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TAAI convention to promote SAARC tourism

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 23: Tourism is new buzz word to spread peace and solidarity and trade in the region. Keeping this in mind and express solidarity with tsunami-hit Sri Lanka, TAAI, the biggest travel association of India, is holding its next convention in Colombo beginning Saturday.

Speaking to this correspondent in an exclusive interview, the Travel Agents Association of India TAAI President, Mr Balbir Mayal, said the largest-ever number of delegates, totally to over 900 from India and abroad, would be participating in the Indian Travel Congress. "The convention would help promote tourism in the SAARC region," he said.

Mr Mayal said the theme of the three-day convention will be "New Waves - New Ways". TAAI is known for its world-class business session where leaders representing various fields come and deliver key-note address and reveal the vision for the future.

Ron Andruff, president and CEO of the New York-based Tralliance Corporation will speak on "Virtual Vs Real - The 'net' wave" at the 54th TAAI Convention. Andruff is spearheading the Tralliance Corporation backed TLD (top level domain name) -- .travel which will be exclusively for businesses, organisations and individuals in the travel industry like airlines, hotels, theme parks, travel agents, computer reservation providers and travel media. Travel will register domain names with the extension, '.travel'. Tralliance Corporation has launched the initiative in cooperation with the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

Besides this, InterGlobe will present 'Vision 2010' - a panel discussion on the emerging travel scenario and another session will be on the surge in aviation called "Aviation: Boom or Bust. Will it last?"

Mr John Birchell, a great motivator who has enthralled audiences in several nations, would make his debut in the sub-continent by delivering his talk at the convention. John has entertained various corporate organisations which include Marks and Spencer, University of Liverpool, Golden Tulip Hotels, Barclays Bank among others. Entertainment, education, motivation and inspiration are the key drivers of his talk and show.

Mr Mayal said the theme of the convention, "New Waves - New Ways", was to keep pace with the changing scenario of the industry, in India and globally, on emergence of bigger market segments; greater tourism impact; e-commerce and technology; focusing on business beyond only ticketing; and influence of low-cost carriers.

Besides discussions on emergence of low-cost carriers, inbound tourism into India and diminishing commissions, the TAAI President said the convention would discuss ways and means to promote regional tourism.

On why Colombo as the venue, Mr Mayal said "the devastation of Tsunami that ravaged both India and Sri Lanka is something we will never forget. It is times like these that bring us closer to our neighbours and friends. It is in times like this we need to stand tall and stand together. It is why we chose to come here to Sri Lanka as a gesture of our solidarity and friendship."

Mr K S Kohli, who is national Treasurer of tourism body, informed that TAAI is the second largest association in the world with over 2000 active, associate and allied members from all over India. The membership primarily comprises of travel agencies and tour operators, airlines and general sales agencies, hoteliers and companies involved with allied travel related services.

Mr Sunil Kumar, Chairman of the Convention Committee, said the inaugural function would take place at the most exclusive and majestic Bandarnayake Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) and the business sessions would be held at Colombo Hilton.

Mr Balbir Mayal said TAAI's annual event, the Indian Travel Congress, was an important destination for the fraternity every year. "The three-day event provides excellent opportunities for the delegates through its business sessions, to get an insight into the changing scenario in the industry and inspires them to emerge pro-active."

Uttaranchal - India's future Switzerland

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 26: Uttaranchal is harnessing its rich tourism potential to make the State India's future Switzerland. In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, the State's Secretary (Tourism), Mr D K Kotia, said the State has all the assets that Switzerland has and much more. These include mountains, snow, streams, blue lakes, timber trails and ski slopes.

"Plus we have Char Dhams, the four revered religious places including Kedarnath and Badrinath, and Haridwar and Rishikesh which are being developed as religious, spiritual, yogic and spa centres. Plus we also have the great Himalayas."

Mr Kotia said the Uttaranchal has launched a multi-pronged time-bound strategy to develop the infrastructure - be it roads, rail or air connectivity, new hotels and resorts, harnessing energy potential and improving places of tourist interests. He said the Government has spent several crores of rupees for the development and expansion of infrastructure at Badrinath and Kedarnath and Haridwar and Rishikesh to facilitate thousands of pilgrims that visit these religious places.

