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Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 12 : 42 PM [IST]

IATO heads ‘East’ for its Annual Convention

As the Government of Odisha highlights its development initiatives and asserts to the travel trade on “Looking Towards the East,” members from the apex body of inbound tour operators – IATO feel that this will be an apt time to update themselves on the new tourism product offerings across the state. Akansha Pandey reports.

Themed “Indian Tourism – Time to Reinvent Ourselves,” the 33rd Annual Convention of Indian Association of Tour Operators’ (IATO) is all set to be held at Mayfair Convention Centre, Bhubaneswar from September 7-10, 2017. As the last IATO Convention held in Odisha, was way back in 2008 and since then the Odisha Government has enhanced its facilitation and capacity building, members feel the time is ripe to promote the less-explored and potential destination of Odisha among foreign travellers, said Pronab Sarkar, President, IATO. At the same time he asserted that the connectivity needs to be increased further and more hotel rooms should be added to cater travellers across categories.

Elaborating on the theme, Rajiv Mehra, Chairman, IATO Convention 2017 and Vice President, IATO added, “The past few years have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for the Indian tourism sector. The Incredible India branding has aged with time and amidst the growing concerns, the travel sentiment to India has declined. New and emerging travel destinations with aggressive promotions have taken the front-seat. Another issue of rising taxation has been hovering over India tourism since decades now. In such a dynamic scenario, it is vital for our sector to keep innovating and retain the newness. Thus, with the said theme onboard, we will be deliberating on the ways to stay relevant.”

Lally Mathews, Co-Chairman, IATO Convention 2017 and Honorary Secretary, IATO exclaimed that over 1200 delegates are expected at the three-day event. Also, with the overwhelming response to the previous year’s convention, about 14 State Tourism Boards of Andaman Island, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi have confirmed their participation along with the host state of Odisha. They will also be showcasing their tourism products at the exhibition - Indian Travel Mart held on the sidelines of the IATO Convention.

Seeming to be the USP of this year’s IATO Convention, the panel discussions, new-format sessions and best of speakers have been put together by Rajeev Kohli, Senior Vice President, IATO. “This year’s convention will bring in a different format. We are limiting the sessions and increasing the interaction time. We want the deliberations to be dynamic and two-way. Every session will have a panel to initiate the discussion followed by dedicated interaction time with the audience on a particular topic. We want our members to be involved in the discussion on how the glory of the tourism sector can be restored,” he said.

The member-only sessions before inaugural ceremony will discuss on following a robust Code of Conduct in one’s working, investment being done on infrastructure and human resource. The open-to-all-delegates panel discussions from day-one will deliberate on the India Tourism brand and its positioning; innovative marketing techniques; ways to monetise on the aviation policies of the government; the GST journey of the sector represented by FAITH; businesses and the inter-generational challenges; how to make India a more holistic and contemporary travel destination and new business ideas.

Heading the IATO Run for Responsible Tourism, Amaresh Tiwari, Honorary Treasurer, IATO is also hopeful of better participation this year.

IATO Chapter Chairmen Speak
As the leading inbound travel trade association nears its annual convention, an event where thinktanks and industry veterans come together to deliberate; IATO’s Chapter Chairmen across India in conversation with TravelBiz Monitor highlight the underlying potential of their respective region/state and the challenges awaiting to be addressed.

JK Mohanty, Chairman, IATO Eastern Region
Eastern India is filled with rich tourism potential and much more than what other states in India have to offer. As Chairman of the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Odisha (HRAO) and IATO, Eastern Region, it has been my continuous endeavour to bring this to the notice of both the central and state government and to create awareness of how tourism can help the state’s economy. Both medical tourism and eco-tourism segments can work out wonders for India Tourism and Odisha in particular.

The Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India has been aggressively promoting the Incredible India Campaign but unfortunately not much is said about Eastern Region and Odisha in particular. Even most of the India Tourism offices abroad hardly have any tourist literature on the state.

Sunil Gupta, Chairman, IATO Northern Region
The tourism in Northern States has huge potential to multiply, if the Government gives due priority and funds in building tourism infrastructure and promotion. The travel trade has ever since been raising their concerns on challenges such as poor connectivity, terrible road conditions, lack of hygiene and heavy taxation.

