Even though the eastern region of India is blessed with spectacular gifts of nature, the attention the region should receive is far less than its deserving merits. To brush up the focus in order to boost the region’s prominence, The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), yet again takes the lead to renew efforts and urge the industry to create a multi-dimensional approach, further creating endless opportunities for both the region and the visitors. It is after a gap of 17 years that the association is rebuilding the dais for the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata where the 35th Convention would not just help the government to discover better prospects for the state but also help the tourism campaigners to promote the eastern slice of the nation. We gather the valuable inputs of the key torch bearers of the association on what they have to say about unveiling the true potential of tourism in the less-predominant half of the country.. The East!
Pronab Sarkar, President, IATO
Exploring the beauty of West Bengal, beyond Kolkata and Darjeeling, from ocean to the sky, with music and cultural festival and cruise tourism now adding to the flavour, Kolkata is serving a pathway to the North Eastern states that can aptly be labelled as an all-season tourist destination with rich flora and fauna. Therefore, connectivity improvement being a prominent concern, this region is fast-rising as the region of true potential. The world’s greatest public festival in terms of participation, ‘Durga Pujo’ beckons one and all the 30 million people on the road to see the celebration. Figures that the western world would find difficult to comprehend and nowhere in the world one can witness such an event, needs to be promoted to inbound traffic and what better platform than the annual convention of IATO. The IATO convention in Kolkata will not correct but further enhance the channel of influence with the strong band of opinion leaders in the form of IATO members who comprise inbound, domestic, MICE and adventure coupled with DMCs and hotel organisations adding to the impetus.
With viable air connectivity featuring decreased air travel time addressing better frequency and in the lap of avid travellers, East India is fast becoming a potent hub for inbound and outbound tourism to south-east countries. Ensuring more international flights into Kolkata, better air and road connectivity to the North Eastern region, channelling effective investment in the tourism infrastructure, fructifying promotion both in India and abroad, offering fillip to niche areas of culture, cruise, beach, eco, heritage, MICE, cine and wedding tourism the state/central government(s), by their own merit and motivation to the private sector, can effectively and efficiently contribute in improvising it further.
“IATO members would experience the Biswa Bangla Convention Centre, one of the biggest in South Asia and can certainly vouch for Kolkata as a leading MICE destination in India with the best of its hotels, cuisine, heritage and culture adorning the tourism arena with the utmost support of the state government”
EM Najeeb, Senior Vice President, IATO
The 35th National Convention of IATO is discussing a very introspective topic like “Is Tourism Thriving – Challenges and Opportunities”. There are two important aspects of this convention. One is the theme itself that triggers off a serious introspection by the country as a destination, as well as the tourism industry in the country. This is very meaningful for all of us in the industry that it would bring together all stakeholders in the region together and would ultimately enthuse them for very aggressive performance in the future. The second aspect is the location of the convention. Kolkata the “City of Joy” has always been a rich part of the cultural, historic and heritage canvas of India. Moreover, East India is waking up as a destination receiving region, and also a good source market for domestic and outbound tours. Whichever way this convention would allow all in the industry in the region to come together and it would boost up their confidence in their future activities.
East India is already generating a lot of outbound and domestic travel. The connectivity the Eastern region has with the South-East countries is a good reason for the growing travel from there. Moreover, the South East destinations are reasonably priced suiting to Indian travellers. I am happy that the region is picking up as a favoured tourism destination, be it as a receiving destination or as an originating market.
“The Central Government should have a platform for bringing the Tourism Ministers of the states together to a conference platform and trigger-off a comprehensive planning process for the development of tourism in the region. The states also should cooperate completely with that effort presenting their plans for their states, to the common pool of planning, to ensure the good ones to be implemented effectively.”
