IATO Convention at Jaipur Sept 7 to 9, 2006

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IATO to build 50 hotels; adopt village in Rajasthan

By Deepak Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 7: In a landmark historic decision, IATO, the largest body of tour operators, has decided to build 50 hotels across the country to meet the shortage of hotel rooms which was proving as a stumbling block in boosting foreign arrivals.

At its three-day annual convention at Jaipur, the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has called upon the Government to either modify the service tax to charge it on the 10 per cent earnings of the travel agents and tour operators or face the challenge in a court of law.

"A cooperative or a company would be floated by IATO for this purpose with its members as shareholders. We are going to create millions of jobs and eradicate poverty from India as these hotels will revolutionise the tourism sector," announced Mr Subhash Goyal, IATO President, while presiding the IATO convention inaugurated by the Rajasthan Governor, Mrs Pratibha Patil.

The Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments have already promised to identify suitable lands that they will offer on cheaper cost in order to promote public-private partnership in the tourism industry.

As a gesture of goodwill to the state of Rajasthan where at least 300 persons have died and lakhs have become uprooted from their hearths and homes due to flash floods in some districts, IATO donated a sum of Rs. 1.11 lakh for relief and rehabilitation work.

A cheque for this amount was presented to the Rajasthan Governor, Mrs Pratibha Patil, who was the chief guest at the inaugural function. Such humanistic gestures are not new to IATO which had also been helping the earthquake and flood affected victims in different parts of the country. IATO also offered to adopt one of the affected villages for rehabilitation.

With India emerging as the fourth preferred destination of foreign tourists after Italy, New Zealand and Australia, the Indian tourism industry is on the verge of taking off. The tour operators, however, say they have been suffering due to shrinking commission being given to them by the hotel and aviation sectors, lack of hotel rooms and inability of hotels to honour their commitments leading to cancellations.

Increasing interest among foreign tourists to explore India has led to a significant surge in the overall numbers of inbound tourists to the tune of 29.2 per cent over the past two years. The serial blasts in western metropolis Mumbai and looming terrorist threats notwithstanding, India managed to attract 630,438 foreign tourists in July and August this year as compared to 563,124 of the same period last year.

So far 2,785,328 foreign tourists have come to India in the first eight months of the current calendar year as against 2,120,492 in 2004 and 2,454,352 last year. This has resulted into a considerable increase in foreign exchange earnings that have gone up to USD 4,016.50 million up to the end of August this year as against USD 3,566.57 and 2,917.67 millions respectively in the first eight months of 2005 and 2004 respectively.

The most preferred season for foreign tourists is between October and March. A total of 1,280,524 foreign tourists arrived in India in the first three months of 2006, spending USD 1,774.77 million. The tourism industry is expecting more bookings when the actual tourism season starts next month.

Appropriately, the IATO has given them of 'new opportunities and challenges ahead' to their convention being attended by a record 1,546 delegates.

The Union Tourism Minister, Mrs Ambika Soni, who could not make it to the inaugural session, however, promised her ministry's full cooperation in meeting the growing demands in her message. She emphasised the need for a greater government-private sector partnership and taking up the demand of tour operators of tax parity across the country with the finance ministry.

The Indian tour operators are demanding visa on arrival and introduction of e-visas being practiced by many countries. This will cut down on the time factor that they say works as a dampener for many foreign tourists keen on visiting India.

Mrs Pratibha Patil said that the success story of Rajasthan tourism should be adopted by the other States. She also emphasized on developing medical tourism in the country. "We have some of the best heart surgeons in the world and a heart surgery here costs much less," she added.

The Governor said Rajasthan was the first state to have come out with a State Hotel Policy which she hoped would contribute significantly to tourism growth in the State.

Others who spoke at the inaugural session included Rajasthan Tourism Minister, Mrs Usha Punia, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Minister Yashodhara Raje, Union Tourism Secretary, Mr A K Misra, Rajasthan Tourism Secretary, Mr Vindo Zutshi and Rajasthan Commissioner Tourism, Mr A K Singh.

