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SPECIAL REPORT

Udaipur: Nucleus of the Social Event Business

The ‘Land of Sunrise’-Udaipur, also known for lakes and palaces has been a major attraction on the map of luxury travel and is also the hotspot for destination weddings. Akansha Pandey speaks to leading hoteliers in the city on the booming wedding business and the challenges that lie within.

Friday, March 20, 2015, 17:00 Hrs  [IST]

A popular tourist destination in the state of Rajasthan, Udaipur is often referred to as ‘Venice of the East’, ‘White City’ and ‘City of Lakes’. Famous for its history, culture and scenic locations, it is widely visited by tourists from all over the world for its Rajput-era palaces offering royal hospitality. The last five years have seen the entry of Radisson Blu, Ramada, Golden Tulip, Tree of Life amongst the known hotel brands. Carlson and IHG are expected to come up with mid-scale hotels in near future.

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abhishek_sahai.jpgTravel Trend
Abhishek Sahai, General Manager, The Leela Palace Udaipur informs that Udaipur has grown by 500 keys with four five-star hotels emerging apart from 20 odd small hotels and havelis with no addition in the ultra-luxury segment. “With the growth in increasing middle or upper-middle class segment in India and the youth looking to experience the taste of luxury which is on offer at very competitive rates in the off-season, we have witnessed a change in the profile of the guest. This increasing interest has brought some cheer to the rather quiet off season and the city has a better tourist inflow throughout the year,” adds Sahai.


lakshyaraj_singh_mewar.jpgThe Udaipur hospitality industry has been booming over the years. Overall, it is a very healthy trend with rising Average Room Revenue (ARRs) and overnights in Udaipur. Huge investments have been made by leading hotel-brands present in Udaipur, especially around the Lake Pichola area. At the same time, the heritage hotel-owners are also investing in their properties and creating more modern facilities for the guests, feels Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, Executive Director, HRH Group of Hotels.

ashish_kaul.jpgRealising the growing demand, many smaller guesthouses and hotels have also come up and have been doing fairly well for the price charged. The influx of domestic tourism has surely increased over time as Udaipur has also become a getaway destination for long weekends and festivals, exclaims Ashish Kaul, General Manager, The Lalit Laxmi Vilas Palace Udaipur. “A majority of the domestic tourists come in from Gujarat and inbound tourism is mostly restricted to Tour Series which are in abundance from October till March and see a dip in the summer months,” shares Kaul.

manmohan_singh.jpgManmohan Singh, Vice President-Operations, Golden Tulip Radiant Globus Udaipur highlights that they have seen the inbound tourism declining for past three years in a row now. “There is no increase in the Foreign Free Independent Traveller (FFIT) and the Foreign Group Inclusive Tour (FGIT) but on the other hand the domestic tourism has started emerging from North Indian states of Punjab, Delhi-NCR and Madhya Pradesh along with Gujarat. In fact, the hotels have started observing a decent length of stay by domestic travellers,” he outlines.

Social Event & MICE business
Sahai feels that Udaipur is one of the preferred wedding destinations on the global map and hosts about 30 to 40 multi-million budget weddings every year. “The numbers can easily multiply with better connectivity and increased number of keys in the ultra-luxury segment,” he says.

Destination wedding is the new fad and has gained momentum with elite families from across the country considering Udaipur as a primary destination for organising weddings. Udaipur’s road connectivity with Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mount Abu and Chittorgarh has been the main focus and work is on to make the roads wider and better. Air connectivity to Mumbai and Delhi makes it easier for people to come down. Many new hotels have incorporated conference facilities and the influx of MICE has also seen a rise with corporate choosing the ‘City of Lakes’ for team-outings and other sessions, emphasises Kaul.

Weddings has always been a major contributor but mid-size conferences, training, offsite and events have started emerging as couple of hotels have raised sizeable venues to accommodate the large events. But there aren’t big standalone MICE venues to accommodate a large get together, laments Singh.