Rajiv Mehra, Vice President, IATO
IATO convention will have around 900 prominent tour operators converging into the city of Kolkata – the eastern gateway to Incredible India. They would witness Biswa Bangla Convention Centre and vouch for Kolkata a leading MICE destination in India with the best of the hotels, cuisine, heritage and culture adorning the hospitality arena. The world’s greatest public festival in terms of participation, Durga Pujo beckons one and all with 30 million people on the road to experience the festivities. Figures that the western world would find difficult to comprehend, 10 days of sheer overload, getting bigger, can be seen nowhere in the world. This needs to be promoted to inbound traffic and what better platform than the IATO Convention.
Exploring the beauty West Bengal, beyond Kolkata and Darjeeling, from ocean to the sky, with music and cultural festivals, cruise tourism adding to the flavour, connectivity improvement being prominent, Kolkata serving a pathway to the North Eastern States that can aptly be labelled as an all-season tourist destination with rich flora and fauna, Cine Tourism – the IATO convention in Kolkata will not correct but further the channel of influence with the strong band of opinion leaders in the form of IATO members who comprise inbound, domestic, MICE and adventure, DMCs coupled with hotel organisations adding to the impetus.
“Ensuring better air and road connectivity to the North-Eastern region, channelling effective investment in the tourism infrastructure, fructifying promotion both in India and Abroad, offering fillip to niche areas of Cruise, Beach, Eco, Heritage, Cine and Wedding tourism the state/ central government(s) by their merit and motivation to the private sector can effectively and efficiently contribute in improvising it further“
Rajesh Mudgill, Hony. Secretary, IATO
I have great expectations from this year’s convention as we have a vast inventory to fit in more attendees, this year in Kolkata. This allows a push to the participation and we are trying to work out certain sessions, which are going to be quite useful for the IATO members. As the business is currently low-slung and everybody is looking for new avenues for newer business, I am certain that this year’s IATO convention would be fruitful. Also, considering the theme is ‘tourism is thriving’, I am sure that the deliberations are going to be satisfactory and meaningful. I am sure that it’s an excellent networking platform and for even hoteliers having several decision-makers from the fraternity gathered at one place makes a huge difference. People will have something to carry back home.
It has been well-recorded that wherever IATO annual convention has taken place in the past, the business has increased by around 10 to 15 per cent, on an average. The Government of India is also focusing more on the East and is quite keen on developing it. I am sure that the travel agents who haven’t been to those areas will be able to do so with IATO convention and the post- FAM tours. Thus, they will have a better understanding of the region, the products available and will be able to sell it in a much better way. We have also invited people from Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar among other countries. We will try and work out the possibilities of increasing business from these neighbouring countries as well.
“To boost tourism in the East, tourist traffic has to be both ways for the further influx. IATO recently hosted its first outbound meeting as now the majority of our members of around 70 per cent of the total are doing outbound, as well. This has become our second vertical although our key focus is still inbound. IATO shall speak with e talk to the governments and tourism boards for enhancing bilateral issues for a better tomorrow”
Ravi Gosain, Hony. Treasurer, IATO
IATO Convention is back to Kolkata after 17 years and during this period, there have been enormous changes in West Bengal in terms of infrastructure and tourism products. Kolkata itself is an important city for tourism when it comes to culture, heritage and food. Our association has an excellent track record in the promotion of local tourism, wherever we organised our annual conventions. Apart from inbound to West Bengal, outbound is also growing in this region because of its proximity to neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and South East Asia. There is good connectivity by both road and flights, which his beneficial for both inbound and outbound. Flight timings to South East Asia from Kolkata are lesser than other parts of India and cost-effective as well. The central government has a strong focus on East India to promote it as a hub for further NE India and South East Asia both for tourism and commercial activities.
We have observed, in past, that after every IATO conventions, tourism to that particular state has seen a phenomenal increase of 25 to 30 per cent in tourist arrivals. Our delegates consist of owners, Managing Directors and decision-makers from all aspect of the tourism industry, which reflects and benefit what state can derive on a longer run. It will be really important for our delegates to meet local suppliers, learn about tourism products through various FAM trips within West Bengal and use this product knowledge to promote trips in future. Apart from this, our convention will organise knowledge sessions and provide a wonderful networking platform to negotiate business. We expect a surge in tourism and the perception of many delegates will change after their visit. Having over 1000 delegates from all parts of the country, it will surely give impetus to the growth of North East India, especially, West Bengal.
