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Friday, 12 September, 2014, 16 : 30 PM [IST]

IATO Convention 2014 takes a holistic view of tourism to promote ‘Brand India’

The 30th Annual Convention of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), held at Kempinski Ambience Hotel Delhi from September 4-7, 2014, reflected the winds of change in the Indian travel and tourism industry.  The spirit of the organisers and delegates was high and the euphoria clearly resonated throughout the Convention. P Krishna Kumar and Anish V Punnackattu present highlights of the deliberations at the event

The over-riding sentiment at IATO Convention 2014 was that of fulfillment. Unlike in the past, this year’s Convention did not discuss, deliberate or demand any reliefs, incentives and exemptions from the government. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, was the star in absentia. There was a virtual competition to shower praises on the new government. Subhash Goyal, President, IATO, said that most causes that the Association has lobbied for, for so many years, have been fulfilled by the new government. “We have a Prime Minister committed to our cause. IATO welcomes the spirit of the new government,” he said.  Rajeev Kohli, Vice President, IATO and Chairman, IATO Convention 2014,  while assuring the government support to realise the potential of tourism in India, said that the Convention and its deliberations would revitalise the industry to prepare for future competition.

iato_convention_2014_2.jpgThemed ‘New Beginnings, Fresh Ideas, Vibrant Future’, the Convention was inaugurated by Dr Subramanian Swamy, senior BJP leader. It witnessed the participation of various state tourism ministers, besides Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism MoT, Govt. of India; Amaresh Tiwari, Treasurer, IATO and Co-Chairman, IATO Convention 2014; Sarab Jit Singh, Senior Vice President, IATO; and Pronab Sarkar, Secretary, IATO. This year’s Convention clocked 1,400 delegate registrations.

In his keynote address, Dr Swamy sought a new tourism policy that is in sync with the changing world order. The policy should outline, by priority, core objectives, he said. Commenting on the negative image of India because of tourist safety issues, he suggested strong deterrents to prevent them.

Shripad Yesso Naik, Minister of State with Independent Charge for Tourism and Culture, Govt. of India, who could not be present for the inaugural ceremony of the Convention, through a video message, appreciated IATO for its efforts to promote India as a preferred destination.


Dewan asked the industry to focus on markets like China and Germany, opining that India cannot afford to ignore these two markets. Despite lackluster growth from the Western Europe market, Dewan said that the shortfall was compensated by the Russian and Chinese markets. He expects inbound numbers to close at 7.3 million this year.

Major Vijay Singh Mankotia, Vice Chairman, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, urged the Centre to set up a dedicated council to develop tourism infrastructure in the Himalayan states. He went on to comment, “We haven’t developed the art of telling stories about our culture, history, heritage, and folklore. It is important to create stories around these aspects to create interest among tourists,” he explained.

iato_convention_2014_4.jpgAshok Chandra Panda, Minister for Tourism & Culture, Govt. of Odisha, who was the Chief Guest at this year’s Convention, appealed to the industry to adopt a ‘Look East’ policy to promote the North-Eastern region of the India. He explained the various initiatives undertaken by the Odisha government to promote tourism, and added that it is keen to develop mega destinations with the help of expert consultants.

At the inaugural session, the Association released the IATO Newsletter and Manual. IATO bestowed Hall of Fame award to Rajvir Singh, Founder, Dundlod Castle, for his contribution in the field of tourism and being a pioneer of the heritage concept of tourism through palaces, forts and havelis.

For the travel mart that was held simultaneously with the Convention, the tourism boards of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Punjab, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands participated, besides MICE venues, hotels and resorts.

iato_convention_2014_5.jpgMarketing Brand India - Changing Paradigms
Usha Sharma, Additional Director General, Tourism, Govt. of India, enumerated the activities undertaken by Ministry of Tourism (MoT) to promote and market Brand India in overseas markets. She announced that MoT will appoint PR agencies and representative offices in the US, UK, Japan, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, Spain and Thailand. She said that Experience India Society is has already completed a lot of work for the same. She added that the process of setting up an Infoline is currently on and is expected to be ready by next month.

She said that the International Tourism Mart (ITM), started a couple of years ago with the objective to promote the North East of India, has immensely benefited the region, noting the growth in tourist footfall into these states. The third edition of ITM will be held in Shillong from October 13-15, 2014, she added.


The Indian Skies - Looking into the future
Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati, Minister for Civil Aviation, Govt. of India, said that India has huge potential in the aviation sector with a growing middle class and increasing disposable income. He said that the new government is aware of the role seamless air connectivity plays in developing tourism, and is keen to develop infrastructure for the same. The Minister said that it is important that Indians develop pride in their destinations, culture and traditions. In order to encourage this, the government is keen to develop no-frill airports at places where there is currently no air connectivity, he stated. “We have to bring closer the places that are not currently easily accessible,” he said.

iato_convention_2014_7.jpgTour operators, Hotels & Airlines - Bridging the Gap
The session had the moderator, Homa Mistry, CEO, Trail Blazer Tours India, in his inimitable style, presenting the plight of tour operators vis-à-vis hotels and airlines. He tried to put across the sliding relationship among the three vital components of travel and tourism through satirical, yet thought-provoking slide shows. He likened the relationship without the element of trust, to a mobile phone without service network. He said that hotels and airlines discriminate against customers who have come via tour operators. Airlines offer free food, upgrades, date change without additional charges, etc., to corporate customers, which are not extended to clients coming via tour operators, who provide regular business to them, he informed.

From the panel, Hemant Mendiratta, Vice President - Sales, The Oberoi Group, agreed that information technology has brought changes in the way business is handled. Abinash Manghani, Head - Travel Industry Sales & Regional Manager North, ITC Hotels, contended that there has been a huge change in the relationship among various partners with the advent of Internet. Delna Jassomony, General Manager – Sales (Travel Industry), Taj Hotels, argued that there was need for each one to understand the other’s business and build trust and relationships.

iato_convention_2014_8.jpgTourism and the New Government - Making Indian experience better
R H Khwaja, former Secretary, MoT, Govt. of India, proposed to create a  high-level Consultative Committee with the Prime Minister at the helm, to bring convergence among ministries on issues that are dispersed, but interlinked, and vital to drive tourism in the country.

Dr Lalit Panwar, Secretary, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Govt. of India and former Managing Director, India Tourism Development Corporation Limited, expressed the need for convergence at every level of the government. “Civil aviation has to become civilised aviation,” he said, citing examples of Jaisalmer and Bikaner airports that are yet to welcome flights in spite of being ready for operations for quite a few years now. He also made a plea to make heritage sites lively in the evenings by introducing light and sound shows.

Since the Prime Minister himself has started taking up the cause of tourism, there has been convergence on many issues, said Girish Shankar, Additional Secretary, Tourism, Govt. of India. Safety, security, and cleanliness are major challenges for tourism promotion, he said. He urged the private sector to take the lead as government’s role in this sector is just that of a facilitator.

iato_convention_2014_9.jpgSarab Jit Singh said that introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) or E-Visa would give a major boost to tourism. He also demanded review of the Motor Vehicles Act so that tourist coaches, which are recognised by MoT, are not hassled at check posts. He also pointed at the lack of awareness about government funds lying with various departments for promotion of brand India,
and suggested that if these are pooled together and utilised with a common mission and vision, it would help promote the country’s tourism.

At the valedictory session, Naik said that MoT is working towards promoting Sustainable Tourism, MICE Tourism, and fast implementation of E-Visa. He added that the Ministry is also looking to develop a Bureau to promote MICE Tourism.
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