Bharat Mandapam is an impressive statement for a new India

A new convention centre of this magnitude brings a new eco-system for the MICE industry and the nation at large. It calls for a national effort to market this facility to the global community.

Finally, the new new Pragati Maidan, oops, I meant ‘Bharat Mandapam’ has opened its doors, inaugurated by the Prime Minister in the presence of a packed hall that included prominent members of society. Sitting in the audience were senior cabinet ministers, industrialists, medical professionals and other leading lights – it was an important day in the life of our nation.

Pragati Maidan no longer reflected India’s pragati, meaning progress. It had become outdated, outlived its meaningful presence – within the same 123 acres of land, we have now also a 7,000 seat auditorium with state of the art meeting rooms, and other facilities needed to hold world class events. That much for better utilisation of space. New exhibition halls have come up, presently seven of them. These are two floors, which also means additional floor space, and better utilisation, again. Given the art and sculpture on exhibit, given the diversity of India, all on display, it is a befitting tribute to a new India that we all aspire to.

Speaking at the inauguration, the Prime Minister said the ‘world will witness India’s rising stature in the world at the forthcoming G20 summit”, sharing his strong conviction that India will become the third largest economy in the world in his third term in office. PM Modi referred to the data provided by Niti Ayog which said some 139 million Indians have been taken off the poverty list in the last decade.

It also meets with the government’s aspiration to drive infrastructure first, for travel and tourism. There is no doubt that its time had come, in fact already run out its course. Typically, the PM was there twice in the day. First, in the morning for inaugural ‘puja’, and later in the evening for a formal inauguration.

Pragati Maidan had in fact become an apology of sorts for the capital’s exhibition status. Often, the facilities came under attack, the halls were known to often leak, the toilets were not user friendly, restaurant and banqueting facilities were almost non-existent. Big ticket organizers did not tick any of the important boxes when looking at Delhi, with Pragati Maidan as the venue. It must be said here that numerous dispensations tried to bring about this change. It was made impossible for one reason or the other. This time around, it was the big push from the PMO, keen to showcase modern India at the G20 of which India holds the presidency. The inauguration is on time, with the G20 summit just a few weeks away.

So, what does this new Bharat Mandapam mean for India’s conference (MICE) industry. It’s a tectonic change that invokes a new eco-system for the tourism industry, not just for Delhi, but also for the neighbouring cities like Jaipur and Agra, but also for the rest of India. It brings an instant recall for Destination India, in her ability to hold large conferences. The main hall is divisible into three parts which would allow for smaller meetings as well. For a large facility like this, we need complementing infrastructure to match – in terms of rooms, airports, transport, etc. Happily, much of this is already in place. Typically, in any given conference there is the inaugural session which brings all delegates together, followed by business sessions of smaller numbers.

To emphasise the infrastructure aspect, the connectivity has been totally revamped with entry and exit across the already congested area in Central Delhi. New arterial roads, subways, and a parking facility for 5000 cars will remove all constraints of the past.

New Delhi, especially after the construction of Aerocity with its 5000 rooms, has more than 12,000 rooms to offer in 5-star category. In the larger ambit, including 3 and 4 star, we have some 20,000 plus rooms in Delhi and NCR. Incidentally, there is the additional facility coming up at Dwarka, with another big conference infrastructure and proposed additional 5,000 rooms of its own. This would propel New Delhi and NCR into one big global magnet for this industry.

With the fourth runway at IGIA, with the new airline structure under a privatised Air India, we can expect good airline connectivity and partnership which is necessary to attract large conventions. Domestically, we are well connected with the possibility of offering pre and post-convention tours, which are an essential component of international conventions. New highways to Jaipur and Agra will be an added bonus.

Large exhibitions are more common than large conventions. With some 100,000 sqm of exhibition space, the ability to hold large exhibitions is now possible, especially with this new package of two levels of 5,000 sqm each. This will spin off a year-round attraction for the city, especially in the off season, which should be the goal of the industry.

Bharat mandapam is a facility of ITPO, under the Ministry of Commerce, as owner and guardian of the new complex. It has served a most useful common cause for the MICE industry and tourism in general. But now with this new facility, we possibly need a new energy to market this facility to the world at large. We will need strong industry marketing pitch to the global planners, professionally handled at the right price points. If India is the flavour of this decade and next, it has maximum recall as a destination, and it is perhaps the best time to cash in on the India wave, as it were!

Private facilities like the newly opened JIO centre in Mumbai have professional sales force in the market place. A pro-active sales pitch is important to make the best use of this new infrastructure.

Bharat Mandapam, all the hotels in New Delhi and NCR, the tour operators and the MICE planners must engage in a concerted manner that helps the industry grow unitedly and strongly to bring gains for all. Marketing of big conferences is a complex game, with multi layers operating all times. We need a strong government backing, especially the support of MEA, international agencies that work for India on the global stage, concerned ministries within which such large meetings are held most, namely medical, infrastructure, and others. With this new opportunity, it is important to grow the size of the cake!

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