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Claiming that 2023 is the year of travel and tourism industry, Sunil Kumar, President, United Federation of Travel Agents Associations (UFTAA), says that it’s time when people need to get ready for a complete revamp of their organisations, get online and be visible globally.

Nisha Verma

Sunil Kumar, President, United Federation of Travel Agents Associations (UFTAA), shared that the airfares are all lopsided because you don’t know what fair shoots up to what levels, both in domestic travel and even international travel. “In my 36 years in the industry, I have not seen such volatility in prices, which shocks me. What surprises me is that people are still willing to buy at this prices because the urge to travel is very high. I can say that 2024 would also be a very big year for the travel industry. Even now, break-evens are not a challenge. People are making money and 2023 is a transition year,” he claimed.

Higher pricing

It is important to be relevant today, he claimed. “If I head a travel and tourism organisation, I want to be relevant to the market. This means that I need to evolve with the pace of change outside my organization. People were unfortunately not paying to travel agents as we demanded, but today they are not raising voice when airlines are charging more money. The issues remain that the airlines are going direct and IATA is not able to stop the airlines from doing that. Now a new trend is that we don’t have access to the last seat availability or lower RBDs, and even access to making bookings on certain airlines. There are some airlines which don’t even give you the connectivity on your GDS. In such a scenario, agents are getting cornered every time. If such is the game outside, then I also need to evolve in that direction. Otherwise I would become irrelevant. We try to use 2023 as a transition point to address the challenges we would encounter in 2024 because the market size undoubtedly is going to be very big. You can’t stop it from growing and multiplying,” informed Kumar.

UFTAA updates

He informed that UFTAA gets an opportunity along with the European association ECTAA and our colleagues at WTAAA to be invited almost every year three times, to spend a lot of time deliberating on governance of the industry on agencies. “We get an opportunity to interact with the airlines, and IATA keeps talking to us about the changes that are coming in. On the other hand, we also discuss the challenges our agencies are facing. We take them up and we make it a point to have our associations prepare a document and then we submit those documents and debate on the same. We involve those association whenever they are confronted with a challenge to sit across with IATA and help resolve the problem. So, agents, airlines and IATA get together to discuss the issues that rock the industry and need to be addressed,” he informed.

However, he said that nothing changes in IATA overnight. “The process is that it must be debated again and again. Once the PAPGJC  council does the get together, we discuss the resolutions that have to be tabled before the Passenger Agency (PA) conference and they get to be either approved or disapproved. However, currently, it continues to be one sided because at the PAPGJC conference the agents don’t have a voice. And when there’s a challenge in a country and that comes up to us from an association, then we intervene and we Liaison between the association and IATA if required at a global level. Apart from that we need to be updated about what’s happening around the world. Some airlines have declared that they’ve already planned their exit out of GDS. NDC is going to be the new norm for them,” shared Kumar.

Future of outbound

Kumar said that outbound travel will happen. “Currently, the trend is in favour of domestic tourism. Now, people are transiting towards going out of comfort level. I see this summer being a big summer for outbound,” he said.

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