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Tuesday, 10 September, 2019, 12 : 48 PM [IST]

ADTOI Convention 2019 - Strength of Domestic Tourism

P Krishna Kumar | Ahmedabad

Although the ADTOI (Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India) had so many items on the agenda for their annual conference, all those went topsy-turvy over one big appeal from none other than the Prime Minister himself during his Independent Day speech to the countrymen to try and explore at least 15 domestic tourist destinations over the next three years. Since the convention happened close on the heels of the speech, it was quite natural that the speakers got carried away over it and became the agenda setter for the two-day conference. The speech was nothing short of music to the ears of the domestic tourism industry assuming the flood-gates of business opportunities such an activity would trigger over the coming years.

India’s domestic travel is pretty large and the tourism industry survives and sustains on the back of strong domestic travel. India has an estimated 1.70 billion domestic travellers. However, the average Indian travels only 1.5 times, which is pretty low compared to 5 times in the US and more than 2 times in a year by the Chinese. In that context, the Prime Minister’s appeal can go a long way in giving the Indian domestic tourism the much-needed momentum and impetus to claim its rightful place.

The tone was set by PP Khanna, President, ADTOI himself during his welcome speech at the inaugural. Welcoming the appeal, Khanna urged the government to remove all the policy bottlenecks to realise the dream. He demanded exemption of Goods and Services Tax (GST) for domestic tourism to encourage tourists to explore India first. The ADTOI President in his speech also urged the government to reduce the GST burden on MICE travel, so that the corporate business going out of India can be stopped and converted into opportunities for domestic industry.

Gujarat Takes the Centre Stage
Being the host Tourism Board it was Destination Gujarat that took the centre stage at the two-day conference held at Hyatt Regency on the banks of the Sabarmati River. Even the ADTOI leadership made it pretty loud and clear that they are in Gujarat to promote the state and connect the travel trade with the rest of the country. Besides Gujarat, only the state tourism board which had any representation at the convention was Madhya Pradesh. In the absence of Chief Minister, State’s Home Minister, Pradipsinh Jadeja inaugurated the Convention in the presence of the Tourism Minister for State of Gujarat, Vasanbhai Ahir, SJ Haider, Principal Secretary – Tourism, Gujarat, Ashwani Lohani, CMD, Air India, Jenu Dewan, Director – Tourism, Gujarat.

The Minister of State for Tourism, Gujarat said that the government looks at tourism as a tool to create jobs and livelihood opportunities for the people in the hinterlands where there are hardly any avenues for socio-economic development. The Minister cited the example of Rann Utsav in Kutch, and how the festival has been able to transform the stature of the destination and help take the economic benefits of tourism to people’s doorsteps in Kutch. Rann Utsav which started as a two-day festival has now been extended over 100 days thereby opening vistas of tourism for people of Kutch, he said. The Minister said that the government is committed towards developing world-class infrastructure around the long coastline of the state. He said that Mandvi beach of Kutch has become a big draw with tourists and helped in generating employment for the local population.

Speaking on the occasion, SJ Haider, IAS, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Devsthanam Management & Pilgrimage, Government of Gujarat, said that the new initiative of the CM to promote Border Tourism is also intended to connect benefits of tourism with the socio-economic life of the people. He said that intention is not just improve tourist numbers, but to use tourism as a tool for promoting nationalism, patriotism and upliftment of the people. He said that two big national monuments were unveiled and dedicated by PM for the country in Gujarat. One of this is the Statue of Unity and the other is National Salt Satyagraha Monument, both are a big draw with visitors. Around 10,000 people visit Statue of Unity in a day.

Lohani said that Gujarat has all the vital ingredients to be one of the leading tourist destinations. Soochna, Suvidha, Swachhta, Sahkarita, he said are critical for tourism and Gujarat scores very high on all these. Saying that Domestic Tourism is the mainstay for any destination, Lohani advocated inter-regional and intra-regional travel to promote domestic tourism. He also announced that the national carrier would soon come out with family holiday packages in the domestic sector to encourage people to explore India as per the vision of the Prime Minister.

Need for Deeper PPP Engagement
A panel discussing how states can enhance domestic tourism through public private partnership (PPP) model at the convention proposed deeper engagement between public and private sector in the country to create world-class infrastructure to enable Indians to travel domestically. Moderating the session, Vinod Zutshi, former Secretary Tourism, Government of India, said that although the government has been trying to create enabling environment through schemes like Swadesh Darshan, PRASAD and UDAN, in order to reduce the demand supply gap that exists in terms of infrastructure, human resource shortage, etc., the country requires more deeper and closer engagement between government and the private sector.

Participating in the discussion, Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts, said that state governments should frame suitable policies to engage the small and medium investors in the sector, that is lacking so far. He pointed grave flaws in the current PPP policies, which do not include the SMEs sector and investors.

Aashish Gupta, Consulting CEO, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) advocated a supporting policy to realise the vision. 99% of tourism being domestic, he advocated income tax exemption to consumers on hotels and air ticket expenses to encourage people to explore India. He asked the government to look not at the direct revenue loss, but at the indirect benefits that will come out of increased domestic travel. He also proposed double weighted depreciation benefit to corporates to encourage them to hold their events within the country.

Jenu Dewan, Director – Tourism, Gujarat explained how the state involved private investors in creating tent city in Kutch and thereby helped to create more than 1 lakh man workdays. He urged investors to come forward to replicate the success story around the Statue of Unity and build their own brand equity.

Yuvraj Padole, Deputy Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism explained the long lease model of investment that the state has created for heritage projects, way-side amenities and water sports facilities. He said that the state has created 1,000 acres of land bank for private investors to create infrastructure.

Stronger B2B Connect in ADTOI
Although the Convention didn’t deliberate on varied aspects of technological and other challenges faced by its members from online aggregators and consolidators, the leadership asked the members to help each other to grow the business through mutual cooperation. The leadership urged the membership to realise the strength of coming together.
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