“By inviting IATO to conduct their annual convention in Kolkata, the state government shows its intent to showcase its tourism products to the industry, at large. I think there should be a great synergy between central and state government to put the development of the NE region on the fast track. This will not only help locals but also to visitors who want to visit West Bengal for tourism or commercial purposes”
Rajnish Kaistha, Co-Chairman, Convention Organising Committee
Tourism has become everyone’s activity and people in North East are also bitten by the travel bug. In addition to Kolkata getting international flights from Europe and Asia, emerging cities like Guwahati and Dibrugarh are also catching up fast. The corridor to Myanmar and Thailand has also happened. While this has helped foreign tourists to arrive North East directly, it has also now allowed locals in the region to travel abroad to South-East Asian countries as outbound travellers.
This year, the IATO annual convention will create attention to position West Bengal beyond Kolkata and Darjeeling. It shall be projected as a priority destination for the global markets with special emphasis on niche tourism products and unexplored destinations across the state. We shall have knowledge sessions on innovative and experiential travel ideas with shared border opportunities along with other issues that will enrich the participants to promote Bengal and North East circuit in the times to come. We shall also be discussing the pertinent issues faced by our fraternity and the possibilities of well-crafted actions that need to be taken both at the state and central level which would further be shared with concerned authorities for seamless growth in tourism in NE region.
“The Governments of the eastern region are keen on promoting tourism and that’s why we are back to Kolkata after 17 years. In future, we shall be moving further East to Guwahati and integrate more of NE region and synergising among Eastern states for tourism is one of our key agendas”
Debjit Dutta, Chairman, IATO-West Bengal Chapter & Co-Chairman, Convention Organising Committee
IATO’s annual conventions have always been one of the biggest industry gatherings in India which primarily attracts some the significant decision-makers from both the government and private sectors. This provides a major opportunity to any state, where the convention is hosted and our primary objective from this was to take full advantage of the opportunity as IATO came back to Kolkata after 17 years. Ever since West Bengal was announced as the host for the IATO annual convention 2019, The state tourism was very clear about promoting ‘Durga Pujo’ using IATO convention as a platform. The world heritage festival, which is not seen anywhere else across the globe, is one most interesting and prosperous product that we have in the existing Bengal. Apart from this, this year’s IATO Responsible Run would be first-of-a-kind ‘IATO Heritage Run’ across the vintage landmarks of Kolkata. The branding and theme-designing are jointly done by both the West Bengal Tourism Board and IATO. It started with a branding West Bengal in IATO Convention, our prime motive is to position Durga Pujo as a global heritage festival and promote niche tourism in Bengal across the state and eastern India. Considering Bengal’s 1000 years of vintage and history, I would say that around 80 per cent of the destination is yet to be discovered by the Indian travel trade, forget the overseas.
“The state tourism boards need to have a wider perspective towards the region and not just their respective states to have a bigger prospect. Having the aid of the state governments, eastern India needs to focus on aspects of tourism that works and configure an idea that is long-term, result-oriented and easy-to-execute. We need to look at the tourism possibilities looking at the East’s geographical advantage and urge on having an enhanced local connectivity”
J K Mohanty, Chairman, IATO-Eastern Region Chapter
It is a great opportunity for the eastern part of India that IATO is conducting its annual convention and I am sure that this would go a long way in promoting the tourism sector of East India. This region gets very low tourist traffic as compared with the southern, western and the North Indian sector. To come up in the tourist map of India, we should look forward to highlight the tourism products of the states in Eastern India, which are filled with rich tourism potential and have the choice of beaches, mountains, eco-tourism, tribal tourism, lakes, wildlife, art and culture, mangrove forests and much more than what other states in India have to offer.
