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The 29th Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) annual convention which was held from September 8 -11, 2013 at Le Meridien, Kochi, Kerala focussed on the theme ‘Indian Tourism – Innovations and Partnerships’ with an aim to provide solutions to the current problems plaguing the tourism industry. The convention was attended by 1200 delegates which comprised of senior central and state government officials from various ministries, IATO officials, media members, invited guests and delegates from India and overseas.

The annual convention was inaugurated by Oommen Chandy, chief minister, Kerala in the presence of Prof K V Thomas, minister of state – IC for consumer affairs, Govt. of India; K C Venugopal, minister of state for civil aviation, Govt. of India; P Anilkumar, tourism minister, Kerala; Usha Sharma, additional director general – tourism, Govt. of India; Vijayan Thomas, chairman, KTDC; Suman Billa, secretary tourism, Kerala; and S Harikishore, director, department of tourism, Kerala.

The event started with lighting of the lamp by Chandy and distinguished guests. In his welcome address, Arun Anand, chairman, IATO 29th Convention, thanked the chief minister for his presence and briefly introduced the IATO programme for the convention. He specially mentioned value additions like IATO Run for Responsible Tourism wherein 300 delegates participated and Silent Auction to raise funds for charity. In the presidential address, Subhash Goyal, president, IATO mentioned that India Tourism needs to take special efforts to have visa relaxation, improved infrastructure and to look for new markets like Brazil, Africa etc. Air connectivity and budget hotels are the need of the hour to make India competitive. He also reiterated that only tourism alone can solve India’s problems of foreign exchange balance of payment, current account deficit, employment and poverty eradication.

During the convention, K V Thomas recalled how Kerala tourism prospered in a systematic manner and how it has proved beneficial in state’s economy and employment. Venugopal in his address spoke about the civil aviation policy decisions to modernise various airports in India, improving connectivity from various traffic generating markets, liberal aviation policy and opening air sky to boost international tourist arrivals. Kumar in his address talked about state governments positive marketing strategies which have been drawn up to boost international tourist arrivals in Kerala and strong partnerships developed with all stakeholders.Vijayan Thomas addressed the delegates and highlighted the diversification of tourism products in Kerala and marketing strategies. Sharma in her address talked about the new thrust areas in Indian tourism focusing on safety, cleanliness, infrastructure development and global publicity and how the ministry has formed partnerships with stakeholders and how IATO is involved in decision making process at every level. Billa in his brief address threw light on the new initiatives taken by Kerala Tourism and which were further quantified by Harikishore.

The vote of thanks was given by Lally Mathews, secretary, IATO. During the valedictory address, the tourism minister of Jammu and Kashmir who was the Chief Guest extended an invitation for holding IATO’s next convention in Srinagar and assured all support from the state government.

On this occasion IATO’s Hall of Fame award was bestowed upon Dr P Mohamed Ali, chairman, GALFAR (Middle East and MAFR Group, India) for extending his service to the tourism and hospitality industry. E M Najeeb, chapter chairman of IATO and president of Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry, was also honoured for his constant coordination with state government and trade to make the event a success. This award ceremony during the valedictory session recognised the support from the state governments by presenting IATO mementos to the winners of the Marketing Innovation Competition.

Coinciding with the IATO Convention, a travel mart was also organised on September 9, 2013 with over 60 booths wherein most of the states and tour operators, hotels and resorts got a platform to showcase their product and interact with buyers and suppliers. After the convention, post-convention tours were organised to Munnar, Kumarakom, Wayanad, Kovalam and Thekkady which facilitated members to gain knowledge on the tourism products of Kerala and introduce such packages to their clients.