The Secretary said the Government was developing new tourism circuits such as Pauri-Khirshu-Lansdowne-Kanwashram; Pithouragarh-Munsyari and Berinag-Binsar. He said the Government was also developing among others an international skiing center at Dayara and Rs 510-crore Corbett Country Destination project at Ramnagar Hempur with the support of private sector.

Besides recognizing tourism as a key sector for economic development and employment generation in the State, Mr Kotia said the State has drawn up ten Master Plans to develop tourism related schemes in a phased manner. "We realize that though there is a lot of natural potential for Uttaranchal to become a Switzerland but we have to develop infrastructure at par with that of Switzerland to realize this dream."

However, one must realize that though tourism exists in Switzerland since 1800s, the State of Uttranchal came into existence only four years ago, in the 21st Century.

The Additional Secretary (Tourism), Mr Suvardhan, said the government was also laying equal emphasis on growth and development of a human resource framework, including the involvement of porters, guides and dhabawallas in the tourism projects. Mr Suvardhan said "the State has already started a training programme for such people. Also, work for a national level hotel and catering training institute at Dehradun is underway. This institute would be operational by the end of this year."

He said emphasis was also being laid on the active involvement of the private sector. He said that attention was also being paid to community-based tourism development project in the State and tourism has been related to self-employment through innovative schemes such as the Vir Chandra Singh Garhwali Tourism Self-employment Scheme.

Mr Kotia said the state has also schemes to develop Village tourism. "While the efforts to conserve the historical heritage sites are going on in full swing, the far off border village, Mana, is being developed as a heritage village."

Mr Arun Srivastava, Director (Marketing & Publicity), Uttaranchal Tourism Development Board, said the State was reviving the Himalayan tourism. He said "the State has 83 best peaks of the world and in near future Uttaranchal will become a leading mountaineering and adventure tourist destination."

Mr Kotia said that the Government was also developing four more airstrips in Uttaranchal for easy access to the State. In conclusion, Mr Kotia reaffirmed the government's commitment to make Uttaranchal a leading global tourist destination.

Uttaranchal to have tourist police soon

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 21: The Uttaranchal Government would soon have "Tourism Police" to facilitate the movement of over 14 million tourists that visit the State, according to Lt Gen T P S Rawat, State Tourism Minister. He said the tourist police would be formed by end of June. "Ex-servicemen will be recruited as tourist police and this separate wing will ensure the safety, security and satisfaction of our tourists."

In an exclusive interview, Gen Rawat, who met this correspondent during the recent Mountaineering and Tourism meet in Mussoorie, said the tourist police would be eventually deployed at all important tourist destinations in the State. Uttaranchal Tourism, Union Tourism Ministry and Himalayan Environment Trust jointly organized the meet.

In its four years existence, the Minister said the State has laid a strong foundation of planned and integrated development of tourism destinations. "We have been laying stress on development of infrastructure in the State to receive more and more tourists, who are very important for the economic development of the State."

As a multi-pronged strategy, Gen Rawat informed that Uttaranchal Tourism has initiated an ambitious plan to develop more than 10 Master Plans covering destination development, eco-tourism, adventure, sports and trekking, pilgrimage tourism and development of tourism circuits. "Our strategy has had a visible impact. With the population of just 8.5 million, the State attracted over 14 million tourists in 2004."

To develop our infrastructure, the Minister said for the year 2005-06, the Central Government has assured the State financial assistance to the tune of Rs 50 crore. For this he thanked the Central Tourism Minister, Mrs Renuka Chowdhary, for her aggressive advocacy of the State in getting such large financial assistance for tourism development.

During the period 2000-05, he pointed out the State had received financial assistance from Government of India to the tune of Rs 38 crore. "This itself was an achievement compared to the total assistance of Rs 6.19 crore received in the preceding ten years (1991-2000), when the state was a part of Uttar Pradesh" he added.

