In an industry brimming with events of different kinds, I was recently invited by Vikas Khanduri, Managing Director of Viva Voyages Pvt Ltd, and an old-time friend from the industry, to be a part of an event of a different kind. Knowing Vikas, I also knew that if he was organising the event, it had to be different. Because Vikas is not your average travel agent or tour operator. He is a highly respected industry professional of several years’ standing, and we jell quite well. I have known him from my airline industry days – since 1997 to be precise, and have a lot of respect for him as an individual and as a professional. When he explained the concept of the event, I was hooked. Hooked because it was a unique concept – an industry first, and truly out of the box.
To explain the concept of Ayanaant in his own words –
‘Ayanaant’ is a Hindi word, which means ‘solstice’. By inference, it also denotes culmination.
For us in the travel industry, both connotations are relevant – the longest day, which denotes maximum energy and output, juxtaposed against its opposite number, which brings in its wake, the longest night for maximum revelry. Both signify the culmination of prosperity, progress and wellbeing. We propose to conduct an Outbound Travel Symposium on the 21st of June – the glorious day of the summer solstice, because it promises a high point; a day brimming with ideas, exchange of views and thoughts, and the way forward to a buoyant trade season.
Several travel marts are conducted regularly by Trade Bodies, Tourism Boards, International Hotels Chains and other destination service providers who are in the travel business. However, seldom, if ever, is there an opportunity where a convergence of top management representing outbound travel business verticals takes place with the intent to discuss strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats to the business in general.
With this in mind, we propose to invite about one to two hundred travel agencies for a day long conclave wherein a panel discussion will be organized. An anchor will conduct the event and ask questions and seek inputs from the attending delegates. There will be a question hour, press hour and an open house aimed at a healthy exchange of ideas and knowledge enhancement. The attendees can discuss the latest trends, business hurdles and competition management in the outbound market.”
So this was Ayanaant – a convergence / coming-together of thought leaders in the industry. Vikas was inviting me to be a panel moderator for the event. There were to be four industry panels on different verticals, with eminent trade personalities participating as panellists. The prospect of being a part of this very unique initiative excited me and I immediately said yes to Vikas, and then began several weeks of preparation for the ultimate coming together in Ayanaant, which included researching the vertical allotted to me – Online Initiatives, getting in touch with the panellists to fine-tune the topics for discussion. The greatest challenge in such events is that there is no rehearsal, no practice takes. All of us – the panellists and the moderator, would come face to face at the event itself, with limited allotted time for the discussion, which meant that the topics had to be fine-tuned so as to make the discussion as lively and engaging as possible.
It was a brilliant concept indeed, and appealed immensely to me. At last here was an event that promised to be meaningful- something that tickled the grey matter and got the juices flowing, rather than the run-of the-mill events that one has got so used to. The day of the event arrived soon enough and we were all set and raring to go. The pre-event publicity and social-media blitz had already made it clear to everyone that this was a serious event – not for the frivolous networkers, and all the invites pre-sorted out with RSVPs. Large numbers were not invited, or expected, as the venue’s capacity was limited, and despite the size limitations of the venue, the turnout was good, with most of the confirmed attendees turning up.
The day began on a good note, with the National Anthem setting the mood. Thereafter the mart was declared open by one of the keynote speakers, Mr Anil Bhandari, Chairman – AB Smart Concepts and former Chairman of ITDC, and thereafter the day went pretty much as per the planned schedule.
During the day, the Secretary Tourism, Mr Parvez Dewan made a brief appearance, and also graced the event with a keynote address. Another speaker who deserves special mention was Mr J B Singh, President & CEO of InterGlobe Technology Quotient Pvt Ltd, who made an insightful presentation on the state of aviation in India as well as globally, and shared his vision of the future with the attendees. Stuart Lloyd, Publisher, Travel Daily Media Group, was also among the special invitees and made a highly stimulating and interactive presentation on “Vision 2030”, the future of outbound.
The highlights of the event were the four panel discussions which were spread through the day. The four panels were on Worldwide Cruising, Online Initiatives, Brochure Products & MICE Planning. The discussions were inspired and stimulating, with the panellists – the who’s who of the industry – sharing their insights with the audience, and touching upon key issues that were of concern to all present. Many of them shared their candid views on the challenges being face by the industry, and also shared their vision on what could be the possible solutions to the issues. It was a unique opportunity to interact with the finest minds in the industry and there was a lot to be learned from the vast wealth of collective experience present at the venue.
One aspect that was truly unique about this event was that the top tourism academicians from India’s best Tourism institutes were invited and honoured. Citations were made in the honour of Prof Manjula Chaudhary, Director IITTM, Dr Manhor Sajnani, Dean – Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism and Director – Amity Institute of Travel & Tourism and Prof. S. C. Bagri, Vice Chancellor, Himgiri Zee University Dehradun. This was indeed an industry first. Between them, these three institutes have probably churned out more Tourism professionals than all the other such institutes in the country put together, but this was the first time that their contribution was publically acknowledged by the industry in such a platform.
It was heartening to note that the serious-minded attendees remained behind till the end of the event, taking in every bit of the exchanges taking place at the panel discussions. Relevant questions put up by some of the audience were an indication that there were enough people present who were actually engrossed in the proceedings. Another aspect worth mentioning about this event was that it was not aligned to any particular association in the trade, and top office bearers of most associations were invited, and present. In fact, I was impressed to note that one of them remained with us right till the end of the event.
All in all, it was a day well-spent. It was fruitful in that there was a lot to learn from the different panels, and there were some interesting viewpoints. Most of the keynote speakers were conversant with their own fields as well as the ground realities of the trade. More importantly, they were there with a sense of involvement, and that is what made Ayanaant a special event. Eventually it turned out to be a day well spent. Ayanaant. The coming together. A well conceived and well executed event, if ever there was one in our industry, and one hopes that this will become a regular annual event.