Global travel major to run Deccan Odyssey

Deccan Odyssey, Maharashtra’s five-star luxury tourist train, will be managed by a global tour operator soon. According to sources, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), the state’s nodal tourism agency that runs the train, is all set to appoint Cox & Kings as Deccan Odyssey’s new operator that will not only manage the train’s operations but also promote it.

MTDC had invited global tenders to outsource Deccan Odyssey’s operations in May this year. Seven tourist companies from across the globe had bid, of which some are known star hotel chains from India as well as leading hospitality names from Europe.

The term of the private operator, expected to start in August 2013, will continue till the end of the financial year 2023. The revenue it would earn for the ten-year period is pegged at Rs 413 crore, as per the documents that MTDC shared with the bidders. In return, MTDC would take a minimum fixed amount, a fixed component and revenue share from the tour operator.

Kishori Gadre, general manager of MTDC said, “We will be taking final call (on operator) in a week. We have given a second thought on each bidder. Running a luxury train is a much tougher task than running a hotel. It will take a couple of years for the operator to make the train profitable. International tourist conditions are also not good. Considering all the facts, we are holding discussions with operators.”

Sources said what worked in the favour of global travel major Cox & Kings was its understanding of foreign tourist expectations and international travel, expertise they hope the player would bring in Deccan Odyssey’s operations. “There were a couple of European operators along with major Indian hospitality brands in the race. However, with a longterm perspective and to lift the luxury train business MTDC is narrowing down for Cox & Kings,” said a source in MTDC.

Gadre said that this was the first time that MTDC had opted for global bidders and the response was good. Currently, the Deccan Odyssey runs on two circuits. In Maharashtra, the train runs as Deccan Odyssey, with a part of the journey in Goa. It also takes a pan-India tour, as Indian Maharaja-Deccan Odyssey, a jointly-run operation of the MTDC and private tour operators.

WHAT AILED THE LUXURY TRAIN?
l When launched, the train was a joint venture between MTDC, Indian Railways and Union ministry of tourism run on an equal profit-loss sharing basis. In 2008, Indian Railways announced haulage charges up to Rs 50 lakh per week for the 21-coach train, impacting the business model.The train’s high ticket rate of more than Rs 1.40 lakh per week made it difficult for local tourists to opt for it.

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Chartered coaches for pilgrims

The Sangamitra Express will be the first in South Western Railway (SWR) Division to introduce this venture from the City station to Mughal Sarai, located 16 kms from Varanasi.

In all, 288 pilgrims will undertake the journey in two batches on March 18 and 19. The group is affiliated with the Adichunchanagari Mahasamsthana Mutt, based in Mandya district. The members are heading to Varanasi to take part in a function to inaugurate the mutt’s branch in the holy city.

Four coaches (sleeper Class) will be attached to the train, two on each day. This will be an integrated package tour organised by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) and includes the return trip, road transport to the destination, accommodation and food for the pilgrims.

IRCTC had earlier allotted exclusive coaches for school children and corporate employees but it will be the first time that coaches dedicated to pilgrims were being introduced, said the Chief Regional Manager, SWR Division, IRCTC, S Gagarin. Enthused by the demand, IRCTC now plans to earmark atleast 50 such coaches in the next financial year.

Ramachandra of the Mahasamsthana mutt, who is overseeing the arrangements said, “Devotees from all over Karnataka will board the train at the City station. We planned to book an entire train to transport over 1,000 devotees and approached the Hubli Railway Divisional Office. They suggested this option and we feel it is a better deal,” he said. This package would ensure that all the requirements of a sizeable number of devotees would be entirely taken care of, Ramachandra added.

The devotees will return to the City on March 23 and 25 from Mughal Sarai. The cost for the entire batch works out to Rs 7 lakhs.

“Chartered coaches will be charged as per full tariff tate specifications, issued by the Railway Ministry,” said Deputy General Manager, B S Kiran. This means there would not be any concessions for any category of passenger, including senior citizens and children.

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