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IATO has become a Think Tank for Indian tourism

Subhash Goyal. President, IATO speaks with T3 about their expectations from the 30th Annual Convention

How would you describe your journey so far in the travel and tourism industry and what are your key achievements?

My journey in travel and tourism industry has been very satisfying. The beginning was very disturbing owing to the global economic slowdown, terror threats, natural calamities, negative publicity in global media because of reports about safety of tourists in India (special single women tourists/ women tourists), lack of civic governance, high tax structure in India for tourism sector, no priority to tourism in the central and state budget, lack of trained man power, high hotel rates and high air tickets cost etc. But with sincere efforts, we could make a big difference in all these areas. There is a serious thinking to revive the tourism industry and even the Planning Commission has given priority to tourism by recommending higher outlay for tourism sector to improve infrastructure and Skill Development Programmes, global marketing and boosting domestic tourism based on IATO recommendations.

IATO has become Think Tank for Indian tourism. It is due to our efforts it is expected that India will be one of the most sought after destinations.

The team spirit visible in IATO activities and our success in all areas we have ventured into, be it on Service Tax issues, Visa issues, infrastructure development, global marketing, diversification of Indian tourism products and Human Resource development for IATO membership, inter-state relations or IATO Conventions, a stamp of connection to outperform and aim for success is the main glory where in I played a pivotal role.

What is your opinion about the changing trends in the Indian travel and tourism industry?

Inbound tourism i.e. to have larger volume of international tourists is our main objective and thereby put India on the international tourist map.  Increased international tourist arrivals, as seen now, is quite positive. Till July end, tourist arrivals reached 41.15 lakhs with a growth of 6.2 per cent as compared to the FTAs of 38.74 lakhs over the corresponding period of 2013. In July itself the arrivals showed 12.9 per cent positive growth. It is hoped that this positive trend will continue in the coming months.

But we need to be ready for it to happen. We need to provide more hotels, more airlines to service India, more international airports and more developed highways. Infrastructure should be geared up. Along with infrastructure, introduction of liberal visa policies needs to be introduced which can guarantee easy entry to India. Visa on arrival (of course on payment of the prescribed fee) will be a big boost for increase in inbound tourism segment. Good air-connectivity, not only from major traffic generating markets but with in the country to visit various tourist sites, coupled with good fleets of surface transport services, trained manpower, evening entertainments, shopping malls would be needed to sustain the inbound growth.

Infrastructure development cannot be the responsibility of the Government alone. This will need a liberal thinking in tourism development approach. A tourism approach supporting the private sector and foreign investments in infrastructure projects with tax incentives have to be adopted. For tourism development, the Government, both in the Centre and states, have already initiated the right steps. The states active in tourism related activities have made allocations of conveniently located lands in order to set up tourist facilities such as accommodation, convention centres, amusement parks, shopping malls, entertainment centres, travel shops, human resource development centres etc.  Thus many of the state governments and government agencies are already involved in the areas where its participation is a must with attractive incentives. Kerala, Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan can be mentioned among those states.

Inbound tourism is seeing a big change in the tourist arrival segments. More business traffic will be towards India than usual leisure ones. India’s growing economic power status and investment opportunities, information technology and change in the life styles of Indians will bring good number of incentive holidayers to India. Many will come to India for attending conferences and conventions. Their demand will be different and we have to provide facilities to meet the requirements of these up-market clients. They will look for high quality accommodation, MICE facilities, transport, entertainment and security.
Another new trend visible in inbound sector relates to medical and wellness tourism. It is perceived that medical treatments which can be conducted on international standard with modern facilities and packaged on a very affordable price. Some would like to come for rejuvenating packages at relaxing surrounding of Kerala, Goa with Ayurvedic treatments etc. This is to be nearer to nature and get away from daily routine. India will have the cost advantage. India is now in a position to face competitions from neighbouring competitors.  The new areas that have emerged with medical tourism also Spa culture, BPO’s (in diagnostic Health Care) health recuperation (post include) operation holiday packages etc. Many States have packaged medical care with a host of other services like meet and assist at the airport, escort service, transfers, stay in a hotel, assistance for medical treatment, recuperation holiday at comfortable resorts, return transfers, medicine stock etc. Globalisation has its effect in the health sector too with the emergence of a private sector that thrives by servicing this segment specially – Middle East and South Asian countries.

This new trend of health tourism it is not restricted to any season. Often clients will think to come to India where they combine as holiday along with medical treatment.  There are often repeat visits for checkups and many additional tourists could be derived through positive references. Hotels can fight off the seasonability factor by offering rooms at a special rate for accompanying members. Here pricing strategies need to be controlled by balancing cost versus services.  For this segment, hotels may come up with basic amenities.  