Considering the new inbound source markets, Buddhist Pilgrimage circuit can be a multiplier. The neighbouring South Asian countries of India have large number of people following Buddhism and they desire to visit the Buddha Path once in lifetime. The government along with private stakeholders should play a proactive role in connecting the dots.

Pandian K, Chairman, IATO Andaman & Nicobar, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Chapter
South India is a land of diversity, distinct in its own way through its culture, ethnicity, history, art and architecture, beaches, cuisines, nature and beauty. It has excellent potential in terms of inbound tourism and eyes multiple markets that still remain to be tapped to utilise its potential. For example, Tamil Nadu is not just a state in India but a country in itself with abundant natural and cultural resources showcasing the varied emotions of India. Apart from Kerala, other states in South India too need to be projected in an appropriate way to promote the hidden potential of the place in its true essence.

A new and upcoming travel segment waiting to be tapped is the Astrological Tourism, especially the Naadi Astrology and Palmistry are the two areas that have excellent relevance and it needs to be promoted. There are genuine people and places in South India exclusively, for people who are interested to know about Naadi and Palm reading.

S Mahalingaiah, Chairman, IATO Karnataka Chapter
The southern region of India is a goldmine which is yet to be tapped as it has varieties to offer every 100 to 150 km, with different cuisine, culture, language, landscape, etc. A variety of tourism products such as world heritage monuments, wildlife, pilgrim sites, ayurveda, houseboats, tree houses, hill stations, cruising options and over 2000 km of beach line strengthen the tourism potential of South India. To realise the same, inbound source markets such as South America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand should be tapped further.

Prateek Hira, Chairman, IATO Uttar Pradesh & Uttarakhand Chapter
North India is actually that area of India from where growth of tourism in India originated, it is home to Taj Mahal, Buddhism, Himalayas, grandeur of Rajasthan and some very exciting wildlife. This is that part of India that cannot be missed by inbound tourists and even tourism in India can never be thought of without the north.

Of course, now the time has come to reinvent and be even more relevant. The inbound market has matured and there is now a huge market comprising travellers who will now repeat India. To give them a reason enough to visit India, especially the north, we as tour operators need to reinvent ourselves not only in concern of our product offers but also by the means of how we sell and manage.

The inbound market now also comprises experiential travellers in a big way and North India has no dearth of offers in this domain. It is only to be recognised and creatively formulated to turn it into a feasible tour product. Governments in the northern states too, are seriously thinking and have been encouraging tourism with most of benefits for tourism. Considering infrastructure of tourism, hotels, air connectivity etc., they are so conducive in the north; it is just a matter of understanding the worth and reinventing the destination to make it relevant to the discerning traveller of today.

Until recently, inbound markets that were quite restricted to only a few countries have now extended to small and unheard markets too. Inbound tourism markets have become more dynamic with each passing year and it is now hard to tell which market will pick-up at which point-of-time. In my personal opinion, India as a destination is quite receptive and we now need to look at inbound tourism as a global market instead of fragmented markets. With the advent of internet and free flow of destination knowledge, the markets are no more restricted and the entire world has become a one huge market. Of course, now instead of ‘geographical market segmentation’, it has become ‘tourist profile segmentation’ and we as tourism professionals ought to understand this shift and reinvent to fit the bill. Having said that, I strongly believe that traditional markets of UK and US have to be further strengthened along with other European and South American markets, as I feel India will benefit the most from these; given their expenditure patterns and loyalty towards India as a destination. Africa is totally untapped and we have not looked at it seriously barring of course a few countries there, so this can come in as an extension of the traditional markets.

Narendra Bhardwaj, Chairman, IATO Himachal Pradesh Chapter
North India already enjoys being the primary beneficiary of inbound travel from most of the global source markets, but even then its potential is still not fully utilised. We are blessed with majority of geographical area like that of the Himalayas in our country, but haven’t yet tapped the potential it has as far as inbound travel is concerned.

However, our neighbouring countries - Nepal and Bhutan have done it, and their inbound tourism largely survives on the Himalayas. If rightly presented, Himalayan destinations can attract tourists looking for leisure, wildlife and culture. Being the Chapter Chairman for Himachal Pradesh, I would like to emphasise that the state of Himachal receives good numbers of international tourists from different parts of the world per year and, for a small hill destination, a lot of scope is still persistent as Himachal is a vast reserve of natural and scenic sights, Buddhist roots and cultural wealth to offer. The state has all elements to attract various segments of tourist populace. But, what we still need is better accessibility and plans for tapping the right potential markets around the globe.

