While MICE was the strongest segment last year, Amod Thatte, Head Products and Innovation – Outbound division, SOTC, sums up 2016’s highs and lows and reveals plans for the coming season.
The year 2016 was problematic for outbound travel. First, there were terror attacks in Europe, and then the rate of exchange took a hit as demonetisation came to the forefront. Despite these, SOTC has overcome the challenges through a strategic take. “We sensed that it was going to be a difficult year and accordingly, scrutinized the things we need to control better,” says Amod Thatte, Head Products and Innovation– Outbound division, SOTC. “We managed our costs well, we had a margined focus and so it ended on a good year for us.”
The MICE segment particularly, beat all odds and emerged as the star performer, informs Thatte while leisure fared equally well. Eastern European countries like Prague, Budapest and Austria were much sought after and the region has been gaining immense popularity among leisure travellers too. “For MICE, we are completely focused on the corporates and in volumes, Asia continues to be one of biggest markets for MICE as it is an entry-level destination for a lot of corporates. Overall, MICE is here to stay and we have looked at various other industries where we are present,” he asserts. However, the new year did not start off on an encouraging note for the travel industry with a hike on service tax that came into action by the end of the first month. When asked for a forecast for the year ahead, Thatte says that while unfavourable, the situation would resume normalcy within a few months. “2017 does have some challenges on its hand already but my sense is it will settle down over time. People will notice the increase in price but somewhere down the line, it will become the new norm,” he adds. As for SOTC’s plans, their first priority will be the summer season which begins from April and extends till October. The products for the season were introduced ahead in October 2016 itself as part of their strategy for group departures and FITs.
Elaborating on the markets that have seen a good response for leisure, Thatte explains, “Winter destinations like New Zealand, Australia have been doing very well in the long-haul category.“In the short-haul category, destinations like Singapore, Thailand, Mauritius have been in demand.Egypt has also been showing a sign of revival and has always been popular among Indians.” The summer season will see the travel provider’s focus intensify on the West, since that’s ‘the best time of the year to travel to the US and Europe’. “But that doesn’t mean we have a lesser focus on the other markets. We are a large mass player – for us, it’s the customer’s holiday requirement which is more important than a certain destination,” he wraps up.