The travel and tourism industry has witnessed a roller-coaster in 2021. The year witnessed revival in the initial few months with domestic tourism being the driver, but the summers turned into a nightmare for the industry as India witnessing one of the biggest spikes in terms of Covid-19 numbers. In the latter half of the year, with a speedy vaccination drive, once again the tourism industry started picking up. Despite the ever-changing scenario, Travel Associations have stood besides their members and industry through thick and thin. The Industry is hoping for a healthy recovery in 2022, despite being cautious about the new variant, ‘Omicron’, which can play a spoilsport.
Speaking about the focus of the Association thought the pandemic and in 2022, Jyoti Mayal, President, Travel Agents Association of India, said, “Integration of travel trade is and will be our focus. We need to connect the dots, involve the fraternity, and work upon developing sustainable strategies and policies which can help the trade survive and thrive. The travel trade has been through a paradigm shift during and post-pandemic, and all of us have realized that more connected trade is, the feasibility of survival and revival is higher. We shall follow the practices and principles of TAAI and keep the doors open for communication and jointly work on the most innovative solutions to the issues and challenges.”
The new variant has yet not impacted the tourism unlike its previous mutations.
Sharing his views about the current scenario, Ajay Prakash, President, Travel Agents Federation of India, said, “Just when we thought we were coming out of the woods the Omicron variant has put a huge question mark on travel & tourism. It's a sign of the times that some countries have swiftly sealed borders and tightened procedures even for domestic travel. Domestic tourism is the only thing that will help the industry to survive in the short term.”
There has been talks of the third wave striking across the globe. Associations are optimistic about travel but are geared up to support the Government in case of any restrictions. PP Khanna, President, Association of Domestic Tour Operators in India, said, “We as such look forward to a better tourism year for 2022 as travel has begun and gaining momentum, be it pilgrim, leisure, business, social etc. It all depends on Govt.’s stand as in the event of a 3rd wave happening it is for the Govt. to decide how to handle the situation like imposing restriction on the movements and we all have to strictly follow the dictum. Let us be optimistic for the time being and do everything possible to promote tourism be it domestic or international.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Associations have represented the industry from the forefront for survival and relief packages. Majority of the demands have been unheard of by the Government.
Biji Eapen, National President, IATA Agents Association of India, said, “The pandemic had hit the travel and tourism agents’ community very hard. Since it is an 'unorganized sector", neither the local nor central governments extend any support, except some MSME. Tourism receipts worldwide are not expected to recover to 2019 levels until 2024. Restoring confidence for people to begin travelling is the primary task for the Government and related organisations. We need travel recovery and start from the grass route level, villages, cities, and the metros. With local confidence, slowly promote domestic tourism. The new launch of the tourism ministry "Dekho Apna Desh" is an excellent initiative to revive domestic tourism. But, unless MOCA reverses the recent hike in domestic airfares or regulates the pricing policy as pandemic restrictions are lifted, and industry returns to normalcy, aviation and tourism will not sustain.”
Echoing similar opinion Mayal, added, “Most unfortunately, travel trade or tourism per se is not a part of the concurrent list of the Indian constitution, and therefore we were not able to avail many benefits. Our tourism policies since many years have not been very conducive or has the sector been educated on the same. We are very disappointed that though our sector has suffered the maximum & are the generators of huge taxes & employment, we have not got any moratorium or support from the government. We will continue to follow up with the highest echelons in the government and are hoping to receive a solution soon both on moratoriums, ease & application of business policies.”
Another major challenge which the travel trade fraternity has been voicing since years, has been bringing the overseas OTAs at level playing field with tour operators.
Prakash, added, “Unfortunately, governmental support has been far less than what was expected or anticipated, and the industry has been largely left to fend for itself. The spectre of airline failure and consumers' monies being stuck for months is a recurring nightmare. We have made a fresh representation to the government asking for a mandatory insurance scheme to cover airline failure. Simultaneously, we have raised the issue of TCS which places brick & mortar agents at a significant disadvantage vis-a-vis overseas OTAs, depriving the government of revenue and making our members' pricing uncompetitive.”
Member retention was one of the biggest challenges faced by the associations as majority of the members were either out of business for months or had exited the industry.
Khanna said, “It was a very difficult period for our members with no business practically for one year and now business started trickling, all the more they have financial stress. To alleviate their suffering ADTOI decided to charge only 50 per cent of the yearly subscription fee for both years 2020-21 & 2021-22, practically waiving of one year subscription fee. Members have supported this and are with us in these difficult times. Also, to encourage new membership we had slashed membership fee by 50% and number of new agencies have enrolled as our members during these two years.”
Protecting the consumers has become one of the major focus for most of the associations today. During the pandemic, the role of tour operators has further become important.
Eapen, said, “We have not restarted functions yet correctly. Once restarted, we shall extend the unique services of our IAAI Air Passenger Rights Forum to passengers and Travel Agents in India and encourage IAAI Member Agents to transform and qualify themself as trusted and dependable Travel Service providers. We believe that our duty and obligation is to help the travelling public. We want our members to be reliably qualitative and professional. And ensure that the Consumer Rights are being taken care of and protected under the provision of international conventions and Air passenger Charter Act 2019 of India IAAI is in the forefront to help Agents & Travelers. Today, the existence of ordinary travel agents are in question - as zero commission prevails, charging a "service fee" over and above ticketed fare is not even accepted or admired by the much-travelling public. Means, 'commission" is the livelihood for the ordinary travel agents. “