The Minister said the State was also sensitive towards protecting the ecology of the sensitive Himalayas. In this direction, he said the State Government has formed a society of ragpickers to effectively combat the plastics menace around the major tourist and pilgrim centres in the State.

Gen Rawat said the initial experiments at Hemkund Sahib had proved successful and the ragpickers had now been entrusted with the job of collecting plastics and polythene bags thrown away by callous visitors around the Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines and Valley of Flowers.

"Rag pickers collect the plastics, polythene and other trash and then separate and destroy or recycle it at the State-funded densification plant that is then turned into other valuable products and sold," he said.

The Minsiter said the income from the recycled goods is deposited into the accounts of the rag picker societies. "This is turning out to be a great success and tons of garbage has been collected from these destinations and recycled. Union Tourism Minister herself has appreciated this unique concept that not only cleans up the tourism destinations but also involve locals and generate employment," he added.

TAAI to hold next convention in Colombo from Sept 24

By Deepak Arora

NEW DLEHI, June 18: The Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is holding its next annual convention at Colombo. Making this announcement here, the TAAI President, Mr Balbir Mayal, said three-day session would be held from September 24 and the theme of the convention will be 'New Waves - New Ways'.

Mr Mayal said the theme of the convention was to keep pace with the changing scenario of the industry, in India and globally, on emergence of bigger market segments; greater tourism impact; e-commerce and technology; focusing on business beyond only ticketing; and influence of low-cost carriers. Besides discussions on emergence of low-cost carriers, inbound tourism into India and diminishing commissions, the TAAI President said the convention would discuss ways and means to promote regional tourism.

He said Sri Lanka was a case study on promoting and growing tourism. Sri Lanka has successfully fought events related to terrorism and Tsunami and continues to show good growth of tourist arrivals.

Mr K S Kohli, who is national Treasurer of tourism body, informed that TAAI is the second largest association in the world with over 2000 active, associate and allied members from all over India. The membership primarily comprises of travel agencies and tour operators, airlines and general sales agencies, hoteliers and companies involved with allied travel related services.

Mr Sunil Kumar, Chairman of the Convention Committee, said TAAI chose Colombo in Sri Lanka as the convention venue over other Indian destinations due to very competitive bidding by Sri Lanka Tourism Board. Mr Kumar said "the bid of the Sri Lankan Tourism Board was full of love and affection running into red carpet welcome. The delegation fee for the three-day event would be Rs 15,000, including registration."

He said over 1200 delegates are expected to attend the convention. "The Sri Lankan Tourism Board (SLTB) has also offered attractive packages that include sight seeing and shopping tours to all delegates and their spouses. The SLTB is also sharing convention responsibility of manpower and cultural presentations," added Mr Kumar.

He said the inaugural function would take place at the most exclusive and majestic Bandarnayake Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) and the business sessions would be held at Colombo Hilton. Besides the competitive price, he said "we chose Colombo as most of the hotels where the delegates would be staying are walking distance from the convention venues which is very convenient for the delegates."

r Balbir Mayal said TAAI's the annual event, the Indian Travel Congress, was an important destination for the fraternity every year. "The three-day event provides excellent opportunities for the delegates through its business sessions, to get an insight into the changing scenario in the industry and inspires them to emerge pro-active."

Besides the four business sessions, Mr Kumar said there would two stand alone sessions. Last year at Kolkatta convetion, Shiv Khera had successfully run a stand alone session.

Unesco confers heritage award on Lakhpat Gurudwara in Kutch

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, June 3: UNESCO has conferred its prestigious Asia Pacific Heritage Award to the Lakhpat Gurudwara, a cultural heritage site in Kutch district. This ancient gurudwara was heavily damaged during the devastating earthquake and cyclone.

Soon thereafter, the Gujarat Government had undertaken the reconservation and reconstruction of ancient Gurudwara for which it won appreciation from UNESCO.
This international award has come as another feather in the cap of the State Government, which had recently also bagged UN's SASAKAVA Award, World Bank's Green Award and Gold Award of Common Wealth Association and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation Award for freedom in economy.