Odisha, which is a very rich state as far as tourism potential is concerned, has a huge opportunity for investment in the tourism sector and the Odisha Government is looking for investors in important tourist locations of the State. Bengal and North East already have high tourist traffic inflow and once Odisha gets its international connectivity in place, Eastern India is bound to become the future of India Tourism. The Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India has been aggressively promoting the Incredible India Campaign but unfortunately not much is said about Eastern Region and Odisha in particular. Most of the India Tourism offices, abroad, hardly have any tourist literature on the state of Odisha. East India is already a hub for outbound tourism to South East Asia through the Kolkata Airport. However, a lot of movement from Odisha started going outbound towards South East Asian Countries, Europe and the Middle East.
“The need for tourism today in the eastern region is adequate publicity of its rich tourism potential both through electronic and print media. We expect the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India to give more support in terms of publicity in both electronic and print media”
Zia Siddiqui, EC Member, IATO
IATO finalises the location for its convention every year after a lot of discussion and deliberations and the convention will help the region to grow in terms of IBT segment as well as IATO members will get something different to promote. Tomorrow is going to be very challenging, the GEN-X is looking for new, eco-friendly, adventure tourism, cruise destinations and more alike. Therefore, the seven sisters of northeast plus Sikkim and Andaman & Nicobar would be the future destination and therefore, this convention will achieve its target.
Also, since IndiGo is starting flights to Myanmar, therefore, from Kolkata to Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia would be connected and this eventually would boost connectivity of eastern India with the world.
Gagan Sarangi, Chairman, IATO-Odisha Chapter
After organising IATO convention in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) and Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), back-to-back, it is a wise decision to organise IATO convention, this year, in Kolkata, which is the gateway to the East and North-East India. Foreign tourists are looking for new products and it is high time, we have to highlight the tourism potential of Eastern India. At this moment, the footfall of foreign tourists to Eastern India is quite less-compared a state in India. I am sure that the IATO convention will encourage its members to promote tourism in Odisha, West Bengal and other eastern states of India. There is no doubt that eastern India is going to be the hub for outbound tourism to South-East countries. These days, it takes about two hours to reach Bangkok from Bhubaneswar by flight. Therefore, destinations such as Thailand and Malaysia have become very popular among the Indian travellers opting for overseas holidays in the southeastern countries. The state and central government should understand the tourism potential of eastern India.
I strongly feel that East India has always been ignored or neglected. We don’t have quality brochures/ leaflets and promotional materials on tourism in the eastern part of India. In most of the overseas marts and exhibitions, we are not promoting the East, effectively. Every year, the Tourism Ministry organises FAM trips for the overseas tour operators and foreign travel writers but unfortunately, there is hardly anybody visiting this corner of India. In my views, the tourism ministry should organise international roadshows and exhibitions and also, aggressively campaign both in print and online media to promote tourism in eastern India. Similarly, the state governments of this area should develop infrastructure and amenities for the tourists while trying to develop new circuits.
“To sustain growth, we have to develop direct international flight connectivity between Bhubaneswar and Bangkok or other South-East Asian countries. With better flight connectivity, we can also attract foreign tourists from that region to visit the Buddhist sector of Odisha”
Nirmalya Choudhury, Chairman, IATO-North East States Chapter
The 35th annual convention of IATO in Kolkata is a huge opportunity for the stakeholders in the North East states and IATO members of the region to interact with the IATO members from other regions of India and brief them about the diverse destinations and experiences on offer in our region. We aim to meet and influence the largest section of tourism stakeholders in India so that they can promote our region to their clients all around the world. Today, the North East India region is better connected with rest of India by all means of transportation. Connectivity within our region is also much better and also, North East India is increasingly getting connected with our South East Asian vicinity through the land, water and air routes. We envision North East India to become the primary hub for outbound tourism from India to South East Asia. We also see a great opportunity to provide additional options for travel to North East India as well as other regions of India for European, North American and Australian visitors to South East Asia with better connectivity options to our region from these countries, shortly.
