India plans tax cuts, incentives for travel and tourism sector

Domestic and foreign tourists walk in front of Humayun's Tomb, one of the tourist destinations in New Delhi. Over 9 million foreigners visited India in the first 11 months of 2017, up 15.6 percent from a year ago. (Reuters)
Updated 05 January 2018
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India plans tax cuts, incentives for travel and tourism sector

NEW DELHI: India is planning to cut taxes on travel and tourism in next month’s federal budget and give more incentives to the $210 billion sector, government sources said, hoping to boost economic growth and create more jobs.
The move could add to a domestic tourism boom in the world’s second most populous nation, where low inflation and rising incomes are changing lifestyles and consumption patterns of an estimated 250 million middle-class Indians. With scores of destinations introduced on airline routes last year, air travel is also surging.
India’s tourism sector grew over 10 percent in the six months ending September, compared to near 8 percent in the year-ago period. According to an industry report, tourism employs 40 million people in India and could add 10 million jobs in a decade.
“We’ll announce measures in the budget to promote investment in the tourism sector,” a top finance ministry official told Reuters, adding that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley favors lowering a 28 percent tax on hotel tariffs, and offering incentives to attract private investments.
If the moves come about, companies expected to benefit include airlines like IndiGo, owned by InterGlobe Aviation , and Jet Airways and hotel operators such as Indian Hotels, that owns the Taj Mahal chain and EIH Ltd. that operates the Oberoi hotels in India.
Tour operators including Cox & Kings and Thomas Cook are also likely to gain.
In India tourists, on average, pay 30 percent tax on hotel rooms and travel compared with less than 10 percent in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, said Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO).
Another government official said the budget was likely to “significantly” raise allocations for tourism infrastructure and raise income tax exemptions on investments in new hotels.
A third official, who is aware of the finance ministry’s pre-budget consultations with industry groups, said Jaitley was expected to lower income tax on corporate profit, offer tax incentives on hotel construction, allocate more funds for new tourist trains and building roads to tourist destinations.
The government will offer incentives to more regional airlines this year to cover new, under-served airports, the official added.
All three officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to provide numbers or share further details.
India needs about 200,000 new hotel rooms, Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons told parliament this week.
“We have reached a plateau point and need more resources to create new infrastructure and develop tourist packages,” Alphons later told Reuters, adding there was huge potential in developing areas that were not the usual tourist destinations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said developing tourism, particularly in India’s remote north-eastern states, is one of his top priorities.
Hotel occupancy levels in India are at their highest levels since 2008, even though many hotel chains have raised prices.
The need for rooms has been spotted by foreign investors with Japan’s SoftBank Group backing start-ups like OYO Rooms, which has emerged as the largest aggregator of budget accommodation across the country with hotels in over 200 destinations.
One major driver of the domestic tourism boom has been the launch in 2017 of five regional budget airlines on over 100 routes, which are given incentives by the government to offer cut-price flights to uncovered and remote areas, encouraging thousands of families to explore flying for the first time.
Domestic airlines carried 10.6 million passengers in the first eleven months of 2017, up 17 percent from the year-ago period — encouraging some established players like Spicejet , Jet Airways and Vistara, a joint venture between the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, to start flights to new locations.
Tour operators said double-digit hikes in urban wages, coupled with an over 25 percent rise in the benchmark Sensex index last year, have contributed to the domestic tourism boom.
At the same time over 9 million foreigners visited India in the first 11 months of 2017, up 15.6 percent from a year ago.
Domestic tourists, who account for 88 percent of the sector, are increasingly using online portals for hotel and travel bookings.
Travel portal MakeMyTrip reported a 186 percent jump in hotel bookings during the September quarter and its holiday package segment that includes hotel and flight bookings, saw a 71 percent increase in revenues over the same period.
Online operators say tourism could emerge as the new engine of growth after the IT sector but that it needs government support.
“The government must lower the tax burden, ease rules and build infrastructure if it wants to ensure 15-20 percent annual growth in tourism in coming years,” said Sarkar of IATO.


Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

Luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers. (bulgarihotels.com)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

  • The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island
  • Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic

DUBAI: Bulgari, the venerated Italian design house, has just five hotels around the world. And even in Dubai — a city crammed with luxury hotels — the Bulgari Resort manages to seem exclusive. The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island, offering guests some respite from the city’s often-hectic atmosphere, even though it is literally minutes away from the pulsing heart of Dubai.

Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic. Master architects Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel — who are responsible for all the Bulgari hotels worldwide — have used a neutral color palette and custom motifs, such as coral-inspired lacquered steel parapets and mashrabiya-patterned accents, to give the hotel a sense of place.

Here, luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers, with fine materials — from Italian marble to sumptuous silks, impeccable attention to detail, and touches including the signature fragrance that wafts around you from the second you enter.

The hotel is responsible for a couple of firsts for the brand, including its ‘Little Gems’ kids club — where children are entertained with bespoke activities such as cooking classes and treasure hunts while their parents enjoy some downtime — and the global debut of the Bulgari Marina & Yacht Club, which has its own pool and recreation facilities, signature seafood restaurant, and 50-berth harbor.

All rooms and suites feature a walk-in closet, spacious balconies, smooth one-touch button controls, and bathrooms with standalone tubs boasting enviable views — making for some excellent Insta-fodder. The signature trunk-style mini-bar is as funky as it is functional, and the trendy basket beach bags are perfect for stashing your souvenirs — including designer knick-knacks from on-site concept store La Galleria.

The one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas offer private pools and butler service, but you don’t want to miss the resort’s circular central pool, where luxury cabanas with oversized daybeds and on-call service invite you to lounge the day away. Just adjacent is the crescent-shaped private beach, with the gentle waters of the Arabian Gulf offering perfect swimming conditions, even if the tip of the seahorse-shaped island mars the view slightly.

Whether you opt for a beach-and-pool day or a Dubai-sightseeing trip, your evening should definitely be devoted to the quintessentially Italian aperitivo experience at Il Bar, where an oval-shaped chrome counter provides a social centerpiece, and an outdoor terrace offers marina views. The seriously chic Il Ristorante (by lauded Italian chef Niko Romito) is just next door, and shares the terrace. Its tiramisu is one of the best in town, as is the freshly baked rustic bread.

Offering a more pared-back dining experience are La Spiaggia, a beachside restaurant and bar, and Il Café, the Bulgari take on a casual all-day dining destination which still features jaw-dropping design, and, in line with the whole ‘nothing is too much trouble’ service ethos, serves breakfast all day.

That ethos extends to the spa too, where therapists provide the ultimate in pampering using top-shelf products, including La Mer, in a soothing nature-inspired space. The use of rare precious materials, including grey Vicenza stone and green onyx, infuse the environment with a subtle opulence.

A 25-meter indoor swimming pool with its own cabanas, extensive facilities (including a shower offering a “Caribbean thunderstorm” experience), and private hammam, plus an exclusive Lee Mullins training program at the state-of-the-art gym complete the impressive recreation facilities at the resort.

If you’re looking for a classy, authentic ‘slice-of-Italy’ experience in the Middle East, then the Bulgari Resort Dubai is where you should check in.