts – Beside the classic in resort spa, which has become a classic luxury experience, these now also includes YogaMeditation and Naturopathy. One of the new age extension is to offer personalised wellness in the privacy of guest’s own room at guest’s preferred time wellness and workouts delivered by a personal trainer, a reflection of the fact that travel is increasingly becoming personalised in nature.
  3. Evening Engagements & Entertainment – As an extension of increasing demand for unique experiences that are also enriching is the demand for delivering Evening Engagements & Entertainment in a dedicated event space or conference room. These engagement can be as simple as a Night Walk or Heritage Walk or a Street Food Walk in the local forest or plantation or city by a knowledgable guide to more complex Interactive Workshop of making paper or learning etc. to paint beside the classic format of spectator based engagements like a local performance of Indian classical or Kathakali Dance or Martial exercises like Malkhamb or Kalaripayattu etc.. If you enhance these experience from the classic watch and enjoy in to the more engaging know, watch, do and enjoy. This can be done for instance by including an appreciation introduction and a quick training to make the spectators in to participants makes the experiences real, deeper and forever memorable.

E. Where do the these Indian experiential travellers live?

Indian Experiential Travellers Live Not only in Tier-1 Cities But Also in Tier-2, Tier-3 and Tier-4 Towns of India!

Our clients are highly educated HNI and UHNW people who want to explore the planet and enjoy It’s abundance but in highly personalized way that enriches their lives.

Our clients are not only from tier-1 cities but also lately they are also from tier-2, tier-3 and tier-4 cities of India, where the disposable income in many strata of society is now equal to or often much more than tier-1 cities.

The reasons are not too difficult to understand – The cost of living in tier-1 cities of India is now humongous and often higher than in western cities. Mumbai is now ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Au contraire the cost of living in tier-2 and tier-3 cities and towns of India is much lower while an ability to generate income from small or medium business of trading, factories and farming is higher than doing jobs in tier-1 cities.

And now instead of hoarding this in entirety, as they were wont to do in the past, the rising Internet penetration has increased the aspirations of these small town rich people to now spend some of this surplus on quality life experiences including travel.

And since life in these moffusil Indian town is very laid back and there is nothing much to do, they have no other option but to step out and seek these experiences elsewhere in the world. And when they travel, they spend more money, more easily than urban travellers who have EMI’s and bills to pay for these are the only 15 days that have devoted to having a really good time, away from their small town lives

i. Meet Mr. & Mrs. Chandresh Dedhia, luxury experiential eco travelers

Meet Mr. & Mrs. Chandresh Dedhia. They have a problem and it bother them. Every time they wants a break with his family, they has to take a break from his busy schedule as cofounder of Stellafab, a huge textile design and trading firm and spend hours on the internet to find an appropriate destination that has something for everybody in the family so that they all get what they want from the same holiday.

After they have selected a destination, they still have to find a series of good hotel and than figure out what can they see and do in the destination. They hate to arrive in the destination and than take a chance finding a great thing to do. The hotel is not interested in any of their see and do requirement in the destination and are content with having sold him the room and a spa break.

Mr. and Mrs.Chandresh Dedhia also wants the maximum utilization of their holiday and don’t want to spend that looking at menus, signing a bill for everything every 1 hour, haggling with the taxi and get hassled in trying to avoid being taken for a ride by all and sundry. They would rather pay a quality operator one time, and sit back and enjoy the holiday that ahs been designed and customized just for the Dedhias in such a way that they all have a great time, in their own way, doing their own different things and return home enthused and refreshed with great memories.

The problem is that the Dedhias are not the kind of traveller who wants to buy a pre built package using standard sight seeing and typical hotels. They wants everything special, thought fully selected and correctly delivered.

The Dedhias has been traveling with Ecomantra for years and doesn’t travel with other company. It’s more a friend relationship than a client company relationship and that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Dedhia wants from somebody who will deliver the 2 or 3 most important weeks of his and family me time. They doesn’t trust anybody else with it except a friend, who understand his requirements and experiential with equal dexterity, and has the expertise to custom build a holiday and leisure experience that creates a forever memorable experience for their family.

F. Reaching the Indian Luxury Experiential Travellers

Whether you wish to service the Indian luxury travel market direct or via travel trade partners or both, here are the possible way forward.

i. Mainstream Tour Operators and Travel Agencies

One of the traditional way is to collaborate with travel agents and tour operators in India. The problem with this route is that mainstream tour operators even if they claim to be luxury traveler operators are at best mid rate tour operators and make their money in budget tours, which is now a losing proposition.

