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Monday, 02 November, 2015, 11 : 30 AM [IST]

In Search of Salvation…

It’s that time of the year again… time for the annual pilgrimage of travel professionals from all over the world to WTM London. Yes, there will be many from India too, who will, no doubt be in London again. Though I’m not sure whether this is out of habit or necessity. Over the past few years, the writing has been on the wall, but the Indian government and the travel industry have refused to acknowledge it. WTM has been an eye-opener and what has followed over the last 2 years was clearly a reflection of the message it has sent out, and what I observed at WTM over the last few years. The response to India has been lukewarm to say the least, and sometimes so poor that it really worrisome. Indians at WTM, both exhibitors and visitors, witness it, discuss it and then forget about it… only to show up at next edition of the event without any lessons being learned, and any concrete action been taken. The ominous signs have been quite clear over the last 5 years… each year the signals get louder and more clearer. Therefore, what we are currently witnessing in the Indian travel industry is something we could have avoided if we paid a little more attention, tackled issues with a little more seriousness, and if the government and stakeholders worked together for the benefit of Indian tourism in a planned manner, but then that’s really wishful thinking…

WTM also means that the calendar year is drawing to a close, yet another forgettable year for the Indian travel industry. I’m sure most of us who are connected to the travel industry here in one way or another will be quite glad to see the back of 2015. Not too much to cheer about this year, though most of our industry will continue to live in denial. The truth be told, it’s been a year in which neither inbound nor outbound has too much to show or many success stories to tell. Small and big players are struggling alike, and staying afloat is now the new big achievement. In fact, the bigger companies have had tougher times because their cost structures do not allow for easy adaptation. Of course, there are exceptions in every scenario. And in this case, believe me the exceptions have done really well in a market which is becoming increasingly difficult to survive in. It’s not just the commissions I’m talking about here… it’s the general mood of the industry and overall business scenario. Yes, the economy in general is not yet back to its heydays and will slowly get there. But the fact that as an industry we have seen this coming over the last couple of years, and have really done nothing besides make things harder for ourselves with questionable business practices, is shocking. Yes, we can argue that the government has done nothing, and the inconsistent policies at the Centre, along with the change in governments, has not helped either. Barring the ETV, precious little has happened for tourism this year on the policy front, except that many right things have been said and promises have definitely been made. All the states have also suddenly become competitive about who will declare its new Tourism Policy first and make headlines with larger announcements than the others!

Unfortunately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it remains to be seen when these policies will translate into action on the ground level, if ever… Till that time, travel companies, tour operators, and hotels along with other tourism products in India will continue to feel the heat. Even the traditional stronghold of the industry, the Indian outbound market has started to shrink in terms of returns or margins. In the light of this, drastic changes will be necessary, and tourism will have to become high on the government agenda and priority, and I don’t mean the likes of ETV which has hardly spurred inbound growth and is yet to achieve any measurable success (of course, one hears about percentage growth of ETV scheme all the time. But it needs to be kept in mind that we started from zero, so growth must be viewed relatively). If these changes are not forthcoming in the near future, then the only hope for the travel industry is a strong resurgence in the overall Indian economy and renewed spending by corporate entities and consumers alike. Again, I don’t mean to be a spoil sport, but I’m merely offering a reality check. And realistically speaking, while 2016 does bring with it cautious optimism and the hope of some stability in the economy, nobody is going to start pulling in the big bucks before 2017… will we have to wait that long for salvation?

Sheldon Santwan
Editor & COO
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