Both state and central governments should encourage tourism stakeholders by creating an economic environment where they can flourish and can generate and sustain numerous direct jobs and indirect employment for even more. Local tour operators should be given opportunity at the state’s expense to attend domestic as well as international tourism marts to take their unique products to discerning travellers around the country and the world. Capacity building and sensitisation programmes for locals of the region should be a priority for all states. The issue of the seasonality of tourism in our region needs to be addressed innovatively by focusing on supporting and promoting nature and culture-based tourism that is spread throughout the year.
“Both the state and central governments’ role is crucial if North East India is to become a destination unparalleled in India. Collectively, the North East states can decide on steps to be taken for sustainable and conscious development of infrastructure and facilities that will ensure growth and spread of low impact/high-value tourism across the region”
Viney Tyagi, EC Member, IATO
Over the past 17 years, ever since IATO had organised its convention in Kolkata, West Bengal has realised the true potential of tourism and enhanced infrastructure to greater heights. All major hotel chains have come up with big inventories of rooms spread out across different parts of Kolkata. In my opinion, North East India will be the main hub in future for both inbound and outbound tourism from South East Asian countries. In few years, we will see that tourists from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore will travel by road to India through North-Eastern states, which will give a huge boost to Buddhist and pilgrimage tourism. Off course, all North Eastern states will be benefited with both ways tourist traffic. The 2019’s IATO convention is more focused on developing tourism in West Bengal, especially the grand Durga Puja festival. We are offering FAM trips to our delegates to Sundarbans, Rajbari Bawali, Bishnupur, Shanti Niketan and Bandel.
Firstly, states should create land bank and make it available to hoteliers and hospitality entrepreneurs at subsidised rates on the long-term lease so that new hotels, convention and exhibition centres can be build. The state governments should also open institutes for tourism and hospitality studies or training. Government of India has a big plan for infrastructure building in the entire North Eastern Region, especially the surface and air connectivity. Both state and central government should offer tax holiday for all kinds of infrastructure build-up for tourism. Also, tourist permits should be abolished in states where it is possible or a single permit should be introduced for tourists for entire North Eastern Region. All NE states should create tourism zones where domestic and foreign tourists can enjoy their holidays with freedom; homestays to encourage to begin with.
“There are huge employment opportunities in the tourism sector in the North-Eastern region. We are eagerly looking forward to having one of our future conventions in the North-Eastern region. Once the state and central governments have the infrastructure ready, IATO will be there!”
Raj Bajaj, EC Member, IATO
The 35th IATO annual convention in Kolkata is expecting a strong participation of decision-makers from the private sector, central and state governments. Durga Puja will be the convention theme to position this mega carnival in the global travels market besides allowing stakeholders in the tourism industry with a common platform for forming strategies and policies in coming years. IATO Convention in Kolkata will allow delegates to witness the development of infrastructure and what possibilities the zone has to offer as well as the exhibiting sellers will educate them for routes and range of itineraries. Also, there are multiple post-convention FAM tours organised by IATO, which once experienced by the operators would surely familiarise them with a better understanding of the region.
East is a sector, which over the past several years, has not been aggressively promoted for inbound tourism primarily because of lack of adequate knowledge by the operators besides aggressive marketing in the overseas marketplace through state tourism body. Kolkata could be the gateway to several overseas destinations in comparison to other parts of India. Ministry of Tourism is already putting concerted efforts for promotion of North Eastern states in all international platforms as well as their portal festivals like festival ‘experiencing North-East’ depicting art, handicraft, handlooms, tourism, food and culture should continue periodically across PAN India to create and entice business leads. Strong promotional and marketing initiatives, with a focused approach for east India and a boosted campaign of ‘India’s North East – Paradise Unexplored’, is paramount across all international tourism offices. Government still needs to work on the development of balanced infrastructure and connectivity. Incentives should be given for building four-star category accommodations in the east, which will encourage investors to build and run good quality accommodation to boost travel in the east.
