A Paradigm Shift

DESPITE THE SLOWDOWN THAT THE TRAVEL AND TOURISM INDUSTRY IS FACING CURRENTLY, IT IS PROJECTED AS ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST INDUSTRIES. SHEETAL SRIVASTAVA GIVES AN OVERVIEW

 

By the year 2020, projection is that there would be six billion tourists worldwide and tourism receipts would touch USD 2 trillion creating one job every 2.5 seconds. The Indian Government’s travel and tourism policy has given the sector further impetus. One can see many more hotels, tourist resorts, beach resorts, as well as promotion of new avenues of tourism like medical tourism, adventure tourism, rural tourism, holistic tourism, sports tourism and cultural tourism.

Commenting on the notable differences in the industry from what it was a decade back, Shubhada Joshi, chairperson, Indian Travel Congress, London says, “There are lot many products and destinations to sell.” She further adds, “Today, with open sky policies and the roads and railways getting better, there are more opportunities for people to travel. Affluence is growing and hence the spending capabilities of customers are also growing. Such situations are very rare in the history of any industry and therefore it is the best time to be in the industry.”

Talking about the industry numbers, Sanjay Narula, co-chairman, Indian Travel Congress, London notes, “Travel and Tourism, directly and indirectly accounts for 11 per cent of world’s GDP, 9 per cent of global employment and 12 per cent of global investments.”

Today, India is an emerging world power. If the world really wants to know what India has achieved in the last few years, the travel and tourism industry is the answer to that. “India being multi-cultural, there is a never ending scope in the industry. Domestic travel has been growing at 15-20 per cent p.a. Innovative sales pitches, marketing strategies and adoption of newer technologies are leading to increased sales within travel retail services especially for packaged holidays, flights and accommodation , all of which is giving us a newer global market perspective,” says Rajinder Rai, vice president, TAAI.

Challenges Faced

CV Prasad, President, TAAI says, “Very little has been done to grow domestic tourism. Lack of infrastructure is the gravest issue posing a challenge to Indian tourism and acts as a deterrent.” Domestic short haul problem is very popular. Lack of quality manpower is another serious challenge which the industry is currently facing. “There is not enough skilled manpower. The need for training institutes is a must,” Prasad stresses. Other areas where improvement is a must in order to give a boost to tourism is the need for improved roads between some tourist destinations. “There is no proper road transport quality. People above 60 travel a lot. Unfortunately, India is not equipped for them. There are no proper sidewalks,” adds Prasad. India is not positioned in many ways as far as tourism is concerned.”

 

 

 

Here comes the travel agent

There is no doubt that a travel agent has become an essential factor in the travel and tourism industry today. We all know that a travel agent helps travelers sort through vast amounts of information to help them make the best possible travel arrangements. They offer advice on destinations and make arrangements for transportation, hotel accommodations, car rentals, and tours for their clients. They are also the primary source of bookings for most of the major cruise lines. In addition, resorts and specialty travel groups use travel agents to promote travel packages to their clients.

Going to a full-service travel agency that sells standard travel agency goods and services, including airfare and travel packages is like a one-stop shop to the travel needs. Most travel agents provide additional services which include passport assistance, providing access to top-of-the-line equipment and supplies and a superior offering that includes access to better than average terrain and activities, accommodations, and entertainment. “The value added offerings by a travel agent is his knowledge and expertise, competitive rates, and specialty focus on various segments of travel, which translate into increased satisfaction for the customer,” adds Prasad. “Destination knowledge is a very critical aspect. The most important role that travel agents play is planning the trip. Very few people today have mastery over destinations. So a travel today has become a destination expert,” notes Shubhada. Leisure travelers can be broadly classified according to the type of trips they take, income or age. Heritage and Culture tourism, Adventure tourism, Special-Interest, Honeymoon & sight-seeing trips High-Income Travellers Budget-Conscious Travellers Families, Students & Seniors Pilgrimage Tourism, Medical and Wellness Tourism

Need for trained personnel

Like every other industry, there is a need of skilled personnel in this industry too. Besides the IATA certificate which is only academic, the personnel need a lot of soft skill training. Clients today need a host of services and not just an air ticket. It may be product knowledge, visa, insurance or foreign exchange or about a self driven car or only the weather.

 

Travel and Tourism - India being multi-cultural- there is a never ending scope in the industry

“Our job is not complete unless and until we don’t give all the information to the clients. A client can get to buy an air ticket on the net. But it is still cumbersome for him/her to get all the related information. Hence, we need to be travel consultants and not just ticketing agents,” asserts Mamta Nichani, chairman, managing committee member, TAAI.

It has become imperative today to change the mindset in order to forge successful careers in the travel and tourism industry. Hitherto, the travel distribution role was performed by traditional travel agents and tour operators. They were supported by global distribution systems or tour operators’ videotext systems (or leisure travel networks). The coming of the Internet created the conditions for the emergence of interactive digital televisions and mobile devices selling directly on the Internet by allowing users to access the airline reservation systems, web-based travel agents and travel portals. This has gradually intensified competition. Consequently, traditional travel agents must re-engineer their business processes in order to survive and remain competitive. Research findings point out to the evolving nature of business in a globalised environment and the necessary strategic adjustments in human resources management.

