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4 Apr, 2012

Imtiaz Muqbil’s Opening Remarks, Int’l Luxury Travel Mart, Cannes, Dec 4, 2006


Bon Apres Midi, Namaskar and Sawasdee Khrap.

Thanks to Strategic Vision and Reed Travel Exhibitions for the invitation to moderate at this panel discussion. We have four eminent panellists, Raymond Bickson, Michael Hobson, Elena Vetrova and Mimma Viglezio, with a broad range of experience in attracting the luxury clientele from the key markets of Russia, India and China. A special thanks to Elena Vetrova for stepping in at the last minute to replace the original speaker from Russia on the panel.

Before asking the panellists to share their insights on the emerging future markets, allow me to make a few opening remarks. As the only Indian on stage in the entire conference, let me give you a uniquely Indian perspective on luxury travel targetted at the rich.

The theme of this session is “Broadening Horizons”. In the presentations by earlier speakers, some keywords have been regularly repeated – words like experience, time, space, privacy, convenience, roots, service, values. But let me venture a forecast with a difference: The fastest growth will be in pursuing the ultimate experience of all time – what we all known as the humbling experience.

Everyone sooner or later in life has an humbling experience – the events of 9/11 were mentioned several times this morning. And there is no greater manifestation of an humbling experience than pilgrimage travel – a form of travel in which one seeks not just luxury service, quality products and time with the family, but to become one with the wider human family, dress humbly, eat frugally, live simply.

A form of travel in which one seeks to serve, not be served; when one worries not about spending “quality time” today but preparing for what is to happen when their time runs out.

This trend will be driven by two factors: a) Demographics – the growing number of aged people seeking to make peace with themselves and whatever force they believe in before they die; and b) the growing number of global crises that suddenly can transform the rich into poor and jeopardise the lives and livelihoods of their families and friends in ways that are totally beyond individual control, no matter how much money they have.

I covered one such crisis in Asia exactly ten years ago, in 1997, an event that saw bankers going bankrupt and investors becoming noodle vendors virtually overnight. Today, with life having returned more or less to normal, people in Asia are going on pilgrimages by the droves, to pray for a non-repetition of the events of 1997, as well as to be able to keep the riches they have since regained.

This is manifested by the huge popularity of the Buddhist circuit along the holy spots of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. In India, Hindus flock annually events to events like the Kumbh Mela and pilgrimages to the many ashrams and temples nationwide. The Sikhs visit their holy shrine, the Golden Temple of Amritsar.

All across India, the phenomenon known as “Gandhigiri” is on the rise, a return to the values of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, whose memorable words, very relevant worldwide as well as to this forum, were: “There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

Looking beyond, if there is peace in the Middle East, it will become the fastest growing travel & tourism destination in the world as people of the three world’s great monotheist religions flock to their holy spots dotted right across Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

And finally the growth in the ultimate pilgrimage, the largest annual mass movement on earth, the Hajj, a journey I have performed twice and would gladly perform again. If you ask any hoteliers from Hilton or Accor, they will tell you that their properties in Mecca and Medina are among the most profitable in the chain.

What are pilgrimages in essence? They are humbling experiences which help make people spiritually, not materially rich. They reconnect people not just with an individual’s immediate family but with society, community and humanity at large – the wider human family.

That’s where the real future growth will be.

If these few words have broadened your horizon somewhat, please do thank Michael Hobson, Strategic Vision and Reed Travel Exhibitions because without them I wouldn’t be here.