Udaipur as a destination has been growing, thriving and has become synonymous with the concept of destination weddings, avers Lakshyaraj, expressing, “Unfortunately, the tourism policies are not keeping pace with the changing trends, nor are they driving the tourism industry. Rajasthan remains the largest Indian state with the poorest air and rail intra-connectivity. For the MICE market to grow, the state needs to rethink its policies and work in tandem with the industry associations.”

Seasonality of Business
Being one of the first few hotels of the city, Kaul boasts of having a strong base of loyal guests. “With by far the best location and breathtaking view of the Fateh Sagar Lake coupled with heritage palatial value, we remain one of the favourites for leisure clientele. Besides, Udaipur still enjoys a better Average Room Revenues when compared to nearby cities such as Jodhpur and Jaipur as majority of tourists who choose this destination travel on leisure,” he adds.

Golden Tulip Radiant Globus Udaipur attracts all segment of travellers equally sharing a fair market between inbound and FIT segments of up to 40 per cent, domestic tourists comprising 30 per cent and MICE constituting the rest of business. “Udaipur does become difficult in the summers as most of the segments are inoperative or observe less traffic for both domestic and inbound. There is a reasonable gap between the ARR in summers and winters. The seasonality remains during large events and long weekends. Otherwise the occupancy reduces to less than 35 per cent in most of hotels. Off late Udaipur has started witnessing the long schedules of film-makers, movie shoots and ad shoots,” says Singh.

Seasonality of business is a major challenge, concedes Lakshyaraj, adding, “Between April to September every year, we witness a major dip in tourist arrivals and revenue earnings. Every hotel owner or group has to manage their year-long operations keeping this variable in mind. Our marketing focus has been on regal weddings, conferences and corporate events with the help of which we are often able to beat the seasonal syndrome. But there is no doubt that Udaipur has become a buyer’s market and there is intense competition.”

“The key to manage seasonality is to change the revenue strategy and offer very competitive rates which can drive traffic in to the city. Yes, there is a fierce yet healthy competition which exists but is good for business as all hoteliers cater to a limited well defined pocket of markets,” avers Sahai.

Policy Level Issues
The hospitality industry stakeholders also laments on the lack of political will to promote and sustain tourism. “On every front be it infrastructure or finance and taxation, we need to have a collective and long-term perspective for Rajasthan and its iconic heritage-cities,” says Lakshyaraj.

There are a lot of extra charges in the billings due to policies and taxation which definitely elevate the final spend and hampers the decision of a budget-minded traveller, Kaul stresses. “As the supply of rooms will further rise with more players planning to enter the market, the permissions for the same should be more development and tourism-friendly without hampering the heritage value of the city. The maintenance and cleanliness of the lakes need to be considered of paramount importance and the State Government should ensure the same are clean and full throughout the year,” he says.

Udaipur as a destination needs a lot of support from the local bodies to strengthen the infrastructure, local hygiene and medical facilities since they are meagre in city, feels Singh adding, “Encroachments, street beggars, tourist poachers locally called ‘lapkas’ are the biggest concerns. The hotels also miss local support in sales as there are hardly any local visitors for the hotel restaurants or any other services. Increased connectivity and participation of the state in international travel marts, domestic travel exhibitions can be of a great help.”

Few of the significant challenges include lack of inter and intra-air connectivity to close by touristic locations. Moreover, presence of international airport, addressing city traffic issues, flexibility with regards to regulations of sound limit, relaxed permission for boat and pontoon usage in the lakes and tax subsidy by the government to promote investments in luxury segment can help take the tourism to newer heights, hopes Sahai.

himmat_anand_new.jpgConnectivity is a major hurdle, feels Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life. “The airport is hardly connected by air or train to key source markets. No wonder that the arrivals in this city are half of what say the city of Jaipur gets. On the other hand, the state government should stop unplanned mushrooming of hotels, especially along the lakes. Garbage disposal should be made a critical operating factor and a functional convention centre could also be considered,” he observes.

 
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