‘We aim to promote affordable, sustainable tourism and drive economic vitality in India’
The travel tech sector, through digital access, technology interventions and innovative solutions, is catering to the needs of tourists in an ever-changing tourism landscape, says CHATT Secretary General Anwar Shirpurwala
To enable greater collaboration between tourism businesses, irrespective of their scale and size, and leverage technology and entrepreneurship to lead the next growth chapter of the country’s tourism sector, the Confederation of Hospitality, Technology and Tourism (CHATT) was established in June 2021. It also seeks to act as a catalyst between the Government and the new-age hospitality, tourism and travel technology industry. The focus is to provide digital access and technology interventions for micro, small and medium enterprises in travel and tourism eco-space.
CHATT recently set up a new secretariat and appointed Anwar Shirpurwala as Secretary General. An influential tech-industry leader with over 25 years of experience, Shirpurwala is responsible for leading CHATT’s vision of driving sustainable tourism, enabling technology adoption, driving upskilling in the sector and empowering SMEs to serve tourists effectively. Excerpts from an interview:
Close to 18 months after CHATT was formed, has it been able to play the role of being the catalyst between the Government and the new-age hospitality, tourism and travel technology industry?
CHATT has been established to work along with OTAs and new-age tech-based platforms to work as a bridge between the Government, both at the Centre and in states and micro-entrepreneurs as well as small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the hospitality and tourism sector. The recently formed new secretariat for CHATT is working on-ground to enable collaboration among companies irrespective of size and scale that are at the intersection of hospitality, technology and tourism to promote digital access and technology interventions for small and medium enterprises in the hospitality and tourism eco-space. It is a continuous process and CHATT is working consistently with all the stakeholders countrywide.
Since its inception, what have been CHATT’s major achievements?
We are working with our members to set up common facility centres at various tourist hubs. Besides, we are working on developing district-level programmes (DLPs) to ensure grass-root development of micro entrepreneurs and SMEs in the hospitality, tourism and travel sector. These programmes will be finally implemented by the state governments. We are building various value partnerships with different service providers to ensure that our members can leverage their products and services to grow their businesses effectively.
What role does technology play at CHATT?
As a tech-centric industry body, the guiding principle and philosophy of CHATT is to bring together all the players in the hospitality and tourism industry that are at the intersection of technology to elevate the domestic travel sector through digital transformation and empowerment of micro entrepreneurs and SMEs. Online platforms have played a crucial role in giving wider recognition to entities like budget hotels, homestays, BnB stays, independent lodging partners as well as travel partners like guides, agents, operators, taxi drivers and others. The travel tech sector, through digital access, technology interventions and innovative solutions, is catering to the needs of tourists in an ever-changing tourism landscape. OTAs and tech-based platforms are creating opportunities for these entities by imparting technological know-how, training, marketing support and all the tools to small business owners so that they can compete on an equal footing with existing players.
Share details about the membership procedure at CHATT and its benefits. How do you plan to increase your membership base?
The hospitality, tourism and travel sector has been worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. As an Association, the least that we can do is reach out and offer support to help the small players in our sector to tide over the challenges. We are, at present, providing an opportunity for a six months’ complimentary membership and building a networking platform for the MSMEs in our sector, engaging with the Government to seek resolutions to their issues and also promoting awareness about the Government schemes that can be leveraged to unlock the immense growth potential of these businesses. Besides, they can benefit from various conferences, seminars, webinars and workshops conducted by CHATT at regular intervals. These knowledge sessions will be held in various regions across the country with support of Central and state governments and leading private sector experts.
Is the tourism sector facing any challenges? If yes, are there any solutions?
There are various policies aimed at the growth and development of the sector. However, operationalising these policies for the last-mile stakeholder remain a concern due to a variety of factors. CHATT stands committed to implementing these policies to the last mile. It is reaching out to the Central and state governments to present and discuss how these strategies can be operationalised at the district, state and national levels. Some other challenges are:
● Infrastructure and connectivity: Deficiencies in infrastructure and inadequate connectivity hamper tourist visits to some heritage sites and remote destinations. For example, many tourist destinations, like Kangchenjunga, are still not easily accessible.
● Tourism circuits: India has various tourist destinations but few circuits. Also, many announced tourist circuits are yet to be implemented.
● Promotion and marketing: Although marketing related to India’s tourism has been increasing, online marketing/ branding remains limited, and campaigns are not very well coordinated.
● Tourist information centres could be better managed, making it easier for domestic and foreign tourists to access information quickly.
● Skill deficit: The number of adequately trained individuals in the tourism and hospitality sector is a crucial challenge to giving visitors a world-class experience.
● A limited number of multilingual trained guides and the little local awareness and understanding of the benefits and responsibilities associated with the tourism industry act as constraints on the sector’s growth.
● Tourism destination development: Lack of new tourism spots, poor upkeep of existing destinations as well as the absence of destination marketing like hiking, trekking, adventure sports, Nature and rural/ eco-tourism etc, is another key challenge.
As you intend to translate and operationalise Government policies to reach the last mile service provider using technology, how supportive has been the Government?
The Government is working proactively as can be gauged from the various missions highlighted in the draft National Tourism Policy 2022 that charts out the roadmap for the growth and development of the hospitality, tourism and travel sector. CHATT is totally aligned on these missions and is working in close coordination with the Ministry of Tourism to ensure on-ground implementation of not only these missions but also various other schemes that many MSMEs are not aware about. Besides, we are identifying the schemes rolled out by the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Government of India, for small businesses engaged in the non-manufacturing services sector that can be leveraged by SMEs in the hospitality, tourism and travel sector.
There is a huge number of businesses in hospitality and tourism operating in the unorganised sector and the Government is making strides to bring them into the formal sector to ensure they do not come across any compliance issues and promote ease of doing business for these entities.
Are there any plans to promote sustainability in the tourism sector?
We are already working to undertake various interventions in India’s hospitality, tourism and travel sector. Sustainability is definitely one of these interventions whereby we aim at delivering a triple bottom line, ie social, economic, and environmental. For tourism to become more sustainable, we need to plan development of destinations at least 10 years in advance based on the number of tourists that can visit. Decentralised planning of tourist hubs is also important to gauge the gaps that exist in terms of infrastructure, skilling, marketability and other factors that need to be bridged before marketing the destination to the world.
There needs to be a systems approach towards solving sustainability related issues. Stakeholder integration is required for this systemic transformation to take place in the sector. Local, district and state-level stakeholders need to be integrated such that they can play an equal role in ensuring sustainable development of the destination. Not only will this allow tourists to enjoy the natural beauty of the place but ensure investments and livelihoods are secured over a longer period of time.
What plans does Anwar Shirpurwala have for CHATT as its new Secretary General?
As CHATT Secretary General, my aim is to take forward the organisation’s objective to redefine the dynamics of growth and development in the technology-driven tourism sector by empowering micro entrepreneurs and SMEs in hospitality, tourism and travel through bridging the knowledge gap that will prove to be the catalyst of growth. We are committed to working closely with small businesses to upscale, align and help them emerge as formidable players in this sector. Our mission is not just restricted to making an impact on the policy and regulatory environment to foster balanced economic and social development in our sector, but also ensure that these policies are operationalised on ground. We derive our strength from the Government, our founders and members spread across the country.
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