IATO Convention: Can MP take advantage of this important event?

Madhya Pradesh last played host to an IATO convention more than two decades ago in December 1993 at Khajuraho, probably the only destination that had any touristic appeal back then. The event was IATO’s 10th Annual Convention. A lot has changed since then and today Madhya Pradesh has emerged as one of the leading domestic tourism destination. And a testimony to that is the fact that a loss making Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC) has become a profit making corporation, a rare feat in India indeed.

Speaking at Madhya Pradesh’s largest ever tourism road show in Delhi recently, the state Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, said that his state is developing a habit of being at the number one position in the country in many fields such as economic growth, agricultural growth, farm production and wants to achieve a similar feat in tourism as well.

Latest figures show MP, with over 63 million visitors, ranking 7th in domestic tourist arrivals in the country in 2014, a drop of one place in ranking because of the recently created state of Telangana that ranks 6th currently. In 2006, this number was just over 10 million. MP ranked 12th in international tourist arrivals with 280,333 visitors in 2013. It received 340,000 international visitors in 2014, registering a robust 22 per cent growth over the previous year. What is evidently clear is Madhya Pradesh is rapidly growing its tourism profile.

From a ‘bimaru’ (sick) state about a few years ago, MP is experiencing a silent revolution today. Ten years ago the growth rate of India was 9.5 per cent and MP’s 5.3 per cent. In 2014, while India grew at a rate of 4.7 per cent, MP’s growth rate was 10.2 per cent with GSDP growth of over two and half times, six-fold increase in capital expenditure, consistent revenue surplus budget, all in the last 10 years. Ten years ago 33 per cent of the budget went to service the debt in interest payment. Today this figure is 7 per cent. State’s tax revenue has recorded a growth of 18 per cent year-on-year in the last five years. Per capita income that was Rs. 14,000 in 2003 has grown to Rs. 56,000 now.

A power surplus state today, MP boasts of a massive 155,000 kms of road network, 18 entry points into the state, 425 trains transiting and connecting the central Indian state with virtually every nook of the country, 31 weekly flights, including 14 from Bhopal and 12 from Indore as well as flights from Gwalior, Khajuraho and Jabalpur.

The 2015 IATO Annual Convention, IATO’s 31st convention later this month, in Indore, MP, happens at a time when the call to grow tourism is being made from the apex office of the Prime Minister of India. And in case of Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Chauhan has not only shown a very strong support for the sector but has also vowed to position his state at the top position. It’s pretty unheard of that a state Chief Minister travels outside the state to attend a road show making a strong pitch for state’s rich tourism offerings. And most importantly, Chauhan probably has the finest and most astute manager at his disposal in Ashwini Lohani, who is heading MP Tourism as Commissioner and is also the Managing Director of MPSTDC.

IATO, according to its President Subhash Goyal, handles around 90 per cent of inbound tourism traffic in the country, and therefore, the success of 31st IATO Annual Convention will be key to MP’s aspiration of breaking into the top 10 inbound destination in India from the current 12th rank.

Three World Heritage Sites, nine National Parks and 25 sanctuaries, historical cities of Bhopal, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Pench and Panna National Parks, Ujjain and Omkareshwar, its Tiger and other wildlife treasures, the temples of Khajuraho, are just to name a few of the MP’s diverse tourism offerings. The state currently has about 8000 hotel rooms and is looking at about doubling this number in the next five years.

The state is working aggressively on boosting private sector investment in tourism in the state. The MPSTDC has its own collection of about 72 hotels that Lohani says is the finest in terms of looks, services, facilities and the bottom-line and as good as any in the private sector.

Presence of leading hotel chains like WelcomHeritage that operates four properties in the state is also contributing in boosting state’s tourism profile, both in the domestic as well as international markets. According WelcomHeritage’s Sunil Sikka, Presence of many hotel chains, sanctuaries, national parks, world heritage sites, natural beauty and good air and rail connectivity, improved highways, play important role in promoting a destination. Besides, in recent years, Madhya Pradesh has been successfully promoted as a part of Incredible India marketing campaign which has contributed a lot to tourism in the state. Leading hotel chains are marking their presence in Madhya Pradesh. In the last few years, the state has also seen a rise in number of bollywood films being shot here because of the beautiful destinations like Khajuraho, Jabalpur, Gwalior and Indore.

Presence of international brands like Radisson that debuted in the state a few years ago with 200 plus inventory hotel in the commercial capital of Indore and new projects like Gujarat based The Grand Bhagwati’s most ambitious project TGB Palace, Indore, venue of the 31st IATO Convention, is further adding to MP’s destination appeal. According to TGB’s Mansi Sadhu, soon to open TGB Palace, Indore, will be 115-key luxury hotel with massive meeting space that is already functional now.

The state is also looking at improving its air connectivity intra-state, with key destinations outside the state as well as international connectivity. Air Taxi is expected to soon restart that will connect destions within and outside the state. MP has also signed MoU with Emirates and Air Arabia to establish direct air connectivity to Bhopal and Indore.

Lohani says that the current focus is solely on branding and showcasing MP. According to MPSTDC Managing Director, everything that MP Tourism is doing outside MP is focussed on these twin objectives. We have not moved beyond that and our marketing also is focussed on achieving the same objective whether it is road show that we are doing in cities outside the state, selective advertising and promotional campaign that we plan to soon start.

IATO Conventions have been known for significantly upping destinations’ profile and boosting international arrivals. At the time of this massive interest MP tourism, both from the government as well as private sector, IATO members hold the key in MP’s march towards a successful and prosperous tourism future by converting state’s branding effort to actual business. It would be interesting to watch as to what extent MP Tourism can take advantage of this very important event, and importantly if it can woo its stakeholders from the private sector to showcase their products and create longlasting business associations with India’s inbound trade.

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