Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), and chairman of STIC Travel Group talks about the new focus areas for inbound tourism. By Heena Mahajan
How has the economic slowdown in the US and Europe affected inbound tourism in India?
The economic slow down has adversely affected inbound tourism in the country however, both the ministry of tourism and all the IATO members have come up with different strategies in order to meet the challenge. We are approaching new markets and those where there has been little impact of recession like the BRICS countries. In addition, we have also increased our promotions in countries like South East Asia and China. We have also triggered our marketing efforts in the Middle East. As you already know that we have offered visa on arrival to 10 countries. Within one or two years, another 16-20 countries will be in the loop. All these efforts are expected to help us cover the gap created in the inbound tourism growth in the country due to the accelerating economic slowdown.
What has been responsible for the growth of domestic tourism in India lately?
While the numbers of the inbound tourists is six million, outbound has reached 12 million, the number of Indians travelling withing the country has risen to 450 million. For the financial year 2010-11, the domestic tourism grew by 15 per cent as compared to 2009-10. One of the main reasons for such a growth is that the state tourism boards are actively promoting themselves in other states. Leave Travel Concessions (LTCs) in government jobs provides people opportunities to travel, which seemed almost impossible earlier. Places like Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Daman & Diu are all one click away because of the modern low cost carriers. Indian Railways has also introduced these tourist-friendly and one of the fastest Shatabdi trains like Bhopal Shatabdi, Kalka Shatabdi, Jan Shatabdi Express and many more. These trains connect metro cities with other important tourist, pilgrimage or business cities. They offer fast connectivity with only a few intermediate stops. These are fully air-conditioned and of a much higher standard than most of our trains. All these factors have contributed in the growth of domestic tourists.
The Indian aviation sector is in a state of turmoil. Do you think it is possible to come out of the crises?
It is really a tragedy that we don’t really have an aviation policy which will help these airlines to grow and also, make them an important instrument for tourism and economic growth in the country. Ad hoc policies have resulted in either bankruptcy or the airlines being forced to sell their stakes. The current example being Kingfisher, India’s only five star airlines which virtually went bankrupt recently. The others were Air Deccan, Air Sahara, and a few other small players. Air India is surviving on the tax payers’ funds being pumped in by the government. The ground reasons for all this is that ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel) and landing charges levied are the highest in the world. To improve the prevailing conditions in the aviation sector, we need a change in terms of our policies and norms. The problem triggers when those reforms do not go far. For instance, privatisation which was initiated to increase the competition. What we need to have is a transparent long-term aviation policy and taxes should not be more than five per cent. Landing route navigational charges should be competitive with the neighboring states. There should be incentives for the newcomers to fly and use the new airport terminals.