The 32nd Annual IATO Convention was organized in Chennai from September 18-21. This year, the travel trade came together for the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) annual convention at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai, Tamil Nadu covering the theme ‘Expectations and Reality: Bridging the Gap.’ Our managing director Mr. Rahul Sharma was there at the meeting. This post has been prepared with his input on what was discussed at the convention.
The 32nd convention presided by IATO President Mr. Pronab Sarkar raised and discussed the ground realities of Indian tourism. IATO members and non-members shared struggles on various fronts. The focus of the convention was on remarkable figures covered in the press displaying a growth trajectory on inbound travel and the gap from the actual figures. Discussions explored the fact that official numbers and the actual occupancy figure of tourists and actual business done don’t add up.
Mr. Rajiv Mehra, Vice President and Co-Chairman stated, “[T]he inbound travel to India has seen a major setback. Due to challenges in the e-tourist visa (ETV) policy, inbound travelers have dropped the idea of traveling to India and instead opted for the countries with a visa-friendly approach. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan could not bring any striking change in India.
Tourists still talk of unhygienic conditions in India.” He stated the problems as “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 travelers coming to India. Such gaps in the actual implementation of the policy will be addressed at the convention through deliberations and government participation.”
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. A half-day session on September 18 covered three broad tracks of discussions – “Changing Clients” (non-payments, client abandonment, etc.); “Best Practices in Contracting and Supplier Management” and “Guides – Improving the Partnership.”
As per policy, IATO organizes the convention in different states and aims to boost tourism to the state. This convention focused on bringing back leisure tourism to Tamil Nadu and the capital city of Chennai for an increase in the volume of arrivals and long-term growth. Post-convention familiarization tours were conducted to Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram, Puducherry, and Tirupati Balaji Temple. The aim was to highlight Tamil Nadu tourism offerings such as beaches, pilgrimage, hill stations, wildlife, shopping, Ayurveda, and medical tourism.
The convention came to the decision to make efforts to make India an attractive destination to visit once GST is made operative and less tax burden on the tourism sector. To be prepared for the cost escalation which is a part of the country’s economic progress, IATO plans to develop tiers of packages covering all budgets.
Measures will be taken to get more air connectivity so that the short distance air travel shall get economical and affordable easily. More new hotels will be promoted to meet the demand and prices shall not increase highly as to make them unaffordable. In what could be considered a welcome move, intra-state flights were introduced in Rajasthan soon after the IATO convention.