Golden Jubilee Convention of FHRAI 2015 in Bhubaneswar

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The three day Golden Jubilee convention of Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India was held at the temple city of Bhubaneswar from September 25 to 27, 2015. The convention witnessed several important deliberations on the issues concerning the hospitality industry while simultaneously giving an opportunity to the eastern states of India including Odisha, the host state, to showcase their iconic tourism destinations to the top echelons of hoteliers, hospitality sector stakeholders and potential investors.

The Golden Jubilee Convention was formally inaugurated by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Speaking on the occasion, Patnaik complemented the FHRAI for bringing the 50th Annual Convention to the ‘Temple city’ of Bhubaneswar in Odisha, which has vast tourism potential.

He said, “I hope it would boost tourism and hotel industry in the state”. Stating that Odisha offered tremendous scope for development in the tourism sector, the chief minister promised to provide all facilities to promote and market Odisha as a preferred destination for tourists.

Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister Of State For Culture And Tourism and Minister Of State Of Civil Aviation said, “Tourism cannot be the job of the Government alone and needs the hand-holding of all the stakeholders of the tourism and the hospitality industry.”

Dr. Sharma informed that he has put forth the demands of the tourism and hospitality industry in a note to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) seeking to lower the infrastructure lending slab for the industry to INR 25 crore. Presently, hotel projects above INR 200 crore qualify for infrastructure status and lowering the slab to INR 50 crore in case of Convention Centers from INR 300 crore. The CCEA is likely to take a decision on this regard shortly.

Addressing the representatives and stakeholders from hospitality sector on the second day of the FHRAI’s Golden Jubilee Convention here, Union Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy reiterated the increased focus and importance given to skill development by Narendra Modi government stating that the present government has made a separate ministry for skill development.

Indicating the ratio of skilled people across the globe, he pointed towards the dismal present situation in India. While the ratio was 46% of the total workforce in China, 58% in USA, 70% in Germany, 68% in UK, 80% in Japan, 96% in Korea, it was only a meagre 4.5 % in India, he asserted, indicating towards the reality that around 17% of the engineering graduates and 15% of management graduates continue to be unemployed in India.

Odisha Tourism Secretary Mr. L N Gupta made a presentation to the hospitality sector delegates describing the tourism potential of Odisha and initiatives of state government to promote investment opportunities in the state.
Citing the Discovery Channel, which has rated Odisha among the must-visit destinations for most tourists, Mr. Gupta said that there is huge untapped tourism potential in the state. Mr. Gupta asserted that, through the new Industrial Policy, the state has aimed to be a highly competitive and progressive among all the states and to make tourism a priority as well as a focus sector for next five years. The policy aims to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, he added.

Elaborating on the state government’s initiatives to facilitate investors in the hospitality sector, Mr. Gupta said that State level Facilitation Cell (SLFC) has been formed with senior officials being available fulltime for speedy resolution of all project related issues and grievances, to assess project proposals and utility requirements, to follow up for timely approvals for both establishment and operations, and to provide deemed approvals wherever required.

Mr. Gupta highlighted the vast coastline of the state, good road and air connectivity for the tourists coming to Odisha, the diamond triangle Buddhist circuit covering Ashokan edicts at Dhauligiri, Lalitgiri, Udaygiri, Ratnagiri and about the Buddhist festival organized every year, mostly at these sites, which attract large number of tourists to the state. He also stressed on nature tourism, rare Olive Ridley turtles, and typical variety of red crabs and wonderful eco-tourism spots of Odisha as hot favourite tourism destinations of Odisha. Mr. Gupta also informed that leading hoteliers like Lemontree, Brahmaputra, Newport, Fortune Hotels and others have shown keen interest to set up new hotels in Odisha”

The second day of the convention also witnessed several other technical session covering crucial aspects of the industry. Mr. Rakesh Sarna, MD & CEO, Indian Hotels Company Ltd. which has the flagship brand Taj group of hotels threw light on various aspects important to the industry as a whole on his a very candid chat with Editorial Director of The New Indian Express Mr. Prabhu Chawla.

The technical session on ‘Iconic Hospitality Properties creating Tourism Destinations – Is it lack of Government support or absence of Entrepreneurship’ witnessed speakers elaborating on the constraints in terms of policy support, infrastructure and the greatest problem facing tourism development being lack of integrated approach. Deliberating in this technical session, President of Indian Association of Tour Operators Mr. Subash Goyal said that the govt is announcing policies without checking for implementation of the previous policies and the support is only piecemeal.

He advised that instead of depending on government support, the hoteliers need to come together and build infrastructure needed to bring the tourists into the state.

As far as Odisha is concerned, the greatest problem is connectivity from international destinations, he added. Among the other speakers Mr. Nakul Anand, Director, ITC, Mr. Mark Sayer, MD, Aspira Hospitality and Mr. Ashley Monteiro, MD, Pathfinders Travel Group echoed similar views.

