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‘We are soon going to see the launch of Andhra Pradesh Travel Mart’ : K Vijay Mohan, President, TTAA

The Tours and Travels Association of Andhra Pradesh (TTAA) has been acting as the voice of AP travel agents since 2015. The travel industry of Andhra Pradesh relies heavily on TTAA. The association has played an important role in Andhra Pradesh’s new tourism campaign -Visit Andhra Pradesh 2023 and has emerged as an important stakeholder in the AP Tourism ecosystem. In a candid conversation with Asmita Mukherjee, K Vijay Mohan, President of TTAA speaks about their journey from a state association to becoming an important stakeholder for AP Tourism.

Kindly brief us about your association.

The Tours and Travels Association of Andhra Pradesh formerly called TTAA was launched in 2015. Currently, we have around 478 members across the 4 chapters of Vizag, Koneseema, Rayalaseema and Amravati. We have a Chapter chairman and secretaries in each of these zones to have a close connection within the mentioned regions. These chapters conduct meetings every 15 days to have closed-door sessions with the members, where they discuss their issues and resolve them in an organised manner. We also organise state meetings where we again discuss these pressing issues.

We are not a money-centric association. For instance, with the havoc created by the pandemic, we valued the situation of our members and waived off our membership fee which is merely INR 500 yearly. So, for the last 3 years, we haven’t charged a penny from our members. During Covid, we also raised funds for our members who passed away. We had 3 of our members who unfortunately passed away, and as an association, we took the responsibilities and onus of their children’s education and wellbeing. Also, we supported 22 travel agents who were completely broke, with groceries during the pandemic.

We also offer corporate membership to the airlines, DMCs and different tourism boards. Corporate membership is complementary and due to this, we are very selective while giving away our corporate membership. At the moment, we have around 72 corporate members in our association which includes the top airlines and tourism boards. For instance, from the international tourism boards, we have Malaysia Tourism, and Saudi Tourism, while from India we have members like Gujarat Tourism Board, and the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI). The whole purpose of this initiative is to create an international interactive platform.

How has TTAA used the pandemic to upgrade the knowledge of its team members?

We were the only state association that organised 103 webinars during the Covid period, which were completely education programmes. We were conducting 2 webinars per day, and continuously upgrading the knowledge of our agents through these webinars.

We also did many familiarisation tours so that our agents could know the destinations. We did the tours across Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Darjeeling, Kashmir, Kerala, Coorg, Leh-Ladakh, Bhubaneshwar, Shirdi, Nashik, Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, and Dubai.

As an association how is TTAA helping Andhra Pradesh Tourism to realise its agenda?

As an association, we should take the privilege of saying that we were the only association who were invited to the board meeting for Visit Andhra Pradesh 2023 campaign, and being a non-government body, it was an achievement for us. The Andhra Pradesh Government had invited us as a stakeholder and carefully listened to our suggestions. They have also included some of our suggestions in the upcoming tourism agenda of the state – Visit Andhra Pradesh 2023. This programme is focused on showcasing new circuits which AP Tourism hasn’t been promoting such as the Shakti Peethas. We are also looking at promoting Buddhist Circuits. In the circuit, we can include Bheemavaram, Nagarjunakonda, Amravati and Visakhapatnam.

Through this campaign, we are going to target new sectors. Along with Shakti Peethas, and Buddhist Circuits there will also be Tribal Tourism and Experiential Tourism. Andhra Pradesh as a state has so much to offer – for instance, towns like Budithi is famous for brass-making, Ponduru is famous for khadi weaving, and Etikoppaka is famous for making wooden toys. All these places have the potential to be promoted as experiential tourism. AP Tourism has already started promoting the circuits by creating promotional videos and has also campaigned on social media.

We are planning to promote Vishakhapatnam as a gateway destination to Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The reason behind this is that the only international airport among the three states is in Vishakhapatnam. Through this, we can easily attract tourists from countries with a majority of Buddhist followers such as Laos, Myanmar, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. These tourists can explore the Buddhist circuits in Andhra Pradesh and then they can explore Odisha and Chhattisgarh Buddhist connections too. Not only the Buddhist circuit, but they can also explore Tribal Tourism in Visakhapatnam, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. The Government of Odisha has accepted our theory saying that we can promote the idea, and we are also on the verge of signing an MoU with Odisha Tourism.

The new CEO of Andhra Pradesh Tourism Authority, K Kanna Babu, has been very proactive to promote state tourism. We had three meetings in the last 3 months. He immediately accepted the points which were suggested by us.

We are also suggesting the government to bring a shack policy. We are trying to make them understand that shacks are very integral and have an important role to play in order to increase tourist footfall, especially the IT crowd or millennials to Visakhapatnam. Along with this, we have also requested them to draft an alcohol policy for the shacks. There are plenty of rules for serving alcohol in shacks, so we have requested the Government to streamline the regulations and policies.

Moreover to aid tourism, we have also requested to keep all the lit beaches open till midnight, as the government recently ordered to open the restaurants till midnight. We are also planning a hop-on and hop-off bus in Visakhapatnam. We are looking at lots of things which hopefully will become reality in the coming days.

Are we going to see an Andhra Pradesh Travel Mart soon?

The AP Tourism CEO has suggested that we should go in line with the Kerala Travel Mart Society, where travel agents, hotels, adventure tourism, and guides all come under one umbrella. We are also getting everything under one platform and calling it the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Forum. We are now working on the modalities and maybe by next year, we are going to witness its launch. Andhra Pradesh Tourism has also agreed to go ahead with the Andhra Pradesh Travel Mart event, which we will conduct either in December 2022 or January 2023. The aim of the AP Travel Mart would be to promote Andhra Pradesh Tourism and Investors Meet. I am sure that AP Travel Mart will help the state to showcase and promote its tourism products to trade partners, and the investment meeting will provide an opportunity to interact with the investors on one platform under one umbrella.

Are you witnessing changing consumer preferences post-Covid?

Post-Covid the travel trends have undergone a sea change. Before Covid, most of the tourists around 80% planned for long-haul domestic travel such as Kashmir, Bagdogra, and Gujarat. And the rest 20% of tourists were travelling locally. But now the scene has changed. Around 80% of tourists prefer to travel locally while 20% of tourists are opting for long-haul destinations. So, we are seeing potential from adjoining states. Domestic tourism is on the rise. People prefer driving rather than taking flights or train routes, so I think that’s the reason behind the booming of short-haul destinations. Airfare is making a hole in the tourists’ pockets, so they prefer going by car with family/friends.

What are your plans for the membership drive for TTAA?

We are planning to extend our membership base to 600. The whole idea was to give back something to everyone. We had thought that we would take on new members only when we would be able to offer them something, as there’s no point in adding members and not giving anything to them. Since the beginning, we have been very proactive, and we are a very well-knitted travel association.

Our focus is now networking. So, rather than inviting DMCs, we are inviting tourism bodies. This is because we understand that the tourism boards will not be biased. If the tourism boards decide to invite the DMCs, then they can.

asmita.mukherjee@saffronsynergies.in

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