Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Jonathan Ramael
INCREDIBLE INDIA!
BBT Online visits IT&CM India 2012

 

By Jonathan Ramael

 

India India India

 

After many successful editions in Bangkok and Shanghai, TTG Asia felt ready to take its IT&CM trade show to a brand new location: none other than the bustling, hectic Indian capital of New Delhi. BBT Online was present to find out how the maiden edition of IT&CM India compared to its older brothers in China and Thailand. We also took the time for a visit to the Golden Triangle, covering the highlights and the best hotels.

India‘Sweet baby Jesus it’s hot and humid here!’ I could think of little else when I first set foot on Indian ground, and it wasn’t even the hot season. Luckily for pale old Belgian me, the bus to our hotel was air-conditioned. That’s the first weird thing you notice about India: you almost forget you’re in the tropics as soon as you enter the hotel, only to be slapped in the face again by the sauna known as “the outside world” as soon as you leave the premises.

Delegates were divided over several hotels. All members of the press stayed in the stylish Hilton Mayur Vidar, the closest venue to the city centre (which was still about half an hour away by subway). The other hotels: Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort and the Radisson Blu Greater Noida were much further away. The event’s venue: The India Expo Centre & Mart, was also located in Greater Noida – a business hub some 40 km out of the city. It made going to and fro a bit of a burden, and many of us wondered why the whole show wasn’t just organized in the middle of town.

IndiaThe answer to this riddle came to us when we actually visited it. The traffic in central Delhi is pure madness. There are no other words to describe it. There’s supposed to be lanes, but Indians show a remarkable selective blindness for white lines and stripes of any kind. Every driver does what he wants where he wants to do it: it’s a honking enthusiast’s dream. Between the cars, tuktuk- and rickshaw-drivers fill up all the empty space, without showing even the slightest consideration for their own lives. Delhi might just be the only major capital where traffic jams are caused by the world’s most indifferent cows. They just lie there, in the middle of an eight lane road, quietly chewing like they’re on a lush green meadow, while maniacs fly past them from both directions. ‘Good horn, good brakes and good luck!’ It’s a fantastic and immensely fascinating spectacle, but not if you have to be somewhere. Greater Noida it is!

 

A new and promising market

Darren NGBack to the important stuff: the show! TTG Asia’s Managing Director Darren Ng said it himself during his opening speech. It’s the first edition; it’s not all going to be perfect from the start. As a matter of fact, according to TTG, this is the first time an international company ever attempted to organize a MICE event of this scale in India. Starting a big annual event in a completely new country isn’t an easy thing to do. You have to start somewhere, aim for growth and accept the possible growing pains and local problems that come with it.

 

opening opening

 

That being said: the numbers looked promising. 350 hosted delegates were present: 160 of them buyers and 31 journalists. For each seller, two and a half buyers were attending, coming from 57 countries. While a lot of Indian sellers seemed a bit hesitant to buy in to the fair (they will certainly come, give the event some time to grow its brand awareness), several big Asian MICE destinations took advantage of the opportunity to present themselves to the Indian business market: Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all came with impressive stands, showcasing their newest venues and innovations. Different from the other two fairs, IT&CM India was the first of the series to incorporate luxury travel: a market growing at a phenomenal rate here. Furthermore, IT&CM India was held in conjunction with the 7th Conventions India Conclave (CIC), organized by the India Convention Promotion Bureau: a forum to share information and opinions on the Indian conventions industry, and a driving force behind the organization of more conventions in the country. It gave delegates a good opportunity to attend a few educational sessions and learn more about the way the country works.

 

hongkong Malaysia-Stand

 

What was made very clear by attending IT&CM, is that India is a developing and especially promising market: a lot of people want in, and it works both ways. Every surrounding destination is trying to get its hands on a piece of the goldmine, while the Indians themselves are trying their best to attract as much business from abroad as they possibly can. The only direction is forward.

