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Monday, 26 November, 2018, 13 : 05 PM [IST]

IATO’s 34th Convention Providing succour to the Indian tourism industry

The 34th Annual Convention of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) took place from September 6-9, 2018, in Vishakhapatnam. The theme of the three-day event revolved around achieving 20 million foreign tourists by 2020. And many pertinent issues that India is facing in achieving that target was discussed and debated. Prasenjit Chakraborty reports


Inaugurating the 34th annual Convention of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IAT O) in Visakhapatnam, KJ Alphons, Minister of State for Tourism (I/C), Government of India, said that the target of 20 million foreign tourists by 2020 is achievable. He said that the tourism sector is performing phenomenally well and if the growth momentum is maintained and all pillars of the industry work in tandem then the target of 20 million tourists is very much achievable. The Minister said that the sector has generated 14.62 million additional jobs in the economy in the last four years, which is also an incredible achievement.



Speaking on the occasion, Rashmi Verma, Secretary – Tourism, Government of India, said that the growth in foreign tourist arrivals of over 15% has been possible because of the support of the private industry in the country and urged the private sector to work in a concerted manner to achieve the set target of 20 million inbound tourists in the available three years time.

According to Verma, many projects under the Swadesh Darshan scheme will be completed by December 2018. An integrated marketing plan has been initiated, and the Tourism Ministry would participate in major tourism marts. She admitted that GST to some extent is creating a stumbling block for the growth of the industry. “But we are in constant touch with the Finance Ministry so that the issue is addressed.”



Pranab Sarkar, President, IAT O, in his speech congratulated the Government of Andhra Pradesh and Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu for extending wholehearted support in organising the Convention. He emphasised that the tourism sector offers enormous opportunity for job creation and foreign exchange earnings.”But we have to be more proactive and it is imperative to focus on untapped and emerging markets,” exhorted Sarkar. He also said that there exists a huge opportunity for promoting adventure tourism in India. “It is high time to tap that segment,” he said.

Other dignitaries present at the inauguration included Bhuma Akhila Priya, Minister of Tourism, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Kadakampally Surendran, Tourism Minister of Kerala, Mukesh Kumar Meena, Secretary Tourism, Andhra Pradesh; and Himanshu Shukla, CEO, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Authority.

Later, speaking to TravelBiz Monitor, Sarkar said that it is necessary for India to become a tax-friendly nation. “It is extremely necessary for India to become tax-friendly and remained competitive in the global market. Currently, it is highest in the tourism sector with 28% on hotel and 5% on tour operators. As of now, 90% of the tourists booked through tour operators and just 5% from online agents. Our neighbouring countries are taking advantage of our huge tax structures and we are losing business to them. Their tax is just 6 to 8%,” pointed out Sarkar.



There were a few interesting panel discussions during the course of the event. One such panel discussion was on - Mission 20 Million Tourists-Challenges and Possibilities. The session threw light on the progress of various projects which will be instrumental in achieving the desired goal and also the challenges to be overcome and addressed. The panellists were Rashmi Verma, Secretary Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Nakul Anand, Executive Director, ITC Ltd, EM Najeeb, Chairman, ATATE Group of Companies, Rani George, IAS, Secretary, Tourism, Government of Kerala. Najeeb pointed out that it’s an ambitious project but the tourism industry is working hard to achieve that target. He also pointed out that it is imperative to think out of the box. He emphasised that there has to be a body like NITI Aayog in the tourism industry. George, however, highlighted the success story of Kerala as a destination. She said that Kerala has been following a 3 prong strategy-policy, infrastructure and marketing.”We have changed and evolved our marketing strategy from time to time. We have also developed community partnership and involved local communities in tourism,” she said. The task will become easier once the local community is involved. Verma was confident in achieving the target but also said that the task is challenging and certain things need to be in place. “In this direction, we have created an inter-ministerial group which has been very successful in resolving issues which Ministry of Tourism alone can’t do it,” she said. Anand opined that India has all the products, and India needs to market them properly. Another strategy that the panellists agreed on was for India to focus on the neighbouring countries such as China, Russia and Japan and make India a short-haul destination while continuing to market in the traditional markets of the US and Europe. The session was moderated by Arjun Sharma, Chairman, Select Group

Another interesting session was ‘Regional Connectivity Under Udan Scheme.’ G K Chaukiyal, Executive Director, Regional Connectivity scheme, AAI, R Srikrishna, Associate Vice President, IndiGo and D Heman Reddy participated in the discussion. While speaking, Chaukiyal expressed hope that most of the routes under UDAN would be sustained. He also said that under the RCS, 250-260 parking bays would be constructed all over India. Supporting the move of constructing more parking bays, Reddy said, “Parking bays need to be increased so that we can start operation in more places from what it is now.” He also said that SpiceJet has added more than 36 routes under Udan. Srikrishna said that before October end IndiGo will add more routes. “Recently, we have added Hubli and Jorhat in our network,” he said. Chaukiyal said that the Tourism Ministry has already sent a proposal to the Civil Aviation Ministry for the inclusion of some airports located at famous tourist destinations like Khajuraho. This will ensure air connectivity at cheaper rates which will ultimately benefit tourists. Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travel Pvt Ltd, moderated the session and said that regional connectivity is the need of the hour. He also said that 80% of the foreign exchange earnings come through tour operators and exhorted that airline operators should interact with tour operators before introducing flights to new destinations.

The event also witnessed presentations from several state governments like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, Rajasthan etc.

Satyajeet Rajan, Director General-Tourism, Government of India, in his valedictory address said that there is immense scope for tourism and it is high time to make progress on this front. He also said India has failed to attract Chinese tourists and it is imperative to take steps so that more and more number of tourists from China visit India. Mountain and forest tourism also offer huge scope, he said. “But so far, only 5 % of forest area is open to tourists in India,” he said.

prasenjit.chakraborty@saffronsynergies.in
 
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