‘North Americans will travel first’

Giving inbound agents a lot of hope, NS Rathor, Chairman, Western Region, IATO, says that the North American tourists will probably start travelling to India first and that he has already started receiving inquiries for December 2020 – January 2021.

Hazel Jain

When will the international borders open and tourist movement between countries begin is anyone’s guess. But, NS Rathor, Chairman, Western Region, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), is positive that the first foreign tourists to start travelling to India will be the North Americans. He says, “I have already started receiving inquiries from my clients from North America for December 2020 end and January 2021, which is a very positive sign.”

To hasten this process, he has a suggestion for the industry as a whole. “It is my personal view that we can all promote India to the rest of the world by telling them to visit India in 2021 at the price of 2019. I don’t know if this can be done – it is a huge challenge – but if we can come together as tour operators, hotels and airlines, and freeze our prices and rates for a year, I believe we can help our businesses recover faster,” Rathor says, adding that states must also think about making entrances to our historical monuments free for Indian nationals and bring it down to 50 per cent of the current fee for foreign tourists.

Creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

As an expert in inbound tourism, Rathor says that inbound tour operators will need to change the way they will operate in a post-COVID-19 world. “We will have to be very particular about sanitising our buses and cars, our drivers will need to get health certificates and trained on hygiene safety protocols when foreign tourists start arriving. They will need to have masks on all the time while sitting in the vehicles. I am sure IATO as an association will think of all these standard operating procedures for this and list down all the points that should be heeded,” he says.

Amidst the chaos that surrounds us, one positive occurrence that has emerged is the strong solidarity among various industry associations. Rathor says, “I am very happy to see that all the associations like TAAI, TAFI, FHRAI, ADTOI, ETAA and IATO have come together under the umbrella of FAITH and are talking to the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India as one unit. The Ministry of Tourism has in turn approached the Ministry of Finance for the same and we are all waiting for a positive response from both the departments on our demands.”

Demands by inbound operators

IATO as an association has made some demands and Rathor lists down some of the key pain points. “We need support to pay salaries to our staff as we have zero billing right from March 18, 2020. We also need some relief in terms of road tax because all our buses and cars have been sitting idle. We need relief in state GST, the loans that have already been taken as well as the new loans that some of us might want to take once business starts. There are some states that are considering giving subsidies on these lines. States must think about making entrances to our historical monuments free for Indian nationals and bring it down to 50 per cent of current fee for the foreign tourists,” he says.

Meanwhile, various chapters were part of a national-level conference call with more than 300 members joining in. “We discussed ideas on how we can recover our business and how we can help each other. All chapter chairmen are in touch with their respective state governments as well. Maharashtra and Gujarat have already given their demands to the state governments, and Madhya Pradesh and Goa will soon do the same. All four states have already had meetings with their state governments and we wait to hear from them,” Rathor says.

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