An interactive meeting of IATO members was organised on June 19, 2020 via Zoom Video Conferencing and Meenakshi Sharma, Director General Tourism, Government of India was invited as the Guest Speaker to update their members and also interact with them on key issues of MDA (Market Development Assistance) and revision of guidelines on the recognition of Tour Operators.
Pronab Sarkar, (President), Rajiv Mehra (Vice President), Rajesh Mudgill, Hon. Secretary were present in the interaction from IATO.
Meenakshi Sharma while addressing the members mentioned, “In this challenging times in all facets, we have to be optimistic, and with the two months’ post COVID decline, tourism may look up as it has been the experience of other nations. We are already working on relaxing certain guidelines, whether it is MDA for Domestic or International, looking at Champion Sector Scheme to give some benefits, within our resources; we shall do whatever is possible taking your suggestions. Domestic tourism focus on inbound tourism will always be there. MOT is in constant touch with – MHA, MEA so that whenever we are ready to open International airports or commercial flights, stakeholders interest are taken care of and other countries should also allow their citizens to fly to India. We are in coordination with MoH & FW to follow a regime to assure that destinations are safe with hygiene for the incoming tourists.”
“MOT is working with Quality Council of India on a method of certification to ensure services are bound by a regime that ensures safety of the tourists. Focus is on kind of promotion, messages, content that is needed internationally and these will be very different from that was earlier so that we remain competitive and a meeting with stakeholders is planned in the coming week to discuss this,” assured Sharma.
Sarkar requested DG Tourism to give some update on MSME which he had discussed with MOT earlier. Sharma apprised that there was a meeting on June 22, and hoped that something positive will be done.
Sarkar also sought update from Sharma as members were keen to know about the revision in MDA Scheme proposal. Sharma mentioned that it is being liberalised as far as possible and being made simpler, which is the need of the hour. The liberalised scheme will be there for at least three years and they will have a relook after that.
Sarkar further requested an update on the request for revision in the guidelines for recognition of inbound tour operators as things were changing, due COVID-19. The criteria of reducing office space, staff and to work from home was needed to reduce expenses. Sharma mentioned that she was always of the view that we all should not have been in such harsh conditions, however, one can take her assurance that the Ministry will relax these rules. She also said that she will call for a meeting at her office with IATO and shall inform the date of the meeting soon.
Issues raised by members in the interaction with Meenakshi Sharma were:
- Rebate/ Incentives to promote Domestic Tourism to be considered wherein she agreed that it is manageable.
- The members wanted to know when can 19-20 SEIS Scheme be availed and the seven to ten percent increase is expected for which Sharma said that it has been proposed and response is awaited from MOC.
- Members discussed about International Flights which are about to start. They wanted all protocols should be done before tourists board the flight. If seven to fourteen-day quarantine is imposed when they arrive in India, then no one will come. There should be medical checks and scanning at arrivals and only if someone is COVID positive then only the need to quarantine. Also, in this matter, there is negative publicity of India in the world which we need to counter and tackle. We should reflect positivity and talk about recoveries.
- India is getting ready with SOPs for Hotels, Road Travel etc. The members wanted to know if these aspects can be highlighted, as it may incentivise the tourist to come to India. Sharma responded that Ministry of Tourism is working on content creation. Content coming out will depend on the existing situations. It was time to prepare the message and dwell on strategies.
- ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ videos with subtitles should go not only to international markets but also to embassies abroad. In response, Sharma said that the videos had a very good response. Sixty have countries watched it, including the source countries. It will be a continuous exercise and maybe made in other languages. Tour Operators should use these materials and MOT will offer help.
- Ministry of Tourism may be interested to promote that foreign agents should deal with MOT- GOI approved tour operators and agents and the message to be incorporated in their videos.
- On restriction by State governments hampering domestic tourism, Sharma said that the Ministry has advised the State governments to open up but one needs to appreciate that the State governments have to take care of the health issues first. MOT can’t impose any guidelines at this stage. In a month’s time, the Ministry will be in a better position to address the issue.
- Refund from luxury trains and hotels are not coming in. IATO had written to all authorities concerned but haven’t really got any positive response so far including Air India. The members requested the Ministry of Tourism to intervene and impress upon the states. Sharma said her Ministry shall take it up with them again.
- Money is also stuck with Safaris, especially in the Rajasthan Government. An office order issued by Rajasthan Govt on June 18, 2020 said that for the Safari Bookings which were made from March 18 to June 30, 2020, can be used by the same tourists till June 30, 2022. The question is that if the same tourists will come back again? Hence, a full refund is needed to be made back to the tour operators. Sharma asked IATO to connect with her office and effort would be made to sort it out.
- All the agents feel that India is passive and doing nothing to say that it wants tourists to come. Hence, it was important for the Ministry of Tourism to have a calendar and start work with timelines drawn with respect to SOPs, VISA, and International flights that are scheduled to open up. Another query was if India has a plan to take a share of the inbound tourism of China? On both, Sharma opined that the Ministry is working on the content strategy and there will be a meeting on this next week. The ministry is working very closely with MHA and MEA and the required input will be brought to the public domain. However, the China- India perspective has changed. Everybody has to work with real insight.
- Refund from Airlines is also not coming. They charge heavy cancellation or offer credit shell when tour operators have to refund to their foreign clients. On this, Sarkar spoke that the Ministry had assured help in the matter and IATO is coordinating with Sharma.
- The big question was also about the Taj Mahal to be opened to tourists. Sharma said that as of now she can’t say on this and everybody needs to wait for fifteen days more.
In between, an IATO Short Film Video was launched by DG Tourism. The film showcased India is waiting to welcome tourists with New Normal and hygienic preparedness. Sarkar mentioned that video has been produced for their members, which they can share with their counterparts and more volumes to follow. While appreciating the film made by IATO, Sharma mentioned that Ministry of Tourism will also produce such videos that IATO members can use and further said that IATO can also look into producing such films in other languages also for various markets. Mehra requested DG Tourism to use the IATO video in promotions overseas and mentioned that a couple of more such videos are in the pipeline. On IATO membership, Sharma wanted IATO to increase its membership as 1600 did not seem to be a very good number anymore.