Under the guidance of State's cultural activities minister, Mrs Anandiben Patel, the Cultural Activities Department had taken up the Herculean task to reconstruct Lakhpat Gurudwara with the local people's participation. For this reconstruction work, the fund was also received from Archaeological Survey of India in cooperation with the United Nations Volunteer Programme.

Approximately 400 years before Guru Nanak- Guru of Sikhs stayed for a night at Lakhpat and hence the present historical Gurudwara is about 200 years old. Mrs Patel submitted a proposal to the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, to include the Gurudwara in the heritage Reconstruction Programme. The Chief Minister immediately gave his consent for its reconstruction.

Population of Lakhpat village is nearly 400 and most of the people are Muslims. Sikh trustees look after the administration of the Gurudwara. Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI) New Delhi was the project consultant and leaders of Sikh Community. 'Kar Sevakas' and local people were also engaged in the reconstruction work by the state government.

The plaque of the award states: "The restoration of this Sikh house of worship demonstrates a sophisticated holistic understanding of both the technical and social aspects of conservation process and practice. Careful attention to detail and sensitive repair work have ensured the retention of the building's historic character. Most significantly, the emphasis on involving and empowering the community ensures the long term survival of the historic building and its associated cultural traditions. Training given to local youth in correct conservation methods emphasizing traditional construction techniques has revitalized local craft skills and revived the use of indigenous materials. The restoration of the Gurudwara returns it to its place of pride in the Lakhpat community, showcasing the distinctiveness of their Sikh heritage both locally as well as nationally".

Uttranchal initiative to promote Himalayan tourism

By Deepak Arora

MUSSOORIE, May 26: The Uttaranchal Tourism Minister, Lt. General (Retd.) T.P.S. Rawat, has said that the State Government was paying special attention to tourism as an engine of growth for the economic development of the State.

Inaugurating the three-day Himalayan Adventure Expo and Mountaineering and Tourism Meet here on Thursday, Gen Rawat said the State was paying special attention on the development of adventure tourism.

He said the extention of the Himalayan ranges into Uttaranchal, which is endowed with natural scenic beauty, is a principal attraction for the adventure enthusiasts. Special attention is being paid to the development of adventure tourism in the state.

Mentioning the continuously increasing number of tourists in the State, Gen Rawat said that the State Government was moving on a fast track for the development of tourism related infrastructure facilities in the State and the Chief Minister was personally looking into its day to day affairs.

He said the Government was paying special attention to help make tourism a medium for improving the economic condition of the local populace and conserve the environment. He said that with this view, emphasis was being laid on the growth of eco-tourism in the State.

The Tourism Minister said that the State Government has announced Master Plans and concrete policies for multi-pronged development of tourism. He said that private-public participation is being encouraged for this.

Gen Rawat said that following the granting of special status to Uttaranchal after the State’s formation, there has been an enhancement in the Central allocation owing to which the State has been able to put the various schemes related to tourism on a fast track.

He said that the State received a Central assistance of Rs. 38 crore last year for various tourism related schemes and the Centre has further promised to give Rs.50 crore under the same account head. He said that the State Government has signed Rs. 512 crore-Corbett Country Destination Project for eco-tourism with private sector participation.

The occasion also marked the golden jubilee of climbing the Mount Everest and also 40th anniversary of the Indian Everest Expedition and the Uttarkashi-based Nehru Institute of Mountaineering.

The three-day meet, jointly organized by Himalayan Environment Trust (HET), the Union Tourism Ministry and the Government of Uttaranchal, began with the lighting of the traditional lamp by Gen Rawat, who was the chief guest. The meet is being attended by global representatives of mountaineering, environment and adventure organizations including adventure-tour operators from India and abroad.

Earlier, speaking on the occasion, State Chief Secretary Dr. R.S. Tolia welcomed the meet delegates and mentioned the steps being taken for the development of tourism in the State. He said that tourism has been identified as a key Gross Domestic Product driver in Uttaranchal.

