Home Associations IATO ELECTIONS: Battle lines drawn

IATO ELECTIONS: Battle lines drawn

Battle lines have already been drawn by the two contesting teams for the forthcoming election of one of the largest travel bodies in India. The members of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), the apex body of Inbound Tour Operators in India are waiting for the D-day on March 06, 2021, as the election results will define which team guides the members and the sector out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ravi Sharma

The long-postponed elections of IATO which was supposed to be held in April 2020 will now be held on March 6, 2021, due to COVID-19. Early this month, the association revealed the final list of the contestant for the forthcoming election of Executive Committee Members for the next term to be held in New Delhi.

While Homa Mistry, Chief Executive Officer, Trail Blazer Tours has been appointed as the Returning Officer for the much-talked election, outgoing Vice President of IATO, Rajiv Mehra (Uday Tours & Travels) will take on Lally Mathews (Divine Voyages) for the post of President. Outgoing Sr. Vice President, E.M. Najeeb (Air Travel Enterprises) a big-time player from South India, who is the Senior Vice President in the present team, will be contesting against Sarab Jit Singh (Travelite India).

For the post of Vice President, Lajpat Rai (Lotus Trans Travel) and Ravi Gosain (Erco Travels) have filed their nominations. Rajesh Mudgill (Planet India Travels) will take on Rajnish Kaistha, (Paradise Holidays India) for Hony. Secretary, while Sunil Mishra (Cosmos Tours & Travels) has filed his nomination against Viney Tyagi (Uni Crystal Holidays) for the post of Hony. Treasurer, Raj Bajaj (Perfect Travels & Tours) and Sanjay Razdan (Razdan Holidays) are contesting against each other for the post of Hony. Joint Secretary. Executive committee members will also contest the election in the active and allied categories.

While IATO has been active on many fronts before and during the pandemic, it is also one of the large associations which failed to get support from the various ministries in the past one-year despite their several attempts to come out from the COVID situation. This makes it important for travel associations to work together towards getting industry status for the sector. However, now while it looks like the travel industry is gradually recovering, but the unpredictability of the pandemic is keeping the industry and travellers at bay and thus, even this year, the industry is facing the vital question of reviving the travel scene ever more and the horizon still doesn’t look very clear.

So with the team divided into two fronts as ‘Team Moving Forward’ and the second one as ‘Team for Change’, TTJ had opportunities to talk to a few contestants in each team as to what are their motivation, strength and commitments if elected? Here is what they had to say…

TEAM FOR CHANGE

Working to ensure collectively bring about a positive change in IATO

Lally Mathews, Divine Voyages

My motivation and strength is of the membership which has given me the opportunity of contesting again. We will do our best as a TEAM to convince the Government for some relief. It seems that the Government cannot give any cash subsidy, so we will ask for soft loans at three-four percent with interest and installments to be deferred to 2022 or 2023. This can give some relief to the membership. Thus, the team will always do best for the membership in every aspect. It has to be noted that there is nothing any association can do against a pandemic of this kind. We have to keep prodding the government for their help.

E.M. Najeeb, Air Travel Enterprises

What is crucial for IATO at present is a complete change of team required in its helm of affairs, and it is very important for the organisation’s existence and future growth. The last time four of us were elected, we tried our level best to influence every major decision for the benefit of the members, but at the same time, a couple of things which we were demanding for the last several years could not be achieved. One example is that of the constitutional amendment which is pending for the last seven to eight years. We have been continuously demanding it, yet we could not do it even in this term because the present leadership was holding on to it.

Secondly, we have been demanding the waiver for the annual membership fees during the pandemic period because the members have been in real trouble and this has not been accepted at all. Talking about women’s participation in the IATO EC, that has also not happened. We wanted IATO to be a full pan India organisation with representation from every place, every segment, every sector, and every nook and corner of the country, but it is mostly perceived as north-centric. The leadership has been doing it intentionally because of their vested interest to keep it as a pocket organization.

This time, we have come under the leadership of Lally Mathews and have found new people, including youths, experienced people, and new faces from different sectors for the team. We want to bring the right combination of bright youngsters and experienced mature persons to fulfil our team’s intentions.

I have a lot of experience working in this industry from the last four decades, focusing in Kerala and South India as well as at the national level too. I have been on the national advisory committee of tourism with the UPA Government as well as the NDA Government. I have been functioning in IATO as well as several travel and trade organisations, and hence my expertise can be shared for the benefit of the members. Tourism is my passionate subject, and I would like to support my members who can survive and revive tourism in such extreme conditions and contribute to the economic growth of the country.

