IATO Presidents

MR. RAM KOHLI

President – 1982-1984; 1986-1989

"The biggest challenge was convincing the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) aboutthe difference between a travel agent and a tour operator" Tour operators had no real representation........ and the idea to form an association to cater to the interests of tour operators was born. IATO garnered the support of hoteliers and worked hard to convince the MoT. The office bearers of IATO introduced the monthly lunch concept with the objective to discuss the association, its activities and exchange notes on various issues. This became a tradition henceforth.

IATO took up issues beneficial to tourism and initiated discussions with overseas associations. A joint convention with TAAP (Travel Agents Association of Pakistan) was organised in Lahore in 1988. A joint convention of the Retail Travel Agents Association of America was held in New Delhi. Over 85 retail travel agents from America attended the convention. A joint convention with the Hong Kong Travel Agents Association was held in New Delhi in which more than 100 delegates from Hong Kong participated. The Hall of Fame award was instituted to commend efforts in the tourism and hospitality industry. Kundan Lal Gujral, the man behind Moti Mahal (credited with introducing tandoori chicken to menus in India and abroad) was inducted in the Hall of Fame at the second convention in New Delhi .

For the first time, IATO held a travel mart in 1986, with states showcasing their products. The first convention just had 25 participants. However, over the years the number kept increasing and eventually, the MoT officially granted us recognition.

MR. PAWAN KHANNA

President – 1984-1986

"In India,....... associations are heard much better than individuals" ....and we saw the huge difference that existed between the business of a travel agent and a tour operator. TAAI then, was primarily concerned with the ticketing aspect of travel. The terms and conditions of the association for membership were also harsh. It was a time when travel and tourism suddenly seemed to be receiving rather unfair treatment from the government. It was plainly being neglected.

We decided to form an association that would give us (small and medium enterprises), a platform to showcase what we had. Seven like minded individuals came together and formed the association. None of us were big companies; nor did we have the clout that the larger companies had, whether it was with the government or the hotels. IATO extended our reach and gave us a united voice. We wanted to pursue more realistic tourism agendas and policies and help each other. As an association with credence, we tried to reach the corridors of power to influence policy formulation. Our second objective was to weed out unscrupulous elements that had come into the business. The third aspect was to look into training and education

I think if I were to look back and point out the success of IATO as an association, it would have to be convincing the government that tourism is an employment generating activity and that it is not an elitist product. I firmly believe that my generation has played its innings and now it’s time to pass on the baton to the younger generation. I’d like to say this to IATO – Well done!

MR. OP AHUJA

President – 1989-1993

By the end of 1993, IATO’s strength had nearly doubled. The government granted us permission to train guides. The assistance provided for the development of inbound tourism under the MDA scheme also began to take root. Operators were provided with two concessional trips abroad and could therefore participate in trade fairs and visit destinations overseas on study tours. The government also provided up to Rs 30,000 for the publication of tourism related brochures. We took it up with the government to have more four star category hotels and lobbied for refresher courses for guides. Even today, the rooms in the unorganised sector are nearly three times more than in the organised sector. There were around 500 guides at that time, while we actually required 1000 national and regional guides. Mumbai and New Delhi would receive 60 per cent of traffic primarily because of inadequate development of airports at other smaller cities. We seriously took it up with the government to develop other airports.

The tourism industry in India opened up in 1991. Budgets allocated for tourism increased tenfold. In 1991, for the very first time, the IATO convention took place in Mumbai. It was also for the first time that the conceptof inter-state regional permits came about. The golden triangle opened up and foreign tourists who wereunder the illusion that each state was like a different country could now travel freely. The concept of heritage tourism also came up during this time. We wanted to create better integration between other associations and began coordinating with the chambers of commerce. Looking back, I think there is much scope to develop tourism around the Asian region and infrastructure needs to be developed on a war footing.

MR. AVINASH ANAND

President – 1993-1994

I think the most important aspect at that time was having your voice heard. Even in the US, American travel agents felt that their requirements were not being met. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) looked into the welfare of travel agents and again tour operators were left out. This led to the formation of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), the samereason why IATO was formed.

I remember when the IATO convention was held in Khajuraho, there was limited accommodation available at the venue and we actually had to carry material and pitch tents on the lawns of the Chandela Hotel where the convention was held. The convention was well attended and the topics discussed showed that we clearly meant business. Pandit Ravi Shankar was awarded the Hall of Fame award at the convention and it was the first time that someone from outside the travel and tourism field was conferred with an award. I think we could have achieved much more through this convention, but our main focus areas were on setting up tourism infrastructure and making sure our voice was heard in the right quarters. Eventually, that did happen. The present committee of IATO has been doing a good job and I wish them godspeed and hope they continue the good work.

MR. BADRI BAJAJ

President – 2000-2001

A tourism industry vetern and member of various national and international travel organizations, Badri Bajaj promoted and developed tourist traffic to India.

Starting his career with American Express, he launched his own company "Perfect Travels and Tours Pvt. Ltd” in 1980. Impressed by his professionalism and commitment, he was offered a joint venture from Adventure World of Australia and New Zealand and this resulted in the starting of "Adventure World India Pvt. Ltd" which made a name for itself in the Indian Travel and tourism industry handling tourists from all over the world.

He was honoured by the "Royal Military Academy Belgium" for his personalized & qualitative service fortheir groups as well as from many other operators including tour organizers of prestigious cruise liners.

He pioneered a new and exceptional marketing concept of "Bajaj Indian Home Stay Programs" providing a unique and affordable experience offering home away from home to the foreign tourists.