On the occasion, Captain M.S. Kohli, President of Himalayan Environment Trust and leader of the 1965 Indian Everest expedition narrated various incidents connected with the expedition. Captain Kohli also threw light on the various issues related to mountaineering in the Himalayas and conservation of the environment alongside development of tourism.

Speaking on the occasion, Director General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Dr Gabriel Cambell, said that mountains were a source of our life and philosophy and that the expanse and the charming grace of the mighty Himalayas mesmerizes one and all. He also emphasized on a balanced and sustainable development of the hill regions while conserving the environment.

Among others who spoke included Allan Blackshaw, Chief of International Forum of Mountaineering and Junko Tabei, the first woman Everester from Japan. Both the speakers termed the organizing the meet as an important step in the realization of the tourism and mountaineering potential while emphasizing on the concept of promoting sustainable development in the Himalayan region and preserving the environment.

At the conclusion of the inaugural session, Additional Chief Secretary M. Ramachandran proposed a vote of thanks.

Himalayan Environment Trust awards given away

By Sushma Arora

MUSSOORIE, June 26: On the opening day of the three-day Himalayan Mountaineering and Tourism meet, the Himalayan Environment Trust Award-2005 were given away. The awards were given away to Mr. Zhang Mingxing, Secretary General, China-Tibetan Mountaineering Association from China; Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee from Nepal, Mountain and Glacier Protection Organisation from Pakistan and Dr. Harshwanti Bisht from India.

On the occasion, Chief Guest Gen Rawat also released “Incredible Himalayas”, a booklet published by Himalayan Environment Trust (HET).

Among others present at the inaugural session were MLA Jot Singh Gunsola, Chairman Nagar Palika Mussoorie Man Mohan Mall, Chairman of Badri-Kedar Mandir Samiti Nand Kishore Nautiyal, Secretary (Tourism) D.K. Kotia and Additional Secretary (Tourism) Suvardhan and a host of dignitaries and guests from the country and abroad.

Himalayan Adventure Expo 2005 popular

By Sushma Arora

Mussoorie, May 26: Incorporating exhibitions based on the thrill of adventure sports and diverse offshoots and destinations, the Himalayan Adventure Expo-2005 and Himalayan Mountaineering and Tourism Meet has been immensely popular among the participating delegates.

Organised under the joint aegis of Uttaranchal Tourism, Union Tourism Ministry and Himalayan Environment Trust, to commemorate the historical achievement of the 1965 Indian Everest Expedition and the 40th Anniversary of establishment of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), a prestigious center of mountaineering training, the three-day Himalayan Mountaineering and Tourism Meet is being organized here along with Himalayan Adventure Expo-2005 which incorporates activities of adventure tourism in the Himalayan areas and different related issues.

The participants from India and abroad have appreciated the exposition. An exhibition by Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, featured the different mountaineering expeditions and training courses and has been the center of attraction for the participants.

The exhibition organized by Uttaranchal Tourism, besides featuring the outstanding beauty of Dev Bhumi Uttaranchal and its different glimpses, is also showcased various works completed, potentials and prospects as also the information related to various tourists destinations. In totality, the information capsule of Uttaranchal Tourism crystallized the concept of "Uttaranchal-Simply Heaven".

Bringing along with them, the breath-taking scenic beauty of the northeastern part of the Himalayan region of the country, the States of Sikkim and Meghalaya also participated in this exhibition. The Union Tourism Ministry has also showcased the diverse and unique cultural and natural heritage of the country in its exhibition that has been organized on the occasion.

Survey of India provided useful information related to the mapping and allied information through the modern computerized technology. The participation of Air Deccan and various other private sector organizations related to the hospitality industry and the participation of the craftsmen gave an entirely new dimension to the Expo. The Expo will conclude on May 28, 2005.

In the series of cultural programmes chalked out for the Expo, a cultural dance programme was presented by Sangam Kala Manch, Dehradun, who familiarized the participants with the rich cultural heritage of Uttaranchal through folk songs and dances presented on the occasion.