“West Bengal tourism in co-ordination & supported guidance from Ministry of Tourism can look at holding meets, bi-yearly conventions and roadshows for boosting growth accrued with promotional drives to operators from Western, Southern and Northern India”
Deepak Bhatnagar, EC Member, IATO
East India has a huge tourism potential, which has not been explored yet by the members of IATO, especially in the last decade. There has been enormous infrastructural development along with the emergence of numerous new hotels and IATO convention 2019 would provide a great opportunity to all its members to explore all these upgraded facilities and promote East India as a tourism destination, both to India and overseas. East India could not only be the hub for outbound tourism but also provide a good opportunity for inbound tourism by combining the part of East India with some of emerging South-East countries, as many regional airlines are now operating or looking to operate from the Kolkata to the South- Eastern countries.
As we all are aware of the issues acting as the biggest hurdles for us in India to promote tourism, the same lies with East India. The government may support the travel trade by providing them direct marketing support, making tourism-friendly policy which allows the new investment in tourism to improve the infrastructure, lowering the taxes of tourism, to name a few.
East India is already generating a lot of outbound and domestic travel. The connectivity the Eastern region has with the South-East countries are a good reason for the growing travel from there. Moreover, the South East destinations are reasonably priced suiting to Indian travellers. I am happy that the region is picking up as a tourism region, be it as a receiving destination or as an originating market.
“The state government needs to work closely with IATO to promote the destination in the international market along with the aggressive market campaign, try to incentivise the tour operators who are willing to promote East India”
Sunil Gupta, Chairman, IATO-Northern Region Chapter
IATO convention is the single largest national gathering of tour operators along with other stakeholders, hence, it provides a valuable platform for the industry to feel and discuss the true potential of the east. This convention itself will bring over 1000 delegates to the east with diverse interests in tourism who would be exposed to various tourism products and experiences of the east thru various post tours offered by IATO. IATO is also effectively going to present the ‘Cruise Tourism’, which is a pioneering effort in Kolkata and also trips to the mighty Sunderbans.
Additionally, the outbound from east India is already growing at a very fast pace with more and more direct flights to international destinations and that too on very attractive airfares. It is cheaper now to fly to Thailand with lower hotel rates for holidays, shopping, weddings or conferences than flying to most destinations within India. Surprisingly, the government still maintains 28 per cent GST on hotels within India.
“The state government should push GST council for lowering GST on hotels and make some exceptions for tourism stakeholders in East India including interstate taxes on tourist transport. Good hotels are paramount for tourists hence land parcel with loans on lower rates should be made available as we find the need for more good hotels in Malda, Shantiniketan, Bishnupur, Mandarmani, Sunderbans, Digha, Bankura and more”
P. Vijayasarthy, EC Member, IATO
The IATO convention which is happening in Kolkata, the city of joy, will be a gateway to eastern region and will be witnessing a jamboree of tours operators gathering at one point, where all the operators will be able to acquire first-hand information about the region during their post-convention tour, which will help them to sell this region better.
The tourism in the eastern part of the country is more interesting with aspects such as pleasant weather, rich flora, fauna, great connectivity and boosting tourism in the particular region with the help of the government will help make India a round-the-year tourist destination. The major plus draw for the foreign tourist in the eastern region is that it has more experiential tourism offerings than the traditional ones which have been attracting a good number of foreign tourists. The northeast also being well connected with international flights has helped India develop a strong bilateral relationship with other countries such as Burma, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Bangladesh and more. Hence, the outbound to these countries has increased in huge numbers because the region and its tourism is growing fast.
“The central and state governments have an important role in developing this region. The assistance provided by the central government for the development of tourism infrastructure, human resources development and incentives, the centra” “government investment for improvement and creation of tourist facilities are channelised through state government on a cost-sharing basis”