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Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 12 : 09 PM [IST]

TAAI Convention Kunming - Scripts a new chapter in India-China tourism relations

The 65th TAAI Convention held in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in China, between November 27 and 29 was an eye-opener for many, in terms of a highly potential tourism region closer home, and the openness of Chinese agencies and the trade to have more interactions on exploring tourism exchanges between the two most populous geographies of the world. P Krishna Kumar attended the three-day event at the invitation of TAAI sums up the convention.

It was truly an eye-opener to many including myself as most of the delegates carried some baggage of ill-conceived notions about many things vis-à-vis our neighbour in their minds before boarding the flight to Kunming. Many of those notions got shattered on its face while looking back. A beautiful host city for the convention, all the delegates adequately accommodated in one single hotel property, decent mix of Indian and Oriental cuisines on offer, colourful cultural extravaganza, noted speakers and fairly decent content, liberal options for pre and post-familiarisation trips to key tourism attractions around Yunnan for delegates, the 65th convention of TAAI has seemingly achieved the goal of bringing Yunnan province and thereby China, a notch closer to the travel trade in India.

The commitment on the Chinese side was 100% to see that the convention becomes a platform to bridge the gap that exists when it comes to people-to-people relationship between India and China. None other than the Vice Governor of Yunnan Province was the chief guest at the inaugural event at magnificent Haigen Convention Centre. Li Bijian, Minister and DCM of the Chinese Embassy in Delhi stayed throughout the three-day convention to see that the effort gets the desired result. Even the TAAI leadership had one-on-one interaction with the top party Secretary of the province during the convention which shows the genuine intention to see tourism becomes a real tool for building mutual trust and cooperation between the neighbours.

In her inaugural speech, Li Malin, Vice Governor of Yunnan Province, underscored the huge potential to develop tourism relationships between India and China as “both China and India are developing countries with rapid economic development, increased living standards, fast growing middle class” thus presenting a “golden opportunity for tourism development”.

“Before us is the tourist market broad enough for both sides to explore,” she said.

Mentioning the two top leadership level meetings between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both at Wuhan in April and during BRICS in July, she said this spirit was for comprehensive cooperation including people-to-people relationships.

Talking about Yunnan, Li Malin said that the province is blessed with abundant tourism resources and endowments. She said that the attempt is to make Yunnan as the new power house of China facing South and South East Asia.

Speaking on the occasion, Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI, said that the convention will act as a “model platform” for further boosting closer tourism exchanges between the two countries. He said that with the convention Yunnan and Kunming will become “household” names for travel trade community in India. As per the spirit of the convention and its theme ‘Tourism Beyond Boundaries’, Kumar said that both India and China can now put tourism on the centre stage and try to build relationships around it.

Earlier, addressing the Indian media, He Ligui, Director General, Department of Culture and Tourism, Yunnan Province, also expressed the confidence that the TAAI convention would open ‘new opportunities for tourism cooperation’ between the two countries. He spoke elaborately on how tourism developed in Yunnan province as part of the government-led “development strategy” through the decades starting from 1978. Spring-like weather throughout the year, rich ethnic culture, beautiful landscape, time-honoured history makes Yunnan province unique, he said. He said that tourism in Yunnan emerged from scratch and transformed dramatically. Today, Yunnan is a one of the most influential and appealing tourism destinations in China with 3 national resort areas, 3 national eco-tourism areas, 856 star-rated hotels, etc. He said that the government is committed to upgrade the industry resources more resilient and competitive for hi-end leisure. There have been efforts to harness IT-based applications to make visit for experiential for travellers. The Voice Guiding services will be made available in many foreign languages soon, he said.

The overall message of the convention was on building mutual trust and confidence bilaterally. Li Bijian put it more succinctly during the conference in the light of the proposed ‘people-to-people and cultural exchange mechanism’ round table scheduled between Foreign Ministers of the two countries towards the latter half of December in Delhi. He said that there is intent to enhance mutual trust, focus on areas of mutual cooperation and reinforce common development between the leaderships of the two countries. Therefore, the TAAI Commission, he hoped will help “push mutual understanding and trust between the two countries so that the Chinese dragon and the Indian elephant present more brilliant tweet and Chinese phoenix and Indian peacock fly higher together.”

Focus on Communication
Kick-starting the knowledge sessions at 65th TAAI Convention, Prof John Koldowski, former Deputy CEO, PATA, and professor of tourism at LSNU, China, said that while tourist numbers have been growing phenomenally on a global scale, the tourism revenues haven’t been rising at the same pace raising questions whether the industry is able to deliver the right experiences to people or not. He said that customer experience is quite important in the new era and every visitor demands special treatments. In that context, the service providers have to change their approach from a product dominant logic to service dominant logic. Social media has huge influence on travel decisions and therefore the tour operators have to reinvent themselves as memory-makers.