Another new trend which is visible in inbound sector is Heritage tourism. Heritage hotels, world heritage sites in India and other manmade and natural heritage sites, Heritage Rail Journeys, wildlife parks, Heritage houses in Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan – with its unique experience. Heritage tourism will also be linked with eco-tourism as many of the heritage hotels are located in deep natural surroundings in mountains, forests and interior green spots.  This may also provide rural tourism experience with ethnic flavours. Spiritual tourism will be an important segment to boost inbound tourism.  Many will come for pilgrimage or followers of new age gurus like Satya Sai Baba, Osho’s Ashram; mostly a chunk of NRIs will be coming for this purpose. This can be a USP for India.
Sports tourism with adventure tourism activities in mountains, water front areas, beach areas and aerial sports including hang gliding, or deep seas sports scuba diving or skiing in snow clad mountains and golfing holidays are showing a positive trend to attract good number of young tourists to India.  
But improving infrastructure and information dissemination to make these destinations attractive for foreigners will be most essential prior to doing aggressive promotions.  Golfing holidays will need up-market facilities and it can become high yield one for India.

What prompted you to select Delhi as the venue for IATO’s 30th Convention?

We have chosen Delhi as Convection venue because what could be better city to celebrate the start of a new life for our nation in its national governance and for the opportunities it brings to our industry. Also we expect lager participation of Government decision makers and many new members who may find to travel long distance as cost prohibitive at the time when business is down.  We can get better speakers for our business sessions and also sponsorship from industry.  

The theme of this year’s convention is completely in sync with the government’s tourism policy. What is the message you would like to drive home through it?

This year’s theme of the Convention is very appropriate and timely. The theme reads “New Beginnings | Fresh Ideas | Vibrant Future”.
Public Private Partnerships are becoming increasingly important in tourism infrastructure development opportunities and these will explored in course of the business sessions and inputs from the experts who have been invited from India and abroad.

This partnership is also visible in research partnership, investigating tourism as a social-ecological system, civic governance and tourism in the face of uncertainties created by global warming and peak oil pricings etc.

While new innovations can be defined in a multiplicity of ways new products, process, new material, new forms of organisation carrying capacity use of technology creating centers of excellence that treat and disseminate new operational research based knowledge, and focus on incremental raise of quality and staff including niche innovations and revolutionary innovations that can really impact positively for tourism and its sustainability.

What are your expectations from this year’s Convention?

In our Convention, we always try to give a new look with variety. This time it is focusing on business sessions which will be more participative rather than speaker’s addressing the members. Question-Answer sessions will have more time for active interactions. Even for good listeners, the raffle after each session can help to win good prizes.

The Auction wall, Tourism Run, Post Convention tours, culinary experience and many other things which may give an unique opportunity to enjoy.

We are expecting over 1200 to 1500 participants as we are receiving good response. We expect more participants from the Delhi/NCR where the enthusiasm to be present in IATO Convention is more. This will mean the delegate numbers may cross our expectations.

What have your major achievements been in your current term as President of IATO?

The biggest achievement of IATO has been the mention of the Indian Tour Operator in the Budget Speech of Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister and also Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India mentioned about the economic impact of Tourism in the country.  

Furthermore, IATO now stands as the main platform for tourism business and share and deliberate on all burning issues with all stake holders. Cleanliness was in our priority list and we also took over the running of clean toilets for tourists in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. IATO also had series of meetings with Civil Aviation, DIAL to streamline Members entry pass at the airports and Parking problems for tourist vehicles and tourists welcome and assistance booth at the international airport.

Similarly with Ministry of Home Affairs and External Affairs, various complicated issues related to visa which cropped up with the introduction of 60 days gap between the last visit and next visit got withdrawn which was a big moral boost for tour operators. Even the visa application forms which had various complicated information points (which had no links for visa issuance and proved to be harassment) the same was revisited and revised and now appears to be acceptable.

What are the challenges the industry is currently still facing and how are you going to tackle those challenges?

Primary Challenges have remained same and inter-allia include Visa facilitation; Accommodation at reasonable prices; Safety standards; Cleanliness; Highway facilities; Well trained language speaking guides; Tax Rationalization in all respects related to tourism; no priority to Tourism Sector; Lack of trained manpower; railway stations and airports; Lack of entertainment facilities; lack of tourist literature in foreign languages; lack of land bank for infrastructure; ASI Monuments upkeep and maintenance; Road Tax rationalisation; Lack of proper coordination among government Ministries; Incentives to tour operators; and a Negative image of India in global markets.

These are the ones which are major challenges and keep our tourism figure stagnated at approximately seven million plus for the last three years. There are many more such bottleneck areas where we need to take action on top priority, such as cheating, fraud and foreign exchange, among others.

The Association is seized with these issues and regularly doing the necessary follow-ups with the concerned agencies/government Ministries. Our efforts are continuous and we are confident we will achieve success as new government in the center is also putting priority to tourism for National development plan.

Is there any message that you would like to give to travel trade fraternity?

The tourism business trend is not conducive with the present economic scene, growing competitions globally, heavy taxation on tourism sector (in India) and global trend toward terrorist risings. We need to stand together as ‘Industry’ and put up a combined front and raise the voice so that our united voice can reach the decision makers and we can get some relief. Let IATO convention be the right platform to strategies our plan for Moving Forward.

United we stand and Divided we fall; no time to waste let us begin our fight for tourism cause earnestly and with full sincerity. Only then tourism can bring back sound economic prosperity for the country, bring investment, bring national unity, generate employment, National positive image (with its unique Heritage) and bring the foreign exchange which country needs now without depleting our resources as tourism protects 95 per cent of the US$ earned (as everything is indigenously produced and retention value much more than any other exports industry textile where out flows over 80 per cent).

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