The only constant is change. In the past couple of years, the tourism industry in India has been witnessing a number of changes right from weathering the effects of global economic crisis to zero commissions to rapid pace of technology development. In the current scenario it has become vital for all stakeholders to successfully adapt and forge ahead. This was stressed upon by Rajji Rai, President TAAI in his speech during the inauguration of the Indian Travel Congress, 59th Convention & Exhibition at the Marquee, Laguna Latitude in Phuket, Thailand. He called upon the agents to transform themselves to consultants and expand their horizon by being a ‘Game Changer’ in the globally challenging scenario.
Rai further added, “By harnessing technology our consultants can now access and offer a better packaging of our services, closer interaction and wider channels of communication. While online transactions are becoming popular, one way to handle the anxiety of travel consultants is to understand the fact that no computer has the personal touch that a travel consultant has in his dealings and the extra mile that he is prepared to walk for his clients. No computer application can be as sagacious in its judgment as a travel consultant.” Concluding his remarks, Rai said, “More than being informative, it is necessary to first be aware of ourselves and have clear set goal as game changers.”
Speaking at the inauguration, His Excellency, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarthy, India Ambassador to Thailand, appreciated the efforts of TAAI in bringing the convention to Phuket and lauded the bilateral ties between the two nations. Peeraoon Thongsirisate, Chief of Phuket Governor’s office offered the delegates all help in promoting Thai tourism and vice versa. In his vote of thanks Jagdeep Rikhy, said that Phuket government had gone out of the way to welcome TAAI in Phuket and assured them that the Indian Travel Congress would go a long way in promoting Phuket to the Indian travel trade and thus visitors from India. He also thanked Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Suraphon Svetaseri and his entire team for their support and hospitality for the convention.
The annual convention with the theme, ‘Be a Game Changer’ attended by over 800 delegates also had a series of interactive business sessions with experts discussing various challenges, talking about developing new business strategies and exploring new business opportunities etc. In the Curtain Raiser to kick start the business sessions, Ashwini Kakkar, Vice Chairman, Mercury Travels spoke about the various ‘game changers’ like bundling of prices and recurring income. He asked, “Why can’t we become family travel consultants like the family doctor. It will give recurring income and life time relationship.” He said that there is great opportunity to transform agents business into a knowledge business. The challenge he felt is to retain customers. Other observations of Kakkar were: there are opportunities for consolidation, big potential in niche segments and great wealth at the bottom of the pyramid waiting to be tapped.
In the business session Current Challenges Malvinder Rikhy, COO HRG SITA spoke on Are we being paid enough for our services? He presented a power point presentation on how to earn more by offering various services to customers without losing the basics. In the Panel discussion on Vendor-Supplier Relations K D Row General Manager Sales and Marketing, Air India emphasised on the preferred partnership between agents and his airline. Kamal Hingorani, VP, SpiceJet, said that the OTAs and agents debate had been on for five years and today for LCCs 40 per cent of business comes from OTAs and the rest from non-OTA. He claimed that technology was the way forward and said that the relationship will be dictated by market forces. Other panellist were Malvinder Rikhy, Dhananjay Saliankar, Regional Director of Global Sales India, Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Business sessions continued through the convention with varied subjects ranging from Talent Retention and Development, Business Strategy-A Must, to presentations by Korean Tourism and Chattisgarh as Emerging Tourism destination. Harish Gandhi, Group Head, Inter Globe Enterprises, spoke on Best Practices while Prof Chittaranjan Bhattarcharjee, Kuoni Academy moderated a panel discussion on Talent Retention and Development with Sanjiv Tyagi, Chairman, Siya Management Consultants, Gilbert George, Sr GM, Sales All India, Jet Airways and N M Sharafudeen, Managing Partner, Omega Travels in the business session Talent Retention and Development. P R Srinivas, Industrial Head, Tourism Hospitality and Leisure, Deloitte India spoke on Evaluating your Business ROI while Christopher Doyle, Dynamic Results spoke on importance of strategy in the session Business Strategy a Must.
New opportunities by tapping niche segments was elaborated by Deepak Ohri, Ceo, Lebua Hotels and Sonu Shivdasani, Chairman and CEO, Six Senses Resorts and Spa who spoke about Luxury Tourism in the session, Leveraging New Business Opportunities. Along with the business sessions there was a presentation by NG Shankar, Chairman Technology Council, TAAI giving an overview of System one.
TAAI delegates believe in the maxim “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and post business hours were busy exploring the sights and sounds of Phuket and partying hard at the networking parties. The evening entertainment included live show by Indian idols Naushad, Shashi and Manisha and performance by the band, Aryan. There were also special tours organised for spouses for shopping island visits etc. However, the highlight of the evening entertainment was the visit to Fantasea, a cultural theme park, which has a spectacular show, Iyara that depicts mythological stories and has elephants performing amazing feats on stage. At the end of the convention delegates also had the opportunity to explore other regions of Thailand on specially organised post convention tours.