Agra has become the new MICE & Wedding destination of India: Hari Sukumar
Sukumar spoke to BW Applause and everythingexperiential.com about the state of the tourism and hospitality sector in the city of Agra and more.
The Tourism Guild of Agra is an apex body of tourism & hospitality trade of the city of Taj and functions as a spokesman of the tourism industry of Agra.
The Tourism Guild of Agra is helmed by Hari Sukumar who is also the Vice President (operations) at Jaypee Palace and Convention Center, Agra. Recently, Sukumar spoke to BW Applause and everythingexperiential.com about the state of the tourism and hospitality sector in the city and more.
In your view, how has the tourism sector transformed in the city in the last few years?
The industry has undergone massive transformation. Since Agra is also called the city of love, from just being a tourist destination it has become a preferred destination wedding venue too. Not only that, the city has also become a popular MICE destination and that is the reason why we have all the major hospitality brands in the city. These are some of the major transformations that have taken place in the city as far as the tourism and hospitality sectors are concerned.
What steps has the Tourism Guild of Agra undertaken to create unique experiences for the modern day travelers?
The Guild has curated experiences taking into account the tangible and intangible heritage. The young generation wants to know how their past has evolved so to show the heritage to them is very important. This is done by using connecting stories which can be woven into an authentic new-age narrative.
What role does technology play in curating new travel experiences?
The travel and hospitality industry is incorporating technology into all of its processes. Starting from the check-in to the hotels to how you witness the city. But at the end of the day, our industry is all about the human connect, so you can bring in as much technology as you want but you cannot take the human connect out of the hospitality and travel trade. There is still clientele who will always prefer human connect over technology connect.
How are you trying to leverage the growing inflow of international MICE at Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre?
The vision of Jaiprakash Gaur, Founder, Jaypee Group, 21 years back was to create a 341 keys hotel in Agra. It was then, mocked and laughed at. But, today the MICE industry, because of Jaypee Palace Agra, has grown and contributed to the city's growth and welfare. The big convention spaces that we have helps us to host big international conferences. Now other hotels are looking at that and trying to capitalize on it. So I would say easily Rs 300 to 350 crores has come into the city in the last 20 years, purely because of MICE and weddings.
In your view, what are some of the big challenges that the tourism sector has been facing in Agra?
The challenge is to convert the duration of stay of the tourists. Because a lot of people just come to the city for Taj Mahal. Another challenge is flight connectivity and the airport. The road connectivity has become better. The city is connected to Lucknow and to the NCR. So in many ways, the government has tried fixing it. It is now up to the city as well. And that is how the idea of ‘Agra beyond Taj’ came in for travel writers and bloggers and it will help the city to get to the national scale.
Has the Coronavirus spread affected the tourist influx to the city?
Yes, the Southeast Asian markets have been affected. But we can't really bring it down to only the Coronavirus. We have to look at it holistically. We have to look at the economic condition in Europe, the uncertainty in America and the recession in the rest of the world. People may not accept it, but it's like dusting under the carpet and pretending it is not there. You have to look at all these aspects and Coronavirus is just one aspect of that. So travel has been declining for the last few years. We need to accept that and we cannot just blame one catastrophe for this. It is a combination of all these factors.
What is next for the tourism industry of Agra?
Agra has a lot more to offer. Multiple choice venues, catering to all segments of the society. We have classy five star hotels and very good restaurants. We have good offerings in terms of MICE and destination weddings segments. And I think one of the biggest challenges that we face is, everyone has their own PNLs and their own targets to meet. So a lot of undercutting happens. I think the industry just needs to come together and work as one.
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