Last village on Tibet border gets a facelift

BADRINATH, May 25: Mana village, the last human habitation point on the India-Tibet border in Himalayas, is being developed as a tourist destination by the Uttaranchal government. Mana, a tribal village situated 4 km away from Badrinath, was declared as a "tourism village" by the government, giving it a total makeover from construction of roads to guesthouses for tourists.

"All the basic amenities required by a tourist will be made available in the village. This will increase the influx of tourist and pilgrims in the area," said Anusuya Makhuri, Vice Chairman, Char Dham Dev Council, the council of management committee for the four pilgrimage in the Garhwal.

The village in the upper reaches of Himalayas, which remains snow-bound for over six months, is mainly inhabited by the Bhotias, a tribe of the Indo-Mongolian race. As soon as the gates of Badrinath temple open in summers, the Bhotias come and live in the village and during winters, when the doors of the temple are closed, they move to the valley.

Mana is also the base point to start your journey to Vyas Gufa, Ganesh Gufa, Bhim Pul and Vasundhara Falls in the surrounding areas, places linked to epic Mahbharata. A quaint, mystic place hanging by the clouds in a picturesque setting, Mana has the charm to win the hearts of its visitors.

However, the pilgrims feel that the government should build better roads and have better transport facilities to the village. "The government should have a good bus service here because the tourists are scared of coming to such an altitude with such bad roads. It is wonderful here. I feel as though I am in heaven," said Kusum Saklani, a tourist.

Badrinath dham is considered as one of the most sacred centres of pilgrimage situated in the lofty Himalayan heights in the Tehri- Garhwal hill tracks at the height of 10,248 feet above sea level. Located on the right bank of river Alaknanda, Badrinath is one of the four Dhams, a devout Hindu believe should visit to attain salvation.

It was founded by Shankaracharya, in the ninth century. The temple, also known as Badri Narayan, is dedicated to Vishnu, who is said to have done penance in the mythical Brindavan, that once covered the mountains of Uttaranchal.

Pay for quick check out at Delhi airport

NEW DELHI, May 12: Passengers landing at Delhi's international airport can from Sunday pay and avail of a welcome service that promises a speedy clearance at immigration, customs and other counters.

Christened as "Swagat Seva" (welcome service), the initiative would be launched by Tourism Minister Renuka Chowdhary on Sunday. "It's very significant as we receive all kinds of tourists, including patients from abroad, who might need quick immigration clearance and a special vehicle to transport them," Chowdhary said.

The tourists would also get help to find taxis or hotels. In 2004, a hospital chain alone received 60,000 foreign patients for treatment here.
The service would be useful to all such "medical tourists" whose numbers, the minister said, might increase by two per cent this year.

The welcome service, to be offered by a private agency, would be replicated in other international airports based on the feedback, she said.

IATO, Greek counterpart sign MOU to promote tourism

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, April 12: Tourism between India and Greece is likely to get a big fillip with the MOU signed between Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and the Greek Association of Tour Operators in New Delhi on April 9, 2005. The MOU was signed by Mr. Subhash Goyal and Mr Yiannis Evangelou on behalf of their respective organisations.

The two associations have decided under the MOU to promote and market tourism between their two countries and for this purpose to enhance their mutual contacts and communications. They have also decided that arrangements for travel and tour services, including hotel reservations required by members of the respective associations in the two countries, will be channeled through their respective associations only.

Under the MOU the members of both the organisations automatically become overseas members of each other's association and can use and print their respective logos. The two associations will also cooperate in the development of human resources. They have also agreed to form a Joint Action Committee to discuss strategies for the development of their cooperation programmes.

The Committee will meet once a year, and can form Sub Committees for the implementations of specific programmes, according to a press release
issued by IATO.

MD's Midas touch brings Centaur out of red

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 30: The public-sector Hotel Corporation of India (HCI) that owns Centaur group of hotels has come out of red after a gap of four years and is expected to show profit of over Rs 5 crore in the current financial year 2004-05. This is despite the fact that three of its prime hotel properties that were cross subsidizing the other hotels and flight kitchens of the group to the tune of Rs 30 crore to Rs 35 were sold out in 2002.

