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‘Pride & Egos need to be kept aside to address and resolve issues impacting Tourism’

Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 16:03 Hrs  [IST]

Q Congratulations for being elected as the Chairman of WTTCII. What are your priorities as Chairman of WTTCII, and what kind of direction do you want to give to WTTCII?
I feel deeply honoured and humbled that the leaders of India’s Hospitality, Aviation and Travel Companies have selected me to be the Chairman of WTTCII.

We need to get the GST bit right. Last year, WTTCII contributed to the efforts of the industry in bringing about a competitive GST regime for the Hospitality Industry. We led representations on GST on behalf of the industry, to the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Finance. The 28% GST on hotels is much too high and we should all strive to see that this is brought at par with Business Class Air tickets which is at 12%. 18% is the highest slab. Hotels, especially in the leisure segment are affected severely on account of this high tax.

Q Do you think WTTCII has lost some relevance since the formation of FAITH? What role WTTCII is going to play as an advocacy group in India’s tourism landscape?
WTTCII’s primary mandate is to work with the Governments – both at the Central & State level on policies and practices for maximising the growth potential of India’s Tourism industry. Look at the E-Visa story. It was one of the mandates of WTTCII since its formation to remove the visa barrier, which was hampering access to India. Having been a part of WTTCII since 2000, I fail to remember the number of doors we knocked at the highest level of the Governments to hear out our case for making India easily accessible. Ultimately a win came in form of a meeting with the PMO and WTTCII, during 2012-13, the Government saw the merit of making India accessible, it brought together the various stakeholders – IB, MEA, Home Affairs and arrived at the ETourist Visa on Arrival consensus, finally rolled out in 2014. It has changed the visitor access to India.

We never said it was a WTTCII effort. It was a collective industry effort. Pushes from various quarters - Ministry of Tourism, Trade Bodies, everybody was involved. It was everybody’s win.

FAITH is a welcome addition in pushing the Agenda for greater recognition of travel and tourism in India. We have worked with FAITH, on GST, on the issue of hotels getting affected by the 500-meter liquor vending rules on highways. The need of the hour is to get issues resolved for the industry. Prides and egos associated with
visiting cards and chair roles needs to be kept aside while getting issues of relevance and national importance resolved.



“When the new government came into office in 2014, WTTCII had presented a Tourism Action Plan. Though most of the issues articulated in that thought paper have been addressed, ‘ease of doing business’ constraints are still hampering the true growth of India’s Tourism Sector. MICE, Cruise Tourism are huge areas, which India needs to step into and step in aggressively. Again, intelligent polices must be brought in to spur the growth of these segments.”



Q While government inbound figures show an ever-increasing number in terms of inbound traffic into India, the travel trade in India says that the growth has happened by aggregating foreign tourists and arrivals by NRIs, PIOs, etc. What is your take on these divergent views and your suggestions to grow the leisure traffic?
Tourist arrivals look good at 9.0 MN in 2016 with a 12% growth over previous year. However, we are still a long way away from Thailand at 32.6 MN, Malaysia at 26.76 MN, Singapore at 16.4 MN, and Indonesia at 12.02 MN. Yes, we would like to see more footfalls, high spending tourists who add to the economy. The Chinese outbound stood at 122 million people in 2016, and Chinese visitors spent USD 109.8 billion in 2016 on their trips. No matter whatever political or ideological differences the governments have with China, for tourism every government throws open their doors; bends backwards to accommodate the high spending Chinese tourists. Be it Union Pay ATMs at the duty-free shopping areas at Heathrow airport or Chinese commentary in the Hornblower cruises across Niagara falls, Chinese tourists have their way.

India and China are two of the world’s biggest nations tantamounting to more than 2.6 Billion people but what is the airline seat capacity between India and China? We are stretched, and nowhere close to let’s say a China- Australia, China-US, China- Canada capacity. The Airlines of all these countries are actively working to increase seat capacity, pairing Cities, working on models to spur demands. The Government of India needs to emulate that. For that we cannot make decisions in isolation. Stakeholders have to sit down with Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation and State Governments sort out bilateral issues, work to create destinations and strategies for the Chinese outbound and similarly employ different strategies with other markets.





QThe travel trade in India is also worried about the fall out of the government’s move to close down Indiatourism offices abroad? What is WTTCII’s views on the government action? What alternative do you suggest to strengthen destination marketing?
WTTCII has been a strong advocate of keeping physical representation in key geographies. The order of the day is to devise key strategies for key markets, employ Tourism Marketing Representatives and PR Agencies to deploy your marketing plans and map and monitor them for best results. India Tourism Marketing offices in key geographies and Tourism Marketing Representatives must form hub and spoke Models for effective marketing and ensuring better RoI. In today’s digital age marketing strategies change every minute. So, the key role that the Tourism Offices abroad must play is to monitor and get the desired returns out of the activities that the Tourism Marketing Representative and PR Agencies deploy. And, they have to be there located at the hub; let’s say London to control all the Tourism Marketing Representatives
and PR Agencies employed in rest of Europe. Because they have to react and take instant decisions based on market sensitivity and it cannot wait till New Delhi gives a directive. The offices have to be empowered and adequately staffed with efficient professionals to achieve this. India globally is competing with 4000+ Country, City and Provincial Destination marketing organisations for those nine seconds of advertorial eyeball indulgence and attention from the prospective consumers/visitors.

Q What prospects do you see for India in the tourism space in the coming New Year? What support do you seek and expect from the government to unleash India’s tourism potential?
When the new government came into office in 2014, WTTCII had presented a Tourism Action Plan. Though most of the issues articulated in that thought paper have been addressed, however, “ease of doing business” constraints are still hampering the true growth of India’s Tourism Sector. MICE, Cruise Tourism are huge areas, which India needs to step into and step in aggressively. Again, intelligent polices must be brought in to spur the growth of these segments. Why will a corporate based out of New Delhi, let’s say the Samsung’s or LG’s, take their 1000+ sales conferences to Kerala or Goa in the absence of Input Credit where business comes to a hotel from another State? This compounded with the GST rates will force them to take their incentive conferences to Thailand and Sri Lanka. It is again all about addressing policy. User-friendly policies, which spur growth and help keep money in the local economy is the need of the hour. 16 Million Indians travel abroad every year; this is an enticing and lucrative outbound market for many countries and tourism boards. Why doesn’t the Government incentivise domestic holidays (air ticket, hotel stay, transportation services taken for two or more people at a go, paid for by electronic transactions) taken by Indians, with income tax SOPs? The Money stays and flows in the local economy, it spurs more jobs and it’s a win-win for both the government and our citizens. As members of WTTCII, we facilitate the movement of hundreds of millions of people around India every year. We see from our experiences, the growth that tourism can help in generating economic opportunity, social cohesion and pride, is an opportunity that State Governments must encourage and eagerly embrace. Ultimately it’s the State Governments that are the implementers of tourism at the ground level.

 
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