Future of the industry

Expressing his views on the future of the travel and tourism industry and of the travel agents Prasad says, “The future is very bright. A 15-20 per cent growth can be seen in the next 5-6 years. Tourism revolution has yet to begin in India. Interest in India is beginning to catch up and it certainly has a long way to go.”

He further adds, “The internet can never replace personal contact. Travel agents are here to stay provided they adapt to the changing environment, adopt emerging technology and understand customers as well as cater to their needs.”

Says Ashwani Kakkar, CEO, Mercury Travels, “Globally, the travel and tourism industry is the single largest industry in the world. It is the best wealth distributor as an industry.”

The list is endless, for you can find many a reason and more to travel. All of these have a specific need and require knowledge of the local customs and people besides information on the destination which can be attained in a limited way from the internet. The Travel agents fulfil this very need and create not just a holiday or a trip but an experience to remember.

 

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Healing Touch

Medical Tourism Could Address India’s Health Crisis

A foreign resident needing surgical treatment is put into an international flight to India. As soon as he arrives, he is driven straight to a super-speciality hospital where he is immediately attended to by world-class doctors aware of the patient’s medical history. This trend, known as medical tourism, is already in evidence, albeit on a minuscule scale. For this to become a commonplace in a matter of a few years, medical entrepreneurs, associations of medical professionals, insurance companies, third party administrators (TPAs) and the government need to make a cogent intervention.

Like the information technology (IT) industry, India has a comparative advantage in services like healthcare. The cost differentials in healthcare between developed nations and India are reckoned to be even higher than in the IT industry. But cost is only one of the drivers. Sophisticated medical facilities in India can draw people from the neighbouring countries. In the past, trade in services implied healthcare personnel migrating to developed countries. Now, the situation has reversed, with consumers moving abroad temporarily. If this emerging potential is harnessed it could shower unprecedented economic gains on the medical community and at least a section of our society, in effect replicating the IT success story.

 

Medical Tourism Could Address Indias Health Crisis

However, while aspiring to become a world-class supplier of healthcare services, India cannot wish away its ailing masses who lie unattended for want of decent healthcare. Indeed, the current healthcare situation in India is dismal. The number of hospital beds per 1,000 population, for example, is around one, which is well below the WHO prescribed norms, or even the low-income countries’ average of 1.5. The same shortage extends to the availability of medical and paramedical staff — this, despite India’s high disease burden. India, for example, loses 274 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) — an indicator of disease burden that reflects the total amount of healthy lives lost, to all causes — per 1,000 population compared to the developing countries’ average of 256.

No wonder India trails in healthcare outcomes. For example, life expectancy at birth in India is 63 years, compared to the developing countries’ average of 65. Likewise, infant mortality rate in India is 70 compared to the developing countries’ average of 56. A similar picture emerges in other standard indicators of health outcome. The reasons are not difficult to understand. Indian government (at all levels) spends less than 1% of GDP in as important a social sector as healthcare. Besides being highly inadequate compared to other developing countries, this limited public spending is not for the lowincome people only, as one would expect. The richer segments too benefit from it.

 

Furthermore, most of private spending, as much as 4.3% of GDP takes the form of out-of-pocket spending and not prepaid risk pooling arrangements, and this is highly iniquitous. Notwithstanding the insurance regulator’s announcement to grant concessions to any standalone health insurer interested in entering Indian market, the development of private health insurance has not been very inspiring.

 

Best Medical Tourism Hospital India

Given all this, does it make sense to promote medical tourism? To be sure, the development of medical tourism will alter India’s healthcare landscape. While it will give a boost to the private healthcare industry by catering to wealthy foreign and domestic consumers, it could adversely hit the low-income population. Medical personnel and infrastructure would be geared to serve the elite. Medical tourists will end up driving up healthcare costs. However, the adverse effect can be mitigated through

appropriate interventions, that include greater public outlay for healthcare as well as restructuring public healthcare infrastructure, especially in rural areas. The increase in public financing of healthcare is not forthcoming, given the fiscal pressure.

It is here that promotion of medical tourism can prove to be a blessing. A part of the higher private healthcare revenue can be tapped to increase public health spending. Besides, promotion of medical tourism would have positive spillover effects. Some of these are: Benchmarking and streamlining healthcare delivery (this includes the development of treatment protocols, standardisation of costing of various procedures, accreditation of hospitals and so forth); checking brain drain from India; increasing employment opportunities; and concomitant expansion of the aviation sector.

The promotion of medical tourism requires a multi-track approach. In the international arena, it requires providing an impetus to trade liberalisation in this sector within the multilateral (or General Agreement on Trade in Services) framework, seeking harmonisation of health standards, facilitating cross-border mobility of consumers and promoting health services trade with neighbouring countries. Progress on these fronts is bound to attract greater FDI into this sector. On the domestic front, this calls for enhancing coordination between states to develop uniform regulation of healthcare, which is essentially a state subject.

The very nature of these interventions enjoins upon the government to play a pivotal role in the promotion of medical tourism, at least in the initial stages of its development. The logic of investment and profit-making in healthcare, which is no different from any other sector, will ensure a repeat of IT in healthcare, which can be made to work for the betterment of all — foreign and domestic residents alike.