Mrs Usha Punia, said that there was a 36 per cent increase in the tourist inflow to her State, Rajasthan, between January to July this year. She said, road and air connectivity between different parts of the state and the country was being expanded and the construction of new hotels would increase through selling of land to hotel entrepreneurs at half the commercial price.

In her passionate key note address, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Mrs Yashodhara Raje, dwelt in length on the beauty and grandeur of the places of tourist interest like Orchha, Chanderi, Sanchi, Pachmarhi and Omkareshwar in her State.

Describing her state as "the very heart of India", Mrs Raje extended a warm welcome to the delegates to come and see it for themselves. She also outlined the measures being taken by her government to boost tourism in her state.

The Chairman of the Convention, Mr Pranob Sarkar, said as many as 1,546 delegates are attending the convention. "This is the largest number of delegates attending a convention in IATO's history," he said to a loud applause.

The IATO Vice President, Mr Vijay Thakur, read a very optimistic message from the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

The Convention Co-Chairman, Mr Rajesh Mudgil, proposed a vote of thanks.

The Governor also released a copy of the IATO Tour Operators' Manual 2006 and gave away the Hall of Fame award to Mr Bhim Singh, Managing Director, Rajasthan Tours Pvt. Ltd, for his life time achievement and contribution to the Indian tourism industry.

Besides Hall of Fame, other awards presented by IATO were: Vinod Banbah Award for excellence in service to Mr R.K. Yadav, TGS Tours; Badri Nath Bajaj Scholarship Award to Ms Sudha Deval of I.I.T.M., Jaipur; Pradeep Sanghla Award to Mr Satyendra K. Tiwari; L.K. Bakshi award for excellence in Journalism to Mr S. Suresh, UNI; and the Connaught Award for excellence in Journalism to Ms Preeti Mathur.

Later the delegates enjoyed a colorful, fun-filled evening at the City Palace. It was sponsored by Intercontinental Hotels group.

New Airport at Ajmer

By Sushma Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 7: A virtual boom awaits Muslim tourists intending to visit the holy Ajmer Sharif dargah. The Rajasthan government has announced construction of a new airport at Ajmer, which is 131 kms east of the state capital Jaipur.

At present foreign tourists intending to visit Ajmer have to travel by road either form Jaipur or from the national capital Delhi.

While it may take a while before Ajmer is connected by regular service flights, construction of a new airport would enable them reach the holy town in a chartered flight after reaching India.

IATO Convention Day 2

First Business Session: Infrastructure Opportunities and Challenges

Ajay Makhan announces relief for guest houses

By Deepak Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 8: The Union Minister of State for Urban Development, Mr Ajay Maken, has said his Government had amended the Master Plan on Thursday night to allow the survival of many of guest houses in Delhi. Elaborating, Mr. Maken said under the amendments such guest houses could now function in A and B colonies.

Addressing the first business session on "Infrastructure Opportunities and Challenges, on Day Two of the IATO Convention here, the Minister said the stipulation of maximum limit of 7000 sq. ft. of area and minimum of 15 rooms per guest house had also been waived.

Moreover, he said the condition of a minimum of 7 sq. ft. of width in the streets where they are located had also been removed.

The IATO President, Mr Goyal, who was the moderator of the session, had expressed his fears that their closure under the current sealing drive would lead to the sapping of the only source of revenue of thousand of senior citizens, widows and ex army men who were in this business.


Further clarifying a point raised by a delegate, Mr Maken said that if a tour operator functioned through internet from one of the rooms of his residence, "there should not be any problem in treating him as a professional."

Mr Maken said that though in the amendments tour operators have been left out of the definition of professionals, due consideration would be given when the Master Plan is further amended within two or three months.

Mr Maken attributed the shortage of 20,000 hotel rooms in Delhi to the practice of auctioning of land for hotels. He also wanted a flexible policy to be adopted for the conversion of land use on the payment of prime price.

The Secretary, Union Ministry of Tourism, Mr. A.K. Misra, admitted that there was a mismatch in demand and supply in respect of infrastructure facilities but the era of scarcity was bound to be followed by the era of excess.