Lastly, I would like to say, we have always worked with the government, the state, as well as the central government for the growth of tourism and we want to work with the government in the future too. We want to partner with the government, to make them understand the importance of tourism and convince them to extend more financial support for the tourism sector in the coming days.

Rajesh Mudgill, Planet India Travels

Well, there was some section of people who wanted to delay the elections. Not fighting its own battle was the biggest mistake of IATO leadership. 2020 was tough for our members and in turn for the association as well. Members had high hopes from the government and were very disappointed when they found that the government has left them high and dry and the leadership was not ready to stand up for the members as they never wanted to confront the government.

We have learnt a lot from the pandemic. Firstly, we should keep on increasing our membership rather than decreasing it. The government sees numbers and we must add numbers to show our strength. Secondly, the association must build a robust database so that we can prove our point backed by data. Learn to fight our own battle rather than depending on some other organizations, who have their own battle to fight.

Our team is a good mix of experience and young technological minds and well spread across India. We would take this challenge head-on with the combined strength and vision of our members. We need to develop a culture where only a select group of people are not assigned all the jobs, but we should involve more and more members who can help in turning around the tide. 

If elected, I will work for generating revenue streams for the members. Greater opportunities for all our members, bringing about transparency, inclusiveness and work out the short and long-term goals for the association for overall growth. Above all, I would like to stand for my members whenever and wherever they will need me and take their voice to the corridors of government without fear and self-interest.

Lajpat Rai, Lotus Trans Travel

My motivation for contesting is the present tourism scenario and my strength is my past working experience with IATO in various capacities. The pandemic has given a ‘New Vision’ that we must keep a cushion for rainy days, and the mission is to focus on the domestic tourism market as well as inbound tourism. Also, if possible to create an alternate source of income as well to keep afloat. The biggest lesson learnt is to be ready for any eventuality and be more supportive to the members in this pandemic situation.

If elected, shall do my best to convince all the stakeholders to work towards better coordination among the members and the various other tourism associations and the Ministry of Tourism to enhance the tourism numbers.

Sanjay Razdan, Razdan Holidays

As a simple member of the association, I would say that the leadership has failed us in more than many ways. This is the main reason that most members are disgruntled and frustrated.

Yes! I agree that the pandemic has been tough and would have been tough for the association as well. However, there is an old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. At times we need to think out of the box. This pandemic has mainly taught us that we must stay united. Now the question is, who should have taken the initiative in this direction? In my opinion, it’s the prime duty of any association leadership to interact with the members on a regular basis. If there is a problem, where would we go? In any tough time, the leadership must call regular meetings via zoom, etc and talk to members and provide the much-needed solace. I remember the president of ATOAI used to call zoom meetings regularly area-wise all over India. A small talk or just asking, “How are you?” makes a big difference.

This pandemic has no doubt has left all of us distraught, with no revenues for almost a year now. Most other businesses have re-started except tourism in general and Inbound Tourism in particular. As far as Razdan Holidays is concerned, we have used this free time to create new tours and discovered new areas and itineraries. At the same time, we have taken the initiative to educate our fellow DMC’s into areas which they would have never done otherwise. In October 2020, we organised the first educational FAM Trip to Himachal Pradesh, the first-ever four-wheel-drive expedition with 19 DMC’s from Delhi NCR to scale ‘ShinkuLa’ on 4×4 vehicles via the new architectural marvel ‘Atal Tunnel’.

Then, in January 2021, Razdan Holidays organised another educational FAM trip – the first-ever ‘Desert Trail Expedition’ in Rajasthan visiting Churu, Udaipurwati, and Samode. More than 50 percent route was over Desert Sand Trails, Riverbeds, and unknown villages. The participants also indulged in Dune Bashing under expert guidance. As I am myself an expert off-roader having expertise in driving 4×4 cars, the idea was to impart some special skills to my friends. These trips also opened new areas and new itineraries for promotion and these DMC’s can sell in the future to their clients. For me, it was like giving back something to the industry. As far as the readiness is concerned, we are absolutely ready and impatiently waiting for foreign tourists to come back. We will of course welcome them with renewed vigour, energy and love.

With God’s grace and support of friends and well-wishers in IATO, if elected, our team under the guidance of Lally Mathews has many plans for the benefit of members. To start with we would want to achieve all the points as mentioned in our manifesto. We want to make IATO member-friendly, easily approachable, and accountable on all fronts. For us, IATO is ‘For Members and Of Members’.

