India, you may have heard, is a BRIC. The acronym refers to the world’s four largest emerging market economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
According to the economists who coined the term, the BRICs could grow so large by 2050 that their combined heft would exceed that of the G6, today’s six richest countries. And of the four, they argued, India’s economy has the potential to grow the fastest: “In 30 years, it could be larger than all but the United States and China.”
It’s a sunny forecast and a likely scenario. Not even a terrorist attack on Mumbai, India’s glitzy financial capital – which occurred a year ago this month – could keep the country down for long. Within weeks, Mumbai was back to business; tourists continued to pour in, investors held firm and many meetings and conventions went on as planned.
Since dismantling its state-run economy in 1991, India has watched nearly 2,000 multinational companies establish a presence in the country. Of those currently operating, more than a fifth are American. That number is sure to rise as India’s economy continues to grow, helped along by a well-educated workforce, a world-dominating technology sector and increasingly sophisticated meetings and conventions spaces.
Indeed, as government officials acknowledge, India’s less than 2 percent share of the $280 billion global M.I.C.E. market isn’t nearly enough – not for an emerging economic superpower. But progress is underway: For example, the National Highways Development Project, a 15-year effort to modernize the country’s highways and improve traffic flow, is nearing completion; world-class convention centers are planned for New Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, and Goa; and 20 of the country’s most important tourist sites are earmarked for makeovers.
And then there is Hyderabad, a 400-year-old city in the southern state of Andrha Pradesh. Although endowed with a stunning 16th-century mosque, the Charminar, the city of 4 million is probably best known for the Hyderabad Information Technology and Engineering Consultancy City. Known as HITEC City and nicknamed “Cyberabad,” the 151-acre office park is a kind of IT bubble with its own electricity supply, police force, and communications network. Microsoft, one of its earliest corporate residents, set up shop there in 1998 on a sprawling 54-acre campus.
It wasn’t until 2005, thought, that the behemoth Hyderabad International Convention Centre went up in HITEC City. At 291,000 square feet, the HICC’s pillarless main hall became India’s largest, and its do-everything IT infrastructure India’s best. The following year, the HICC’s operator, Accor, built a 288-room Novotel Hotel next doo. And just like that, a major meetings destination was born.
Indeed, between 2005 and 2007, the number of international air arrivals to Hyderabad doubled to more than a million a year. That, in turn, called for another building: the $560 million Hyderabad International Airport (HYD). Though the first commercial flight took off last March, there is still much work to be done; the master plan calls for a processing capacity of approximately 40 million passengers a year.
Hyderabad isn’t alone. Both Delhi and Mumbai boast large convention centers, cheap mass transit, and some of the world’s finest hotels. A new addition to the Delhi Metro, completed this year, has made it even easier to get around town. Mumbai has a comprehensive commuter rail system, but its metro is a work in progress; construction on the new 90-mile track is slated for completion in 2011.
In Delhi, there’s the India Habitat Centre with its built-up area of approximately 1 million square feet spread across nine acres in the heart of the city. In Mumbai, it’s the 400,000-square-foot Bombay Exhibition Centre that bills itself the biggest around. And while Mumbai lays claim to the super-luxe Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, far and away the finest property in the land, Delhi’s Ashok is a landmark in its own right; the first 5-star hotel in India, it was ordered built by President Nehru in 1956, just in time to host the United Nation’s first summit in India.
Although at times chaotic and frustrating, India is an excellent incentive destination – an enchanted land where ancient customs endure and natural wonders abound, among them the country’s 30 UNESCO World Heritage sites. A vast and varied landscape offers everything from hiking in the Himalayas to riding elephants in Rajasthan to touring the labyrinthine alleyways of “Old Delhi” in a speeding rickshaw. Plenty of world-class restaurants cater to every taste, and shopping – whether in the centuries-old pearl markets of Hyderabad or the luxury boutiques of Delhi’s dazzling Emporio Mall – is never hard to find.
