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Monday, 30 April, 2018, 12 : 40 PM [IST]

TAAI Convention 2018 - Bringing Kashmir in Global Tourism Limelight

The 64th Convention of TAAI saw delegates converging K“ in Srinagar at a time when Jammu & Kashmir is looking for revival in tourist traffic that have been marred by untoward incidents in the state, especially in the past three years. While events of this magnitude are enough to bring the spotlight on the destination, what is needed is dedicated efforts to sustain the momentum generated, reports Disha Shah Ghosh.

is no less than any established global tourism destination and is absolutely safe for tourists,” this was the unanimous opinion of delegates both domestic as well as global attending at the 64th Convention of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) in Srinagar last month. In fact, the message was loud and clear from the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti when she said, “Kashmir is the safest destination for women in India. There is no doubt that we are going through a difficult phase, but we need hand-holding from the tourism industry, and despite untoward incidents in the border areas and some disturbed corners, tourists have never been harmed,” while inaugurating the three-day event at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) in Srinagar on March 27, 2018.


Mufti cited the examples of established overseas tourist destinations for leisure and business travellers that continue to welcome tourists from across the world, including India, after facing unpleasant incidents.


Reviving Tourism
The enthusiasm for reviving tourism in Kashmir after witnessing a downfall in tourist arrivals in the past three years due to negative perception about security issues in the state was visible among the hoteliers, travel agents, tour operators, transport service providers and house boat operators managing the TAAI delegation. All of them spoke in unison that they are desperate for improving the situation in the Valley since tourism is the mainstay of the state economy, and the destination indeed has enough potential to give a strong competition to established tourism regions of the world.

Mehbooba Mufti, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir
addressing the audience at the inauguration of the Convention at SKICC

According to Pramod Dalvi, Vice President – PR, Kesari Travels, which launched its business with domestic tours to Kashmir in 1984, said that they have been sending on an average over 15,000 pax to Kashmir annually. “In 2013-14, we sent nearly 19,000 pax to Kashmir, which was a record. From 2015 onwards, the perception about the state took a hit, however we continue to stand with the state government and have been conducting tours to Kashmir without any glitch. In fact, nearly 70% of our domestic tours from across India even today are to Kashmir. These numbers are testimony to the fact that Kashmir is a safe destination for tourists.”

Office-bearers, Managing Committee members and Region & Chapter Chairmen of TAAI

Sunil Kumar R, President, TAAI, said that this convention reflects the strong conviction of the association to promote and support the beautiful state of Jammu & Kashmir. “Jammu & Kashmir is warmest place on earth, a destination that has abundant potential and one can fall in love with over and over again. We accepted the offer of J&K government to host the convention and organised everything in just 45 days, and the result is here for everyone to see.”

Nakul Anand giving away the plaque to Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Minister of Tourism and
Culture, Government of J&K in the presence of Jyoti Mayal, Secretary General, Sunil Kumar
and Sanjay Narula, VP, TAAI

Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Minister of Tourism and Culture, Government of Jammu & Kashmir, who took charge in December 2017, said, “Managing perceptions is not the responsibility of a particular group or a department; it’s the responsibility of everyone here so that there are no knee jerk reactions.” We need to move forward with caution and responsibility, and in this information age, we have a lot to learn in terms of sending out the right message, he said.

Delegate Participation
Another focus that this Convention generated is the participation of a large number of delegates from South India for the first time, who were able to meet and network with their counterparts in Kashmir in general, and the state in particular, which will ultimately fecilitate from the region. P. Saravanan (Chennai), Member, Managing Committee, TAAI, said, “After a gap, TAAI organised a convention in a domestic destination, and nearly 90% delegates were first-time travellers to Kashmir. Moreover, the convention offered a very opportunity to delegates, especially from South India to create B2B contacts. This will help them sell the destination aggressively. Kashmir is an affordable destination, offering competitive hotel rates in non-peak season. The availability of flights from South India via Delhi to Srinagar has improved which is an added advantage.”

Knowledge Sessions
Incredible Tourism – “INSPIRATION”
Addressing the audience, Prof Dr Wahid Siddiq, Historian & Former Vice Chancellor, IUST, said that in an increased globalised world, Jammu & Kashmir is operating in a complex political environment. “We have to keep pace with the rapid pace of messages coming out of the state. There is a gap between reality and possibility at a time when the gap between the rich and poor has widened.” He was referring to the perception problem faced by Kashmir. He said that there is need for fostering a team approach to Kashmir tourism. “The challenge for tourism is to circumvent the international adversities. It is time to educate and inform travellers about the ground situation. The presence of security personnel should be a message of reassuring.”