The industry has already started focusing on untapped and lesser-tapped source markets such as South American countries. As far as the potential in terms of numbers is concerned, I think, no other country can match the potential which China has for India. If diplomatic relations with China are handled correctly, and government provides adequate support in marketing Indian destinations effectively, we can go a long way to benefit from its potential. Both of them being highly-populated countries of the world have more than sufficient numbers to feed each other’s tourism industry for several years.

Manmeet Singh, Chairman, IATO Punjab Chapter
As far as realising the potential of tourism is concerned, North India might be one of the leading regions of the country in terms of outbound or domestic travel market. But considering inbound tourism – the market share is very less, the scenario is improving with some combined proactive steps taken by the governments and various state tourism boards of North India as, every state now realises the potential of tourism and its benefits in term of foreign exchange earnings, growth of employments and tourism industries multiplier effect.

With regards to Punjab, in recent times many new attractions have come up within Punjab and many historical monuments have also been restored all through the state, pre-dominantly at Amritsar, Ludhiana, Patiala, Kapurthala, Anandpur Sahib and Mohali to name a few. The entire vicinity of Golden temple has been done in a world-class manner, so also an entire makeover has been done at the Durgiana Mandir and the newly done Ram Thirth Temple Complex. One will spot various new museums catering to multifaceted periods and Characters of Indian history like – Warm Museum, Heritage Partition Museum, depiction of Maharaja Ranjit Singh story with Light and Sound effects show.

Apart from Amritsar and Ludhiana, the princely state such as Patiala and Kapurthala’s tourism potential should also be tapped, along with the Anandpur Sahib and wetlands. Punjab has new and different tourist products to offer to the world. The tourists looking out for new destinations and a refreshing holiday with a taste of well-known Punjabi cuisine, never-ending green pastures of agriculture, healthy environment and most importantly the Punjabi hospitality along with jovial and friendly people, their search gets completed by reaching Punjab because “India begins here.”

Considering the other parts of North India, Haryana has a strong mythological importance which can be tapped. Jammu & Kashmir is better known with the phrase that, “if there is heaven it is here”. We hope and pray for total normalcy there to realise its potential. Himachal Pradesh on the other hand, has increased its footfall more in terms of domestic and to some extent international tourist arrivals also, because of its inherent beautiful mountains and valleys and also a segment of tourists who plan a holiday for mountains.

The major inbound tourism market for North India is the USA, Canada, UK, and the EU countries. Some tourists from Asian countries or other part of world interested in spiritual or religious tourism also visit Golden temple at Amritsar and the Lama monastery at Mc Leodganj. Recently we have seen some movement from places like Nigeria and Bhutan as well.

Himanshu Agashiwala, Chairman, IATO Maharashtra Chapter
Western India has got the scope provided we push it in a proper way. Gujarat may be interested in tourism, but they are not keen on developing the tourism infrastructure. It is only Goa in Western India which is focused on tourism. Unfortunately, Gujarat doesn’t have that infrastructure that will help inbound tourism. There is a lack of facilities and trained guides in Gujarat which is a very big issue. There are good locations, the marketing of these locations are fine but there is no proper related infrastructure. Even in Maharashtra, it is the same scenario. It takes a lot of time to travel by road, the condition of the roads are pathetic. There is no proper maintenance of properties. Places such as Elephanta Caves lack basic facilities like toilets. Maharashtra Government is not very keen on tourism and that is an open fact.

Nirmalya Choudhury, Chairman, IATO North East States
Except for the state of Odisha and Bengal, rest of the states in the east remain highly unexplored by the inbound tourists. Primarily it is UK, followed by France and Germany which are our foremost inbound source markets, however, emerging markets such as Japan and other countries following Buddhism can be tapped too. There is a huge potential especially for the North East of India, but it is only now in the last few years because of government promotions some people are coming but there is lot more that can be done. The infrastructure needs to be of good standard like the connectivity options of roads, hotels etc. It is still at a nascent stage of development.
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