IATO conventions for the last four decades have been the high point of travel trade sector in India. They are always well-attended with a program designed to match the prevailing situation supplemented with gala evenings and fun sessions. The 36th Annual IATO Convention, which took place after a gap of 2 years, was no different. The theme for the Convention this year was ‘Brand India: Road to Recovery’, which is something we all needed in the light of Covid aftermath. The highlight of the convention this year were the Business Sessions, which were few in number and had an interesting mix of speakers comprising industry professionals who have never before participated in the IATO Convention. With registered delegates crossing the mark of 600, it was indeed a jolly event that enthused people with hope for a brighter future.
The convention was scheduled at The Leela Gandhinagar, Gujarat – a property that has just opened a few months back. With an impressive ballroom, the inauguration of the IATO Convention started well in time as delegates marked timely presence to listen to the honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Bhupendra Patel, who declared the convention open along with Mr. G. Kamala Vardhan Rao, Director General Tourism, Govt. of India and Mr. Hareet Shukla, Secretary Tourism, Govt. of Gujarat. Mr. Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travels was conferred with the prestigious IATO Hall of Fame Award, which is considered to be the highest honour in tourism. Mr. Subhash Goyal not only holds the honour of being the longest serving President of IATO but is also responsible for some landmark achievements, spearheaded by him during his tenure at IATO. His tireless dedication towards strengthening inbound tourism and positioning India’s image in the world as a popular tourist destination needs special mention. Along with him, Mr. Mahendra Singh Vaghela aka Mike Vaghela, Managing Director, Vaghela Hospitalities and former IATO Gujarat Chapter Chairman, also received the Hall of Fame Award from the honourable CM.
Business Sessions – Day 2
One good thing that has come out of Covid is that it has united people with similar woes – as has been the case in tourism. With a string of insightful and interesting business sessions organised by IATO, the 2 days of the convention saw some fruitful discussions taking place across the dais. The first session on based on the theme of the convention – Brand India: The Road to Recovery for Revival of Business moderated by Mr. Pronab Sarkar, Immediate Past President, IATO who presented an interesting array of views of the government as well as the private sector. Mr. Rajeev Kohli, Jt. MD, Creative Travels presented an interesting 8-points plan that the government can undertake to give the much needed impetus to the tourism sector. Ms. Shilpa Gupta IAS, Additional Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, spoke from heart about the various captivating aspects of the heart of India – Madhya Pradesh. The second and perhaps the most interesting Business Session of the Convention was the one on ‘Hotels in the New Normal’. With an impressive display of star panellists comprising Mr. Nakul Anand, ED, ITC Hotels; Mr. Puneet Chhatwal, MD&CEO, The Indian Hotels Company; Mr. Anurag Bhatnagar, COO, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts and Mr. Ajay Bakaya, MD, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts – Mr. Homa Mistry, CEO, Trail Blazer took the prize for being the most interesting, interactive and witty moderator. He kept the audience engaged with the ‘bhakt-bhagwan’ theory and compelled the hoteliers to commit to coming out with special rates for the IATO member tour operators and travel agents. The session on Connectivity: New Frontiers was moderated by Mr. Ashish Gupta, Consulting CEO, FAITH and had an invigorating panel that had representation from Railways, Roadways, Airways and River Tourism. Involving Government representatives to answer some tough questions, Mr. Pronab Sarkar brilliantly hosted a session on SEIS: New Policy under FTP 2021 – 2026. This interactive session allowed members from the audience to clarify their doubts with the esteemed panellists present on the dais. The day concluded on a responsible note as Ms. Anjuna Dhir steered a session on Responsible Tourism interacting with Mr. Rakesh Mathur, President, RTSOI, Mr. Anirudh Chaoji, Hony. Treasurer, RTSOI and Mr. Michael Dominic, CEO, CGH Earth and Shri Anil Kumar M. Solanki, Addl Chief Secretary, Forests and Environment, Government of Gujarat.
Business Sessions – Day 3
Keeping in times with the challenging times, the day three of the IATO Convention started with what was regarded as the most relevant topic in the prevailing times – Automation and Digital Marketing, moderated by none other than the VP IATO Mr. Ravi Gosain. Both Prof. Seema Gupta, Ex Professor of Digital Marketing, IIM Bangalore and Mr. Hemant Mediratta, Chief Advisor, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts presented some insightful aspects of Digital marketing and benefits of making presence felt online. Mr. Rakesh Kumar Verma, Additional Secretary, MoT as one of the esteemed panellists, disclosed the various initiatives that the Ministry of Tourism is undertaking to become digitally active and web friendly. The following session on Preparedness under New Normal brought to light the views of Mrs. Rupinder Brar, Addl. Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India and Mr. Praveen Chander Kumar, Sr. VP – S&M, The Indian Hotels Company and Mr. Harish Mathur, EC Member, IATO on how India can tap into its domestic travel potential during the time of the prevailing crisis. An interesting chat on Dekho Apna Desh by Ms. Brar showcased how people not just in India but also globally discovered many unseen, unheard aspects of our country through this series of webinars. Lastly, the Valedictory Session, which was missed out by all the chief guests enlisted, saw the IATO EC come together and thank the industry for their robust participation at the convention during these challenging times.
This year’s IATO Run was great fun and all participants enjoyed the morning cold breeze in almost zero pollution environment with AQl level below 50. Flag off was done by Ms. Bhavina Hasmukhbhai Patel, silver medallist in table tennis in 2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympics. She was also felicitated by IATO during the inaugural function. The run saw good participation from people of all age groups.
There were various state presentations done during the three days of the convention. These included presentations by Uttar Pradesh Tourism, Gujarat Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism, Kerala Tourism, Punjab Tourism, Rajasthan Tourism, Odisha Tourism, Uttarakhand Tourism, Madhya Pradesh Tourism and Karnataka Tourism.
On all the three days, the association had good evening entertain programmes with singers, such as, Abhijeet Sawant, Jimmy Felix and Urvashi Arora performing and singing for the audience. The members truly enjoyed it along with the Karaoke singing competition. On the last day of the Convention, Mr. Ashish Vidyarthi, famous Bollywood actor and motivational speaker was the speaker in the motivational session, who inspired the members that we need to stand strong during these crisis and look for the future opportunities.