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Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 16 : 42 PM [IST]

11 TAFI convention trains focus on sustainable success & future of opportunity

Bhisham Mansukhani | Turkey
Picture Courtesy: The Digital Travellers


The 11th TAFI international convention, held in Turkey, focused on sustainable success and potential opportunities for the Indian outbound agent to thrive. The wide ranging sessions included perspective on sustainable business models, the significance of creativity and technology and also broader life lessons regarding adapting to change. The 11th TAFI international convention was inaugurated at the Hilton Dalaman Resort and Spa.

The conference was inaugurated on a high note with TAFI President Praveen Chugh’s keynote address, noting how TAFI international conventions had historically made a direct impact Indian outbound numbers to the host destination and that the same will likely hold true for Turkey. Chugh was joined on stage by stellar panel dignitaries including Esengul Civelek, Governor of Mugla where the convention venues, Dalaman and Antalya are located, Emin Cakmak, Head of the Turkish Indian Tourism Council, Yucel Okutur, Director, DOKTOB, Dalaman-Ortaca-Koycegiz Tourism and Hotelier Association, India’s ambassador to Turkey, Rahul Kul-shresth, Azar Ali Khan, Indian Consul General in Turkey, Faz Lee Corman, Director General from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Bharat Shah, TAFI Convention Chairman.

Chugh quoted Mahatma Gandhi, saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He noted that India’s outbound segment had witnessed massive growth. “We had 20 million Indians travelling abroad in 2016 and by 2022, that figure is expected to touch 50 million. And TAFI’s International conventions have also played an important role in this regard. We held our first convention in 1999 in Malaysia. Back then, Malaysia received a mere 40,000 Indian tourists. Now they receive over 600,000. Looking back, other host countries like Singapore, Dubai, Macao, Thailand, South Africa and Israel have also hugely benefited with regard to Indian outbound after hosting a TAFI convention. We expect Turkey to also experience a boost in Indian outbound,” Chug said.

Indian Ambassador to Turkey,   Rahul Kulshreshtha observed the cultural, historic and architectural similarities between Turkey and India and how both countries had supported each other during crucial times. “It is a shared belief that as we work closely together, people to people contact and cultural exchange will be key to sustain this relationship and that is why bilateral tourism is extremely relevant and there is room for collaboration beyond that as well,” he said.

Picture Courtesy: The Digital Travellers


Emin Cakmak, Head of the Turkish Indian Tourism Council, reflected on the 11 years that the council has been around and how bilateral tourism relations between the two countries have thrived during that time. “Back then there were only three weekly flights to and from India and now we have daily flights now and maybe more in the future. We have gone from 4,000 Indian tourists in 2006 to 150,000 in 2017 and our target now is one million by 2023 and hosting the TAFI convention is an important step in that direction,” he envisioned.

Esengul Civelek, Governor of Mugla expressed her privilege to be able to host the TAFI convention and looked forward to welcoming several Indian tourists in the near future, following the convention.

The mantra of sustainable success was taken forward on day two with a parallel focus on taking the present travel agent business model to the next level. The business sessions ranged from the significance of creativity in building and growing a business and notably, taking things to the next level. There was also a surprise, high level visit by Numan Kurtulmus, Minister of Tourism and Culture, Government of Turkey, which livened proceedings up considerably.

Picture Courtesy: The Digital Travellers


The day began with an address by Burak Akcapar, Director, General Policy Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Turkey, who hailed India and Turkey as anchors of stability in a prevailing, turbulent geopolitical climate and further stressed that this is why the two countries should closely cooperate. “Now while India and Turkey cooperate closely in the field of technology and civil aviation, bilateral cultural and tourism exchange will be the real driver of closer bilateral ties between the two countries. And this is where the TAFI community will be a critical role.” He referred to Turkey’s renewed intent to amend the joint civil aviation agreement to increase flights between the two countries.

The next session, titled “It Begins with Us” featured motivational speaker and adman, Bharat Dabholkar. Dabholkar highlighted the importance of understanding the target audience and how to communicate with them effectively. Interestingly, he said that the level of resources don’t matter in sustaining an effective communication and promotion strategy and presented case studies to reaffirm this point.

