Return to India

September 2012


by Judy Jacobs

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From cutting-edge business parks that mirror those in Silicon Valley to palaces, forts and monuments that reflect the past glory of maharajas and Mughals, India provides a study in contrasts.

The world’s seventh-largest country in area and second-largest in population, with more than 1.2 billion people, it is a land of extremes not only in wealth and poverty but in geography as well. A landscape that encompasses everything from massive cities and the foothills of the Himalayas to the endless Thar Desert and tiger-filled tropical jungles serves as the setting for a variety of group experiences.

While European meeting and incentive groups have been traveling to India for years, the destination is still a bit slow to develop in North America, but as more multinational companies establish operations in India, MICE business is expected to grow.

Meanwhile, the country is preparing for more business by expanding its infrastructure. Scores of new and planned hotels are part of a hospitality building boom that is sweeping the nation. Hyatt, for example, has 56 hotels, including 18 Hyatt Regency properties, under development across the country.

“New state-of-the-art airports within India, such as in Hyderabad, Bangalore, New Delhi and Mumbai, are surfacing and making domestic travel between cities seamless,” says Jodi Leblanc, vice president, sales and marketing of Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces.

Hyderabad and Bangalore both opened new airports in 2008, New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport debuted its third terminal in 2010, and Mumbai’s airport is undergoing a total renovation.

Most meetings take place in New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore, while incentive groups head for Agra, Jaipur and beyond.

New Delhi
New Delhi played host to the Incentive Travel & Conventions, Meetings India in late August. It was the first time the event—which usually takes place in Thailand or China and attracts meeting and incentive planners from around the world—has been held on the subcontinent, marking India’s increasing importance in the MICE market as well as New Delhi’s capacity to host major events.

Established by the British as their capital and still the country’s capital today, Delhi is a blend of colonial architecture, ancient ruins and busy bazaars. The 100,000-square-foot Pragati Maidan, India’s largest exhibition center, serves as the site for major events, and a variety of hotels host meetings of all sizes.

The satellite city and business center of Gurgaon, conveniently located near the airport, attracts smaller business meetings to its many hotels.

An evening light and sound show at the Red Fort, built in 1638 and one of Delhi’s main attractions, provides groups with an introduction to the city’s history, and theme parties, ranging from Bollywood to flavors of India, can be arranged at hotels.

For many groups, Agra, located 130 miles from Delhi, is a must. A stay at The Oberoi Amarvillas, located opposite the Taj Mahal, offers breathtaking views of the monument from every room. The monument/mausoleum, built in the mid-17th century by Emperor Shah Jehan as a symbol of his everlasting love for his wife, remains India’s most beloved attraction.

Full of colorful people and a pantheon of palaces, Jaipur, the so-called “Pink City,” makes a perfect destination for a pre or post trip or incentive. While there, attendees can live like a maharajah by staying a few days in a palace hotel.

While many groups prefer north India for its iconic monuments and history, Mumbai remains the country’s commercial and trade center and one of its two main international transportation hubs.

The Bombay Convention & Exhibition Center, the city’s largest at 484,400 square feet, is conveniently located in Goregaon near the airport. There are a range of hotels, including the 583-room Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre on the shores of Lake Poway near the airport and the 560-room historic Taj Mahal Palace next to the Gateway to India on the city’s waterfront.

Groups can be immersed in India’s colonial era at a banquet in the historic Royal Western India Turf Club’s Tote building or take in its modern-day spirit on a Bollywood tour. They can also hire a private party boat to take them to the 6th century Elephanta Caves, which houses Hindu and Buddhist shrines and is set on an island six miles offshore from Mumbai.

Texas Instruments set up shop in Bangalore in 1985 and other companies steadily followed, transforming the city—with its R&D; and manufacturing facilities and a rapidly growing biotech sector—into India’s version of Silicon Valley.

Known as the Garden City for its greenery and many parks, Bangalore is located at 3,000 feet above sea level, making its weather more pleasant than many other places in India.

Meeting facilities include the 430,600-square-foot Bangalore International Exhibition Center, the nation’s first LEED-certified conference center, and the new, but smaller, MLR Convention Center at Whitefield.

An excursion to Bannerghatta National Park 13 miles south of the city may yield glimpses of lions, tigers or panthers.

