A Chat With Abe: The India Travel Summit–A Unique Event

Global travel today, whether it is for work or leisure, can be quite daunting for the customer, right from the initial booking of the airline ticket and searching for the right accommodation, to obtaining Visas and grappling with Immigration and Customs, not to mention a host of other little details that need to be taken care of. To ease the process we need a strong infrastructure and smooth functioning between the travel and hospitality industries, as well as the Tourism Boards and the Consulates.

Internationally, we have global travel summits. What we needed was a forum for the travel and tourism industry in India, to raise awareness of the challenges in the changing scenario, and to focus on issues and developments relevant to the industry.

Recognizing this need, Thomas Cook’s Abraham Alapatt – President & Group Head – Marketing, Service Quality, Financial Services & Innovation, took the initiative to organize the first ever India Travel Summit in Mumbai on 16th November 2016. Its success was a proud moment for the Company, and we are happy to tell you about it in our Cover Story.

We cornered Abe to tell us a little more about the concept, how it came to fruition and how it fared.

Read all about it.

ABRAHAM--- FOR INTERVIEW-ITSWe are told that the Indian Travel Summit (ITS) was your brainchild, and spearheaded by you. It was about dealing with travel in “turbulent times”. How did it all start? What was your objective in creating this concept?
The idea of the ITS really started with us stepping back and looking at the travel space at a larger level and realizing that while travel companies like us have  long propounded  the idea of borderless and easier environment for global travelers, in reality, the travel environment was actually getting more complex with many things happening around the world. From the rise of political right wing politics, to the belief that one needed to protect one’s borders, to the migrant crisis in Europe, to Brexit, to increased border control and increased acts of global terrorism. Actually because of all these factors, it is getting more complex for people to travel. In many ways this was posing both a challenge and an opportunity for those of us in the travel sector, and in the Indian travel space there was no format that actually got the best brains in the business to come together to discuss these very  real challenges and opportunities and create a healthy conversation which is about learning how to address it, deal with it and tap into the opportunities all in one. So the idea was to create such a platform, keep it clean, and focus on the agenda, get the right people on board so the quality of conversation was high, respect the fact that we were calling industry leaders by using their time optimally, so it had to be businesslike. Those were the many objectives that we looked at when we came up with this idea.
So the name is eponymous—India Travel Summit.  It was about getting experienced experts in the Indian travel space. For example the Visa-Consulate people who are crucial to both the challenges and the opportunities, and very often work at the back end are the unsung heroes of the industry, because you only think of them when something goes wrong and the visa is not granted, which is quite unfortunate, because they do a lot of good work which often unnoticed. Also the Tourism Boards, who have a clear agenda to increase travel to their respective countries, and finally, all of us are very proud of Incredible India, but we actually need to see what is going right or wrong with Incredible India and the inbound opportunity, and talk about it. So those are the various odd starters we had when we initiated this. We sort of got it all together in a fairly comprehensive way, kept it short and sweet — it was a half day session. Fortunately, thanks to our goodwill and many relationships, and our many of our supporters, we got the right speakers for all three panel discussions, and it worked very well.

Why did the Thomas Cook Group go for it? Is there any particular benefit for the Group itself, and for its stakeholders?
Fundamentally, there is no direct  immediate co-relationship between what the Group gets from the India Travel Summit, if you look at it from a purely Return on Investment level, but I think the larger space we wanted to take was, as a leader in the business, we have significant stakes in the industry as it is. We can’t wish it away, we need to work with the ecosystem to make it easier for us to operate, so our purpose in creating this platform was to get the stakeholders into the conversation, aligning with the ecosystem,  and giving a perspective of how much larger than this we wanted to be as leaders.  We were keen to invite our competition as well for the event, because this was not just about Thomas Cook, but about all of us in the travel environment, and in fact, many of them attended, some didn’t as they had other engagements, but I think we sent out a clear message, this was not about us versus them, this was all about working together.  We also wanted to say that the opportunity was larger and bigger than we realize…in fact it is bigger than all of us. So there was no need for us to be fighting about it.  Growing the market is what we should focus on because there is room for all of us to grow if the market grows too. So that was our perspective…taking a leadership stance and sending out the right messages, and we intend to do that going forward as well.

