Taxing times not yet over for agents
The Chapter Chairmen of OTOAI share with TRAVTALK the trends, achievements and challenges that the travel agents and operators are facing in their region. They also elaborate on the various initiatives taken to address the issues of the members and their
West India is one of the highest contributors to outbound and is showing a steady growth year-on-year. We have taken up the issue of lack of clarity on transit visa rules in the Schengen countries (when final destination is not USA or Canada) with the Consulates and highlighted the challenges faced by the industry. Traditional destinations and long-haul markets like the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are still very popular. Island destinations like Seychelles and Croatia are doing well. I hope that the convention will reinforce great business potential of the industry and educate the members.
East India is highly underserved in terms of air inventory. The only major airport for this entire region is at Kolkata and the number of flights serving this region are far and few, which slows outbound travel. The association has not taken many steps to address this issue. We are hoping Turkish Airlines, Oman Airlines and Malaysian Airlines will commence service to this region. This year, New Zealand and South Africa have picked up very well from the eastern region. With the OTOAI Convention in RAK, tour operators will be able to add a new destination to their itinerary for UAE other than Dubai.
Outbound market from the South has been consistent, especially with cities like Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore driving business. There is increased family travel to destinations like Bali, Dubai, Singapore and Thailand’s Krabi and Koh Samui islands for short-haul whereas Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa are popular long-haul destinations. An emerging travel trend in the South is travelling for bachelor parties, wedding anniversaries, etc. The biggest challenge in outbound in this region is uncertainty of taxation policies and the confusion created by GST. The OTOAI team in the South has made efforts to connect travel agents with various tourism boards in order to grow their portfolio of business.
Through this convention in Ras Al Khaimah, we will be able to open a new window in the UAE and till now have received a very good response from the industry in terms of participation for the convention. I feel that the 5 per cent GST on tour operators as against the 9 per cent Service Tax on tour packages is an achievement. The Government is also aiding the growth in the outbound tourism industry with the development of airport infrastructure. As a result, this year, Australia received 33 per cent more Indian visitors, and Canada too has shown a good growth in Indian arrivals.
The northern region for OTOAI has always been the most proactive regions when it comes to education, networking and strategic tie-ups. Initiatives taken so far include knowledge sessions in the form of training workshops and roadshows in collaboration with various NTOs, hotels and other valuable partners from time to time. Strategic tie-ups with government bodies, embassies, hotels and airlines have also been taken up for the betterment of the members. From demonetisation to GST, the industry had taken a setback, but we at OTOAI have tried our best to get the right resources and information for our members to overcome these challenges. Clarification on GST was one of the major issues for the industry.
Travellers are now seeking adventurous and bespoke holidays. City tours and shopping are passé, and travellers ask for yatch charters, deep sea diving etc. Cities like Kanpur, Lucknow, Punjab, Nagpur, etc. are emerging as travel hubs while the metros are now more of gateway points. The outbound tourism industry has yet not been identified as an exports industry, which has attracted unnecessary taxation. We are hoping that during this convention, we will be able to open the mindsets of the traditional travel agents towards experimenting with this segment of travel.
Sajan Kumar Gupta