TEAM MOVING FORWARD

United in their vision and mission to revive the down and beaten tourism industry

Rajiv Mehra, Uday Tours & Travels

My motivation and strength of the ‘Team Moving Forward’ is the strong willpower of my team members of working selflessly for IATO and the industry with zeal, leaving aside any personal agenda and gains. This we have shown in the last three years, as most of my team members are present in the existing EC and have extended their full support in all our efforts to deliver our best to the members. We are all ready to work for the revival of the industry and take the challenges for which we would work closely with the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, and would emphasise the following issues which we have also included in our manifesto:

• Request the Ministry of Tourism to start marketing and promotions by organising roadshows, participation in international travel marts, organise FAM trips for FTOs, etc., as soon as the restriction on e-Visa is removed and international flights start operating

• Get the IATO website linked with the MoT website so that members can receive queries/leads

• Promote the IATO website in different source markets to get leads/queries for our members

• Request the Ministry to provide booths to tour operators in all major international travel marts at a very subsidised cost so that members can participate in maximum marts.

For the betterment of the association and the members, our wish is to continue SEIS for 5 years, to get SEIS released for 2019-20, to get the MDA Guidelines further relaxed, and also to get more relaxation in MoT Guidelines for recognition so that more and more members can avail benefits for which we have recommended the following to our Ministry:-

• Continued follow-up with the Ministry of Finance/Commerce/DGFT, regarding the release of SEIS Scripts for 2019-20

• Getting SEIS for the tour operators for the next 5 years by getting it included in Foreign Trade Policy 2021-25 with the easy terms and conditions suitable to our members

• Removal of the requirement of minimum Rs. 2 crores turnover of foreign exchange earnings in MDA Guidelines for overseas promotion so that all our members can be benefited

• Relaxation in qualification for MoT Recognition by adding diploma/certificate of Tourism & Hospitality Skill Council

Seeing the present conditions of our members and other colleagues in the travel trade, we have learnt and would advise our members to save funds for such situations, do not do cost-cutting for short-term gains and benefits and keep proper margin in your profit. This would help us to survive in such conditions. Our aim for Moving Forward Team is to think big and not lure our members with small petty benefits. We are going to work for the revival of business for our esteemed members. Therefore, we are seeking votes for the entire team to complete our unfinished agenda.

Sarab Jit Singh, Travelite (India)

The team moving forward consists of motivated and committed individuals with years of experience both as tour operators themselves as well as working for the industry as IATO EC Members in the past.

The pandemic has indeed played havoc with the tourism sector, especially inbound, with no international flights and no visas being granted by the government. The Moving Forward team after elections will draw out a working strategy to engage the Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Ministry of Commerce (MoC) as well as other ministries for a collective strategy that helps tourism to be back on rails at the earliest. We also understand the importance of IATO members who have immense experience in engaging foreign tour operators and convincing them to start selling India in their regions. For this purpose, in my opinion, the smaller and self-employed tour operators will be most effective and their contribution may prove to be a game-changer.

As Senior Vice President, I will be responsible for the chapters and regions and other sub-committees. We definitely need the most effective chapters and regional committees for this we are going to engage with the members and set up new teams within the first three months. This pandemic was a unique challenge, and we hope that nothing like this happens in the future. However, there are certain lessons to be learned even at the association level which will be discussed and a system will be brought in place so that the industry is more prepared to face such challenges.

Ravi Gosain, Erco Travels

Team Moving Forward consists of highly motivated and dedicated individuals to serve IATO. In the previous tenure, every individual candidate had proved their capabilities to deliver on different subjects. It’s a great combination of experience and young minds which is very important to excel in membership benefits. We are passing through the most difficult times in our business life cycle so far, current IATO team led by Pronab Sarkar and Rajiv Mehra worked very hard to get some relief for the tourism industry and left no stone unturned on various government and bureaucratic fronts. Unfortunately, the pandemic largely affected the tourism industry and we are still looking for avenues to survive and revive. We want to continue our efforts in this direction and keep on doing efforts to bring some happiness to the faces of tourism industry professionals. There is also plan-B to work in the direction to be self-sustained and look for avenues to make IATO help members generate business.

