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Trade Associations need to speak with one accord for the welfare of the Travel & Tourism Industry

-Biji Eapen, National President, IATA Agents Association of India (IAAI) & CMD- Speedwings Aviation Group

The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented crisis for the tourism economy worldwide. In the Indian scenario, the Travel & Tourism Sector is facing an economic meltdown and nose-dive millions of people dependent upon it for their livelihoods into debt, and the ‘domino effect’ also result in massive job losses across the entire supply chain, hitting employees and those in self-employment. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), India expected to most heavily impacted with up to 9 million jobs at risk throughout the country.

A recent media reports that’ the Union Government, comprising its political leadership and the officials, have hinted to the travel and tourism stakeholders that despite being the worst-hit, tourism has been missing out in the bailout packages rolled out by the Union Government because of its ‘unorganized nature’. From the Tourism Minister to senior government officials have blamed the Trade for their failure to get organized as a sector, backed by credible data for being considered for financial support. ‘

The unorganised travel and tourism sector in India is an integral part of the economy. Ever wonder correctly to see that all these years, even when Rs 16.91 lakh crore filled in the national exchequer in 2018 also, the Ministry of Tourism never bothered to see its organizational structure.  It is only the Covid-19, the pandemic has opened their eyes to see the truth that more than 70 per cent of travel and tourism are in ‘unorganized nature’ and will not eligible for any ‘bailouts’. Alas, our policymakers could have taken some sensible decisions in the presence of deep uncertainty that requires more than determination.

The travel, tourism, transport, and hospitality industry in India supports 42.673 million jobs in the country and hence requires a broad-minded philosophy of parenting. The Leaderships should be indulgent enough to understand that our Industry is firmly connected and knitted together. –  Tourist Attractions, Travel Agents, Tour Operators, GDS and Technology Companies, Hotels, Resorts, Homestays, Restaurants and Catering, Serviced Apartments, Tourist information and  Guide services, Transport operators including airline, roads, railways, waterways and canals, Travel Trade Associations, Tourism Boards, Travel & Tourism Training Institutes, Travel magazines, Journalists and  Writers including the supply chain management and logistics activities in travel and tourism ranging from ground handling to delivery of catering products, to information systems management and compliance with health and safety regulations.

The tourism and hospitality sector has universally recognised as an agent of development and an engine for socio-economic growth. But the Small Medium Enterprises (SME) or Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSME) registration, Incredible India, Government of India or State Tourism recognitions or approvals are not yet mandatory for travel and tourism operations. Neither IATA nor PATA recognitions do not carry much benefits or leverage. With a laptop also, one can do business in travel and tourism-related activities.  In general, our tourism and hospitality Sector – comprising travel, tourism, aviation, and hospitality segments remains as an unorganised sector.

The media reported that some travel and tourism professional organizations and Trade associations had approached the government for unique/ separate financial relief for their memberships based on their nature of activities.  Our demands should not be confined, but for a common goal. We, IATA Agents Association of India, made an appeal to Hon Prime Minister of India on April 4, 2020, requesting to provide a bailout to sustain the Travel and Tourism Sector.

  1. Protect the Salaries, Incomes, and Jobs of the millions of Employees and provide benefits for the Self-Employed,
  2. Economic Stabilisation Loans as working capital or loans in the form of cash credit and overdraft,
  3. Moratorium on loans and Interests,
  4. Waive or remove all dues, taxes, or finance charges that affect cash flow
  5. Reduction in Electricity Charges, etc. for the next 12 months.

Also, successfully conducted an e-Signature campaign as a Follow-up Appeal and submitted on June 14, 2020, with thousands of e-Signatures obtained through the nationwide crusade, without limiting or confined to IAAI members, where, we have voiced for the entire travel trade fraternity.

The Industry should not confine to vested interests. Regardless, we have to accept ourselves as a family member of the Travel & Tourism comprising with 43 million employees or/and self-employed who are the real representatives or ambassadors of the Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality industry in India. The unorganized sector is in no way an independent and private sector and not to be discriminated. United we stand, divided we fall’. We have to recognize, respect and accept others. Then join hand in hand and stand UNITED for the conventional benefits and welfare of all industries at large.

The bane of our Industry is that we are still unorganized and do not have a common platform to represent. The present umbrella organization, namely ‘FAITH’ did not have the representation of the Industry as a whole. The need of the hour is that all Travel & Tourism Industry Associations to come forward and form a common platform like FICCI, CII, or ASSOCHAM, with the proper representation and equal status to all the travel, tourism, and hospitality-related national trade bodies in India. Perhaps, FAITH can take the lead.

There are many lessons we all learned from life. With unity, we can achieve many things, but alone, do only very little. Take a look at the ‘airline commission’ issue, a matter that radically affected the Industry, the very survival of travel agents, due to a lack of unity within the Trade, we were compelled to depend on the court of law. When airlines implemented zero commission, on behalf of the travel agents fraternity, IAAI had approached Kerala High Court. Accordingly, DGCA on March 5, 2010, and MoCA on September 16, 2013, passed favourable orders endorsing that ‘commission’ as an integral part of the FARE, which formed the TARIFF and mandated that ‘commission’ is the legal remuneration to travel agents. Despite this, recently an association leader was demanding ‘commission’ from Air India. To date, these orders not challenged but unable to implement due to a lack of unity and support from the fraternity—a matter, which can be jointly sorted out quickly for the welfare of the entire community. 

The travel and tourism industry ignored by the Central and all the State Governments. We should know our strengths and weaknesses. We are a family of 43 million members, plus our families, and other dependents. We are living in difficult times. This pandemic is hitting all our Industry very hard. Recovery is vital to prevent millions of people from being driven into extreme poverty. And, the crisis has shown us, the importance of coordination to overcome the vulnerability of our Industry and become more resilient. Together we stand, divided we fall.

The impact of the crisis felt throughout the entire tourism ecosystem, and reopening and rebuilding will require a joined-up approach. We at IAAI wholeheartedly put forward the suggestion to form a common platform of travel and tourism-related Industry Associations to working together to achieve active recovery and collectively represent the interests and requirements of the Industry and its stakeholders.  We request the leadership of all Travel, Tourism, Transportation, Hospitality, and other related National Trade Associations in India to come forwards and positively respond to our suggestion to protect and safeguard our Industry.

Albert Einstein said, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.” To create a new kind of cognizance to solve our problems, we need unity. Unity does not mean uniformity. It implies cooperation amid diversity. The need for the hour is that the Trade Associations must rise to the occasion, and speak with one accord for the welfare of the Travel and Tourism Industry and its stakeholders.