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Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 15 : 08 PM [IST]

‘Pride & egos need to be kept aside to address & resolve issues impacting tourism’

World Travel & Tourism Council India Initiative (WTTCII) has recently appointed veteran hotelier, Sunder G. Advani, Chairman & Managing Director, Advani Hotels & Resorts (India) Limited as the Chairman for 2018. He has been associated with WTTCII since the chapter inception in 2000. In one of the first interviews after taking over the Chairmanship of the only country-specific chapter of WTTC globally, Advani spoke at length about various issues related to Tourism in India with P Krishna Kumar.

Q Congratulations for being elected as Chairman of WTTCII. What are your priorities and what kind of direction you want to give to WTTCII?
I feel deeply honoured and humbled that the leaders of India’s hospitality, aviation and travel companies have selected me to be the Chairman of WTTC’s India Initiative.

We need to get the GST bit right. Last year, we led representations on GST on behalf of the industry, to the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Finance. The 28% GST on hotels is too high and we should all strive to see that this is brought at par with Business Class Air tickets which is at 12%. 18% is the highest slab. Hotels, especially in the leisure segment are affected severely on account of this high tax.

Q Do you think WTTCII has lost some relevance since the formation of FAITH? What role WTTCII is going to play as an advocacy group in India’s tourism landscape?
WTTCII’s primary mandate is to work with the governments – both at the Central and state level on policies and practices for maximising the growth potential of India’s tourism industry. Look at the e-visa story. It was one of the mandates of WTTCII since its formation to remove the visa barrier, which was hampering access to India. We never said it was a WTTCII effort. It was a collective industry effort.

FAITH is a welcome addition in pushing the agenda for greater recognition of travel and tourism in India. We have worked with FAITH, on GST, on the issue of hotels getting affected by the 500-meter liquor vending rules on highways. The need of the hour is to get issues resolved for the industry. Prides and egos associated with visiting cards and chair roles need to be kept aside while getting issues of relevance and national importance resolved.

Q While government inbound figures show an everincreasing number in terms of inbound traffic into India, the travel trade in India says that the growth has happened by aggregating foreign tourists and arrivals by NRIs, PIOs, etc. What is your take on these divergent views and your suggestions to grow the leisure traffic?
Tourist arrivals look good at nine million in 2016 with a 12% growth over previous year. However, we are still a long way away from Thailand at 32.6 million, Malaysia at 26.76 million, Singapore at 16.4 million and Indonesia at 12.02million. Yes, we would like to see more footfalls, high spending tourists who add to the economy. The Chinese outbound stood at 122 million people in 2016, and Chinese visitors spent USD 109.8 billion in 2016 on their trips. No matter whatever political or ideological differences governments have with China, for tourism every government throws open their doors, bending backwards to accommodate the high spending Chinese tourists. Be it Union Pay ATMS at the duty free shopping areas at Heathrow airport or Chinese commentary in the Hornblower cruises across Niagara falls, Chinese tourists have their way.

India and China are two of the world’s biggest nations tantamounting to more than 2.6 billion people but what is the airline seat capacity between India and China? We are stretched, and nowhere close to let’s say a China- Australia, China-US, China- Canada capacity. The airlines of all these countries are actively working to increase seat capacity, pairing Cities, working on models to spur demands. The Government of India needs to emulate that. For that we cannot make decisions in isolation.

Q The travel trade in India is also worried about the fall out of the government’s move to close down Indiatourism offices abroad? What is WTTCII’s views on the government action?
What alternative you suggest to strengthen destination marketing? WTTCII has been a strong advocate of keeping physical representation in key geographies. The order of the day is to devise key strategies for key markets, employ Tourism Marketing Representatives and PR Agencies to deploy your marketing plans and map and monitor them for best results. India Tourism Marketing offices in key geographies and Tourism Marketing Representatives must form hub and spoke Models for effective marketing and ensuring better ROI. In today’s digital age marketing strategies change every minute. So, the key role that the Tourism Offices abroad must play is to monitor and get the desired returns out of the activities that the Tourism Marketing Representative and PR Agencies deploy. The offices have to be empowered and adequately staffed with efficient professionals to achieve this.

Q What prospects you see for India in the tourism space in the coming New Year? What support you seek and expect from the government to unleash India’s tourism potential?
When the new government came into office in 2014, WTTCII had presented a Tourism Action Plan. Though most of the issues articulated in that thought paper has been addressed, however, “ease of doing business” constraints are still hampering the true growth of India’s Tourism Sector. MICE and cruise tourism are huge areas, which India needs to step into aggressively. Policies which spur growth and help keep money in the local economy is the need of the hour. 16 million Indians travel abroad every year; this is a lucrative outbound market for many countries. Why doesn’t the Government incentivise domestic holidays taken by Indians, with income tax sops? The Money stays and flows in the local economy, it spurs more jobs and it’s a win-win for both the government and our citizens.
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