TourismFirst caught up with Kristen Eposito-Vice President of Tourism & Marketing Alliances, Simon Property Group, who was in the capital to promote Simon Destinations. She outlined how the growing appetite for shopping in the outbound outbound was making India an increasingly difficult market to ignore. The latest development, yet again, brings to fore the power of shopping in the larger context of tourism offerings and how, once merely designated as an add-on, is fast-emerging as a principal reason for travel and tourism. Excerpts of a detailed interaction:
What brings you to India?
One of the reasons why we are here is because the Simon Property Group has started to invest more heavily into the international market. We want more Indians to come and shop with us as we know that Indian clientele is one of the best shoppers in the world.
We are here on a more of a listening tour to learn more about the Indian consumer and working with Indian tour operators, travel agents and the MICE market to see how we can enhance the experience – and have Simon Destinations be on the top of the mind when they come to the United States.
Why not set up a shop in India? Would you be looking at that opportunity, too?
That is a question for our property development board to answer. I am not in the know-how of that, but Simon Property Group is global and they are always looking at new opportunities throughout the globe.
How has the China market been for you? How do you see India panning out in comparison?
China has been great. It is based on the pattern and how they travel with the groups and the buses, where they have pre-dominantly over the years, been very large with the group programing. But we are also looking and understanding the potential of the Indian market that, I think, is growing and Brand USA is now focussed on India and a lot of our destinations, especially the California market, Florida and New York – and looking at what the inbound is from the direct flights that we have into New York – from United, Emirates and some of the other carriers. As they grow, I think that is why more people focus on the shopping piece of it.
2017 is being celebrated as the India-US Travel and Tourism Partnership Year. Is the timing of this foray a conscious decision?
Yes, absolutely. Coming into this organisation, I identified with the fact that it is the consumer which is still growing. The travel patterns and the way visas have been structured in the past, where it is easier to get visa and for a longer period, travellers are coming in with their families. And, travel to USA is a conscious effort for the Indian consumers, because it is an expensive and a very long-haul destination. One must be able to plan the trip out, and we are here to help Indian consumers plan that itinerary out. As we are look at how many more carriers are looking at this market, a new flight to Fort Lauderdale has been started, so Sawgrass Mills is a perfect example, where we letting everybody know that they must come there to shop. It is an amazing experience. We are looking at it from that standpoint.
How are you strengthening your distribution channels? Given that online players have emerged as key players in driving traffic, what are the possibilities around Simon Destinations tying up with online players?
One of the things that we have done is we have hired Sartha Global to be our representatives here in India – which is new. We have never had a representative that has been working with us; it is in place since this July.
Our distribution is going to be via the industry. So, it is going to be via travel agents, OTAs and airlines. That is our major focus, because the idea is that Simon Destinations offers a new option to all our trade partners here in India. I mean, if you go to the United States, there is no country in the world which has kind of value proposition and shopping that USA brings to the table.
How will you be targeting consumers? What do you have on offer?
One of the ways we will be targeting consumers is through a Destination Passport that is a new product which we are putting together, across all three platforms – the Malls, The Premium Outlets and The Mills. This is the best in-class discount that will be given through the trade. It also says that it is complimentary for tour operators and travel agents. The other piece is that we have a comparable product that we do sell for five dollars, and at two of our properties it is sold at ten dollars. So, normally if somebody comes from a country and does not have a voucher and has not booked through our travel channels, they will have to pay for this product. So, this is a brand-new product which will roll out starting 2017 – and it will be called the Destination Passport. This is the main way that we are going to target and give those discounts that are important.
You mentioned about three distinct platforms. Please take us through them.
We have the Simon Malls – which are located usually right within the destination. So, you have the Stanford Shopping Centre which is in Paulo Alto; you have the Lenox Square shopping mall in Atlanta; you have the Galleria in Houston; Florida mall is right in the Orlando area. So, these are our mall properties that have a lot of luxury products and that are also affordable. Like Macy’s – Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are the anchors in some of our properties. You have the American Girl and PlayStations.
And then our Premium Outlets is where you go for your power-shopping, with 25-65% off on merchandise. The great thing to know about Premium Outlets, especially our Desert Hills, San Francisco Premium Outlets and Woodbury Common is that these properties are one of a kind, where you are normally not going to see a Tom Ford, a Prada, or a Jimmy Choo, we have all of that as well. Therefore, you want an affordable piece of it, you can get amazing discounts. So, Premium Outlets are set outside of the city proper, so it is spending that half-day or a full-day on outlet shopping.
Then you have the Mills Properties; it is more of a hybrid. It is a unique entertainment, shopping and dining experience.