Jumud harmaAn Inside Perspective
While on the fair, BBT Online had a quick word with Kumud Sharma, Assistant Manager of the India Convention Promotion Bureau. She had the following thoughts on IT&CM and India as a business destination. ‘Obviously, it’s been a very good experience to have an international fair like this in Delhi. It shows the Indian market is growing. TTG Asia does not pick the location of their events randomly. Everywhere you look around Delhi, new buildings are popping up. In Dwarka, or here in Greater Noida, so many hotels, meeting and conference venues are under construction. An annual event like this will only strengthen this evolution. I’m sure that next year’s edition will be exponentially bigger. A lot of people were in dilemma now, and some of the industry players were not yet aware of the fair’s potential. Now that everyone has seen what it was like, I believe much more people will attend in the years to come, also from abroad, since the government is considering the possibility of a special conference visa, making everything much easier.’

 

Problems and solutions

India is a fairly new MICE destination. It’s still discovering its own vast potential, and sometimes the country is struggling to find the right way to use these advantages. Slight problems can occur. Most of these are being handled as we speak. The country is spending big bucks to speed up the expansion of its infrastructure and is thinking of easier, looser rules to better accommodate its new target markets. As an economic powerhouse and a cultural behemoth, India is working hard to catch up to Asia’s classic business destinations. But as of now, it’s not completely there yet.

Martin SirkKeynote speaker Martin Sirk (ICCA) said the following: ‘MICE is not tourism. India needs better, modern and purpose built convention centres in major cities. It also needs a shift in the way the MICE business is regarded by the government and the private sector players. It should be treated more as a knowledge industry. Conventions should be seen as knowledge enhancers that will help the national industry to grow through continued interaction with international experts.’

One of the prime annoyances for business travellers is the 60-day re-entry gap imposed on multiple entry India visa holders. This can be a real pain in the **s, as frequent visits are impossible. A zero gap multiple entry visa will help business travel immensely, as an open visa regime will reflect the country’s openness to global investment and partnerships. After a gentle but determined push by the domestic MICE industry, government officials are considering a single-window clearance for conference attendees, which could make this problem a thing of the past. A simplification of the permissions and approvals required for conference organizers would be most welcome, especially with the depreciated Indian rupee drawing a lot of MICE attention to the country.

 

ITCMITCM  

 

Venues fit for a king

All issues put aside, India is a superb destination that knows how to welcome people. Maybe the conference infrastructure is not yet up to the standard everywhere, but the hotel industry certainly is. During our stay in Delhi and the Golden Triangle, we came across a couple of absolutely superb hotels. These were our favourites:
  • Hilton Mayur Vidar, Delhi: our home during IT&CM. A brand new hotel with spacious, luxurious rooms, great (affordable) meals and a simply exquisite staff. You’re always off to a good start of the day when the breakfast team remembers your name after just one night. A very pleasant stay.
  • ITC Rajputana, Jaipur: ITC is a massive Indian company with branches in almost every industry. They own several hotels around the country and most of them are top notch. In this one, we especially liked the open air cocktail bar: very cosy, even with a fierce tropical storm raging above us.
  • The Oberoi Amarvilãs, Agra: The Oberoi Hotels are venues in a price range of their own. They offer the absolute luxury experience, often with an extra touch. For example: this one in Agra offers views of the Taj Mahal from every room. There are worse sights to wake up to.
  • The Oberoi Rajvilãs, Jaipur: This Oberoi doesn’t have the Taj, but the rooms and the property (a massive domain full of peacocks and singing birds) are even more beautiful and luxurious. For your info: it is ranked as the 3rd best hotel in Asia and the 8th in the world.
India India

 

What to do in...?