Fast Forward Future, An unstoppable Industry awaits you
India is the most underpenetrated aviation markets in the world with roughly 160 million passengers, said Kapil Kaul, CEO, CAPA India. “There is need for forward-looking investments in the aviation sector. There is potential for 20% in the domestic market in 3 years, and 10-12% growth in international air travel from India,” he said. According to him, India is the lowest in terms of seats per capita.

Business Trends
Yossi Fatael, VP, UFTAA & Chairman IATA Matters spoke about improving CRM data. In this digitised world, social media is the number one source of CRM Data. “It is imperative that travel agents and tour operators use CRM data to establish a relationship with their clients. Customer relationships are important and it has become difficult to engage with them.” He spoke about how Big Data has created big expectations and there is need to emotionally motivate the customer despite the increasing dependence on technology.

Tourism an Opportunity
At the panel discussion on Tourism an Opportunity, EM Najeeb, Chairman ATE Group of Companies said that there is need to focus on products beyond travel-related and unrelated services. “It is time to use travel agencies and tour operating companies as platforms to diversify and build services and products that will make airlines come back to agents.” Bejan Dinshaw, Country Manager - India, DCT Abu Dhabi said that tourism helps the hinterland and creates employment. He spoke about creating unforgettable memories and experiences for tourists. Supporting his views, Sarmad Hafeez, Secretary – Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir said, “The beneficiaries of tourism are people at the grass root level, they are the real stakeholders of tourism. A traveller needs local experience, culture and way of life. In a rush to sell packages, one should not forget to build experiences.” Najeeb spoke about replicating the Kerala model of rural tourism in Kashmir.

Echoing similar views, Imitaz Qureshi, Hon. Treasurer, TAAI, said that there was a lot of excitement from the TAAI delegation in South India for the Srinagar Convention. “The large delegation of South India travelled to Srinagar through excellent connectivity from the major airports via Delhi to Srinagar. According to the Director Tourism of Kashmir, domestic arrivals from Gujarat had seen a drop; however, the numbers from South India have continued to grow. What this convention will help achieve is sustained growth in tourist arrivals from South India not only to Kashmir, but also nearby destinations like Sonmarg, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, etc.”

Jama Masjid, Srinagar

In fact, not only domestic, foreign delegates also hope for revival in tourist numbers to Kashmir. One such delegate, Yossi Fatael from Tel Aviv, the Vice President of United Federation of Travel Agents Association (UFTAA), was impressed by the beauty of Kashmir, and is hopeful of revival of tourist arrivals to the state with the change in perception created by the media coverage in this region.

The response to the Convention, especially because of the choice of the destination saw Kumar announcing 2018 as ‘Visit Kashmir Year’. “Henceforth, all our official stationary and website will carry ‘Visit Kashmir’ branding, which will reach out thousands of members and clients. We hope this move will help attract more people to Kashmir.”

Sustaining the Momentum
The convention programme saw delegates visiting the popular tourist sites of Kashmir and its surrounds, and returning with positive feedback. The convention also coincided with the opening of the Tulip Garden in Kashmir, which was thrown open to public earlier than its annual schedule, thus advancing the tourist season in Kashmir. Besides locals and domestic visitors, the Tulip Garden was thronged by TAAI delegates, who were all mesmerised by the sheer variety of the flowers that this site has to offer. The Dal Lake, Royal Golf Course, Mughal-era gardens, traditional shops and markets, historical monuments, religious sites, houseboats, and winter destinations like Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Gulmarg all witnessed the spillover of the visiting TAAI delegation.

L-R: Imtiaz Qureshi, Treasurer, TAAI with Sanjay Narula, Jyoti Mayal and Zahoor Qari, Chairman, TAAI, J&K Chapter

However, while the 64th convention of TAAI has managed to create a momentum for tourism in Kashmir, the trade community at large, and not restricted to the association alone, needs to make sustained efforts to ensure tourism to Kashmir isn’t marred. Echoing this sentiment, Zahoor Qari, Chairman, Jammu & Kashmir Chapter, TAAI, said, “The Convention returned to Kashmir after 31 years, and the outcome has been positive. We have already started receiving queries from different parts of India. The Convention has helped in offering a clear picture about the situation in the Valley since delegates got a first-hand experience of the destination. This was a major step in addressing the lingering problem of perception which has marred the very tourism sentiment. What we require now is sustained efforts on the tourism promotion front, and for that besides TAAI, I urge all other national travel trade associations to consider Kashmir as a venue for their future conventions. Continuous engagement is the key.”
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