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Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 16 : 30 PM [IST]

OTOAI to grow its membership to 800 agents by year end

The office-bearers of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI) plan to work aggressively towards securing the interests of its members and growing the association’s member count from 450 to 800 by year end. Akansha Pandey reports.
Prime Focus: Member Interests
Guldeep Singh Sahni (GSS), President, OTOAI: In order to save our members from fraudulent agents, we have asked them to come forward and report about such companies, both Indian and international. OTOAI will also take care that such complaints aren’t driven by personal differences. Besides, VisitBritain had shared its list of certified suppliers which enables our members to sell the destination better. We are on the lookout for more such assistance to bring in ease and confidence to conduct business with our foreign counterparts. Moreover, going forward we aim to address issues related to service tax  and are also pushing the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) to work as a regulatory body and keep a check on the unlicensed tour operators in the market.

OTOAI Meeting

Roping new NTOs
GSS: Currently 21 NTOs are OTOAI members through representation companies and individually as tourism boards. OTOAI being a non-profit organisation, we are trying level best to get more NTOs onboard.
GSS: With regards to tying up with the Embassies and preferring OTOAI members for visa issuance, we had achieved a breakthrough with the Philippines Embassy, New Delhi. Now, we are in the process of getting it done with more NTOs officially and are making their embassies and high commissions realise that whichever visa application comes through our member base has already been filtered. OTOAI is scouting for meaningful tie-ups with outbound tourism boards which will in-turn assist in boosting business.

Membership Target
GSS: OTOAI has four regional chapters (North, South, East and West) and we plan to grow the South and East Chapters this year. In the Southern Chapter, we plan to add Bengaluru and Hyderabad. North East is left untapped which will soon be added with the Eastern Chapter. OTOAI aims to connect with outbound tour operators from every nook and corner of India. By the end of 2016, we plan to expand our membership from the existing 450 members to 800 agents.

Tour Operators
Gurdeep Gujral (GG), Joint Secretary, OTOAI:  The OTOAI membership hails not just from the metropolitan cities, but also from the Tier-II and Tier-III cities of India. Over 55 members (and counting) are from the Tier-II markets and more than 25 members (and counting) from the Tier-III cities. There were a number of OTOAI tour operators from cities of Bihar and North Eastern states who attended the convention in Bali.

Stringent Criteria
Shravan Bhalla (SB), General Secretary, OTOAI: For becoming an OTOAI member, a tour operator needs to be certified by a national tourist organisation. This way, an operator based at even a remote location is being recognised by the tourism board. If a certain tour operator isn’t having a recognition letter, we are pushing him to attain the same. Due to this direct linkage, the tourism board is also realising the newer growth markets and smaller agents bringing business.
Kapil Berera, Treasurer, OTOAI: We are contemplating to differentiate the enrollment for OTOAI membership in metro, Tier-II and Tier-III cities of India.

Pushing for Recognition
GSS: OTOAI called on Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (Independent Charge) and Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Govt. of India, and has requested him to consider outbound tourism as part of his deliberations. We informed the MoT how the Indian outbound travel is a money spinner, thereby generating huge tax revenue for the government and creating employment opportunities for people in India. The 88 national tourist organisations in India are also pumping in over USD 2-3 million in the Indian market on branding and promotions. It’s time that the government should realise the potential of outbound tourism.

Outbound Travel: A promising Segment
GSS: The outbound travel from India has been witnessing almost 10-12% growth year on year, and I expect similar pattern this year. Outbound is taking centre stage and slowly and steadily all trade associations are diverting their focus to outbound travel business. It’s the call of the day. Post no commission from ticketing and inbound observing a downfall; it is attracting the eyeballs of other travel trade associations and operators. I am glad that outbound travel segment is getting more focus by trade associations, but at the same time such associations should also focus on their core segment.

Need to Reinvent
Riaz Munshi, Vice President, OTOAI: Though the flight and hotel bookings in general are moving to the online travel agents, but holiday packages and that too in the outbound segment is a complex task to buy online. The amount of hand-holding required when a traveller is going outbound is preferred with the offline operators. where the traveller gets a personal touch and multi-destination travel itinerary bundled into one. Offline tour operators will continue to dominate the segment despite the growth of OTAs, as a big chunk of outbound travellers prefer to buy offline or are not that technology-friendly or face a language barrier. But nevertheless, with technology dominating the way travel business should be conducted, we had mind-boggled at our convention in Bali on how best can we adapt change and reinvent our business to maintain and grow our pie.
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