Even companies like Kuoni, who have published a lovely coffee table book on luxury lodges with big inbound and outbound divisions, servicing the genuine luxury traveller is still a pipe dream. But since it appears to be one of the few travel sector that can remain operationally profitable there would be increasing focus on this sector by the mainstream large travel companies.

ii. Representation

Another apparently popular way has been to appoint representation companies in India who help you connect with the traditional travel trade on a fixed retainer + success fee where the marketing cost is expected to be borne by the represented lodge or the tour operator.

The advantage of this route is that you reach out quickly to the travel trade (B2B), and they in turn include your lodges in their itineraries or market them direct to clients as per their preferred business model

The disadvantage with this model is you are using a representation company who has cut their teeth on representing tourism associations and airlines, and whose traditional B2B partners are also primarily flight or mainstream tour products sellers. These traditional companies are not expert user of social platforms, online ecommerce channel managers and booking engine based marketing systems. And more importantly these are not focused on luxury traveller only eco systems and hence do not have a sniper approach in reaching the luxury Indian traveller.

Again a Representation company begins at a minimum of U$ 60000 per year as retainer fee not including the marketing expenses and this might not be a affordable for an independent luxury lodge or operator unless they form a consortium or alliance.

iii. Hospitality Cum Tour Operators

An interesting sector to note is that tour operators are now transforming themselves in to hospitality companies to survive and to grow, and vice versa. A case in point is Thomas Cook, one of India’s largest tourism company took over Sterling Resorts and now owns 1512 rooms in 19 properties across India. While Indian resorts will now consider Thomas Cook as a strategic competitor, International Luxury Lodges will benefit from the additional and extremely big sales funnel of close to 6 to 7 hundred thousand guests that Sterling services per year, which is way larger than Kuoni or similar purely a tour operation company.

Similarly Ecomantra (I am the cofounder) operates 3 experiential lodges where it services over 50000 experiential travellers per year and its than a question of simple upsell to leverage this existing client base with relevant products.

More over these guests are staying for atleast 24 hours and a tremendous opportunity to show a small video or distribute a sales collateral might not be impossible for proactive travel cum hospitality partners.

iv. Online Travel Agencies

Make My Trip, Cleartrip, Yatra, Expedia and Booking.com are the most successful OTA’s in India.

Out of this MakeMyTrip.com has a head start and is also very successful in bundling and selling low cost holiday packages in great volumes to the budget and to a limited extent the mid rate travellers of India. They are as of now the best online seller of prebuilt travel packages in India. MMT takes a minimum of 15% as TAC

Expedia.com is not as big a success yet in India as they are globally since they have a lesser number of Indian properties because of their insistence on very high TAC and a poor attitude towards independent lodges. But they might have the bandwidth of global properties to be able to leverage it to their advantage. They also took over viator.com sometime back, and together with tripadvisor.com has the best content in the travel trade on the planet by a very wide margin. If they can get these content together in a unified system that is easily understood by the travellers, my bet is that they will than be impossible to beat in DIY luxury travel business model. Expedia takes a minimum of 25% as TAC

Booking.com is a late starter but growing at a rapid pace. They have the best back end and front end in the hotel business. The only problem lodges have with Booking.com is large number of no shows in this system since they do not swipe credit cards in India. Offline Swipe is not allowed in India and hence the lodge will have to ensure a payment collection at their end to confirm the bookings to avoid a loss arising out of no shows. Booking.com takes a minimum of 12% as TAC

Similar to booking.com is Cleartrip.com, which has a robust front end but is yet to get traction in selling hotels in India. They are one of the fastest and the easiest to use OTA in India. Cleartrip takes a minimum of 15% as TAC

Another problem of note with both cleartrip.com and booking.com arises out of its insistence of only selling a pure vanilla room or room+meals packages. They have no system and no plan either to include more complex all inclusive packages, and tours and attraction in their product offerings.

Yatra.com, who also took over travelguru and the B2B consolidator Deshiya.com is trying to get it acts together in being able to sell hotels. They are deeply funded, have a celebrity brand ambassador but are quite behind in the race which is led by MMT, Booking.com and Expedia. Yatra takes a minimum of 15% as TAC while Deshiya being a B2B insists on 25 to 30% as TAC.

All said and done OTA’s are great for budget and mid rate properties to reach the mass market. Unless one of them creates a differentiated brand and tools to sell luxury leisure lodges and tours, this channel will not really work for luxury lodges in its own right unless they are pure urban luxury hotels in big business cities.

v. Specialist Luxury Travel Companies

Abercrombie and Kent are the only upscale travel company that has a presence in India. A&K sells pre packaged upscale and luxury tours to luxury travellers and have a small but growing market in India.

Fortunately there are new dedicated not so known luxury travel operators that do not spread themselves too thin selling the whole world to India but are becoming specialist operators focusing on one or two countries agencies and who knows what they are talking about. The problem with these agencies is that while they are focused they are too small as of now (and M&A far away) to be able to effectively reach the luxury indian traveller.