The second day of FHRAI’s Golden Jubilee convention also witnessed a unique Wine Tasting and Education session curated by renowned professional in the sector Mr. Keith Wayne Edgar and specialists Ms. Sabina Corsini, Mr. M W Liam Steevenson, Ms. Kaberi Basu Mahagama and Mr. Kunal Kaul, who elaborated on over 40 different kinds of wines available across the globe.

Summarizing the three day convention and the way forward, FHRAI’s Vice President Mr. Bharat Malkani said that “It was very wonderful three days at the Golden Jubilee convention of FHRAI and the hospitality industry looks forward for rapid growth in the coming days with policy support from Government. The existing level of taxes on the hospitality industry in India is very high as compared to neighbouring countries like Singapore, Thailand etc. even though we receive very less number of tourists than those countries. This is affecting overall tourist inflow in the country. If the tax percentage on the industry is lowered, then we expect more tourist inflow to the country which will result in increased revenues for the Government.” He also informed that as a takeaway from this convention, FHRAI will prepare a charter in the coming days which will be submitted in the pre-budget notes to the Government of India.

The concluding day witnessed mesmerizing World Tourism Day Carnival and some interesting sessions on influence of digital media and online players on hotel and hospitality industry. The technical session on ‘Social Media and Technology – Influence on Hospitality Business’ focused on the new opportunities created with the advent of digital technology and the challenges it poses to the industry.

Moderating the session Mr. Mike Kistner, CEO, Resnext Global Solutions said that “For hospitality business social media is a very strong marketing tool, which is a collaboration of socio benchmarking and wikis. Mr. Binu Mathews, CEO, IDS Next Business Solutions said next level of connectivity is the social connectivity what you have. It is very important to analyze social media responses and action has to be taken immediately.

Nikhil Ganju, Country Manager, TripAdvisor India said Travel or OTS websites attract travellers and this is the way we are making revenues. More number of booking sites will make for more number of shoppers and hence more revenue for us as well as hoteliers. If you are not connected with internet and social media these days, then you will not get exposed to a large segment of customers. Social Media is a bridge between our industry and consumer.

Mr. Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, OyoRooms.com said “Social media and technology are the key aspects in hospitality business and is in fact the next generation of hospitality. We connect with the various numbers of hotels through this technology easily. We are able to get different sources, feedbacks and reviews of millions of people. If technology is used in a right manner then everything will be more organized. Our business needs a digital medium as all of us are running for consumers. Managing a hotel in the country is very tough and if you have a good technology, good management, good social medium then you will not be in risk. Now-a-days google trends and searches are down. People are now searching things in facebook more compared to google. And offline sites are also better for social marketing.”

Explaining the business model of Oyo Rooms, he further added that long term sustainable business has kept hospitality sector away from common mass and through Oyo Rooms general people will get all types of hotel facilities easily even through digital and social media.

Mr.UpendraJit Singh CMD, Webel said social media is a big way to promote our products and services which helps us to grow our business. If you don’t treat your customer properly then you will face problem, customers will post negative comment on social media sites and you will not reach customer satisfaction.

In the technical session ‘Restaurants of Future’, celebrity Chefs threw light on the changing trends in the restaurant business and customer preferences. Moderating the session Professor David Foskett asserted that research and development also plays vital role in restaurants sector.

Shorab Sitaram, Founder of Balance Restaurant and F&B Consultancy, opined that there is requirement of more skilled manpower in the restaurant business. Encouragement from the school level will motivate more youngsters to come into this sector, he added. Citing that apart from food cost, price of property is expensive, he further added that technology can be used to cut down the hard work in this sector.

Celebrity chef Aditya Bal said “It’s a new time, new age and things are changing so fast. While thinking of setting a restaurant, one should think about the global changing perception. If one will make it a passion then designing a restaurant will be much valued. Social Media is a game changer. You can find food critic, blogger and much more in social media sites. You can market your business in a very cost effective manner, but always try the best to reach customer needs. Chefs are now celebrating regional flavors with new touch and many traditional cuisines are being repackaged suiting customer needs and preference. With the changing preference and eating habits of people, the restaurant industry also needs to adapt itself to the changing dynamics when in big cities dining out habit has decreased and ready to eat food options are also on rise.”

Mr. Sharad Dewan, Director of Food Production, The Park, Kolkata said restaurant design is not a work of engineer. Everything is taken into consideration like menu, cuisine, technology adaptation etc. Mr. Y B Mathur, Senior Executive Chef, Welcomgroup Management Institute focused on the vividity and rich variety of Indian cuisines. Elaborating that Indian cuisines range is so vast, he asserted that in India cuisines change in every 200 km. The more you go, the more you discover.

The final technical session of the day ‘Online Portals – Boon or bane’ deliberated upon the opportunities and challenges in the hospitality business with the increasing space grab by online portals in getting business and creating customers.

The three day convention of top hoteliers and hospitality sector stakeholders concluded with a gala evening on the serene beach at Puri with ‘Puri Poornima’.