Manchester: Beginning of May, on a sunny yet chilly day with freezing breeze, the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, home of Lancashire Cricket Club, seems more than peaceful.
Not a sound anywhere, except a few Indian tourists, most probably cricket fans, here and there, who managed to visit the place barely six weeks before the most awaited match in the World Cup 2019 takes place on June 16 when arch rivals India and Pakistan face off at the Old Trafford. Manchester is amongst the six English cities that will receive internationals teams for the showpiece event as well as thousands of fans from around the world.
"It is definitely going to be huge. Last year when India played against England in a T20 match here, it was a gorgeous sunny day and the crowd was predominantly Indian. The stadium was painted with Indian colours and the Bharat Army was very noisy. It was a great game of cricket and India was far too good and the atmosphere was amazing and it's going to be even louder for the India-Pakistan Game," said Dan Whitehead, Corporate Sales and Business Development Manager at Cricket Lancashire.
According to Cricket Lancashire, 70 per cent of the enquiries for the India-Pakistan match have come from India and the tickets were sold-out within 48 hours. "Because of the huge demand, we created more packages and at this very moment, we have only 200 packages left for those who would like to still make it for the big game," said Whitehead.
Besides the India-Pakistan Match, Manchester will also host the India-West Indies match. For nearly a year, the city has been preparing to receive the Indian fans for the big event. They hope that though they may be here for the game, they would take the opportunity to explore not just Manchester city but also the surrounding areas.
"For the India-Pakistan game, there will be a special fan zone in the city. It's actually an area dedicated to cricket fans and has been organised by ICC. It will move from one city to another and during the weekend of June 16, it will be in Manchester. We will have big screens to watch the India-Pakistan game and other matches. We have also created a special website for visit Manchester, that's a guide to what Indian visitors will particularly want to see around. It also gives information about where to get Indian or vegetarian food," said Tim Manley, Marketing Manager in-charge of India at Marketing Manchester.
The World Cup in the UK will indeed have an enormous impact on travel budgets as well as advertising budgets; and is slated bag the lion's share of outbound travel from India this summer, added Amit Kishore, co-founder of Eastbound Group, one of India's leading travel conglomerates.
"Sports tourism from India has been growing as the Indian fans of football, Formula 1 car races and other sports have started making the trips to watch these events around the world. But, for cricket, the demand is of course the biggest. According to the International Cricket Council (ICC), there were over 400,000 enquiries for the tickets for the June 16 India-Pakistan match. And, of course, yes, I am going to be there as well, cheering on," Kishore added.
VisitUK India expects anywhere between 50,000 to 80,000 additional visitors to come during the world cup, and this forecast is particularly boosted by the MICE segment that is one of the fastest growing one from India to the UK.
"About six to eight months back, a lot of incentives schemes had been developed by corporates in India. The total number of people who are coming as part of an incentive group is close to 10,000. Also, an average MICE visitor from India spends an average of GBP 1800 per visit versus a leisure visitor that spends GBP 900 per visit," said Shuja Bin Mehdi, B2B manager India at VisitUK.
Even if the demand was huge, amongst the difficulties faced by travel agencies was the limited capacity of both the stadium and airlines. "As compared to the last cricket world cup held in Australia, we have less people travelling to the UK, not because there is lesser demand. On the contrary it is very strong. But the tickets have been sold out very quickly only because the stadiums here have lesser capacity than in Australia. Also, obtaining the British visa is more difficult. But nonetheless, we are seeing a huge demand from India for sports tourism in general, not only for cricket but also for football in Europe," said Vicky Gupta, Deputy General Manager at FCM Mice India.
Troubled airline Jet Airways also recently stopped the only direct flight to Manchester from Mumbai, but according to the travel trade, it had no particular impact on travel to the cricket world cup. "There are other ways to get to Manchester, notably with Emirates, Oman, Gulf, Swiss Air, Finnair, Ethiopian etc. Moving ahead I am sure that all the big airlines in India are talking to Manchester about launching a new direct route between India and Manchester and we are sure that it will happen sometimes this year or next year," adds Mehdi.
And even if many won't be amongst the lucky 26,000 who will get a seat at the stadium for the India-Pakistan match, many will certainly come to the city to watch the game from as close as possible to the India team and feel the vibrancy of that night.
The night before the big match, a huge concert will notably be organised in the city by Bharat Army with noted Punjabi singer Guru Randhawa. It seems Manchester will shift from its vibrant red to a wave of blue in the month of June.