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Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 16 : 41 PM [IST]

TAFI Convention Abu Dhabi- Deliberates on the Changes & Way Forward

The TAFI Convention held in Abu Dhabi between September 26 and 28, had for a change focus on ‘motivational’ aspects than real trade and industry issues. At the same time, as a host country, Abu Dhabi and its Tourism Department tried to leverage maximum out of the convention by showcasing its varied destinations and attractions to the convention delegates with an eye on the ever-increasing Indian outbound. P Krishna Kumar reports.

I don’t remember how many times I lost myself the way while locating the convention venue within the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel which is a real piece of art and architecture signifying the interest of the UAE rulers in creating top of the world edifices. By choosing one of the most expensive hospitality addresses in the world for the TAFI Convention, the organisers as well as the host, Abu Dhabi Tourism, wanted to turn the spotlight on the destination and the unparalleled opportunities for all sorts of travel available in the capital of Emirati power. In Emirates Palace official’s account, the premium hotel alone has hosted 11 fat Indian weddings this year alone, besides many small and big events and other incentive groups.

It’s no wonder considering the closeness and the historical relationship between India and the UAE. Several speakers at the convention spoke about this closeness which has been growing from strength to strength and it’s at an all-time high now. UAE is home for 3.3 million Indian people, which is the largest concentration of Indian nationals outside of India. Their remittances stood at USD 14 billion last year, and the UAE is the third largest trade partner for India after the US and China, they said. The air connectivity between India and UAE is one of the best with over 150 flights per day connecting 17 locations in India.

‘TAFI Connect empowers travel agents with demand & supply certainty’

Q What exactly triggered the concept of a digital platform for TAFI agents - TAFI Connect? When are you planning to go live with this platform?
The major challenge that Indian small- and medium-sized travel agencies are facing is how to keep up with transformations of the digital age. The need of the hour is that agents collaborate among themselves and become a formidable power.

India is expected to become the third largest travel and tourism economy by 2028. The hotel market in India is worth approx 6.2 billion dollars, of which a mammoth 4.5 billion dollars’ worth of transactions are offline between hotels and travel agents.

A majority of travellers today use laptops, tablets and smartphones when organising a trip and access offers that challenge many aspects of the offline travel agents’ business.

TAFI CONNECT is the new age digital technology by TAFI. It is an ecosystem that patches the currently fragmented travel scenario with a platform enabling peer to peer transactions between hotels, travel agents, DMC’s, corporates & travel agents, allowing exchange of rates, etc. The TAFI CONNECT platform is a marketplace where travel agents can connect with hotels, OTA’s, bed banks and fellow travel agents online and transact real-time with each other.

The platform is exclusive to TAFI Members and the members can access the platform by paying a nominal subscription amount.

Q What is the partnership you have been able to work out on the supply side - hotels, OTAs, aggregators, etc. to make the platform rich and provide real time inventory, rates, etc.?
TAFI Connect empowers travel agents with demand and supply certainty, and access to live hotel feed from the most coveted suppliers like Yatra, Cleartrip, Zumata, PriceLine, OYO Rooms, GRN connect, Lemon Tree Hotels and many more. And soon with Go-MMT’s live hotel feed coming in, the agents will have access to supply from all over the globe.

Q How would the platform distinguish and organise business for JBG and non-JBG agents?
The platform enables members to transact with suppliers on credit card, supplier credit limits, and now JBG (Joint Bank Guarantee) members enjoy additional credit over and above the credit already enjoyed from a pre-existing vendor at better rates.

Praveen Chugh, President, TAFI, in his address also highlighted how destinations which hosted their conferences in the past have immensely benefited from it, and cited how Indian numbers to those countries and destinations have grown since TAFI travelled to Israel, Turkey, South Africa, Malaysia, Mauritius, etc. He said that Indian travel and aviation is poised for giant strides and the Indian air passenger market has clocked consistent double digit growth for 50 months, and it is expected to overtake Germany and Japan in the coming 10 years. However, for travel agents, Chugh said that it is time to change the way business is conducted as today’s customer has “no patience” and looks for faster flow of information.

Cautioning on NewGen ISS
TAFI convention was held on the eve of the roll out of IATA’s much-anticipated NewGen ISS programme in India. Therefore, the convention deliberated on the new payment system in detail with international delegates raising strong apprehensions about the system and its pitfalls.

“IATA is not 100% ready. That is the problem,” said Datuk Hamzah Rahmat, Executive Director, Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA). The programme has been implemented in Singapore and the experience of the trade was not encouraging, he said. Because of lack of preparedness on the part of IATA, agents’ businesses are adversely affected there, he said. Hamzah alleged that IATA has always been playing the “divide and rule” policy in the region. He said that when an agent gets accredited into the system of IATA, he becomes a partner in the business. Ironically, IATA does not treat partners as equal stakeholders, he said. Talking about the drastic changes that have happened in the industry, he said that today agents have a choice whether to remain an IATA member or not.

