Thursday, December 8, 2022

Travel Agents Association of India seeks industry status for tourism

The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is the country’s oldest Travel & Tourism Association that works towards the development of the travel and tourism industry in India by engaging with and improving the standard of service of travel professionals across the country. recently caught up with Jay Bhatia, Vice President, Travel Agents Association of India and Director, Tulsidas Khimji Holidays, who spoke about the association’s plans to support the travel trade partners for tourism promotion in India.

“Our primary goal is to bridge the gap between the government, travel suppliers and stakeholders and provide them the opportunity to constantly improving their standard of service and professionalism in the industry.”

“A lot has to be done in the way of revival of tourism and we will do everything within our means to help travel agents and tour operators bring their businesses back on track while ensuring travelers have a safe and smooth travel.”

TAAI has also been advocating the importance of getting an industry status for the tourism sector as it opens opportunities for better capital and loans from financial institutions, Tourism advancement is already a priority set by the government. As a sector that contributes almost 10 per cent to the GDP and in a post-pandemic scenario where job losses reach an all-time high, favorable policies is the need of the hour. As a result of poor knowledge and lack of assistance, the travel fraternity has has not been able to reap the benefits, such as access to tax sops, long term financing options, which may help revive the sector faster.

Besides that TAAI has also urged the Union tourism ministry to relax norms for its 1,400+ IATA-accredited agents and also make the registration process automated.

TAAI, in its ‘Focus 2022′ document submitted to Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh, also requested the ministry to undertake state-wise registration of the trade members for accreditation from the tourism ministry along with the travel agents’ body. 

“The services sector is the largest contributor to the GDP and travel trade is the most significant one among them. We are working to ensure that the travel trade fraternity is educated and upgraded continuously. We are working to ensure they remain up-to-date with information, maintain , stay abreast with the changing technologies and trends, are aware of new products launched by airlines, destinations or hotel companies, visa and travel processes etc,” added Mehta.

“It is also important to know our customers today. So we start with asking the right questions, understand what kind of holiday they want, who they are traveling with, their choices and preferences and then cater to their needs based on that. For us it is very important to understand the psyche of the passenger. So that interaction is very important.”

The Association is also looking to launch new certified educational programs for its members on Incredible India.

“Training on new distribution capability (NDC), global distribution system (GDS), visa rules and agro-tourism packages, among others, are a few programs that will be designed by TAAI on the basis of the experience and expertise of its members,” he added.

“Today tech enhancements and the adoption of NDC among airlines companies and GDS in India is almost at par with global airlines, which means our trade partners need to be ready to embrace this new change. The realize the benefits of working with data directly connected to airlines and being able to provide better customization options to their travelers,” he added.  

Speaking about the challenges about, Mehta says, “In India, where the language of the land changes every 20 kilometers maintaining any form of uniformity with operations is next to impossible. Travel professionals are instead focused on exclusivity and on selling what they are best at, so you will have one agency handling specialized tours to Singapore and the other to Africa. You can micromanage or you can be jack all trades. Anything is possible.”

“We at TAAI have members from every level of travel specialization -this could be destination or region-centric or specific category like religious or MICE tourism. Our efforts have also boosted our relationship with the Tourism Ministry.”

Currently TAAI is working with the MEA to help Indian travelers facing massive delays in their visa processing by Schengen states, US and some other countries, disrupting their travel plans and causing huge losses both for themselves and the travel partners.

It has also sought lifting the requirement to pre-fill the Air Suvidha form for everyone coming to India while ensuring safeguards like health and comprehensive travel Insurance mandatory for an Indian visa, apart from restoring e-visas for UK and Canada.

“We are also continuously  talking to airlines and we work together to ensure they are aware of our requirements and our pain points  – the need for more support and information, up-to-date news on tech enhancements and other offers as well as feedback.”

“We also communicate with them the challenges faced by passengers both regarding inflight experiences, demand for flights or connections or even booking challenges, if there are any. The airlines too recognize the association as one voice on behalf of the travel agents today. Similarly for hotels, cruise liners, IRCTC and even Eurail and any other stake holder partners associated with us, we become their spokesperson.

Looking ahead Mehta says that travel is becoming more exclusive but also, expensive.

“Travel has picked pace since February 2022 but we have walked into another new challenge because of the price wars.  Just businesses have started picking up, an increase in Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) on an almost monthly basis, which in turn increases the airfares, is becoming a deterrent for growth.

“We expect travel demand to stay for another couple of months as people have not traveled for two years – this means they will travel despite the fares, despite the rush and in spite of visa challenges. There is also a lot of staycation holidays, the need to reconnect with nature or explore a new, less-popular destination -but travel nonetheless.”

Domestic tourism in India too has been booming. “The ‘Dekho apna Desh’ campaign was a result of this growing demand. We had initiated various online training programs during the lockdown period, led by the Ministry of Tourism,  to educate our agents about parts of our country they never knew. Indian Railways too have announced the Bharat Gaurav Scheme, which further helps to boost domestic tourism. Our inputs and suggestions are sought at regular intervals by the authorities like IRCTC and we are now looking at promoting these schemes at an international level too,” he added.

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