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The fast-paced growth of online travel bookings makes the tourism industry a ripe target for cybercriminals. Stakeholders must therefore deploy strategies and tools to guard the sector against data breaches and malicious attacks.

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The Google pages of many hotels — including premier properties — in the Himalayan hill towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal have been defaced for fraud ahead of the holiday travel rush. Anybody looking for hotels in Darjeeling using the search engine will come across prominent photographs containing the hackers’ phone numbers over a section displaying pictures of rooms and amenities. “We have been lately facing incidents where fraudsters are posting their mobile numbers with payment options to book not only our properties but also several others in the region. We are continually monitoring this and flagging all such posts as ‘spam’ for Google to review and have them removed,” said Viraj Oberoi, director of Elgin Hotels & Resorts, a luxury heritage hotels chain with properties in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim. Cyber miscreants are removing hotel details and creating their own profiles with personal contact details, said Sandipan Ghosh, general secretary of regional travel trade body Eastern Himalayas Travel and Tour Operators’ Association. “Surprisingly, they’re also luring customers to pay in advance while knocking off the goods and services tax charge,” Ghosh said. In India, the goods and services tax on hotels range anywhere between 12-18 percent, depending on the pricing. Customers, while trying to book hotels online for Darjeeling, have been duped to pay advance amounts to bank accounts which don’t belong to the owners of the accommodations. “We’re in touch with the cyber cell department to track such incidents closely and take action accordingly,” Ghosh added. 

Air India has increased its flight frequencies on popular eastbound routes, giving passengers more options to fly to and from Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and Seoul (South Korea). Effective March 26, Air India will add a total of eight new weekly flights — six to Bangkok (three each from Delhi and Mumbai), as well as additional weekly flights from Delhi to Seoul (Incheon) and Hong Kong. All flights will be operated by Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. “Building a more robust network is a key element of Air India’s Vihaan.AI 5-year transformation plan, and having boosted services on multiple routes to North America and Europe in quick succession, we are now pleased to step up services to the East,” said Nipun Aggarwal, chief commercial and transformation officer of Air India.

The southwestern state of Maharashtra has reduced the value added tax (VAT) on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) from 25 percent to 18 percent at India’s second largest aviation hubMumbai — along with Pune and Raigad. “Maharashtra joins 19 states/union territories that have rationalized the value added tax in the last one-and-a-half-years. Alongside enhanced connectivity for Mumbai, Pune and Raigad this will also make travel more affordable and boost growth,” said civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia. Fuel prices are a major cost component for Indian airlines as they account for 35-40 percent of an airline’s expenditure as against the global average of nearly 30 percent.

India’s coastal state of Goa and Portugal will sign a memorandum of understanding in tourism and Information Technology (IT) to facilitate better tourism experiences through innovation and technology. Rohan Khaunte, minister of tourism and IT, Goa, made the announcement during his recent visit to Portugal where he attended a tourism fair in Lisbon to promote Goa tourism in the European market. Key deliberations included possible future collaborations in tourism and possibilities to build demand for Goa from Portugal. Increasing air connectivity between Portugal and Goa were also discussed along with the possibility of exploring a new route between the two destinations.

Indian online paragliding booking portal ParaBooking has raised $61,000 to make adventure tourism safer in India. The startup, based in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, has said it will utilize the funds to double down on technology and go-to market. It has developed SaaS-based tools that can scale across the country to bring about safety regulations in the adventure sports industry. ParaBooking operates through a two-pronged model for generating revenues — paragliding and SaaS tools for adventure tourism operators and agencies across the nation. Along with the website to book paragliding flights, ParaBooking also offers an application for tourism operators to digitize and automate their operations which are sold on a SaaS model.

Indian aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has cancelled the registration of two Boeing-737 Max aircraft leased to low-cost carrier SpiceJet. The request was made by two Dublin-based lessors under Irrevocable De-registration and Export Request Authorisations (IDERA) that provides for owner of an aircraft to get an aircraft de-registered. “The cancellation of the registration of the two aircraft will not affect the operations,” the airline said in a statement. SpiceJet has recently restructured over $100 million outstanding dues to aircraft leasing firm Carlyle Aviation Partners into equity shares and compulsorily convertible debentures. The aircraft lessor is the commercial aviation investment and servicing arm of Carlyle’s $143 billion global credit platform.

The Indian ports, shipping, and waterways ministry has approved eight floating jetty projects — four each in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — under Sagarmala, the ministry’s flagship program to facilitate port-led development in the country. Additionally, the ministry has provided in-principle approval to four additional projects in Karnataka, taking the total count to 11 floating jetty projects in the state. The ministry said the projects would assist in offering safer, hassle-free transportation to tourists and would lead to the overall upliftment of the coastal community.

Airplane manufacturer Boeing Co plans to set up a facility in Hyderabad to convert passenger aircraft into freight planes to capitalize on growing global demand for cargo. The facility would be set up in partnership with aircraft maintenance company GMR Aero Technic, a subsidiary of GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited. Currently, Boeing sources aircraft components worth $1 billion from India annually. The investment, which adds to the U.S. manufacturer’s expansion into India on top of a record plane order by flag carrier Air India, comes despite a global economic slowdown that has weakened the global air cargo market. 

In a first in India, the western state of Gujarat has introduced a dashboard that will provide real-time data of tourists visiting tourist destinations in the state. Called Aatithyam (Aggregate of Accessible Tourist Information on Tourism & Hospitality of Yatra And their Memories), it will have data of 109 key tourist destinations of Gujarat. The real-time data is expected to help in framing policies and increase job opportunities. Out of 109 destinations, around 40 are ticketed and on the rest of the destinations, parameters given by the Indian government are put to use. 

Aditya Thackeray, the former tourism minister of Maharashtra, has urged civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia to sanction two new airports in Palghar and Fardapur. He said that the development of these airports would boost progress and enhance passenger connectivity, industry, agriculture and tourism in these regions. While the new Navi Mumbai Airport will be ready soon, Mumbai will require a third airport in the next 10 years to accommodate the increased passenger traffic, he said. Thackeray also urged Scindia to resolve the issues pertaining to the Nashik and Pune airports — the latter’s expansion plans for a new airport has been a long-debated demand. Referring to Nashik, he said the city’s potential needs to be tapped with an airport of global standards.


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Tags: adventure tourism, air india, air traffic, aviation, Boeing, cargo, darjeeling, dgca, fuel, fuel prices, goa tourism, google, hotels, india, mumbai, portugal, skift india report, spicejet, tourism, tourists, value added tax, west bengal

Photo credit: The Google pages of many Darjeeling hotels have been defaced for fraud. kitzcorner / Getty Images

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