  • Delhi: Delhi is a massive city with a ton of historic sites that can be used for incentive visits or pre- and post-meeting tours. Most of them are well known and can easily be researched by anyone with the ability to use Wikipedia: the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Jama Masjid, the Lotus Temple, Qutub Minar, Connaught Place, et cetera. If you’re into rugby or pressing yourself awkwardly against people you never met before, another highlight is trying to take the subway on Connaught Place during rush hour. We on the other hand, decided to introduce you to two of the less obvious locations.
  • The Lodi Garden: This lovely park is by far the most peaceful part of New Delhi. Visit the many ancient tombs, startle some chipmunks or just relax on the grass under a tree and enjoy the absolute tranquillity. Next to the park, you’ll find The Lodi – a quality restaurant, perfect for a sunny lunch.
    The National Gandhi Museum: Mahatma Gandhi might well be the most important man of the 20th century, and this particular museum really honours his legacy. It will take you through the various stages of his monumental life and you can see some of his personal belongings, including the robe he wore when he got shot. In many ways, the museum is just like the man himself: modest, small, clear and with no pretentiousness whatsoever. Across the street, you’ll find his memorial stone on the place where he was cremated: a simple black marble block showing the words ‘Oh god’ in Hindi. Supposedly last thing he ever said.
  • Agra: Let’s be honest, there isn’t a single person in the world that goes to Agra for other reasons than seeing the Taj Mahal. And they might all be right. The Taj is one of those few iconic buildings you’ve known since childhood, and it doesn’t disappoint one bit in real life. It’s majestic and fantastic, and it’s worth making the complete trip. Don’t forget to visit Agra Fort though: it’s vast, and personally I think it’s prettier than Delhi’s Red Fort.
  • Fatehpur Sikri: The perfect place for a sightseeing visit if you’re travelling between Agra and Jaipur. The city was built to serve as the new capital of Emperor Akbar, but was deserted only 14 years later because no one had really thought about how to supply it with water. It’s still an impressive sight today. Beware of the local hawkers though. Our guide was convinced they use hypnotic powers to make you buy their crap. Well, all I can say is, it didn’t work on me, but one of the other guys thought he was a chicken for hours and insisted on laying the eggs for next morning’s breakfast. Seriously though, no one bought anything.
  • Jaipur: The walled capital of Rajasthan, also known as the Pink City, is a popular tourist destination. It sports a good number of impressive sightseeing opportunities like the Water Palace, the Palace of Winds or the City Palace (yes, palaces for all!). Our favourites were:
  • The Amber Fort: Another one of the regions imposing fortresses. Completely yellow, it’s probably the most impressive one we’ve seen. It’s built on a steep hill, but don’t worry: you can get there on an elephant’s back! Don’t be scared when you’re in traffic an hour later and about 30 of them stroll past your car from both sides, returning to their stables after a hard day’s work. Jantar Mantar: This UNESCO World Heritage observatory from the 18th century contains a lot of weird looking structures, each of them with a specific purpose: measuring the position of the stars, calculating eclipses, and so on. It also holds the world’s biggest sundial, capable of showing the correct time of day within a margin of two minutes. Well, only when it’s sunny of course. Nobody’s perfect. The weird thing is that they used most of these innovative scientific devices to calculate things like who should marry who and what would be the best time to do so. Scientific superstition at its best.
India India
India India

 

Conclusion

India is a strange and fascinating country, attracting tourists from all over the world. Welcoming, surprising and filled to the brim with different cultures, places, food and customs to experience. What IT&CM India showed us is that the country is also destined to become one of Asia’s leading MICE destinations in the near future. Like every place, it has its pros and cons, but new infrastructure is being prepared, mindsets are being changed and visa issues are (hopefully) being resolved. The fundamentals of a successful meeting destination are now in place. Delhi is not Singapore or Shanghai yet, but it’s getting there. We had an interesting and promising first experience and hope to see a bigger show next year, with a lot of new exhibitors from both the domestic and the international market.

 

When to go?

We were in Rajasthan from 20 to 29 August, which isn’t really the best time to go. The monsoon is drawing at an end, but most days still come with heavy rain showers. That being said: these are short and furious most of the time, giving you enough “dry hours” to explore. The only visit really burdened by heavy rain, was sadly the one to the Taj Mahal. But still, you have to remove your shoes anyway, and the wet white marble feels kind of funny on your bare feet. The most popular period to visit the region is from December to February, when the daytime temperature is bearable and the nights are even a bit chilly.  April to mid August should be avoided. First it gets really hot and the summer months bring lots of rain.

 

 

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