New luxury train opens door to leisure travel

March 1st, 2008 - 7:35 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) The growing business tourism in India is entering the domain of leisure travel in the luxury category and the Golden Chariot - a train with conference halls and wireless Internet connectivity - is just the beginning. Introduced in the heritage circuit of Karnataka, the Golden Chariot, modelled on the Palace on Wheels of Rajasthan and the Deccan Odyssey of Maharashtra, will generate nearly 60 percent business annually in the MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) tourism sector, according to projections by the travel industry.

This is the first time that a luxury tourist train is opening its door to the business travel segment in India and the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation is hard-selling the train across the country.

Golden Chariot was suited for business travellers and company incentive holiday groups because it was the first luxury train with wifi (wireless Internet) connectivity, according to I.M. Vittala Murthy, secretary, Kannada Culture, Information & Tourism.

“It has two conference rooms and people can operate their laptops through the journey,” said Murthy, who is also the chairman of the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation.

Addressing tour and travel representatives from north and central India in the capital Friday, Murthy said he was not worried about occupancy.

“Even if we manage 20 percent occupancy, we will ply,” the official said, allaying doubts raised by operators if poor occupancy would lead to interruption in services.

“I am not worried about the occupancy rate of Golden Chariot because Mysore alone draws nearly 2.5 million tourists annually, which is 20,000 less than the Taj Mahal and 200,000 less than Madame Tussaud’s,” Murthy said.

The heritage ride, at a cost of $3,395 per person, will be a six-day seven-night package.

The train has 18 thematically designed coaches, 11 passenger coaches, two restaurants and conference halls.

The Golden Chariot is a joint initiative of the Karnataka government, Indian Railways and Mapple Group of Hotels, the first hospitality chain to venture into luxury train tourism.

“We will be managing everything, right from bookings, maintenance, cuisine, itineraries and hospitality. This is our first foray into train tourism and we are looking forward to more such collaborations because several new luxury tourist trains are in the pipeline,” said Sanjay Wadhawan, joint managing director of Mapple Group.

Vijay K. Singh, chairman and managing director of VCI Hospitality Group, which specialises in MICE tourism, wished the train had room for more travellers.

“There should be at least eight luxury tourist trains on the circuits with the kind of business MICE is generating in India. Companies are looking at diverse incentive holidays for their employees and Golden Chariot offers a great opportunity to mix business with pleasure,” Singh said.

A rough estimate by travel major Cox & Kings says MICE or company meeting tourism is growing at 35 percent annually in India with an annual turnover of more than Rs.10 billion.

President Pratibha Patil flagged off the Golden Chariot, south India’s first luxury tourist train, early February.

The train started its trial run Feb 20 and would begin to ply regularly March 20 between Bangalore, Mysore and Goa, touching upon the heritage sites of Srirangapatna, Kabini, Shravanabelagola, Belur, Hampi, Helebidu, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal along the way. It can accommodate 88 travellers.

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