1. Genesis of the Project
Palace on wheels concept was defined as - a hotel on wheels which is mobile in the night and is made stationary at a tourism centre in the day time so that the tourists can move around the tourism centre. The activities of traveling and staying could be merged. It was noted that Rajasthan offered vast tourism potential as the state was dotted with forts, rich heritage and scenic spots. So the package was decided to launch in Rajasthan.
2. Setting Up the Project
The old coaches belonging to Maharajas and Viceroys were reinforced and refurbished. The work was carried out at Railway Coach Works at Ajmer. The interior designs were retained to provide the original ambiance of the heritage. Modern gadgets like geysers in toilets and beds with modern foam cushions were installed for the comfort of tourists. RTDC was involved in the project. RTDC looked after reservation, promotion, housekeeping, catering on board, sight seeing etc whereas railways would be responsible for the operation of the train and maintenance. After some trial runs, the itinerary was fixed as 8 days/ 7 nights.
The main objectives of the project was
- To promote tourism
- To conserve and maintain century old heritage of royal coaches
- To attract tourism to India with a unique tourism product which would become the talk of international tourism circles
- To earn foreign exchange
3. Project Performance
Even though the project made profit in the initial years, it made incurring losses in the following years.
The train runs on a steam engine and on metre gauge track. The space in the train is extremely limited and it lacked 5 star facilities. There are bars, library and restaurants inside the train. The train operates for 6 months from October-March. It does 26 trips of 8 days and 7 nights, each leaving Delhi every Wednesday and returning a week later. Destinations covered are Jaipur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Fatehpur Sikri and Agra. The day hours are spent for sight seeing and visiting palace hotels for meals. At night when passengers are asleep, the train travels to the next destination.
In the first few seasons, promotions were confined to UK market. Kaul Prever Harle & Simore of London were hired to do the initial promotion. There was an advertising campaign in the form of 9 insertions in the leading daily and Sunday national newspapers. The objective was to inform the British public of the design of the package. Government of India tourist office at London was stocked with brochures to distribute to enquirers. Famous UK journalists were invited to travel on Palace On Wheels. So that they would write travelogues on their newspapers. 30 sets of general press releases and 24 blowups were organised for display. A full time palace on wheels information service was established in London. Gradually it was promoted in more countries. A lot of publicity is carried out in the print media either through paid advertisements or in the form of write ups done by travel writers.