Mumbai: After an exciting inaugural evening, the 34th Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) commenced day two of its business sessions on Saturday along the lines of the theme – ‘Mission 20 million tourists’. Core issues behind achieving this ambitious target and how the trade can come together to make it possible were discussed.

The day started with the conventional IATO Run for Responsible Tourism in the morning which took the participants alongside the lovely RK Beach. IATO registered a record number of delegates this year crossing 900 members from across India including children, women and senior citizens.

The first session, the flagship session of the convention, was aimed at highlighting the challenges of touching the ambitious milestone of 20 million foreign tourist arrivals within the next two years. Moderated by Arjun Sharma, Chairman, Select Group, the panellists included Rashmi Verma IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Nakul Anand, Chairman, FAITH and Executive Director, ITC Limited, E M Najeeb, Senior Vice-President, IATO and CMD, ATE Group and Rani George IAS, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

Rashmi Verma said the target was definitely achievable. “Of course, there are challenges but we have set certain things in place such as the inter-ministerial group that we have created which has been very successful in resolving issues which cannot be sorted by the Ministry of Tourism alone.”

This group includes the Ministry of Culture, Environment, Civil Aviation, External Affairs as well as Home. Verma added, “We also need to take a cue from the Kerala Tourism model which has worked along with the private sector to double their numbers.”

Another strategy that the panellists agreed on was for India to focus on the neighbouring countries such as China, Russia and Japan and make India a short-haul destination while continuing to promote in the traditional markets of the US and Europe.

The second session brought together members of key hotel companies face-to-face with OTAs to discuss what both industries can do to help the other since it is getting harder and harder to do business, whether it is the hotels or the travel trade.

Homa Mistry, CEO, Trail Blazer, who was moderating the session, exclaimed, “Change, change, change is what we need. We also need to promote India in the summer season so that the hotels can fill their rooms during off season.” He indicated that in turn the hotels could continue to include the tour operators instead of going direct to customers.

The following session had an all women panel of Meenakshi Sharma, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, G Srijana, Joint Collector, Visakhapatnam, Roni Jorofi, Manager, Lagaat Behodu and Kaynat Kazi, India’s first solo woman traveller, moderated by Reema Lokesh, Editor, Express Travel World.

The women panellists spoke about their personal experiences that offer substantial evidence that India is a safe country for tourists. However, they did present ways in which the safety of women travellers could improve.

The final panel discussion, moderated by Rajesh Mudgill, Secretary, IATO, and MD of Planet India Travels, had R H Khwaja, former Secretary of Tourism, Government of India, Akshar Yadav of Centronics Support, Sudhir Patil, MD, Veena Worldwide and Dr. Manohar L Singhla of FMS New Delhi. They deliberated on how to change one’s business to adapt to the evolving mindset of today’s travellers.

The states that presented on day two included Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Odisha and Rajasthan. In between the state presentations and the panel discussions, the audience also took advantage of individual presentations on FAITH (Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality) made by Nakul Anand, Chairman, FAITH; and an informative session on how travel agents can use digital marketing made by Avijit Arya, Founder of Internet Mogul. The formal proceedings of the day concluded with a session on forex management by S M Bharadwaj, Executive Director and National Head Liabilities, Standard Chartered Bank.

The evening saw delegates enjoying the cultural performances and engaging in networking at the convention venue of Novotel Hotel, Visakhapatnam.

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