It may not be able to take you back and forth in time, but the promoters of The Royal Time Machine are hoping that a bus done up like a five-star hotel is all it’ll take to lure tourists in Delhi.
TRTM Tourism Pvt. Ltd will launch its first two buses next week, hoping that the sofa-style seating, heritage decor, and a well-stocked bar will get tourists to fork over up to $165 (Rs6,765) for a six-hour tour of the city.
TRTM has refitted two 55-seat Ashok Leyland buses to hold 19 passengers with four LCD televisions screening a historical video of Delhi while tour guides explain the sights and sounds in multiple languages. Passengers will be taken to the usual monuments, such as the Qutab Minar, Humayan’s Tomb, and Lotus Temple, said Suparna Chopra, director of TRTM. The company will launch similar services in Jaipur and Agra by the end of the year and hopes to be in up to 20 cities in five years at a total cost of Rs40 crore, said Chopra.
Chopra declined to give expected profit margins or when the company hoped to see a return on its investment. However, she said she hoped to recoup the Rs5-10 crore invested so far by March 2008.
The tourism ministry said foreign visits increased 13% annually to a record 4.43 million in 2006. The ministry hopes the country will receive 10 million visitors by 2011.
The expected growth in the tourism market is spawning a raft of luxury products, from the Orient Express train of EIH Ltd, Indian Railways, and the Rajasthan government, to a $40,000 per night suite being built in the The Raj Palace hotel in Jaipur. Reactions among tourists and travel industry professionals to the luxury bus were mixed. “$165 is steep,” said Bedouin Jospeph, 36, an American business traveller. Le Passage To India Pvt. Ltd, another luxury tour operator, said it could offer a private air-conditioned car for three tourists along with a guide for less than $35 per day.
Travel Corporation (India)’s G.V.R. Shastri said luxury bus was a “great concept” and “quite affordable” for the convention goers and other travellers who fall into the segment known as MICE tourism, or Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions. “Nowadays, you’re looking at a segment where they don’t bother about money,” said Shastri.
TRTM has not accepted any booking yet, but Chopra expects the buses to be full on four days of its first week of operations based purely on expressions of interest. TRTM’s buses will run six days a week.