“Hyderabad used to be a quiet, sleepy town known for its history, culture and tradition. It was the largest princely state [out of 500 princely states] in the British raj,” says Jalil Khan, CEO of the Hyderabad CVB, which was established in March 2011 as India’s only city CVB. “Today we have Dell, Accenture, Facebook, Oracle, Cisco and Microsoft’s biggest overseas center all in Hyderabad.”

About 13 years ago, the city expanded its boundaries to accommodate the multinationals and created a new area known as HITEC City, located opposite the airport.

HITEC City includes the Hyderabad International Convention Center, the site of the UN Conference on Biological Diversity, which is scheduled for Oct. 1-19 and expected to attract at least 8,000 delegates, including environment ministers and forestry ministers from 194 nations, and World Bank and Asian Development Bank officials.

“This event will bring us even more into the forefront in the global world of MICE,” Khan says. Built on a 15-acre site, the convention center includes 32 breakout rooms and a hall that seats up to 8,000 delegates, and it is connected to the 288-room Novotel Hyderabad.

Groups can experience a bit of history during an off-site event at the historic Chowmahalla Pala

ce, seat of the region’s former royalty, and Golconda Fort, where a sound and light show provides the entertainment.

Overcoming Obstacles
While world-class hotels and facilities, an efficient communication system and widely spoken English, thanks to the fact that it was once a British colony, are among the many positive attributes of India as a choice for a meeting or incentive program, there are also challenges that planners need to keep in mind.

Traffic is one obstacle. In India, tour buses compete for passage with cows, cars, rickshaws and bicycles.

“Traffic is an issue you’re going to have to deal with. The caliber of the roads is very different than North America,” says Micahel Garcia, strategic account manager for M&I; in Chicago, who went on a FAM to India last year and plans to organize meetings and incentives there for his food company client. “You need to devote more time than usual for a group. Make sure you’ve got high-quality vehicles with beverages and bathrooms onboard.”

Stuart L. Ruff, senior planner, meetings, conventions and events strategy of the International Trademark Association in New York, will be presenting “India 101” for associations at PCMA’s Convening Leaders gathering in January in Orlando. He has done more than 10 meetings in India, mostly one-day forums designed to increase his organization’s membership in the South Asia region.

There are several aspects of planning a meeting or incentive in India that planners need to be aware of, according to Ruff.

“The biggest difference is in contracting. It requires a lot more time than you would think. They’ve never seen things like attrition clauses before,” he says. “There’s also a cultural difference in the way they handle time, and the length of a reply can be a bit longer than a U.S. planner is used to sometimes, so make sure you have plenty of lead time.”

Planners may also encounter difficulties with financial issues.

“There’s a huge fluctuation on a daily basis between the rupee and the dollar, so there are challenges with pricing,” Ruff says. “Also, a lot of places don’t take credit cards, especially American Express.”

Dillian Waldron, senior event strategist of Event Diligence in Union, N.J., is putting together a two-day conference, Cloud Computing for Emergency Markets for IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) Oct. 11-12 in Bangalore. The conference is expected to attract 300 delegates from around the world. She chose the Sheraton Gateway because it has space for sessions as well as a trade show.

Although Waldron could handle most of the preparations from the U.S., she found that there were a few small details that required local help.

“I am using a DMC for some things like printing, creating thumb drives and AV,” she says. “In coordinating things like that I’ve found it’s much easier to deal with a local DMC, because they can get me a concise answer pretty quickly.”

Although the process went smoothly, she faced minor challenges, including communications issues.

“Scheduling conference calls is difficult because we’re dealing with a committee that is mainly Indian members, and they’re in a very different time zone,” she says.

Finding the right person to talk to was also difficult, but once she found that person it was not a problem, she adds.

Daryl Rand, president of HarrisonRand Advertising in Gutenberg, N.J., led four groups of entrepreneurial women to India between 2005 and February 2012 to meet with their counterparts in India to promote business and cultural exchanges.

“The biggest challenge was keeping track of our own luggage,” she says. “The shopping was so incredible we had to figure out how to get all of the stuff we brought home.”


Freelancer Judy Jacobs once spent six months in India exploring palaces, wildlife parks and various cultures, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent. She has covered the travel industry for more than three decades.


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