NEW DELHI: Malaysian tourism and car-racing officials have combined forces to target an unlikely niche audience: Indian fans who shunned Rs3.5-lakh packages for the cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
This week, a consortium of tour operators will begin pushing Kuala Lumpur’s Formula One race, offering the sporting event as a cheaper and closer — not to mention faster —option. The Malaysian Grand Prix is scheduled from 6 April to 8 April. “It’s a weekend, hence convenient,” said Tourism Malaysia India director P. Manoharan.
Manoharan’s team has finalized a list of 2,000 Indian companies that will be offered packages for star clients and employees. Each three-day getaway for Formula One, the highest grade of auto racing, will cost about Rs28,000, including airfare, hotel and race tickets.
Similarly, Bangalore-based SportzVillage, an official hospitality agent for the cricket World Cup and ticketing agent for the Malaysian Grand Prix, has cobbled together F1 packages after customers balked at this year’s World Cup price tags. Its package rates: between Rs 33,000 and Rs 52,000.
In 2002, when Malaysia began hosting F1 race, 250 Indians travelled to Kuala Lumpur. In 2004, the number of Indian fans peaked to 3,000, their interest fuelled by star racer Narain Karthikeyan. Since then, there has been a steady drop (about 1,000 attended last year). Tourism officials say they are making a renewed push this year, given the numbers that did not turn out for the World Cup and interest among businesses to gift tickets for athletic events.
Central to the F1 packages are Kuala Lumpur’s shopping malls. Tourists could visit nearby Singapore and Bangkok, fellow shopping destinations, SportzVillage chief executive Saumil Majmudar said.
Analysts say Indians, more than other foreign travellers, combine shopping trips with the hobbies that lure them overseas. “Southeast Asia has shopping malls comparable with the best in the world, and offers exotic locales that people can boast of having seen,” said analyst Rashmi Varma of market information firm AC Nielsen.
While an estimated 3,000 Indians are expected to journey to cheer on their team in the West Indies, travel agents say the lack of direct flights and pricey hotel rooms kept many away. Vipan Shah, CEO of Aircruise Travels, a Delhi-based official travel agent for the cricket World Cup, expects to sell only 500 packages. He wasn’t an official operator for the 2003 Cup in South Africa but estimated about 7,000 fans flew from India.
Formula One racing is gaining increasing popularity in India, encouraging F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone to begin planning for an Indian circuit by 2010.
Former racing driver Vicky Chandok , Ecclestone’s adviser in India, has begun talks with potential investors so that Indians will no longer have to venture overseas for a car-racing fix.