Luxmantra.com is an upcoming new venture by Ecomantra that will upsell curated luxury lodges, while Luxexplore.com will bundle the Luxmantra luxury lodges with experiences and adventure outfits to create a complete luxury holiday experience. Luxmantra and Luxexplore will up-sell and cross sell to Ecomantra’s existing sales funnel of over a 50,000 travellers per year along with a customer touch point of over 1 million travellers .

Disclaimer – Ecomantra is a 15 year old experiential travel company cofounded by yours truly.

vi. Credit Card Companies

Amex and luxury branded credit cards like Ultima by Citi etc. are apparently a quick way to reach the luxury Indian traveller at the lowest possible cost.

Amex also have a dedicated travel division that is very capable of handling bookings 24/7 and 365 days a year giving them a head start over 9 AM to 7 PM travel companies. The advantage is that the luxury traveller is most likely to call for information once his/her business day is over and hence this is a big USP.

The disadvantage is that Amex is losing ground in India and is not accepted because of its high merchant charges by many establishments resulting in poor penetration and its treatment as a secondary card by users in India.

If you tie up with Citi, HSBC or Standard Chartered who operate some of the most exclusive credit cards, its important to help them create a complete eco system and/or understanding of luxury travel since unlike Amex they are simply a bank trying to up-sell without investing in delivery and fulfillment channels.

Amex takes a standard TAC as well since it actually closes a sale with a traveller and behave like a tour operator versus other card companies content with its card being used to get a deal at your end.

These other credit card companies curates content and insist on a either a special rate or some special additional perks that are not available to your other clients for its consumers in return for featuring or including your luxury lodges / tours in its promotions. Often a luxury lodge will not want to discount its services or provide special perks and this is a problem since there is than nothing in it for the card companies.

vii. Going Direct to Indian Luxury Traveller

This might perhaps be the best way forward for luxury lodges chains and larger tours operators in India since this is anyway a completely new market and dedicated luxury travel companies are yet to be see on the horizon.

This ofcourse might be too expensive and not worth the money for 12 to 15 room independent luxury lodges or speciality niche tourism operator or collection companies.

What you will need to help you create your own luxury eco system in india is a network of

  1. Digital Marketing Specialists – One of the most affordable way to reach your target market is via quality digital marketing. India lately has good agencies who will create apps, plug ins, projects and campaigns that will work for you. Do note that this route like PR will not give you instant business and will take months before it translate in to actual business. A good digital marketing will begin at a minimum retainer of Rs. 1,00,000 per month while an established agency will be atleast 2,00,000 per month.
  2. Effective travel Media and Guide publications – CN Traveler, LP, NatGeo Traveler, Outlook Traveller etc. are some of the publications available in India. Out of this CN Traveler and LP reaches the Luxury Indian Traveler. Some of the non travel magazines that they read are Vogue, India Today, Time Out, Business Today, Economist, Business Week and HBR. A full page advertisement in these magazine begins at Rs. 75000 in Indian publications to as high as Rs. 1,50,000 in international travel publication. The rates are much higher for HBR and Economist.
  3. Specialist PR firms that knows travel – Saffron Events, Adfactors etc. are some of the PR firms that you can explore. Do note that a dedicated PR firm who understands travel might give you better result versus firms that are more geared to FMCG etc. Also note that PR companies do not have any hold over media in plugging in stories about your lodge or company and hence this route will only work for multi chain or fairly large company. A good PR agency will work at a minimum retainer of Rs. 1,50,000 onwards per month and much much more depending upon coverage and profile.
  4. Ad Agencies – Print, TV and Radio Ads will be the quickest and most expensive way to reach the luxury travel market in India. While Print media has been covered earlier, FM Radio ads are affordable and maybe available on a barter deal. A 10 to 30 second TV spot in a high TRP channel will be a minimum of Rs. 1 million onwards. There are plethora of quality ad agencies in India and if you are a multi chain lodge or big operator that can spend top ad dollars in 6 to 8 figures, you can choose this route as well.
  5. Non Travel Luxury Brand Specialists – B2B channel will work for you if you find a sympathetic non travel luxury brands who can pro actively market your lodge or tours direct to the relevant luxury traveller in return for you marketing their products to your clients in a quid pro quid deal. Some of the successful luxury brands are BMW, Rolls Royce, Rover, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari and Benz in Automobiles. In non automobile domain apparel brands like Bvlgari, Burberry etc. are doing well. You can look at collaborating with Reliance Retail, Genesis, Aditya Birla Madura Garments, Safilo eye wear etc. to reach the luxury consumers in India.

For more information and a free guide to luxury travel in India, feel free to write to me and I will connect you with relevant agencies.

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