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TAFI Convention in Kuching, Malaysia concludes on a high note

After a gap of 4 years, TAFI (Travel Agents Federation of India) held its international Convention at Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia from September 20 to 23. The theme of the Convention was “Build Back Better,” a direct reference to the need to rethink and reorient tourism business strategy post-Covid.

Close to 500 Indian delegates and media attended the Convention which was hosted by Tourism Malaysia, Sarawak Tourism Board, Business Events Sarawak and MyCEB. The Borneo Convention Centre Kuching was the venue for the successful convention.

Commenting on the theme and outcome of the Convention, Ajay Prakash, TAFI President, said, “We’re holding a Convention after 4 years in a world that has undergone a radical change. The consumer has changed, the expectations have changed and it’s critical that stakeholders in the industry change to keep pace with the new travellers. Responsible Tourism is no longer an optional luxury; it’s a dire necessity if we are to remain relevant. I’m very happy at the response from our members and I hope that everyone who attended will go back with some new ideas and a new attitude to the business.”

Eminent industry leaders from India and across the world participated in the 3 Knowledge Sessions:
1. Build Back Better which focused on the responsibility upon the travel and tourism industry to learn from past mistakes and to restructure tourism with sensitivity towards the Planet and in line with the changed consumer behaviour and expectations.

2. Change the Tune which focused on the need to travel agents and tour operators to look beyond airline commissions, which have all but disappeared, and to creatively devise new avenues for revenue.

3. The Big M in Tourism addressed the issue of, Magnifying and resurrecting brands in the post-Covid world with a view to stay relevant to the younger generation.

Informative presentations by Asego who have revolutionised the distribution of travel insurance, DreamFolks who offer airport lounges and related services across the globe, Verteil who are an NDC aggregator and VFS Global, the pioneers of facilitating visa services were attentively absorbed by the delegates.

Keynote addresses by Zubin Karkaria – Founder & CEO VFS Global, Ankush Nijhawan – Co-Founder and MD Nijhawan Group and Vinay Gupta – Founder and Group CEO kept the delegates hooked on to their seats.

A major highlight of the Convention were the TAFI-TravelBizMonitor awards which brought glam and glitter to the Inauguration. H.E. Mr. B.N. Reddy, High Commissioner of India to Malaysia, presented the awards along with other dignitaries and TAFI MC members.

Elena Primikiri, Head of ESG at VFS Global introduced the TAFI-TravelBizMonitor Women Achievers’ awards which were presented by VFS Global.

The award winners were:
TAFI-TRAVELBIZ MONITOR “GLOBAL AMBASSADOR FOR SUSTAINABLE TOURISM” – Presented by VFS Global to YB Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri – (Minister for Tourism, Govt of Malaysia) – for Visionary Leadership

1. Sharzede Datu Hj Salleh Askor – (CEO Sarawak Tourism Board) – for Conservation & Environment

2. Amelia Roziman – (CEO Business Events Sarawak) – for Innovation & Marketing Leadership

3. Libertha Kallat – (Founder & MD DreamFolks) – for Business Leadership

4. Jyoti Mayal – (President TAAI) – for Tourism Advocacy

5. Natalia Bayona – (Head of Education & Digital Transformation UNWTO) – for Education & Digital Transformation

1. YB Dato’ Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah – (Minister for Tourism, Sarawak) – Torch Bearer of Sarawak Tourism
2. Dato Zainuddin Abdul Wahab – (Director General, Tourism Malaysia) – Torch Bearer of Malaysian Tourism
1. Ankush Nijhawan – (Co-Founder & MD Nijhawan Group) – for Tech and Travel Innovation
2. Dev Karvat – (CEO Asego) – for Travel Services Innovation

Zubin Karkaria – CEO & President VFS Global

TAFI – TBM SPECIAL RECOGNITION for Exceptional Contribution to Tourism
1. Hii Chang Kee – (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Sarawak) – for Championing the Cause of Sarawak Tourism
2. Manoharan Periasamy (Senior Director, International Promotion, Tourism Malaysia) – for being the Face of Tourism Malaysia in India

The finale to the Awards was the TAFI TRIBUTE FOR STERLING SUPPORT TO THE INDIAN TRAVEL INDUSTRY which was presented by Prakash on behalf of the travel fraternity to the late Ankur Bhatia of the Bird Group. A short video wherein industry leaders recounted their association with Ankur was played. A visibly emotional Rajiv Bhatia of Bird Group came up to accept the commemorative plaque.

Speaking at the gala farewell dinner hosted by Tourism Malaysia and Business Events Sarawak the Honourable Nancy Shukri, Federal Minister of Tourism for Malaysia recounted the traditional ties between India and Malaysia and hoped that the TAFI Convention would bring more Indian travellers to discover the pristine beauty of Sarawak.
In keeping with the Convention theme – “Build Back Better” TAFI initiated two CSR activities at the Convention in order to encourage members to contribute towards creating a more equitable society.

The first was to support the “Books Build Legacy” project spearheaded by Amelia Roziman, CEO of Business Events Sarawak who is creating free libraries in the interior areas of Sarawak for young people. In response to an appeal sent out before the Convention, a number of TAFI delegates had carried books which were donated for the project.
The second initiative is aimed at accelerating gender parity in the travel and tourism industry in India. According to reports by the WTTC and UNWTO, while women constitute over 60% of the workforce in our industry, a scant 12 to 13% are in managerial positions. TAFI, in association with VFS Global, has launched a pledge to be signed by all members to promote gender equality in our own workplace. “The empowerment of women and gender parity is not just a politically correct idea,” said Ajay Prakash, “studies have shown that it actually leads to better bottom lines. We hope that our members will adopt the pledge and work towards implementing it.”

Abbas Moiz, General Secretary said he was “tired but happy” at the end of the Convention. “We had a lot of challenges, starting with the visa process and the rebooking of airline tickets on account of the pre and post-Convention itineraries, but the team came through and I believe this was a landmark Convention – the biggest such event post-Covid.”


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