Hotel Savoy in London has already marketed and closed bookings for its 1999 year-end festivities. In Delhi, the Department of Tourism is still debating whether it will use the Wills World Cup, starting next month, as a tourism promotion event or not. Says K.V. Eapen, deputy secretary in the ministry: “No decision has been taken yet.”
Government apart, in India, not a single tour operator possesses a brochure highlighting the event even though the cricket fever kicks off in just over a fortnight. Says Sandeep Kapur, manager at Cox & Kings: “The cost of making a promo just for the World Cup would be tremendous. One would have to include the event in our seasonal brochures.”
But Kuoni Travel Ltd, a British tour company, has done just that. The company expects to get in cricket fans in three figures into the subcontinent. Says Dianne Griffith, of Kuoni Travel: “We are combining tourist attractions with cricket matches. The packages offered are of 12 to 16 nights.” The agency is selling a 16-night package in India for £1,935. Adds Griffith: “We are working on innovative combinations. For instance, we are combining an Indo-Pakistan itinerary of 14 nights for £2,845.” The cheapest package going is the Sri Lankan one—£589 for 12 nights. The package includes air fare, boarding and guaranteed match tickets.
Pakistan, however, is facing a tremendous shortage of quality hotel rooms. Consequently the existing hotels have jacked up their rates. Says Rawalpindi-based Shiraz M. Poonja, proprietor of Sitara Travels, Pakistan’s biggest inbound tour operator: “The hotels in cities where the matches are being hosted have raised rates from 100 to 300 per cent. Lahore’s Pearl Hotel used to charge $60 from a tourist. But during the World Cup season, their rates have shot up to $175 plus 20 per cent taxes.”
What was more galling for the tour operators was the insistence of the hotels on a 50-per cent advance before December 15, 1995. While around 50 per cent of Poonja’s clients will be coming in for the final at Lahore, he’s combining their stay with visits to Peshawar, Swat, Gilgit and Islamabad.
Despite the immense potential, the Indian scenario seems pretty bleak. Says Vinoo Ubhayakar, managing director of Trade Wings, which bagged the contract for handling the travel-related needs of the cricket teams playing in India for Rs 4 crore: “There aren’t going to be that many takers. It’s like a routine affair.” Trade Wings had worked in association with the BCCI before it got the nod for the job just a month ago. In fact, Himmat Anand, vice-president, Trade Wings, estimates that there will not be more than 3,000-4,000 tourists for the cricket event from the organised sector, with his agency alone chipping in with around 1,000.
Anand feels that the inquiries have been below expectation because South Africa, England and New Zealand—three of the four semi-finalists from 1992—are playing in Pakistan. Interestingly, more than the tourism authorities, it’s the British Tourism Authority that looks set to exploit the Cup. Says representative Prem Subramanium: “We are doing a series of picture postcards of all cricketers playing in the Cup, especially Indians who play in the county circuit. We will have county attractions alongside.” Sadly, we don’t have a Brian Lara or Shane Warne playing Ranji Trophy.