It was considered a “unique” event.  What made it so unusual?
Like I said earlier, it was unique because it was the first time we got only opinion  leaders into a closed-door summit.  It was by invitation only, you couldn’t pay to enter. We ensured we got quality rather than quantity. We also ensured we had the right type of speakers, who were relevant to the context.  We had three very carefully chosen subjects all under the umbrella facilitating travel in a turbulent environment,  and the fact that we had 3 clear focused conversations…The 1st was on Visa challenges, and how to filter the genuine travelers from the trouble makers. The 2nd was about tapping into the growing opportunity of the Indian outbound space, and the 3rd focused on Incredible India, and what we could do to re-ignite the opportunity that India itself offers, from the Inbound Tourism point of view. So I think the three subjects were clearly chosen, the speakers were well researched and invited. We had three CEOs who were invited as Moderators, which was unique in itself, because the quality of the conversation is often driven by the quality of the moderator, so by ensuring that we had a very senior person who had a macro perspective, we also ensured that the quality of the conversation in each panel was also top-notch. And also very important from an Indian perspective, we started and ended on time! We ended with cocktails and an early dinner, so people could get back to their families!

Who participated? What was the response?
We can share a detailed list of all the attendees, and the names of the panelists are included in the general article that follows.

 Are you considering having a similar session again in the future? If so, where and when?
Given the remarkable success that this event has been, from all accounts, I think it is possible that we will do it again. Is there a need for it?  I think that is overwhelmingly coming through! People across the travel space have given us a very positive feedback, including saying the quality of the conversation was of a level they had not witnessed in the Indian travel industry so that is a very high bar to set in the very first year. Consequently, it’s a challenging task but I think we are quite focused on ensuring we will do this on an annual basis and keep it relevant, and very importantly, maintain the quality of the discussions and inputs for the various partners who continue to attend and support us going forward.

So it will probably be again at the end of the calendar year, before everyone heads out for their Christmas and New Year breaks so we will work around dates—usually a complicated thing given the number of people we are trying to get who are free on a specific date, but this time we will make sure there is adequate notice so that people can plan ahead. Our attempt will be to get as many quality people to participate. In that lies the success of this event!


“In today’s fast-moving scenario, it is essential to have a dialogue between the industry’s decision and policy makers to provide an insightful exchange of ideas for the betterment of the travel & tourism industry. With India emerging as one of the significant markets for tourism, ITS was an ideal platform for direct exchange to deliberate over the way forward with the current realities in a changing global environment.Vishal Suri

The event proved to be a great opportunity that highlighted important measures and best practices for travel operators in facilitating travel in turbulent times. I look forward to ITS being an annual event for dialogue and deliberation.”

Vishal Suri– Moderator
MD SOTC Travel Services Pvt. Ltd.


“My takeaway from this event.

  • A great initiative from the leader in the travel space, ITS provided a platform for industry experts to share their thoughts on the future of travel across the globe including India and what steps the various tourism bodies and governments are taking to promote tourism. IMG_9900 - Copy
  • Participation from key embassies was very crucial as it paved the way to understand as to what was being done to facilitate travel whilst addressing the concerns of protecting the borders.
  • Overall sharing of ideas, addressing concerns of industry with an inherent message that the industry is poised for growth and is a key contributor to the GDP and an employment generator set the tone for a larger canvas in future.”

Mahesh Iyer–Moderator
COO, Thomas Cook India Ltd.

DSC05929“An excellent initiative by the company and a very good event considering it’s was the first year. Going forward I can see it growing and becoming a platform for thought leaders, government and industry to express themselves.”

Dipak Deva
MD Travel Corporation (India) Ltd.