Getting from place to place needn’t be a hassle, either. Climb aboard an Indian Railways luxury train and tour the country at a leisurely pace. Just last year, Indian Railways introduced its “Golden Chariot” service from Karnataka to Goa. The seven-day trip through southern India features plush accommodations, spa treatments and gourmet meals. It’s also the first WiFi-enabled train in the country.
Year-round, India’s calendar is packed with events to lure visitors. Each July, New Delhi stages the International Mango Festival, where more than 500 varieties of the luscious “royal fruit” are on display. The Delhi Kite Flying Festival takes to the air every January; the Mumbai Film Festival takes place in November; and every October Indians nationwide celebrate Diwali, “the Festival of Lights,” a colorful five-day affair with flowers, fireworks and plenty of candles. In 2010, Delhi will be the venue for the 19th Commonwealth Games.
Andrha Pradesh – or “the A.P.” – is the country’s fourth-largest state by area. Long before it was known for producing software, it was known for producing rice and was called the “Rice Bowl of India.” Now, just five years after the building of the Hyderabad International Conference Center, the A.P. has a new name: the “Convention Capital of India.” From rice to M.I.C.E. Such is the story of India’s ascent.
BOMBAY EXHIBITION CENTER
The largest private-sector exhibition center in India, its 400,000 square feet are divided among four exhibition halls, several seminar rooms, a lounge and a 250,000-square-foot convention center. Located in the Mumbai satellite city Gurgaon, the BEC is 20 minutes from downtown Mumbai and 10 minutes from Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM). Western Express Highway, Guragaon, tel 91 22 6645 0123, www.nesco.in/bec.html
HYDERABAD INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION CENTRE
Managed by Accor, the world’s largest operator of hospitality business, the HICC is India’s biggest and best and the first of its kind in South Asia. The 291,000-square-foot complex features a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure, soundproof mobile operable walls, 40-foot ceilings, a built-in 18-foot by 16-foot projection screen and all variety of meeting rooms, auditoriums and conference halls. Po Bag 1101, Hyderabad, tel 91 40 6682 4422, www.hicc.com
INDIA HABITAT CENTRE
This 1 million-square-foot complex, spread over nine urban acres, bills itself the country’s “most comprehensive convention centre.” With its heart-of Delhi digs, the IHC allows planners easy access to the city while providing a range of intimate meeting spaces, a 424-seat auditorium and seven gorgeously landscaped outdoor spaces. Lodhi Road, New Delhi, tel 91 11 4366 3333, www.habitatworld.com
RENAISSANCE MUMBAI HOTEL & CONVENTION CENTER
Located on the banks of Mumbai’s Powai Lake and within a half-hour of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM), the Renaissance features Mumbai’s largest and most flexible space – a 13,000-square-foot grand ballroom with a seating capacity of 2,500. 2 & 3B, Near Chinmayanand Ashram, Powai, Mumbai, tel 91 22 6692 7777,
THE ASHOK NEW DELHI
Set on 25 verdant acres in the hushed Diplomatic Enclave, the country’s first 5-star hotel, built in 1956, embodies the nationalist fervor of a post-independence India. The Ashok’s 550 guestrooms are spacious, if a bit shabby, but at more than 16,400 square feet its main convention hall is one of Delhi’s largest. Diplomatic Enclave, 50-B Chanakayapuri, New Delhi, tel 91 11 2611 0101 www.theashok.com
Connected to the Hyderabad International Conference Center (HICC), this 288-room, 4-star property features spacious rooms with contemporary decor, WiFi access and several dining options (including Mexican). It also supplements the center with three banquet halls of its own and pool-side lawns for luncheons. Po Bag 1101, Hyderabad, tel 91 40 6682 4422, www.novotelhyderabad.com
THE TAJ MAHAL PALACE & TOWER
The 104-year-old Taj is Mumbai’s most famous landmark and finest hotel. Last year’s attack will never be forgotten, but the heroic staff has carried on. In addition to 565 guestrooms, the award-winning Zodiac Grill and the dreamlike Jiva Spa, the Taj offers elegant meeting space for as few as 25 and as many as 600. Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, tel 91 22 6665 3366 www.tajhotels.com
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