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‘Tourism should be included at the highest levels in Government’

Martin J Craigs, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), talks about the current status of the tourism industry as well as various initiatives taken by PATA to further boost its image

One of the agenda you had set for yourself when you took over as CEO of PATA was to increase the reach of PATA and its initiatives. You also wanted to bring some structural and functional change at PATA. How far have you succeeded so far?

It’s a work in progress. It always will be. Having said that, PATA’s reach and profile is now global. We are a founding partner of the Global Travel Coalition. Together we made a made a declaration of interdependence. We formally launched the Global Travel Coalition. Other members include the Airports Council International (ACI), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), World Travel Organization (UNWTO), United States Travel Association (USTA), World Economic Forum(WEF), and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). PATA has reach and is respected as a travel industry body that is brave enough to speak out.

PATA has started working to promote the concept of the ‘Complete Visitor Economy’ throughout its membership and across the wider industry. What exactly you want to achieve by foccussing on 'Visitor Economy'?

PATA will push this Next Gen trend and frequently give insightful analysis of the overall impact of the Visitor Economy. This is designed to sharpen industry colleagues, regulators and politicians thinking on the importance of travel and tourisms’ many interconnections as a job creation and poverty alleviating industry.

Sadly, tourism, at present is still seen by certain western politicians as a frivolous, peripheral industry with diffuse stakeholders who don't stand up for their rights or get respect for their economic achievements. Well, that has to change. No more Mr Nice Guy. PATA and its partners will be stressing the benefits of the Visitor Economy as a formidable force that every government should nurture, not least by restricting taxation especially "self harming” taxes such as the UK’s Air Passenger Duty.

“Embracing the Complete Visitor Economy” is the theme of our upcoming PATA Annual Summit scheduled to take place on April 26, 2013 at Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand. The high powered summit will feature some of our industry’s most acclaimed thought leaders. Our speakers will share their vision on how we can join together and create recognition for all aspects of our highly interdependent travel, tourism and trade sectors. Because folks, as you know, the complete visitor economy is inbound, outbound, domestic, rural, urban, public and private. Its benign direct and indirect impacts need to be acknowledged and given credit. That political objective unites the Global Travel Coalition, of which PATA is a founding partner.

PATA agenda is to make sure that travel and tourism – aka the complete visitor economy - gets its fair share of investment and is included at the highest levels in government.

For the most part, government ministers in Asia have seen the light. They are generally pro-tourism. Many governments in developed western economies have a lazy, exploitative approach to tourism. They see it as an easy tax option. They see the travel industry as divided and unwilling or unable to fight its corner. They are wrong.

How has been the response on 'Next Gen' initiative from the member countries and especially in India?

MJC: PATA Next generation mindset and momentum is growing. We are fast evolving in a rapidly changing and highly interdependent travel, tourism and trade sector. When it comes to global tourism, Asia (and its key emerging source markets such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam), will play an ever more important role, as will niches such as culinary, luxury, wellbeing, medical, adventure, cruise, women only and other travel segments. We received great support in the form of signing up new members and partners such as PhoCusWright, Travel Channel International and TripAdvisor. PATA's membership of the newly formed Global Travel Coalition that includes Airports Council International (ACI), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), World Travel Organisation (UNWTO), United States Travel Association (USTA), World Economic Forum (WEF), and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) will continue to build members' business, strengthen our aligned advocacy, access and influence.

PATA and WTTC recently reaffirmed aligned ‘Advocacy Agenda’. What is the main of this agenda?

On the aligned advocacy and research front, PATA will push this Next Gen trend and frequently give insightful analysis of the overall impact of the Visitor Economy. This is designed to sharpen industry colleagues, regulators and politicians thinking on the importance of travel and tourisms’ many interconnections as a job creation and poverty alleviating industry.

Sadly, tourism, at present is still seen by certain western politicians as a frivolous, peripheral industry with diffuse stakeholders who don't stand up for their rights or get respect for their economic achievements. Well, that has to change. No more Mr Nice Guy. PATA and its partners will be stressing the benefits of the Visitor Economy as a formidable force that every government should nurture, not least by restricting taxation especially "self harming” taxes such as the UK’s Air Passenger Duty.

