IATO elections 2021 have provided a signal for Change: members have voted across the two contesting teams giving a mandate for a joint national effort.
IATO, the specialist industry association for inbound tourism elected its new team for the next two years. It was the first industry association election since we started opening up during the Covid era. Bravely, they did not allow e-votes but insisted on physical voting and presence. A surprising but impressive over 90% turned up, members voting maturely on the basis of their perception of candidates. Though there were two teams battling it out, members preferred to cast their own choice, their own imprint on who should lead them. Not just a ‘team for change’, or a ‘team going forward’, but a set of people who they felt will deliver. It does not mean those who lost were not worthy; only one PERSON can win, the other must lose. It was a fair game, fought bravely; we prefer to believe that both teams won. In times like these, the credibility of the returning officer counts, and this one was beyond any doubt, a most credible choice.
Was this a fractured vote? These were not political adversaries but candidates who teamed together mostly for purposes of the elections. There were manifestoes from both sides but none so challenging that that the twain shall never meet! The new team needs to sit down, with mature minds, accept what needs to change and find a common ground and move on.
Such a large attendance signals a mood for delivery. All segments of the travel and tourism business have been affected but this one, the inbound, remains closed and promises only a gradual start from the middle of the year. This large attendance is an expression of hope that the new team will lead and create new avenues for business that is sustainable and profitable. My sense is that we should not lose the woods for the trees, and the new team must work together as a unified force to usher in the required change.
They must as a team embrace the larger picture. I have read statements about manifestoes, promises made and promises to be kept. Indeed, that is most laudable. There are some concerns among members, and these must be entertained. But do not forget the bigger dream! These have been the most trying times for inbound. Never before has the segment hit ground zero, literally. It was the nail in the coffin, considering that the inbound industry has been suffering for some years now, especially the small operator. With the advent of online, buying power has moved to the big online players. Thirty years ago, price was a huge consideration and pricing was a shrouded affair. Today we have unprecedented transparency in the system. With offers by the minute, across technology driven websites globally, outreach has become phenomenal. Through internet, online presence, WhatsApp calls, communications have become not only easy but most affordable, often at zero cost. So, while opportunity has grown, so has competition. Members must see the writing on the wall; some of them may have to begin afresh, virtually make a new start. What do they need to do to make their impact again? How niche can they go? How much can they invest and where and how? Investing in the business is critical, as much as clarity and foresight.
But the bigger picture is for Indian tourism! We have never had the kind of potential that is staring us in the face. Indian travel has grown by leaps and bounds, tourism has captured the minds of both the traveler and the government. IATO must come to represent the concerns and aspirations of Indian tourism, not just represent interests of tour operators. It must, but not lose sight of the bigger picture. In this new beginning, it must engage more positively and constructively with government and successfully become the marketing arm of Incredible India.
How can it capture the pulse of the tourism industry pan India, that is important, and I believe it must have a target of 2000 tour operators as its members, representing every single niche in the business. It is not about protecting your turf but enlarging it. Its next convention must appropriately be called ‘Indian Tourism Congress’ and must have at least 2500 delegates from across the country. I had made a similar suggestion to TAAI when Pradip Madhavji was its president; their conventions adopted the theme of ‘Indian Travel Congress’, on the lines of ASTA conventions which they call ‘World Travel Congress’. But that petered off, too soon, and remained so more in name. But here, making a fresh start, adopting the theme of ‘Indian Tourism Congress’, IATO must work together with MoT is staging a national convention only befitting the mind-boggling dimensions of Indian tourism.
MoT has been engaged in a more pro-active mode in recent months, and only recently a new secretary has taken charge, giving a fresh bounce to the industry going forward. We have seen media reports of a new dynamic celebration of culture and tourism around India@75! It is a good time to pitch this national convention anchored by IATO, with full support from the Ministry.