Travel Trade Journal
Gearing up for the pent-up demand
Riaz Munshi President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI)
The year 2022 was much more interactive and encouraging for all members of the OTOAI. We all stayed in regular touch through webinars, physical meets, and conferences. We also conducted a few FAM trips for our members. As borders opened up and COVID norms eased, many Indians made plans for international travel, and business picked up. We also had our elections last year, and the OTOAI members unanimously elected the new team.
As mentioned earlier, 2022 was a year for many more physical meets. OTOAI actively participated in important travel shows and made its presence felt. We conducted a few destination seminars to help our members know more about a particular place. We also shared destination travel updates and guidelines for Malaysia, the UK, Australia, and Germany, among others, with our members through e-mailers and social media. OTOAI supported physical events and roadshows of NTOs like Tourism South Africa, Ras Al Khaimah, Tourism Malaysia, Korea Tourism Organization, and others. A couple of Press Meets were also held to update the travel trade media regarding the activities of OTOAI. The smooth elections for a new team showed that our members had placed their trust in us, and we will ensure not to let them down.
In 2022, OTOAI wrote to many concerned ministries and government officials to bring relief to the travel sector. We wrote to G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of Tourism, requesting them to bring the mandatory licensing system in India, especially for tour and travel operators. To get relief from GST, we wrote to Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister, to bring some changes. OTOAI also wrote to Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister for Health, Government of India, urging the Minister to open up Booster Vaccine for all who have been double vaccinated. We requested to remove the 270 days (9 months) time for those who received their vaccine in April/May and were considered unfit to travel and unwelcome in many countries then. The association has also written to Jyotiraditya Scindia at the Aviation Ministry, requesting them to start commercial operations as the suspension of commercial flights was affecting Outbound Tourism on a large scale. The resumption of scheduled international flights was announced after much effort by OTOAI.
In 2022, OTOAI also wrote to all the European Schengen Embassies/Consulates to ease visa processes and guidelines and address the issues faced by our members of a long wait for visa appointments and 4-5 weeks of further wait to get the passports back. As a result, we had embassies in Delhi gearing up to ease visa delays, and the German Embassy introducing extra shifts to process more visas. OTOAI also wrote to Australia and Israel Tourism Board to take up the visa delays issues.
The year 2023 is going to be all about pent-up demand. The travel agents who had to let go of their staff during the COVID times must bring them back or hire and train new ones, and there will be an influx in demand for international travel. As I mentioned earlier, the traveller today is looking for new and
unique experiences; thus, the agents must come up with outof-the-box ideas and plan holidays to offer their customers the best. In post-pandemic travel, the level of service and quality deliverance will distinguish one agent from the other.
In 2023, we would like to highlight to the Government an old issue that we have also been writing to them about. It is about removing the Pan Card requirement for an NRI / foreign national booking a trip/holiday with an agent in India. Most of the time, an NRI does not have a Pan Card, which is a mandatory requirement for them to pay up for a trip, and thus this acts as a big deterrent, stopping them from doing business with travel agents in India. After a difficult period, this is our time to do business, and we must look into every possibility. In 2023, we are also planning to have our much-awaited annual Convention.