IATO has always been one of the most compelling determinants in shaping the tourism industry of India. In its endeavour to better the industry, the association has worked in all earnest as a facilitator and catalyst to achieve distinctive and worthwhile conclusions. Here’s a look at the organisation’s achievements in 2019.
Sriparna Pal Bhattacharya
The executive committee of IATO headed by Pronab Sarkar as the President, has conscientiously worked towards the growth of the organisation and development of the tourism sector in India. Addressing areas of concern with great dexterity has brought about a number of positive changes yielding effective benefits to the industry.
It has been the constant persuasion of IATO that has brought about significant reduction of GST rates to make India a more competitive destination.
The GST Council lowered tax rate on hotel tariffs. GST on hotel room tariff between Rs. 2500 to Rs. 7500 has been reduced from 18 per cent to 12 per cent and GST on hotel room tariff above Rs. 7500 has been reduced from 28 per cent to 18 per cent.
Inbound MICE stand to benefit immensely which up until now was losing out business to neighbouring countries. This will work positively towards promoting India as an economically viable destination and achieve growth in tourism whilst doubling the number of tourists in the next few years.
One of the most noteworthy achievements of IATO has been in persuading the government to work on reducing visa fees.
E visa fee has been reduced, there has been reduction of visa fee from US $25 to US $10 during the lean period, a short duration e visa fee for tourists with one-month validity and a visa fee of US $25 has also been introduced for the peak season. This when juxtaposed to the current visa fee of US $80 to US $100, is a significant achievement. A five-year e-tourist visa for a fee of $80 and one-year visa for a fee of $40 for Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka has also been introduced. There will be no visa fee for tourists from 14 pacific island nations belonging to the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC).
The 35th IATO Annual Convention organised from September 12-15, 2019 in Kolkata witnessed an overwhelming attendance from IATO members, non-members, travel media, senior officials from the government of West Bengal, 15 state governments, centre, and other tourism professionals pan India. Shri Gautam Deb, Hon’ble Minister-in-charge, Tourism Department, Government of West Bengal was the chief guest along with Shri Debashish Sen, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal & Chairman HIDCO.
Shri Prahlad Singh Patel, Hon’ble Minister for Tourism, Government of India was the chief guest at the valedictory session. A Vision Document made by IATO in consultation with M/s. Ernst & Young to sensitise the government at the centre and state on the subject ‘Tourism – An Engine for Economic Growth and Employment Generation’ was released by Shri Prahlad Singh Patel in the presence of other dignitaries. The document elaborates problems that Indian tourism industry is facing, along with suggestions to overcome them. To address and counter the concern of negative publicity regarding women’s safety in India, a film on Women Safety, made by IATO was released by the Hon’ble Minister.
Shri Prahlad Singh Patel has also released an exclusive video on thematic destination for promotional purpose made by IATO at the inaugural function of ITM at Ashoka Hotel on Oct 23, 2019.
Whilst focusing on sustainable tourism growth, IATO imparted training session and programmes in 2019 to hone skills and enhance the learning curve of its members and staff. The programmes are aimed at creating awareness about changes within the industry, accepting change and effectively implementing it in day to day life, focus on target orientation, etiquette, safety, and discipline in personal and professional life. Seven such training programmes have been successfully conducted from April to July which have been attended by over 270 participants. Topics dealt with in some of these programmes were, ‘Tourism-Opportunities for Gen-X’, ‘Office Attendants’, ‘Digital Marketing Workshop on Double Your Lead & Get Overbooked’, and ‘The science of attracting clients magnetically’.
IATO also organised training programmes in Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata and Guwahati.
Among other accomplishments of IATO, some worth mentioning would be, chalking out of 11 itineraries under ‘Gandhi Gramin Circuit’ which was launched by MOT to celebrate 150th year of Gandhi.
The new IATO website in place for the benefit of members will help in generating new business opportunities.
With an aim to attract more tourists during off season, i.e. from April to September, IATO has recommended increase SEIS benefits to 15 per cent and during October to March, an increase of 10 per cent on net foreign exchange earnings.
IATO has relentlessly followed up with the ministry of civil aviation and Joint Secretary over the last five months for the airport entry passes which were to be discontinued on December 3, 2019. This has yielded benefits as the Bureau of Civil Aviation has extended the validity of the passes until December 31, 2020.
With intent to improve air connectivity, the organisation took up with Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Vistara to introduce or add additional flights on certain sectors important for the tourism industry and in need of better air connectivity.
It has indeed been a proud moment for IATO when Pronab Sarkar and Rajiv Mehra were felicitated by Aurangabad First (AF) and Aurangabad Tourism Development Foundation (ATDF) for their invaluable and painstaking effort in taking up the demand of air-linking Aurangabad to major destinations like Udaipur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, in one year.
Talking of all the issues addressed in earnest by the organisation to achieve definite goals, Rajiv Mehra, Vice President IATO mentions, “As far as IATO is concerned, it has been a busy year for us working for the members. A lot has been achieved, like reduction in GST for hotel accommodation, reduction of visa fee, especially a US $10 per person visa fee in the summer months, and various training programmes for our members at different locations in India. It has also been an achievement, when on our request, domestic carriers introduced new flights on some tourist sectors. The list is long and if elected again, will most definitely try to do more on various other issues.”
Ravi Gosain, Hony Treasurer, IATO reveals that the organisation has been working most diligently for members by representing inbound tourism industry at various ministries at the centre and state level. So far, the current elected committee has been successful in addressing all major issues and getting favourable response from the government. The committee members contributed significantly in improving business conditions throughout the year.
On asking for his views on the attainments of the present IATO committee, Gosain too talks of the reduction of visa fees and highlights other accomplishments. “We conducted programmes for skill development on different subjects in various cities across India which has gathered immense appreciation from our members. IATO was an integral part of govt on MOCA Udaan scheme where new flight routes were introduced, MOT’s various global media campaigns, overseas roadshows, MOT fam trips, ITM travel trade show, reduction of GST on luxury hotels from 28 per cent to 18 per cent, Incredible India tourist facilitators certification program (IITFC) are to name a few.”
In a first of its kind, IATO has come up with the concept of the New Look Newsletter which has proved to be a simple yet effective instrument for maintaining link with members across.