A first of its kind initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was recently put into the tourism spotlight at the recently concluded SATTE 2023. The event offered the regional body to feature in one of the Panel discussions to explore tourism opportunities within the region as well as for its source market potential. SCO represents 40 per cent of the world population as well as more than 30 per cent of the world GDP.
Speakers on the panel included Julia Kuzenskaya, Deputy Chair of Committee of Tourism Development of St. Petersburg; Rajiv Mehra, President, IATO; Robert Oblogogiani, Executive Vice President CIS & South Asia, AviaReps; Chalaka Gajabahu, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau; Tejbir Singh Anand, Senior Vice President, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) and Ashish Gupta, Consulting CEO, FAITH. The session was moderated by senior journalist Reema Lokesh.
Speaking on the occasion, Kuzenskaya noted, “Considering the close and friendly relationship between our countries, the SCO tourism market is a top priority for St. Petersburg as more than 50 per cent of tourist flow to St. Petersburg is coming from SCO countries. St. Petersburg and its Committee for Tourism Development continuously cooperate with their counterparts in SCO countries,” while further adding that “I think the only way to facilitate cross countries tourism flow is to have more of such events where we can meet and exchange our ideas.”
Sri Lanka’s Gajabahu pointed that countries within SCO, like India, China, Russia, are some of Sri Lanka’s top tourism source markets and are key to economic revival of his country and boosting foreign exchange revenue. “It is very important that tourism plays a key role in economic recovery. We need support through this partnership, through SCO and countries like India, Russia, China, and Europe as well,” Gajabahu stressed.
“India is our next-door big brother. We have a long-shared history going back thousands of years. We have a very close relationship with India. Traditionally India has been our number one market followed by other European countries like the UK, France and Germany. Now Russia is the number one country for Sri Lanka in terms of arrivals. In terms of arrivals to Sri Lanka, Russia has been number one for three months followed by India, the UK, France and Germany. These are our traditional markets, but Russia is a new big gun for us,” he said.
Gupta stressed the need to put forth the right structure in order to leverage the vast potential the intergovernmental organisation provides. He said, “It is very important to have the right structure and strategy to enable all this.” For this, he proposed a 7A modal (Audit, Aim, Awareness, Alliance, Attract, Action and Awarding) exhorting the stakeholders to strategies and move forward in a planned manner least the momentum is lost. “All plans and all ideas are good, but, nothing will happen if they are not backed by solid actions,” he noted.
According to Mehra, “At IATO we have been trying to have a connection with SCO. There is a lot of scope for collaboration among these countries for the promotion of tourism. We should try and promote them for summer months for Indian outbound traffic too.” At the same time, he pointed that the tourist traffic from SCO countries to India is very low except for Russia. “We need to increase that. It could be increased with the help of these kinds of forums. We can promote mutual tourism. I am quite hopeful that holding SCO mart in India and other SCO countries will definitely help in fulfilling these dreams,” he added.
Anand noted that what can be a better for tourism than to promote regional development and cooperation. “What I think of cooperation among SCO countries in the areas of tourism and the way forward is that we should not consider tourism among SCO countries only as the need of the hour but in fact, it should be something we all be doing without even realizing it. SCO region should be marketed to promote our natural heritage and tourism assets. There is no choice, we need to do that.”
“I wonder why not SCO countries have a joint marketing initiative so that travellers from across the globe and from within SCO countries travel to destinations inside the SCO region. Why we can’t have a joint marketing strategy,” Anand further noted.
Talking about putting destination India in the tourism spotlight, Oblogogiani said, “India is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of geography, population, religions, languages and so on. The question is if India is ready for the post-pandemic environment to develop its tourism. The question is if India Tourism is ready with its tourism strategy, whether it is working closely with stakeholders and ready to move forward in a smart way. I am asking this because many organisations today are facing one common challenge: that is how to budget; how to plan the future.”