As per the IATO constitution, the VP is directly involved in membership development, looks into seminars, conventions and develop marketing activities. If elected, I will dedicatedly work on business-oriented seminars, and overseas marketing activities both online and offline, and it will be high on my agenda. This will ensure members generate business. IATO convention is one of the most anticipated annual events, which not only gives a lot of knowledge but also gives an impressive networking platform. I will look into making the platform more tech-enabled and keep participants engaged for a longer duration, even beyond the convention period.

Secondly, I will also strengthen the IATO membership base on a pan-India basis. Membership base was the major issue in explaining to the government about the number of people employed in tourism, as it is a highly ‘unorganised sector’.

Lastly, the pandemic has given us some great lessons in life and the important one which I realised from the association point of view is that we need to be more self-sustained and keep ourselves in a better position to deal with such undue situations and work as a strong entity to support members with ideas and try to upgrade their skills.

Rajnish Kaistha, Paradise Holidays India

The Moving Forward team has like-minded professionals with a good mix of old and new. We have taken three EC members from out of Delhi and it shall give IATO a wider representation. Our profile is of educated and experienced members who are successfully running their tourism business for many years. The pandemic has given much more resilience to work for the industry to bounce back.

The members of our team have experience and strength to survive the pandemic. Tourism is a peacetime activity so obviously, world order needs to be in place. Challenge is to restart tourism and the much-needed vaccination drive shall be over within this period and international borders shall open up. India needs strategic marketing abroad and synergy by both government and private partnerships and roadshows can play a very vital role here. I have realised that it’s not MOT but various other ministries such as Finance, Revenue, Home, etc., that needs to be in sync with IATO and its members to fulfil our needs. I shall definitely work hard to get tourism in the concurrent list of government to get more benefits for the industry.

The tourism sector does not feature in the Centre, State, or Concurrent lists. We suggest that tourism be included in the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India. For this, we need to work hard for lawmakers to understand our requirements and listen to industry voices. This will enable the Centre and States to effectively regulate the sector and frame policies for growth of this highly direct and indirect employment intensive sector.

We suggest that tourism exports are treated at par with other exports and services, and such transactions may be zero rated for GST without stopping the Inflow of input credits. Tourism services provided to foreign tourists in India on receipt of foreign exchange should be treated as “Deemed Export” and exemption of GST should be made available.

Much awaited Mobile app for seamless communication with members shall be worked immediately within a week of being elected. Also, upgrade the IATO secretariat to be more efficient and member-friendly.

The pandemic came as a bolt from the blue and hit 7 billion earthlings as it had never. Brutal as its effects have been, it gave us much-needed time to introspect. Tourism is the first casualty of any geopolitical happening. So, we need to educate our members accordingly to be always prepared for any eventuality. It’s not easy but to get some kind of fund to support members and it can come from something insuring the gratuity for all. At Paradise Holidays, I have supported all my staff during these tough times by insuring the gratuity on an annual basis.

Raj Bajaj, Perfect Travels & Tours

Groomed by my legendary father, Late Badri Bajaj, Past President IATO, it is he who motivated me to renounce my brilliant engineering career of global repute based out of Silicon Valley. Thinking analytically, lateral and logical are strong attributes, which I continue to apply over the last 38 years of intense passion for tourism, deep-rooted in my DNA, with 100 per cent commitment to serve IATO since its very inception. Over the years, my devotional service to humanity and IATO in various capacities including propagating the Incredible India campaign at many roadshows internationally is known to all. In the upcoming election, I have volunteered for the post of Hony. Joint secretary to serve IATO and the fraternity with similar zeal.

My progressive initiative for 2021-23 includes:

• Envisage increasing the membership from the existing 1700 members to a target of at least 20 per cent and growth to have nice effectiveness in the corridors of Ministries.

• Motivate existing members for greater participation and to encourage members to come forward with their valuable inputs and put to the leadership of IATO for strong government representation to be more members-centric.

• To develop synergy between active and allied members for synchrony of marketing and knowledge sharing of newer, innovative and niche tourism products through regular educative webinars and workshops for the benefit of the entire membership. Endeavour to make business sense for members and to share the best practices.

• In coordination with Industry partners, will persuade the Ministry of Surface and Transport for the adoption of ‘One India One tax policy’ during the dossier finalisation of the revised Motor Vehicle Act.

• Strengthen IATO secretariat with robust and effective ecosystem analytical approach day-to-day activities including regular and periodic updation of membership data, consistent and faster two-way communication with members.

To conclude, my humble appeal to all is to mandate and elect a stable and sincere team with leadership qualities having a sharp focus on deliverables.