Centaur Juhu and Centaur Bombay Airport and Indo Hokke, Rajgir were sold out on May 31, June 5 and March 26, 2002 respectively under the Government's disinvestments plan. It's other hotel properties in Delhi and Srinagar and flight kitchens Chefair delhi and Mumbai could not be disinvested as there were no buyers for these loss-making units.

The HCI Managing Director, Mr R C Aggarwal, succeeded in making a turnaround of these properties by working on a multi-pronged strategy that included reducing expenditure by laying off excess staff through VRS, inculcating discipline within the organization and incremental revenue with reference to differential cost.

In the three-phased VRS, Mr Aggarwal succeeded in reducing employees from 2,196 as on March 31, 2003 to 1,718 as of today, a no mean achievement indeed. The first phase of VRS was completed on June 12, 2003 and saw departure of 188 employees. In the second phase on September 5, as many as 115 staff left and third phase saw exit of 39 people on June 24, 2004.

Simultaneously, the MD concentrated on improving the product ie rooms etc. In Delhi 100 rooms were renovated bringing the lettable rooms to 225 out of 376. Other 151 rooms are non-lettable and need major renovation. Similarly, the strength of lettable rooms was taken to 202 out of 249.

He also improved the occupancy level from 19 per cent in 2001 to 35 percent in 2002 to 80 percent in 2004. The occupancy level is going 100 per cent since November 2004, he informed. Similarly, the room nights sold has shown an annual growth of 45 per cent and the flight kitchens have registered a growth of 21 per cent. The food cost has been brought down from 44 paise per rupee to 29 paise over a period of three years by plugging in wastages and leakages.

The net worth of the HCI, a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India, was only Rs 5 crore when Mr Agarwal took over as Managing Director in September 2001. Today it's net worth is Rs 125 crore.

It was his belief in team spirit and belief in his people that helped him achieve these impossible targets, admits the Managing Director.
The two flight kitchens are now handing 105 flights per week of Air India from early 40 flights. "As our product is improving, we are getting more and more business," he says. Besides Air India, three other carriers, South African, Kazakhstan and Air Chariot, have opted for meals from Chefair.

To increase the occupancy of the hotels, Mr Agarwal has launched the first-ever concept of "Pay for the stay and not for the day". Under this scheme, a customer pays Rs 1,500 for 4 hours, Rs 2,295 for 8 hours and Rs 2,700 for 12 hours. "No other hotel is giving such a package that was launched three years ago," he said.

The MD has now got in principle approval from Air India Board to renovate the 151 non-lettable rooms at a cost of Rs 6 crore in Delhi. "This would not only enhance value of property and its valuation but also increase in annual incremental revenue of Rs 20 crore." Mr Aggarwal is confident that the once he received the go ahead from the Government the renovation will be completed in four to six months time. He has a track record of completing the renovations of 100 rooms at Juhu and 120 rooms at Mumbai airport units in six months before these were disinvested.

He feels "this is the right time to into hotel renovations as the tourist traffic is booming and there is a substantial demand of hotel rooms. The better product will not only fetch us better occupancy level and increased market share, but also help improving ARR."

Mr Aggarwal is known among his colleagues as a man with Midas touch. His 10-year tenure at Delhi Tourism and Transportation Corporation (DTTDC) saw the turnover increase from Rs 47 crore in 1991 to Rs 500 crore in 2001. When he had joined the organization it was showing a loss of Rs 3 crore and when he left it showed profit of Rs 32 crore.

At DTTDC, he was also instrumental for public importance projects such as Coffee Homes, Food and Crafts bazaar, Garden of Five Senses and setting up of annual events like Mango festival, Garden festival and Qutab Winter Carnival. Before DTTDC, he was with Oil India where he won the admiration for Best Presented Accounts among the public, private and bank sectors for three consecutive years beginning 1986-87.

Now that HCI is out of the red, Mr Agarwal is expected to continue with his Midas touch and take the group to new glories. He expressed confidence the HCI would show a profit of over Rs 13 crore in the next financial year.