Kurtulmus reiterated Turkey’s focus on the Indian market and referred to India’s spending power as being relevant to the inbound tourism potential for Turkey. He said it was important to recognise and celebrate the two countries’ historic and cultural similarities. He also quoted Napoleon, saying, “If the world was one country, Istanbul is the capital.”

The day’s key business session, “The Next Level” featured Zubin Karkaria, CEO, VFS Global Group, Ritesh Agarwal, CEO, OYO Rooms and Emin Cakmak. Ritesh Agarwal focused on the key objectives of why OYO was launched and why it has grown exponentially – tapping into a hospitality gap of business economy. Agarwal ascribed the success of OYO in part to the partnership with travel agents to create an efficient sales model that was mutually beneficial. He said he believed that India’s domestic travel segment was the most important with more than 1.2 billion visits registered in 2016 and 1.6 billion visits predicted by the end of 2017.

Picture Courtesy: The Digital Travellers


Karkaria presented the VFS journey as a case study of a concept that filled an important void in India of making the visa application process more efficient which eventually led the company to become a global vanguard in this niche. Karkaria emphasised the need to understand the reality of the market one was operating in and not to get possessive or emotional about one’s business and to be willing to change, adapt and even disrupt one’s own business in order to thrive in the long term. He said that even though at this point, VFS had a presence in 129 countries with 56 client countries, 2,600 centres worldwide and more than 150 million visa applications processed, to date, his vision for VFS was to further evolve VFS’s business model beyond visa processing towards collaborating with governments and the private sector to create efficient business models for several processes.

Cakmak said he believed that a focus on medical tourism was the next level for Turkey and touched upon his initiative to create the Turkish Medical Tourism Council in 2005 to tap into Turkey’s hospital and wellness infrastructure which he said, had high standards but was relatively affordable. Cakmak revealed that as a direct result, Turkey’s medical tourism industry was worth six billion dollars in 2016. He said that the next level for the Turkish Medical Tourism Council is to touch two million medical tourists inbound annually by 2023. The business sessions were subsequently followed by various sightseeing tours and a gala dinner.

The convention’s third day further changed gears, focusing on key Indian travel trade issues. The day began with an energetic and charismatic session by motivational speaker Gour Gopal Das who spoke about the importance of adapting and responding consistently to an ever-changing world. He called on the travel agent to evolve just like the way of travel itself has evolved, citing the example of we’ve gone from needing physical boarding passes to merely getting our smart watches scanned to board a fight. “We all have the choice to change the quality of our professional success. We have to embrace technology. Update or be outdated,” he cautioned. Das believed that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what is happening to you. “That is the difference between those who thrive and those who collapse. We are all invested with the potency to change.”

The following session, “In it to win It” had a heavy weight of international association heads, Jason Westbury, CEO, AFTA, Otto De Vries, CEO, ASATA and Datuk Hamzah Rahmat, Ex-President, MATTA, reflecting on and pondering the trends and forthcoming challenges for the Indian and international travel trade. “In order to stay relevant and profitable, we need to change our mindsets and transition from being a representative for the supplier to becoming a representative of the customer,” De Vries said.

He observed that Americans overwhelmingly prefer domestic travel while Europeans, inter-regional travel. Rahmat added that “With regard to Asia Pacific, the leisure to corporate travel ratio was 60:40 and I expect this to rise substantially with China and India leading the charge in a booming outbound market.” Westbury cited an interesting trend in South Africa where leisure travellers were far less dependent on travel agents - last year just 20% of travellers used travel agents. However, travel agents in SA were now far more focused on their role as Travel Management Companies (TMCs) targeting corporate travellers. On the subject of OTAs versus travel agents, the panel believed that it was in fact the travel agents that had the long term edge over OTAs with regard to having a personal touch and customisation tools. Travel agents would however need to combine this strength with technology. “Connect with the customer in the way they want to communicate with you,” Westbury urged.