In 2012, PATA and industry colleagues including Asian governments were successful in derailing the illogical EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).UK APD is an ongoing multi billion dollar battle. We are committed to engage further on this with stalwarts such as UK MP Priti Patel.

How would you explain the current scenario of travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific region? What, according to you, needs to be done to further push the tourism growth?

For the travel industry, the first one is creating enough talented people to serve in the industry; skills training is the biggest challenge, not building the hardware. The second is environmental and cultural sustainability. Not every beach must have a resort built on it. Fully involving local communities is very much part of this picture. The industry must take the long view, the inclusive view. Third is the regulatory, tax and security environment. Some governments in the West tax travel unfairly as they see it as a soft target that doesn’t fight back. This has to change. Cumbersome security checks at airports are also a blight on the travel experience. There needs to be better pre-screening and approval to make the airport experience more user-friendly. We are working with out colleagues such as IATA and the World Travel and Tourism Council in the Global Travel Coalition to address these issues.

Do you see this state of the travel industry being fragmented as being the most challenging thing in today’s tourism industry?

It is a challenge, for sure. But we are becoming more united. The issues are increasingly the same for the travel industry on all continents – taxation, environment, human capacity development, sustainability.

Which countries among PATA members can be described as ‘emerging’ tourism destinations?

Central Asia, South Asia spring to mind. Also the Middle East. The potential is huge in all three.

What are your key objectives for 2013?

Welcome to the New PATAcademy. The new PATAcademy is PATA’s innovative and tangible embodiment of our commitment to Human Capital Development. Tourism, travel and trade seem likely to continue strong growth in Asia Pacific. The challenge is creating talented people to meet the industry’s needs. That’s why we are launching the PATAcademy in 2013. Its key features: it will be a six-day course in PATA HQ’s Engagement Hub; it will target middle management – the ‘rising stars’; it will have guest lecturers covering strategically linked subjects; there will be a combination of classroom coursework, case studies, field trips and webinars; sample subjects include strategic planning; human resources; consumer marketing, trade sales, digital commerce, research, finance, growth markets, tourism development; the courses will be in English; as a guideline, expect to pay about US$200 per day; the first one will take place in Q4 this year.

How aggressive PATA India chapter is in promoting PATA’s agenda?

We receive great support from PATA India Chapter and industry professionals. We want to do more with and for India. We’d like to hear from the industry in India, how PATA can help more.

How would you compare the growth of Indian and Chinese tourism markets?

After several years of strong double-digit growth rates, South Asia is now settling back somewhat, but still returning strong gains; 2012 for example saw growth of 6.6% and an increase of well over half-a-million additional international arrivals. Sri Lanka, with growth of almost 18% saw its foreign arrivals count pass the one million mark, while the Maldives fell just short of it. India remains the titan within South Asia however, with more than 6.6 million arrivals and a year-on-year gain of close to 340,000 additional foreign arrivals, some 59% of the total additional increase in the arrivals volume to the sub-region.

Even with the contraction in total international arrivals into China, Northeast Asia still maintained a growth rate of almost 4% for the year. It dominated the visitor increase count by receiving close to 8.5 million additional international arrivals year-on-year.
Japan turned in the strongest percentage growth with a gain of 35% for the year, a performance that saw the destination recoup the losses in visitor arrivals following the tsunami of 2011 and move once again into record arrivals territory. Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong SAR and Korea (ROK) also added to the sub-regional performance with growth increases of 20%, 16% and 14% respectively.

Anything more you would like to add about PATA…

We want the Indian market - members and non members – to attend the PATA Annual Summit in Bangkok. Called, Embracing the Complete Visitor Economy, the whole thrust of the event on April 26 is to prove to politicians, governments and policy makers that travel and tourism is your best asset to boost society’s social and economic development.

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