Himachal becomes first State to remove sales tax on ATF

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 6: Himachal Pradesh has become the first State to abolish sales tax on Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF). This is expected to boost the inflow of flights into the State, according to Mr G S Bali, Tourism, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister. Mr Bali, who was here to attend the two-day State Tourism Ministers conference that concluded on Saturday, informed Himachal took this step after hearing a passionate plea from the tourism and aviation industry and the Central Government.

He said though the industry urged for putting ATF as declared good so that it comes under 4 per cent sales tax bracket, Himachal decided to abolish the tax altogether. "After hearing passionate plea from the industry I spoke with my Chief Minister and he immediately took the decision to abolish the sales tax on ATF," he said. This step of Himachal was widely hailed by several Ministers, including the Tourism Minister, Mrs Renuka Chowdhury, who have been attending the conclave at Vigyan Bhavan.

It may be mentioned that in India the aviation fuel cost to an airline is around 33 per cent as compared to 18 to 20 per cent globally. As a result the country has one of the most high priced air tickets in the world. Mr Bali said the Congress Government in Himachal was committed to improve the transport sector in the State to create a conducive environment for the traveler.

He sought better rail and air connectivity to the State. He said the State has plans to expand the airports at Kullu, Kangra and Shimla and also set up an international airport near Sundernagar. "Operating more affordable flights into Himachal would promote travel as well as viability for aviation companies."

Mr Bali informed that the State Government was in touch with some private carriers, including Jackson Airlines and Air Deccan, for commencing helicopter taxi services. He said the State has 55 helipads available for this service that would extend the reach of higher end tourists to soak in the delight of this culturally and geographically rich land. He said high altitude day treks and picnics with a helicopter to ferry you into those rarefied alpine zones is another activity which aviation companies can explore.

For a State with a population base of 6 million, Mr Bali said "last year we recorded tourist arrivals of about 5.5 million, out of which 180,000 were foreign tourists. The registered tourist accommodation available in the State consists of over 1,600 hotels, housing over 13,000 rooms and hold more than 33,000 bed capacity.

Visa on Arrival gains steam

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The 'Visa on Arrival' for foreign tourists gained steam after the Tourism Minister, Ms Renuka Chowdhury, and Dy Chairman of Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, made a successful case for this at the State Tourism Ministers conference here on Friday. In his keynote address, Mr Ahluwalia said if the country has to successfully reap the harvest of tourism as major driver of economic activity and employment "we have to give visa on arrival to foreign tourists."

Giving a realistic picture, Mr Ahluwalia in a frank and honest address said "we must not clinch to idea of getting reciprocal benefits on this from other countries. There is no justification for this." He said he along with the tourism minister would meet the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar singh, and make a forceful plea for "Visa on arrival" demand. He said such a step would boost the arrival of foreign tourists, who plan life with normal expectations.

He underlined the need to put our resources in place for this idea and use our IT resources to electronically transmit visas if necessary. Mr Ahluwalia also underlined the need to improve immigration custom services at the international airports, improve railway services and road connectivity to tourist destinations, declaration of ATF as declared goods.

He said "our top priority should be to make first few hours of arrival of tourists at airports most pleasant and later take the same mission with zeal to make his trip a memorable one."

In her address, Ms Renuka Chowdhury said the open sky policy, better connectivity; changes in fiscal and investment policies and the national urban renewal mission would result in high tourist growth. "Now we need to concentrate on building hotel accommodation. The country would need 1.5 lakh rooms in all categories of hotels in the next three years." She also assured single window clearance for tourism projects.

The conference being attended by tourism ministers such as Lt Gen TPS Rawat (Uttaranchal), Mr Jagmohan Singh (Punjab), Arvinder Singh Lovely (delhi), Mr Misbahul Islam Laskar (assam), Mr K C Venugopal (Kerala) and Mr Dinesh Chandra Dakua (West Bengal).

Mr Ahluwalia said to build 1.5 lakh hotel rooms the country would need Rs 45,000 crore investment. He said the States need to change the archaic land policy and have a clear vision for development building these hotel rooms. "The States should set targets and fix responsibility to achieve this." He also called for streamlining taxes on tourism.


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