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Adam Rizvi, Edison, N.J. USA– May 25, 2021, TIO: – On a Sunday afternoon on May 23, 2021, at Royal Albert Palace, well-known and long-established Indian American Travel Agents had gotten together for their first annual association meeting. The Indian American Travel Agents Association of North America (IATANA) held its first annual meeting with great pride in achievements and milestones. What is IATANA? IATANA (www.iatana.org) is an association consisting of Indian AmericanTravel Agents based in the United States that help with all travel arrangements to make sure the journey is safe and smooth. But before dive into the achievements, let us take a step back on when and where did this association begin.
As the COVID pandemic had crept in and spread across the world, a huge impact had hit the travel industry. Most nations had created huge restrictions for international travel. This ignited the passion for Indian American Travel Agents to come together. In July 2020, a small group of travel agents held an initial meeting to discuss how agents can help the Indian American Community during these times. Advocacy, education, and networking become the core fundamentals that would launch the purpose of IATANA. As part of this launch, IATANA has guided its Travel Agent members with GDS education and tourism sessions.
Some of the initial issues IATANA started to tackle were refunds of tickets from Air India during the COVID pandemic and VISA/OCI matters with the Consulate General of India. With relentless communication with Air India, IATANA was able to get the refund portal to open and allow travel agents to process refunds for passengers that were affected by flight cancelations and non-operation during the COVID pandemic. Simultaneously, IATANA engages with the Consulate General of India at New York and VFS, the new facilitator, to immediately resolve issues applicants are facing with obtaining VISAs, OCI, and other matters. IATANA had provided many important points to provide relief from the archaic process that applicants are facing. One such issue was submitting the original US Passports that are not needed anymore with the application and a copy can be used in its place. This a big achievement and relief as US Passport were being held at the VFS facility for extended periods that were more than the allocated time specified by the United States Government.
While there have been great strides by IATANA, there are still lingering issues with the current facilitator VFS appointed by the Government of India. The current OCI and VISA application process handled by VFS seems to be completely chaotic and archaic leaving applicants stranded causing mental anguish. VFS has a history of Data Breaches in 2005, 2007, and 2015. They are accused of Monopoly allegations and Extortion allegations. Both Consumers and former employees have accused VFS of doing deceitful practices to charges fees and harass applicants. What will Consulate General do to guarantee and assure VFS will not continue these tactics and our data is fully protected? Furthermore, the Consulate General of India at New York has been expedient to block Travel Agents and work with only limited third-party entities and associations, for reasons unknown. The Consulate General is not made available for many of the Association meetings regarding the OCI/VISA issues and has been preoccupied with superficial duties of attending in-person business meetings and other festivities.
IATANA’s Board consist of well-recognized Indian American Travel Agents. This includes Chairman Pradip “Peter” Kothari of Quick Travel Inc., Vice Chairman Mafatlal Patel of Air Tours of Chicago and Patel Brothers, Vice Chairman and Councilman Kapil Shah of TK Travels, President Arunkumar Patel of Sarko Travel, Executive Vice President Kamesh Purohit of Darpan Travel, Vice President Vipin Sharma of New Airways Travel, Vice President Harshad Sakaria of Planet Travel NY, Secretary Darpan Shah of Darpan Tours, Jt. Secretary Chandru Jotwani of Crystal World Travel, and Treasurer Girish Talati of Moonlight Travel.
Mr. Rajiv Bhambari, Sr. Media consultant former COO of India Abroad was also present on this occasion. Adam Rizvi, President of Classy Travel & Tours, Inc was present and spoke on the issue along with many IATANA members and travel agents. Due to Covid many watched and participated in the meeting via Zoom across the USA and expressed their views and concern.
IATANA will be looking into having sessions with the general Indian American Community on issues they are facing. Currently, IATANA is requesting anyone who is having issues with Airlines and VISA/OCI to submit their concerns at www.iatana.org/egram. Indian American Travel Agents of IATANA are here to help you.