Four time National Tourism awardee for earning of foreign exchange for the country, the life & work of Bajaj was a shining example for all of us to work selflessly for the growth of Indian tourism industry.

Bajaj has been a veteran and one of the pioneers of the Indian Tourism industry. His contribution to the Indian Association of Tour Operators since its inception has been invaluable and he has always been important member of the Executive Committee. Even before holding the highest position as the President of IATO, he was always a father figure in the industry and was the distinguished Chairman of the “IATO Grievances Cell” acting as an impartial judge in resolving disputes amongst the members and within the industry. Bajaj was President of IATO during 2000–2001 term.

MAJOR MURLI DHAR

President – 2001

Major Murli Dhar is a veteran of the tourism industry and was associated with IATO for over two decade in various positions. He held various positions in IATO which mainly were 4 years as Hony. Secretary and 4 years a Sr. Vice President before he took over as Acting President when late Mr. Badri Bajaj passed away in 2001. His contribution to IATO and tourism industry has been invaluable.

After retiring from defense service (Indian Army) he joined as Director "Holiday Makers India Pvt. Ltd” and later established his own company Cosmopolitan Tours Operators and Travel Agents, which once became a pioneer in handling charters from Russia.

Major Murli Dhar always fought for the industry be it service tax, luxury tax or the dual tariff which was the bone of contention between tour operators and hoteliers. With his untiring efforts and with his personal efforts he made the hotel associations to adopt single tariff. Similarly he emphasized for Dual citizenship and in 2001 Jodhpur convention, he raised this issue, which later on became a reality with introduction of PIO.

He also during Agra Convention suggested that Taj Mahal should be kept open for visitors for night viewing especially during the Full Moon which was also later adopted by the ASI and UP Government. He also dreamed of Agra to be declared as Heritage city.

His pioneering role in the tourism arena is well appreciated by the Travel Trade.

MR. MAHARAJ IS WAHI

President – 2001-2003

IATO’s official newsletter called BIndia became the IATO mouthpiece. The first BIndia was launched by Nafisa Ali. Also, for the first time, all the seven states of the North East were showcased, under the banner of the ‘Look East’ convention held in Kolkata. The convention brought us attention from the central government. Gradually, as the conventions began visiting new destinations in India, states started competing to host them. This led to a change in the way the conventions were being marketed.

Another interesting development was the launch of the IATO Privilege Card in 2000. The card entitled around 600 members to use hotels, etc. all over India at a discount of 30 per cent. The system of introducing chapters and sub chapters in the various states rather than having a mere North, South, East and West led to improved management within the association. We had about 22 chapters then. Another venture that IATO seriously took up had to do with Corporate Social Responsibility. The idea was to revamp the association and make it more vibrant and transparent with increased social commitments, something that is of great relevance today.

MR. VIJAY THAKUR

President – 2008-2011

The years from 2008 when Vijay Thakur took over as President of IATO, remain quite eventful. It gave plenty of time to the travel trade to think, innovate and streamline its business. Eventually the industry learnt to rationalise the priorities. Long pending issue of higher ‘Abatement’ for service tax for tour operators was successfully obtained from Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India, which gave a big relief to members. Earlier the abatement was 60 per cent which was raised to 75 per cent.

Among the several new initiatives, regular training programmes for IATO members all over the country were conducted. Regular road shows in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, in all major markets viz UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Gulf Countries etc. were organised. These road shows were very beneficial for members to develo new contacts and interact with counterparts overseas. By signing MoU’s with many new emerging countries like Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, NTA (New York), Bermuda, many new avenues were opened. During his leadership IATO organized regular interactive luncheon meetings that brought members under one umbrella and speaking with one united voice. In the post crisis era of 2008 (terrorist attacks in Mumbai & economic recession) it was IATO’s continuous marketing efforts that had helped the market recover from the slump. IATO has grown into an authoritative cross-sector membership association driving sustainable growth across the country. He successfully organised IATO conventions and brought financial stability to the organisation. IATO emerged as the most important platform for travel industry to bring all stakeholders together and learn and share issues that were adversely affecting the industry. “Cautious, aggressive and stable growth” were his key words that helped members chart a steady course in the time of global economic downturn. He motivated members to go beyond one’s call of duty to serve the industry.

MR. SUBHASH GOYAL

President – 1994-2000; 2003-2007; 2012...

It is important for any association to work as a team, and we made sure that all office bearers could be part of discussions and started working as a team rather than as individuals. It led to greater understanding of issues.

Narsimha Rao, during his tenure as the Prime Minister, inaugurated the convention. It was the first time he had attended a travel trade function. The convention had the who’s who of the industry and we got very good coverage in the print and electronic media. I think people started noticing the association after this. IATO has also been working in close co-operation with the MoT and we were at the airport to welcome the first millionth tourist with them. There were about 300 members in the association in 1994, and nearly 1000 by 2007. The numerous sub committees helped to get more people in the industry involved with the association. IATO opened membership to journalists and overseas operators and got active in the daily media space.

Another hallmark was that IATO became socially conscious. It constructed 21 schools during the Orissa cyclones and started a rehabilitation program in association with the government of Orissa. It sent more than ten trucks of supplies to Gujarat during the earthquake. Blood and eye donation camps were also initiated and we began awarding scholarships for tourism training.

By the end of 2007, we had five million tourists visiting India and I think the growth can largely be attributed to IATO’s commitment and vision for domestic and inbound tourism.