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Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 16 : 07 PM [IST]

IATO Convention 2016 to Connect the Dots

Expecting to cross over 1,200- delegate turnout this year, the 32nd IATO Annual Convention will deliberate on the stark difference between the success claims of growing inbound arrivals made by the government at a time when the travel trade is struggling for survival.
Akansha Pandey

Yet again, it’s that time of the year when the travel trade will come together for the Indian Association of Tour Operators’ (IATO) annual convention at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, from September 18-21, raking the theme “Expectations and Reality: Bridging the Gap.”

Pronab Sarkar, President, IATO, said, “This will be first time IATO Convention will be held in Chennai. The association was planning to organise its annual convention in Chennai for last couple of years. This year, from the very beginning, we were focused on Chennai and it is going to be dream come true. However, the stupendous success of the previous convention has raised the expectations of the members and sponsors. More than 1,200 delegates are expected to attend the three-day event.”

The theme is most apt, said Rajeev Kohli, Senior VP, IATO and Chairman, IATO Convention 2016, adding, “Remarkable figures are covered in the press on how inbound travel numbers have recorded a growth trajectory, though, the ground reality is way different. There is a major disconnect in what the publicity spin shows and the actual figures. IATO members and nonmembers alike are struggling on various fronts. It needs to be explored that why do official numbers say one story, yet the actual occupancy figure of tourists and actual business done by our members just don’t add up. How can the government claim so many successes when our industry is on the brink of financial disaster? Taking cue from what conversations have been going on, we think that this is the most appropriate theme for this year’s convention.”


Talking about the state of affairs in inbound travel industry of India, Rajiv Mehra, VP, IATO and Co-Chairman, IATO Convention 2016, added that it was expected that the introduction of E-Tourist Visa (ETV) will bring landmark revolution in international tourist arrivals, but due to some restrictive terms such as single entry, 30 days validity, application restriction for 30 days in advance, etc. have proved major deterrent for many tourists who wanted to combine Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, etc. along with their holiday to India.

“The inbound travel to India has seen a major setback. Due to challenges in the ETV policy, inbound travellers have dropped the idea of travelling to India and instead opted for the countries with visa-friendly approach. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan could not bring any striking change in India. Tourists still talk of unhygienic conditions in India,” Mehra stated. Charter flights have been deterred by high landing charges and operational fees. Entry fees to monuments have been increased exorbitantly, and ETV is not valid for cruise travellers coming to India. “Such gaps in the actual implementation of the policy will be addressed at the convention through deliberations and government participation,” said Mehra.

Kohli who has also assisted in curating the content of the past four conventions of IATO outlines that the organising team this year has focussed on creating content that is meaningful and relevant to the businesses of all IATO members. “We have brought in some expert speakers on very select topics such as renowned Management Guru and Marketing Theorist, Professor Anand Kurian from Singapore who will talk on business growth. I hope the delegates will walk away satisfied with the quality efforts put in this year. IATO also aims to play a bigger role in bringing back leisure tourism to the capital city of Chennai for increase in volume of arrivals and long-term growth,” he said.

Besides, this year IATO is experimenting with some changes to the format of its annual convention. Adopting best practices from other global associations, an agent-only session has been introduced for the tour operator and travel agent member community exclusively. All IATO active members are automatically registered for these sessions and allied members will also be eligible as well. This half-day session on September 18 is divided into three broad tracks of discussions - “Changing Clients” (non-payments, client abandonment, etc.); “Best Practices in Contracting and Supplier Management” and “Guides - Improving the Partnership.”

The discussion on Changing Clients will deliberate on incidences of payment defaults by foreign tour operators, sudden changing of handling agents and other issues. This session will brainstorm on how can tour operators better handle such issues and what needs to be done collectively as an industry. The session on Best Practices in Contracting and Supplier Management will highlight best practices to be followed when handling suppliers and talk about steps to contract with suppliers and clients. The love-hate relationship between tour operators and guides is a never ending saga and thus the Guides - Improving the Partnership session will reiterate on the need to work collectively towards the same goal and portray destination India in the best possible manner.

Kohli added, “Each segment will be moderated by experienced members to help guide the discussion. This will be an interactive discussion format for members to address issues affecting the business and will assist us in designing future road map for IATO. Being a closed door session, we expect the discussions to be fair and frank.”

Other topics of discussion include Media Management by Former Secretary Tourism – RH Khwaja; implications of Goods and Service Tax (GST) on the tourism sector by K Vaitheesswaran, Advocate and Tax Consultant expert; impact of the recently launched National Civil Aviation Policy 2016; global marketing and competitiveness of India; new opportunities in outbound travel; Look South - tourism-related opportunities and challenges in South of India and coexistence of online travel agents vis-à-vis offline tour operators moderated by Homa Mistry from Trail Blazers India.

Rohit Kohli from Creative Travel will talk about the changing times, new customer needs and what has made some businesses successful during the Being Different – the only way to Succeed session. Stark Communications will give an insight into some of the success strategies when operating in the social world in “Taking us into a digital world” session. Ranjeesh Singh from SimpliHR will delve into “Best HR Practices” to effectively manage staff, employee retention, compensation, evaluation and productivity.

Mehra highlighted, “This year the main sponsor state is Tamil Nadu while confirmations have been received from Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.” They are expecting to partner with Karnataka, Bengal, Punjab, Jharkhand, Manipur and Uttarakhand.

From the Ministry’s end, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State (I/C) for Culture and Tourism, Government of India, will be travelling at the time of IATO Convention. However, Vinod Zutshi, Secretary Tourism, Suman Billa, Joint Secretary Tourism and Meenakshi Sharma, Additional Director General Tourism have confirmed their presence at the convention along with Tourism Ministers from all participating states, revealed Sarkar.

Due to space constraint, a select process has been followed for allocating exhibition booths. Hence, most of the exhibitors are from state government who have taken the packages with booths. About five suppliers are in the process of being finalised, informed Mehra.

Post-convention familiarisation tours will be conducted to Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram, Puducherry and Tirupati Balaji Temple. Mehra added that Tamil Nadu offers varied tourism offerings such as beaches, pilgrimage, hill station, wildlife, shopping, Ayurveda and medical tourism. “These were our main considerations to host the convention in Tamil Nadu and get updated on the products. Even as per our policy we always try to organise the convention in different states and aim to boost tourism to the state,” he said.


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