How has IATO as a organisation evolved over the years?
Founded in 1982 IATO, one of the earliest trade bodies has pioneered huge number of far reaching promotional activities that has brought India tourism trade under one umbrella. IATO progressively became the national apex body for the tourism and travel industry providing a common platform. India’s tourism scene has changed in a big way since IATO formed partnerships with central and state governments and IATO even now is playing a leading role. The association with its sincere efforts revamped the markets with all stakeholders and has grown into authoritative players globally with cross sector membership from 10 plus in 1982 to 1200 plus in 2013 and pan India presence with chapters in states. Sub-committees were formed to look into various segments of the industry: sustainable tourism issues, tourism policy and taxation matter, grievance and legal matters. Thus in every area, there is a focused professional approach. It is now termed as a Think Tank for the ministry and also acts as extended hands of the ministry of tourism for tourism promotional efforts and policy matters. Some of the other problems that the association has successfully addressed include: marketing development assistance scheme, enhanced budget for ministry of tourism for its overseas promotional activities, streamlining of visa and increase in the number of visa on arrival, human resource and skill development, reaching new markets, bilateral MoUs.
What are the challenges of tourism of today?
Some of the challenges in the tourism industry include: Visa facilitation (which is the most important bottleneck in tourism scene; accommodation in tier two and tier three cities which have become popular with low cost airlines air-connectivity, safety standards and specially safety for women tourists, cleanliness and hygiene in India, highway facilities en route to many tourist places, well trained language speaking guides to meet the need of tourists coming from new markets like China, South Korea, Arab countries and Russia etc, tax rationalisation in all respects related to tourism. Till now the tourism sector is overloaded with taxes like Service Tax, Luxury Tax, VAT, Sales Tax (on ATF by all states) Excise duty on alcoholic drinks, Toll Tax, entertainment tax, etc. The other issues are: no priority to tourism sector, no proper budget for tourism, lack of trained manpower in all segments of tourism, railway stations, airports need upgrading (though operation of flights have increased from those airports), ASI monuments need proper up keep and maintenance. Also road tax needs to be rationalised, incentives to tour operators are bare minimum. Negative image of India in global markets with national calamities, corruption, political events, socio economic uprisings. But the government has no crises management policy and tourists prefer to avoid India with advisories issued by overseas countries. These are some major challenges which keep our tourism figures stagnated at six million plus since last three years. There are many more such bottleneck areas where we need to take action on top priority like cheating, fraud, foreign exchange, etc.
What is the main highlight of the convention this year?
The main highlights of this year’s convention include ‘Greater Interactive Interphase’ at each session among speakers and members rather than just speech from the experts. The topics for the business sessions have been well-thought of to meet the growing needs of the members, viz. how tourism professionals in India can create a captivating and compelling social media; preference to attract new customers and build valuable business connections. An expert from overseas Philip Calvert (UK) has been invited to deliberate and interact.
The media and Indian tourism know how our industry was negatively impacted with global press reports on safety (specially of women tourists). A session will focus on highlighting the ways in which we can handle PR effectively and how the press can also play a responsible role.
Similarly sessions will be on leadership, branding entrepreneurship, bilateral, management, manpower relations, communications and direct relations with whole sellers (airlines/overseas tour operator’s challenges from online travel service operators, rupee fluctuations and government’s new directives about Collective Group Landing Permit, etc. Making India an aviation hub and use of technological inventions. State presentations will be very educative to have product update on different states. We have tried to give a totally rejuvenating experience with a bit of everything like the IATO Run for Responsible tourism, auction wall for fund raising for a charity cause.
What is your message for the convention?
Let us make IATO Convention the ‘Best Platform’ for industry stakeholders to come together to deliberate and strategise the future action plan. Besides, let us work together to rebuild India’s lost image as a tourist destination with recent spate of negative events which dampened the spirit of tourists to visit India. Let us form partnerships with all hotels, transport, civil aviation, media, hospitals and wellness centres, MICE establishments and boost our niche products and adopt technology for global marketing with a team spirit.