IATA – Agent Relationship
The presentation and further discussion on NewGen ISS by IATA Assistant Director, Rodney D’Cruz, brought to the fore the lack of trust and confidence between the two important pillars of the travel agency business - IATA and travel agents. While the IATA presented the NewGen ISS, the new age settlement system, as a “revolutionary one” against the “vanilla accreditation system” existed since 1991, the agents did not seem happy the way the changes have imposed over them by IATA. India is one of the first countries where IATA has rolled out the new settlement system.

D’Cruz explained the various facets of the NewGen ISS, the four key pillars on which the system is built up on and how it gives more choice, flexibility, etc. to the agents. He dealt up on the three models of accreditation, the remittance holding and risk management framework, features of IATA EasyPay, and the Global Default Insurance, etc. Dwelling on the major apprehensions, D’cruz said that even if the remittance holding capacity is exceeded and the agency’s financial security is downgraded, their form of payment mode in cash might get disabled. But still they may be able to book tickets on the system using EasyPay or credit card options. “Remittance holding capacity is just a monetary threshold until which you can execute tickets using cash,” he said. He added that the ticketing authority of agencies would not be curtailed even for the reason of accumulated irregularities in the new regime.

The question and answer session brought to the forefront the disappointment of the agents with IATA on different matters including agents’ commission, matters of financial security when airlines go bankrupt, the role of IATA in APJC, etc. Sanjay Narula, Vice President of TAAI had to come in between to pacify the tempers at one point of time.

Follow Digital Trends
The highlight of the second day’s deliberations was a presentation by George Cao, Co-founder and CEO, Dragon Trail Interactive. He spoke on the digital transformation that is happening when it comes to travel search and buying by people. He said that people are no more depending on Google for search as it used to be. Instead of waiting for travellers to come searching for travel products, service providers have to reach out to potential travellers with curated products. If OTAs had challenged offline agents a decade back, it is Google which is now challenging the OTA with flight search and hotel search platforms, he said.

Citing the China story, Cao said that local media platforms are quite popular in China and platforms like WeChat are being used innovatively to training and certification, branding and promotions, organising online roadshows, etc. For those in the travel business, Cao said that going digital and activating all digital channels is the only way left to acquire customers in the present day and age. Follow digital trends, experiment with digital tools and platforms, disseminate content online, serve the entire journey of customers and keep building trust, are the way forward, he said.

Responsible Tourism
Ashish Gupta, Consulting CEO, FAITH, made a passionate presentation on the need to be responsible in product planning and marketing in the changing global environment. He tried to provoke the delegates on the value of responsible business by citing the recent instances of the unfortunate crash of Lion Air aircraft, which was not airworthy, the accident death of a polar bear due to negligence of a cruise ship, the death of whales after consuming plastic waste dumped by travellers in the sea and in the beaches, etc. Like the #metoo and other campaigns, Gupta said it is not long away when people rise against air travel, which contribute 3% of the global warming.

Industry should attract young blood
Making a presentation at the conference, Carl Vaz of Charson Advisory advocated the need for travel industry to infuse young blood into the industry. They need to be encouraged into the industry association leaderships, he said. He also batted for more inclusive approach when it comes to industry deliberations going forward. Industry chambers also need to be made part of the travel and tourism industry deliberations and conferences, he said. He also recommended more serious deliberations on technology at industry conferences.

Strong Investor Interest in Aviation
Kapil Kaul, CEO, India & Middle East, CAPA, said that Indian aviation landscape is going through an interesting phase. Although airline companies are not making big money, the investor interest in the business is at an all time high. Many airline companies are incubating. The domestic passenger growth is around 18 to 20% and the international passenger growth is pegged at 8 to 10%. Talking about Indian carriers, Kaul said that IndiGo will continue to dominate the market for the next 18 to 20 months capturing approximately 55% market share.

With ATF expected to come under the ambit of GST by 2020, Kaul expects at least 10% saving in terms of operation cost leading to an approximately 20% improve mentioned in competitiveness of airlines in India.

Talking about global aviation scenario, Kaul said that the centre of global aviation gravity has started shifting to Asia Pacific. India has moved from 13th position to 7th position in market size and further move up to become the third largest aviation market in next 8 to 10 years.

As fares bound to decline, Kaul advised airlines to deconstruct and reconstruct digital platforms to reduce distribution cost.

Global airline industry was able to meet the cost of capital for the first time in the last 50 years this year, which was dominated by North American airlines on the back of consolidation. However, the challenges of the industry going forward would be fuel prices, geopolitics, over capacity, airport capacities, skill shortage, etc.
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