Mario Hardy, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) shares his perspective about the changes brought in at PATA to make it more relevant, functional and self reliant as well as on India
The Pacific Asia Travel Association, a 68 year old not-for profit association, has been acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of travel and tourism to, from and within the Asia Pacific region. Since Mario Hardy took charge of PATA, he has implemented a slew of new initiatives that turned around the association.
You are at the helm of PATA since last 7 years as COO and CEO. What major changes you introduced at PATA? How PATA today is different from PATA in 2011?
One of the most significant changes for PATA is that the Association is now financially stable after having struggled a few years ago. In order to achieve this goal, we have had to make some changes in the way we operate, diversify our sources of income, and added some additional young talented individuals to the PATA HQ team.
What all has been achieved at sustainable tourism front by PATA? How is India faring on sustainable tourism front?
I think the industry has a long way to go to achieve environmental sustainability and responsible tourism development. I can only judge India by comparing it to other destinations and it pains me to say that India is not faring too well in this area. Part of PATA’s mission is to encourage close public and private sector collaboration and when it comes to developing a sustainable and responsible tourism industry you cannot play the blame game; everyone has to work together to make a difference.
You had started Youth Engagement Program. This program is quite popular in China and few other member countries. Have you also launched this program in India? If yes, how is the response from the market?
Yes, we do have Young Tourism Professional (YTP) members in India. The winning team for the PATA BUFFET for Youth Challenge this year was a young group of YTP members from India representing the National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality Management. They were recognised for their initiative in addressing plate waste by measuring the amount of plate scrapings at the canteen on campus and highlighting the issues through an awareness raising campaign with creative posters, quizzes, and videos.
You have been advocating on tourism dispersion. Tourism in India is still limited to certain states and pockets. What is your suggestion for Indian stakeholders to take tourism on pan India level?
India is a vast country that is rich in culture and heritage with much to offer today’s traveller. However, there is still a need for greater investment and development of infrastructure. The relative size of the country and the immense population makes it difficult to develop sustainably across the country. My advice would be to start by identifying areas for tourism development and focus on making those attractive destinations. Start slowly and small, then gradually develop the capacity to welcome more tourists.
A lot of OTAs and travel technology companies have come in the picture in last 10-15 years. How do you see their role in promoting sustainable tourism?
OTAs have given greater exposure and easy access to tourism products that were not widely available or known before. They are one of the factors that have contributed to the phenomenal growth that our sector has seen, just as much as low cost carriers (LCCs). What they have also helped is improve trust for the traveller. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t go and check reviews of brands before buying these days. However, there is still space for more traditional brick and mortar tour operators and travel agencies. They simply need to adapt to the new world, offer their products online, and most importantly personalise them and tailor them to the right market audience.
What are the emerging tourism trends in Asia and India?
Authentic experiences and personalised itineraries and activities is what everyone talks about at every conference these days. We all want to do something unique and different that we can post on social media and share with our friends. Essentially telling people look where I am and where you are not.
In India, tourism is still being promoted by the government. Private players are not much interested in promoting India as a tourism destination in the global market. What is your advice on this for private players?
If this is what the private sector thinks, then they are going in the wrong direction. Look at the most successful destinations in the world and you will see a very close and intimate relationship between the national tourism boards and the private sector. If you have one group going in one direction and the other in a different one, all you will achieve is confusion. While you debate about what to promote, other destinations will continue to grow.
How important is India in PATA’s overall scheme of things? Are you planning to launch any program for India?
India is an important market for our members. It’s growth in domestic, outbound and inbound tourism creates business opportunities for all of our members. We had our Adventure Travel and Responsible Travel Conference and Mart earlier this year in Rishikesh and we would be happy to contemplate hosting more of our conferences, trade show or trainings in India. We are simply waiting for the invitation by the central government or a state.