India is a giant on the move. At long last, there is an energy and a self-confidence about the country that seemed to be lacking in years gone by.
However, India is now pushing forward, eager to catch up with its East Asian counterparts in seriously developing its meetings and incentives capacity.
There is no better sign of this new determination than the Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC), India’s first truly world-class, purpose-built events venue.
It might seem odd that it is Hyderabad, rather than, say, the business centre of Mumbai or the capital Delhi, that is first to step out on the world stage. Yet this is also a reflection of the new India, a country developing into a major global IT hub.
Hyderabad is the state capital of Andhra Pradesh. Local-bred ingenuity and skills are meeting up with substantial inward international investment from the likes of Microsoft and IBM.
And Hyderabad’s development is continuing. A new Expo City is being built that will be the biggest in India. At 11,000sqm, the exhibition centre will have the capacity to fit 115 Taj Mahals inside it.
A new international airport is under construction which will have Asia’s longest runway, capable of handling the new generation of A380s. Due to open next year, the airport will have the capacity to handle 20 million passengers a year – a measure of the city’s long-term ambition.
Three thousand more hotel rooms are scheduled to boost capacity that is at bursting point. The road system has been overhauled as the city upgrades its infrastructure to meet 21st century requirements and a 22km six-lane motorway, connecting the new airport, the HICC and the IT development area of Hitech City, is being built.
But Hyderabad is also a city steeped in centuries of culture, an environment of palaces, tombs, forts, mosques and bazaars, reflecting the rich Islamic heritage of an Indo-Persian trading centre that earned the name Pearl City as much for its beauty as for its fame as a centre for gems and jewellery.
The city’s iconic landmark is the Charminar, a quadruple minareted archway on a junction teeming with bikes, cars, lorries and buses, everything from Harley-Davidsons to handcarts. The Qutb Shahi tomb complex is another must-see, as is the Golcanda Fort that overlooks the city on the plains below. The only difficulty meeting planners will have is ensuring the delegates stay in the conference hall, with so much to see in the HICC’s surroundings.
Centre general manager, Philip Logan, who previously managed the Sydney Convention Centre, says many colleagues initially questioned his sanity for making the move to India.
“At the time, two and half years ago, people generally felt sorry for me or thought I was crazy. Now those same businesspeople think I was an early adopter and maybe not so stupid after all. I feel really privileged and excited about India for business, social and cultural reasons. To answer the question ‘What’s it like?’ my answer these days is a rhetorical response, ‘What is Europe like?’
“India has 100 languages and 400 dialects, 1.2 billion people living in 30 states and no two states are alike. Try comparing the UK to Slovakia. India is more diverse than Europe so you cannot make generalisations without becoming meaningless.
“As for business opportunities, Mumbai has 20 million people, there are 80 cities with a population of over three million.”
Logan recognises that he must sell the destination as well as the centre. Many conference organisers and meeting planners are unfamiliar with the city.
“The challenge for HICC remains the same, many people have heard of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, maybe Bangalore but not Hyderabad. I used to say Hyder-where? Now I am pleased to live in the state capital of Andhra Pradesh, a city with three million people in the Central Business District, a total population of seven million in a state of 66 million.
“It is a clean, modern city with great shopping, fabulous jewellery, fantastic food and an amazing sense of history. It has incredible boulder landscapes and lakes. It is only just emerging in India and is nationally known for its ‘can-do’ attitude with a laid-back Hyderabadi lifestyle. It’s probably more like Catalonia than it is to other parts of India. Hyderabad is ‘India lite’.
“India has widespread use of the English language, an educated population, democracy and 500 million people under 25-years-old. The future is even more golden than its past.
“Hyderabad is a 400-year-old city, while Cyberabad, where HICC is located, is just five years old. The two sit side by side and co-exist to show the face of incredible new age India.
Logan acknowledges that the centre’s software is as important as its hardware.
“Our real success here has been to see an international service philosophy and standard be embraced by staff who, before January 2006, had never been exposed to it. Just today, I had a guest who told me just how blown away he was with the high quality of service,” Logan says.
“In Sanskrit, there is a phrase of welcome, ‘You are my God’. This is the way these people treat you and the way everyone should be treated. We just gave an international flavour to tone back the servility and replaced it with discreet humility. It’s a wonderful blend.”
The main pillar-free hall measures 6,480 sqm and can hold 6,000 for plenary sessions. The main hall is also sub-dividable into six smaller halls. Other amenities include 2,600sqm of pre-function space and 32 breakout rooms.
Flight times to Hyderabad from:
London 9 hours
Singapore 4 hours
Dubai 4 hours
Bangkok 4 hours
Delhi 2 hours
Mumbai 1 hour 15 minutes
The best season is between October-February. June to November are monsoon months and are loaded with rains but also accompanied by lovely weather. The temperature is 42 degrees during the summers and around 12 degrees in winter.
Selected Events and delegate numbers
Domestic 2007 National Ophthalmology – 5,000
Indian Association Software & Service Providers Conference – 2,000
National Cardiologist Society of India – 7,000
World Population Council, UN
Meeting 2007 – 1,500
World Astronautical Congress 2007 – 2,500
HUGO 2008 – World Human Genome Conference – 2,000
PATA Travel Mart 2008 – 2,500