Mr Misra said while there was no lack of flow of investments, the construction of tings like airports, cruise terminals and railway stations took a longer gestation period and hence the mismatch.

Rajasthan Tourism Secretary, Mr Vinod Zutshi and Principal BD, IDFC, Mr Prem Subramaniam, also addressed the session.

Business Session 2: Branding and Marketing a destination

By Sushma Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 8: Amitabh Kant, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Tourism, in his truly vibrant form steered a presentation from its statistics form to active interactive discussion showcasing achievements and the road map ahead for the brand "Incredible India".

Reiterating that branding and positioning is the capacity building of all service providers' right from the tax drivers/ software up to the infrastructure/ hardware of the country.
Navin Berry, Director, Cross Section Publications, highlighted how to further mature branding and the need to conquer SWOT analysis.

Sunil Kishan, General Manager, Indian, spoke about co-branding with airlines on domestic routes.

Leena Nandan, Director, Union Ministry of Tourism, emphasized how response mechanism in brand building is the key to success in this venture.

Ashwani Lohani, Managing Director, MP Tourism Development Corporation, began on a humble note admitting to having learnt branding from Incredible India and Kerala toursis. He emphasized on constant innovation of new products. He put forth destination plan for his State.

Business Session 3: Emerging Tourism Opportunities: Rural, Health, Heritage, Adventure and Sports

By Deepak Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 8: The sessioin on Emerging opportunities for tourism was chaired by Mr. Bezburua, former Secretary of Tourism, Government of India. The other participants included Col. N. Kumar, Managing Director, Mercury Himalayan Explorations, Dr P K Goel, Managing Director, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, Dr A R Siddiqui, Deputy Superintendent Archaeologist, ASI and Mr Sudhir Sahi, UNDP Consultant.

Col. Kumar stated that western countries have cashed on their white gold. Austrians skiing industry is one of the foremost industries of the country. There were hotels in the high regions, which used to be closed during winter. So many hotels have now come up for winter tourism that only some of them remain closed in summers now.

He pointed out in 1970 when he suggested starting of rafting tourism he was laughed at. Now they are 50 companies operating on Ganges alone bringing great prosperity to the area.

Unfortunately, the Govt is not giving them adequate support though the rafting season has started the beaches have still not been allotted to the companies. The operators have already booked their clients and taken money upfront.


Col N Kumar also pointed out though India has twice as much as Himalayas as Nepal, its mountain travel share of business is not even 1/10th. It is all due to bureaucratic hassles. Government takes three months to clear an expedition and if the one name is changed the expedition is off.

At macro level he suggested that all tourism related events like skiing rafting mountaineering, trekking, should come under Tourism Ministry instead of sports, forest and Education Ministry at the state level as well as centre level.

At micro level he requested the adventure travel agents to make the adventure safe for the clients as one accident could kill the industry. He also pointed out that the adventure travel's biggest asset is environment because clients come to these places to avoid pollution garbage and noise. If you don't look after environment it is only you who loose the business.

Mr. Sudhir Sahi spoke on UNDP sponsored programme to build up rural economy through tourism. With the help of UNDP and Department of Tourism this organisation is putting up arts and crafts centers at rural places and also organising villagers to put up some accommodation for the people who wants to come for the study traditions and arts of tribal. He has already set up centers all over India and asked the tour operators to come forward on this venture.

Dr P K Goel said the Indian Railways provides more meals then any other organisation in India. Its USP is quality food at affordable prices prepared under hygienic conditions. The railways are also putting up hundreds of motels on the railway land, which will provide bed and breakfast at reasonable rates.

He also mentioned about the scheme where you could hire Railway bogies for the tourists from place to place and you could make your own catering management.

Business Session 4: Poor Facilitation and Over Taxation -- Deterrent to Booming Tourism

JAIPUR, Sept 8: Renowned politician from Jammu and Kashmir and senior advocate, Mr Bhim Singh, chaired the session on "Over Taxation -- deterrent to booming tourism".

There was unanimity that tour operators were being over taxed. "It is the case of the golden goose being killed for the golden egg," said Mr Bhim Singh.

