During the discussion, Jyoti Mayal, President, TAAI shared her concerns on the continued challenges faced by the travel & tourism, and aviation sectors, which are massively hit by the pandemic.
In a virtual meeting with Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing director, SpiceJet on February 11, the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) raised its concerns and discussed the ambiguity around the airline’s future and that of the Indian aviation sector, SpiceJet’s plan for 2022, the launch of new flights and destinations and details on airline’s logistics arm SpiceXpress apart from issued faced by association members.
During the discussion, Jyoti Mayal, President, TAAI shared her concerns on the continued challenges faced by the travel & tourism, and aviation sectors, which are massively hit by the pandemic. “While many airlines globally closed their operations, it was an achievement that our airlines had weathered the storm and were performing well. I would like to even congratulate SpiceJet, for zero retrenchments and to take care of its employees during the tough times,” she said.
While many airlines across the globe had to, unfortunately, shut down operations. Mrs. Mayal said it was a relief that no such airline collapse was witnessed in India and it was a big achievement that our airlines had weathered the storm and were performing well. While some airlines in India were forced to retrench employees during the pandemic, Mrs. Mayal noted with satisfaction and appreciated the fact that there were zero retrenchments in SpiceJet, and the Company had done its best to take care of its employees.
She discussed the challenges that the sector was facing and sought clarity on the future plans of SpiceJet, its focus on commercial passenger operations and its fast-growing logistics business, refunds, credits of TDS, and incentives to members, if any, to members due to cancellations, and also a plan to further strengthen the relations between SpiceJet and TAAI and make it mutually beneficial. She also asked for inputs on the relevance of IATA for the Indian market as she had already had a meeting with the earlier Minister of Civil Aviation.
Responding & thanking Mrs. Mayal & TAAI for initiating this meeting, Mr. Singh very candidly explained the challenges faced by Indian airlines & addressed all queries. Ms. Shilpa Bhatia clarified that there were no pending refunds to any agent.
Mr. Singh informed that under SpiceJet as the parent entity a new company has been incorporated in the name of SpiceXpress which will exclusively focus on Cargo. He went on to invite the TAAI members to come forward and leverage the opportunity by venturing into Cargo business bookings, for which mutually agreed commercial arrangements can be worked out.
Mr. Singh said the pandemic had disrupted Indian aviation, tourism, and travel sectors in ways no one could have anticipated. But challenges like this bring the best out of an airline like SpiceJet. SpiceJet has always looked for opportunities in the face of adversity, he said. SpiceJet built SpiceXpress during the pandemic and has grown that business from $30-40 million a year to a $350 million a year business.
Mr. Singh further clarified that with aviation coming back on track, especially the domestic operations, a window of opportunity is open to both airlines and travel agents to work in tandem and reap the attached benefits, which could be a stepping stone to revive fast. Had it not been for the recent Omicron scare, the recovery of the aviation sector and restoration of regular air travel would have started much earlier, Mr. Singh said & hoped that this was a temporary setback.
He emphasized the need for having a domestic entity like IATA in place to have a more robust in-house management of issues and challenges. He suggested that Indian aviation and travel trade have their own issues and the way of handling them, and therefore having in place a domestic arrangement like such would be much helpful in dealing with the same, which was seconded by all present.
Mr. Paras Lakhia, Chairman, Airline Council discussed various issues concerning agents, operational issues, changes in flight schedules, etc.
TAAI representatives, Mr. Shreeram Patel, Hon. Treasurer; Mr. Sameer Karnani, Chairman – Western Region; Mr. Amish Desai, Chairman (Karnataka Chapter), and Dr. Himanshu Talwar, Executive Director all reemphasized the above issues, which were duly acknowledged by Mr. Singh with an assurance of personally looking into the same and get it addressed on priority.
Mr. Singh reemphasized the importance of travel agents & reiterated that SpiceJet would be happy to collaborate in revenue sharing of all ancillary products & also help to build a healthier & technology-driven environment.
Mr. Singh said the government realizes the importance of the aviation sector and has taken many initiatives in the last five years to help the sector but much more needs to be done & it can be achieved by working together.
In India, aviation fuel is taxed at the highest level in the world, airport charges are extremely high and there are all forms of other taxes and duties and regulatory complications which make us uncompetitive. These need to be resolved because India has this phenomenal potential of being an incredible aviation space given its geographic location, given the demand and the population that we have, he said.
He informed that at a post-budget interaction, on behalf of the civil aviation, travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors, he had raised with the Hon’ble Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman the difficulties being faced by these sectors because of Covid. He had requested the Hon’ble FM to consider granting Infrastructure Status to these sectors to facilitate lending by banks and financial institutions. He has also requested the Hon’ble FM’s support for the inclusion of Aviation Turbine Fuel under GST.
Mr. Singh informed, the Hon. FM has promised to consider granting infrastructure/ industry status to help the sectors of aviation, travel, tourism, and hospitality. She has also assured that she will take up the issue of inclusion of Aviation Turbine Fuel under GST at the next meeting of the GST Council.
Mr. Singh updated that SpiceJet had successfully reintroduced Boeing 737 MAX aircraft into operations and 11 of its 737 Max were already operational. The return of the MAX will help SpiceJet add new routes and destinations and improve operational efficiency.
Mr. Singh said he believed that the worst is behind us and the road ahead is full of opportunities and a bright future awaits our airlines, travel, and tourism sectors.
Mrs. Mayal also applauded SpiceJet for having operated hundreds of charter flights in the last two years at a time when scheduled international flights had been suspended and creating business opportunities for agents as well as helping hundreds of thousands of people to travel to and from India.
Appreciation was shared for Chief Commercial Officer, Ms. Shilpa Bhatia for immediately resolving issues for the trade and our membership.