On the tricky and relevant subject of the relationship between airlines and travel agents, the panel believed that airlines were certainly investing heavily in building direct sales, but in the long term cannot ignore their relationship with travel agents. Rahmat noted that in the ASEAN region, its 50-50 which is largely because of the LCCs operating in the region and because full service carriers need to compete, they are trying to drive down the costs. LCCs will impact the Indian travel agents soon as they plan to augment local operations. Westbury pointed out that while LCCs initially saw the travel agent as irrelevant to their business, LCCs like Ryanair and Jetstar have actively engaged travel agents to boost sales and Air Asia is following their lead, giving a new lease of life to travel agents. He said that LCCs were actively exploring ways to unlock value through a relationship with travel agents.

The day’s final session titled “Get Switched on” featured Charles Carniero, Director, Loyalty & Alliances and Andy Harmer, VP, Ops & Director, CLIA. Carneiro began by asserting that Indian travel agents had to embrace technology or simply be engulfed by it. “New technologies, artificial intelligence and augmented reality will dominate our lives and our choices in the future and we must understand how to make these technologies work for our business rather than look at them as threatening,” he stressed. Speaking of collaboration, he lamented that airlines are still guarded about seat factors and commercials. “Technology makes it imperative to be transparent in business relationships and that is where the airlines’ mindset about sharing information will have to change. Similarly travel agents will have to substantially automate to enhance the customer experience. They will have to upscale themselves to make employees more relevant and efficient in an environment driven by technology.” He added that there were enough good experts out there whom travel agents could seek out to help them make technology unlock business value and enhance the customer experience.” Carniero cited the instance of how LCCs realised they were losing up to USD 132 for every passenger and there identified non-core revenue opportunities to offset this loss. He also wondered why travel agents weren’t using Big Data enough - “it’s not how about big it is, its about how you use it”. The fate of the travel agents, he said, rested in their ability to identify present and future clients - what do they need - and how can we retain them in the long term and sustain our relationships with them. He made an interesting point when he said that ‘discrimination’ was not a bad word. “It is important to discriminate. Identify your most important clients and then focus on them.” He also encouraged the agent community to evolve from being a generalist to a specialist. Finally, he emphasised the growing importance of mobile apps. “Apps are key for next level consumer engagement. Try and capture the entire transactional journey and remotely guide your customer through the app and that will keep them with you,” he proffered.

Andy Harmer enthused the audience about the changing trends in the international cruise holiday business. Harmer called the vertical one of the biggest opportunities for the travel agent community. “Cruise liners have invested to grow the business considerably. Over the next ten years, they are investing 50 billion dollars on new ships. Cruising has been around for over 150 years but in the last ten years, new building technologies and business avenues have revolutionised the segment and significantly, the guest experience,” he said. Over 25 million annual cruisers add 125 billion dollars to the world economy making it the fastest growing maritime industry vertical. “The cruise tourism product has evolved considerably as has the cruise tourist, he said. “Activities that were thought possible are now a reality - go karting, ice skating, sky diving, submarine, helicopter tours and mobile dining platforms. Cabin designs have been innovated upon, incorporating virtual realities and studios,” he revealed. Technology, he said, has also been use to make things on-board seamless with single bracelets for embarkation, disembarkation as well as shopping using virtual wallets. On-board robots uses face recognition to access guest preferences and provide dining and entertainment options, customised to each guest.

He also claimed that the cruise tourist demographic has also changed which was particularly relevant to the Indian market which has a predominantly young demographic. The youngest Indian cruiser is 36 years old, he noted. And therefore, the cruise experience is being increasingly tailored to the young demographic. That said, the core market remains the baby boomers who prefer a comfortable, luxurious experience. “So it becomes important to identify and understand different cruiser profiles and engage them. This is where the travel agent plays a crucial role, armed core product knowledge and the skill sets to promote and sell. Cruise liners invest heavily in agent trainings to achieve this objective. Destination training is also important because a single cruise touches on several destinations and increasingly on lesser known ports,” he said, urging the travel agent community to constantly educate their staff about the evolving cruise tourism product. The final day of the conference featured a B2B exhibition where agents and suppliers had a chance to network and explore new potential business. The suppliers ranged from luxury hotels across Antalya as well as Istanbul as well as a host of concierge services, spas and local tour operators.

 
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