The speakers asked he Government to impose service tax only on 10 per cent profit earned by tour operators and not on 40 per cent as at present.

Day 3: Presentations by States

JAIPUR, Sept 9: Presentations on tourism products were made by the tourism departments of Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Pondicherry and Uttaranchal.

In his presentation, Rajasthan Secretary (Tourism), Mr Vinod Zutshi, said "the department of tourism, which has been at the forefront for marketing Rajasthan at all national and international forums, had recently announced a landmark Hotel Policy, which aims to meet the accommodation needs.

Mr Zutshi said emphasis was being laid on the public-private partnership so that new investments were made in the state and generate gainful employment for the people.

He said Rajasthan is one of the most favoured destinations of both domestic and international tourists. In view of the significance of tourism in economic development the government has taken various policy measures for establishing tourism as a "people's industry".

Day 3: Industry Round Table

Day 3: Presentation by Star Cruise and Indian Ocean Cruises

JAIPUR, Sept 9: Star Cruises, Indian Ocean Cruises and Mohabbat the Taj also made their presentations on the last day of the Convention.

Valedictory Session and Awards

Land banks, E-Visas, rational service tax demanded

By Deepak Arora

Pix: By Noyanika Arora

JAIPUR, Sept 9: The concluding session of the convention was presided over by Rajasthan and Orissa Tourism Ministers, Mrs Usha Punia and Mr D P Mishra respectively.

The session adopted over a dozen resolutions demanding among other things strengthening of security at all the strategic places like airports and railway stations, introduction of E-visa facility till visa on arrival is not available, creation of land banks and allotment of land to IATO and other private entrepreneurs at concessional rates for building of hotels, abolition of dual tariffs, greater unity among different travel organizations and rationalisation of taxes.

The convention made the following recommendations:

1. The Government should impose service tax only on 10 per cent profit earned by tour operators and not on 40 per cent as at present.

2. Safety and security of the airports, railway stations, cruise terminals should be strengthened and facilities enhanced at these strategic points.

3. Government should facilitate tour operators for visas from major markets like France, Italy, Spain and China. Till visa on arrival is finalized, E-Visa facility should be introduced.

4. Top priorities should be given to the creation of land banks by all the states and the allotment of land to IATO and other hoteliers on concessional rates for the construction of hotels on private public partnership basis.

5. All hotels which have been given DOT approval should be directed to keep 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the letable rooms for leisure tourists so that tour operators can offer leisure packages to the clients. The government should intervene and regulate the hotel rates.

6. Hotels should not whimsically change the hotel tariff and create their own categories of rooms. They should have the categories of rooms approved by DOT during the inspection which should be same for three years.

7. In fact as an industry the hotel should form 5 year game plan on short and long term basis to facilitate both hoteliers and tour operators.

8. Actual special rates should be printed by the hoteliers on their brochures and be provided to tour operators to enable them to pay tax on the actual price only.

9. Dual tariff should be withdrawn by the hotels and airlines and the ASI to remove discrimination between the foreign and the domestic tourists.

10. While IATO welcomes the impact of the Incredible India campaign in increasing the inflow of the foreign arrivals, it wants the offices overseas should also be strengthened and staffed by competent officials knowing foreign languages which are spoken in the countries of operation.

11. The government should rationalize the different taxes which are being charged by the state governments at different points which make the tour packages cost prohibitive and makes the tourists to avoid India and visit other competitive countries.

12. Rajasthan Government should declare Rajasthan as most tourist friendly state and abolish taxes on tourist transport vehicles.

13. IATO and other trade bodies like FHRAI, TAFI, TAAI, HAI, TGFI should work in unison to achieve maximum results and become a force to reckon and their voices heard by the corridors of the power.

14. Each State should create an environment conclusive to the new emerging segments of tourism such as rural, medical, adventure, spiritual, sports, spa, yoga and MICE.

