The Indians are coming – but is Australia ready for them?

There is already talk about the Indian market being the “new China” with the imminent commencement of direct air services between India and Australia. The Air India services into Sydney and Melbourne will definitely stimulate what has been a relatively sluggish market in recent years but the 20 – 30% annual increases that have been typical of the China inbound market unless the Australian industry is more receptive and understanding of the market.

The first accredited Australian hotel for India Optimum Service Standards, Mercure Sydney Central, is anticipating a significant boom in Indian business over the next year, with 5000 room nights predicted for 2014, along with the start of the all important high-yield incentive market that has generally shunned Australia in preference for America and Europe. The start of direct services will help encourage the market but it is the hospitality they receive down under that will determine the longer-term sustainability of the Indian inbound sector.

“Australian operators have in the past found dealing with the Indian market quite a challenge and that’s why so few hotels have embraced the market,” says Greg Brady, the Mercure Sydney Central general manager, who first went to India five years ago as a “pioneer”. “Negotiating is tough but once you build a relationship it becomes easier, especially once they know you deliver the product they want.

AN54-4-news-India-Indian food corner“That means getting the food right, understanding their culture and working according to their negotiation process. We became the first accredited Indian Optimum Service Standards hotel in Australia and that has established us as arguably the best known Australian hotel in the Indian market. We’ve invested considerably in developing the market. We have our own Indian chef who cooks exclusively for Indian groups, we have the Curry Leaf Indian restaurant and we have a range of Indian items – such as poha, upma, marsala chai on our breakfast buffet. Food is a really important ingredient in their travel experience.

“The restart of direct air services has really helped us grow our Indian inbound business. We have a number of tour series confirmed for next year, and we have a 300 delegate incentive group coming in this October, and we hope that is the first of many. The Indian market wants quality product and service. Translating materials into their local language (Hindi) isn’t as imperative as it is for the China market but getting the food and culture side of hospitality correct is really important.”

Mr Brady says the Mercure has been fully refurbished and upgraded, which has helped win the business, but he attributes the Mercure’s success with the Indian market as more a result of building relationships and investing time in the market. He drank more marsala chai tea in one visit to India than he had in his whole life before. Sitting down with Indian travel operators over a steaming bowl of chai and discussing everything from cricket to cardamom is the way you do business, even if it is not the ‘usual’ way that Australians deal with potential inbound clients.

Another hotel that is seeking to build the Indian inbound business is the Fairmont Resort in the Blue Mountains. This hotel used to be “honeymoon capital” for the Indian market, only for a former owner to destroy the market by neglecting the Indian relationship. Cool mountain resorts is exactly what the Indian market wants given the heat, humidity and crowded urban environment in which most of them live. So the Fairmont now has the food back on the menu, staff have undertaken the cultural awareness and all that is left are the honeymooners themselves… 2014 is looking very promising.

Main Image: Greg Brady, Mercure Sydney Central general manager

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