Sharing the Canada market experience since the roll out of NewGen ISS in March, and also the first country to switch to the system, a leading travel agent from Canada said that business of a large number of agencies were adversely impacted in the very first week of the introduction of the new system. It can affect all the businesses in ticketing irrespective of their size. The challenge is more for those who do group business, she said.

We are expecting consistent 10-15% y-o-y growth from India: ED Abu Dhabi Tourism

Sultan Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of Abu Dhabi Tourism, said that the emirate is expecting a consistent 10 to 15% growth from India in tourist arrivals. Abu Dhabi had received 3.5 lakh hotel guests in 2017 and the numbers for the first 8 months of 2018 have shown a growth of 18%.

Attributing this growth to continuous commitment and investments in educating the trade partners about Abu Dhabi, Dhaheri said the tourism board will continue to invest in the Indian market to maintain the growth momentum. He was speaking to media on the sidelines of TAFI Convention. He said that the tourism board is also investing in educating the local stakeholders on how to customise their services to suit Indian customers.

Sultan informed that the government is making all efforts to create infrastructure to make the destination accessible and its services seamless to visitors.

Talking about tourism and its significance, he said that the sector was identified as a key economic driver and lot of investments have gone into it over the years. From 7,000 hotel rooms and 1 million guests in 2006, Abu Dhabi today has 32,000 hotel rooms and receives 5 million guests, and another 10,000 rooms are in the pipeline.

He said that the tourism board is encouraging local DMCs to design 4, 6, and 10 hour packages for transit passengers, since transit visa was introduced.

Talking about new segments, Sultan said that Medical Tourism is one segments that Abu Dhabi is looking to tap and promote. An agreement has been signed with the Medical Travel Association in this regard, and the tourism board will embark on a roadshow in source markets.

The moderator of the forum, Michel de Blust, Secretary General, European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations, observed that despite a sharp fall in the number of accredited agents in various regions, IATA is making the relationship complex for them. He said that the number of accredited agents in Europe has dropped from 25,000 few years ago to around 18,000 today.

Defending IATA and the new system, Rodney D Cruz, Assistant Director, Passenger & Cargo Services - India Nepal and Bhutan, IATA, assured the participants that the new system would not block the authority of agents to book tickets at any point of time. Allaying the fears and 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. He added that the ticketing authority of agencies would not be curtailed even for the reason of accumulated irregularities in the new regime.

However, the Indian agents’ associations like TAFI do not see any major challenge as far as the change in the system is concerned. Chugh expressed the confidence that the switch over will be rather smoother in India as most of the “learnings” on the “lapses” have been identified and addressed before implementing the same in India. “In case, there are still issues for agents, as an association TAFI will be able to help find solutions.”

TAFI Connect
In the two-day deliberations largely dominated by motivational sessions, one session that stood out was discussion on the new digital platform, TAFI Connect, that TAFI has designed for its members to connect, collaborate for non-airline business. Talking about the platform, Pranita Baveja, Co-founder & CEO, Traviate, the company that drives the TAFI Connect platform, said that the vision is to expand the business horizons together, share the benefits of collaboration and prosper collectively. She said that TAFI Connect is a new age digital technology platform designed to build efficiencies across membership and remove complexities related to dealing with multiple suppliers and updating the clients with real time information, rates, etc. She said that travel agents will be able to book hotel rooms without entering into any contractual partnerships. They have established collaborations with leading third-party suppliers like Yatra, Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, Priceline, Zumata, and leading agencies like TSI Yatra, TBO, Ria, FCM, Blue Star Travel, to help get real-time inventory.

Destination Abu Dhabi
The Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi had made elaborate arrangement for the TAFI convention delegates to take back home fond memories of the destination, its rich history, centuries-old heritage, culture and matchless hospitality. While Emirates hotel itself is the most luxurious hospitality address in the capital city stretching almost a kilometre from wing to wing, the delegates had opportunities to immerse in diverse of experiences which encompasses fun, luxury and leisure, shopping, etc. in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is a perfect melting-pot of rich Emirati past – heritage and culture – and at the same time a highly modern cosmopolitan city with unmatched opportunities for fun and entertainment. The world-class Yas Island development which houses iconic entertainment facilities like Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Yas Marina Circuit, Warner Bros, etc. attracts millions of visitors every year. Louvre Abu Dhabi at Saadiyat Island is the latest in the ever-evolving attractiveness of the destination.
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