Indian Tourism Fair (Travel Mart)

Pix: By Noyanika Arora




IATO Convention Day 2 in Pictures

Pix: By Noyanika Arora


Tea and Lunch on Day 2

Pix: By Noyanika Arora

IATO Convention Day 2 & 3 in Pictures

Pix: By Noyanika Arora


Magic of Moustaches

Pix: By Noyanika Arora

Rajasthani Culture at its Best

Pix: By Noyanika Arora

IATO convention at Jaipur from Sept 7

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 4: The four-day annual convention of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) is expected to give a clarion call to the Government to reduce taxes, expand the product basket and increase the pace of infrastructure, including hotels, to boost tourism and meet the challenge posed by countries like China, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

IATO, which is the largest body of travel and tour operators in the country, is holding its 12th annual convention from September 7 at the pink city with the "Indian Tourism - New opportunities and challenges ahead".

Speaking to this correspondent, the IATO President, Mr Subhash Goyal, said as many as 1,000 delegates attend the convention which would be inaugurated by the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Ms Vasundhra Raje Scindia. Several top leaders of the industry, including Union Tourism Secretary, Mr A K Misra, would be participating in the convention.

To sustain the 15 per cent growth of tourism, Mr Subhash Goyal, said "the country needs to create more hotel rooms, modernize airports, highways and wayside amenities and relax visa norms."

Mr Goyal said the number of tourists that would visit country by 2012 would cross 10 million. "The need for hotels rooms is to the tune of 50,000 and we need to tale urgent action to build hotel rooms."

While calling for urgent action on Home Stay concept, he offered the expertise of IATO in tandem with the government agencies to grade these accommodations. The Home Stay programme can take care of 10,000 rooms immediately, he added.

He hoped that the Government would take steps before the Commonwealth Games to solve the accommodation problem in the capital by also giving due recognition to the existing guest houses.

While calling for competitive packages to meet challenges posed by the neighbouring countries like China, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, he called for diversifying the product basket to include Medical, Spiritual, Rural, Sports and Eco tourism.

Giving details of the four-day programme, the Co-Chairman of the Convention, Mr Rajesh Mudgill, said the convention would be divided into four business sessions and cover topics such as infrastructure, transport, rural health, and adventure and sports tourism and over taxation.

The IATO Vice President, Mr Vijay Thakur, said the third day would see presentation by different States like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Pondicherry and Uttranchal.

The Convention Chairman, Mr Pronab Sarkar, pointed out that the cumbersome taxation procedure and the high percentage of taxes levied on the tourism industry were affecting the Indian tourism industry. He gave an example of countries like China, Singapore and Sri Lanka where tourism has flourished because of lower percentage of taxes.

Mr Sarkar said the service tax that was being charged on the 40 per cent package cost, whereas the commission/service charge which Indian tour companies were getting was only 10 per cent. Therefore, Mr Pronab Sarkar demanded that the service tax should be charged on 10 per cent only and not on 40 per cent. "This should be implemented urgently not only on moral and ethical grounds but also from the economical point of view," he added.

The IATO Secretary, Mr Lally Mathews, said that the IATO conventions have been an excellent platform for the state government to showcase their products during the Travel Mart and there has been substantial increase in participation of the industry and the state governments over the years.

"Like previous years, IATO will organize this year also a Marketing Innovation Competition to encourage the creativity in different categories and exchange ideas to improve the quality of promotional material", said Mr Lally.

Stop sealing of guest houses: IATO

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) has sought the intervention of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Chief Minister, Mrs Shiela Dixit, to find a workable solution to the demolition problem which, it says, is going to have a very negative impact on tourism besides inconveniencing tourists.

Expressing concern over the sealing of guest houses, holiday Homes and tourist rest houses in Delhi, IATO, in separate letters to them, has pointed out that there is a shortage of about 20,000 rooms in Delhi in different categories. As over a lakh tourists are expected to turn up in the capital for the 2010 Common Wealth Games, there is a critical need to have at least 6,000 rooms in the budget category alone.

On the one hand, IATO said, the Central Government is spending millions of dollars on "Incredible India" campaign, and on the other, Delhi Government is continuing with demolitions and sealing of Guest Houses which are needed to provide affordable accommodation facility to tourists who otherwise find Delhi very cost prohibitive.

The concerned authorities must take practical view of the situation and put a stop to this operation in the greater national interest, it pointed out.

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