The Outbound Tour Operators Association of India recently organised a familiarisation trip for its members in association with Vistara and Accor, where the association members not only explored various sites and shopping points in Paris, but also experienced the airline and hospitality products.
Talking about the Familiarisation tour, Riaz Munshi, President, OTOAI, said, “We wanted to showcase the destination as well as the airline product to the members. We wanted to travel first, so as to set an example that everything is normal. After exploring the destination, we can say that there is nothing to worry. The idea was to change the sentiment of the customers that everything is going to get normal and they can safely travel anywhere they like.”
Munshi added that they did not face any hurdle at all. “Nobody even asked us anything about certificates even in restaurants or clubs. The idea was to get a clear picture, as you cannot advise clients until you don’t experience it. There are constant changes for some of the destinations. However, it was really smooth to travel to Paris and visit the various sites. Hence, things are coming back to normal. Most of our members are happy both in terms of destination and the airline, which is a new product. It is an opportunity for them to increase their revenue by selling and upselling a product. Overall, the trip was fruitful for everyone,” he claimed.
Talking about experiencing Vistara on long haul, he said, “I was surprised with the premium economy product, which was very comfortable. I have briefed my team as well that if somebody is going in economy, we can guide them on the premium economy experience, which is very different from economy with a separate cabin and comfortable seats. Unlike a flat bed, it had leg support and comfortable recline to sleep. I experienced business class one way, which too was fantastic with all comforts and flat bed. Vistara has a great product.”
The delegation stayed at two properties of Accor in Paris—Novotel Paris La Defense Esplanade and Novotel Paris Est, and Munshi claims that both properties offered comfortable stays and great hospitality. “It was a great experience. Whenever I imagine hotels in Europe, especially 4-star hotels, the perception is of a cramped room. However, that wasn’t the case with these two hotels. They were quite good and overall experience was fine and we can definitely promote these hotels,” he said.
Issue at hand
Amongst many issues after opening of hotels, Munshi says that currently they are just trying to coordinate with all the stakeholders, particularly tourism boards because there are a lot of rules and regulations in some of the countries that keep changing. “Even the concerned authorities are not updated at times and the passengers are facing a lot of issues when they are at a particular destination. To resolve this, we are getting up-to-date information, which we can pass on to our members, so that they can in turn update their customers. Thus, there should be hassle free travel for all the travellers and then going forward we will do a lot of educational webinars and physical meetings with all the stakeholders. Currently, we just want to concentrate on the business and not on training or other modules. However, as soon as we get free, we will line up training,” he said.
Tour operators vital
He claimed that the tour operators and travel agents are vital for travellers as they can give actual information. “Travellers want real time first-hand information. Most of the people are preferring travel agents particularly for the long haul travel or longer holidays. Hence, it is time for the tour operators and travel companies to capitalise on the same and create a memorable experience for the customers by giving value add ons, so that they can stick to them and they can differentiate them from online players,” he suggested.
Munshi claims that it was a positive step that at least they’ve removed TCS for foreigners because that was a major hurdle for those sitting in India to not be able to do the booking for NRIs or the expats. “One cannot do booking for your friends or anybody who wants to get booking done for you if you don’t have a PAN card. Hence, if an NRI or foreigner, who are not paying income tax in India or are not staying in India, you cannot do booking for them. It’s a good step towards that, at least now we can make the booking for them and we definitely hope that going forward, the government will give a serious consideration to remove 5 per cent TCS on our Indian nationals also. If that happens, it will be a big relief,” he added.