A well-crafted ex-ante competition law that targets only the ‘systemically important digital intermediaries’ digital platforms is the need of the hour, suggests a new policy paper prepared by the CUTS Institute for Regulation and Competition (CIRC).

This is required to safeguard consumer choice and innovation in the tourism and digital economy, said the paper titled ‘Enabling the Tourism Tech Sector in India’.

This policy paper, launched at a Round Table event in the capital, also discusses the benefits of a principles-based regulatory approach that adapts to the rapid pace of digital innovation and recommends that the law be developed with further input from the industry.

The Round Table was organised by the CIRC in association with Asia Travel and Technology Industry Association (ATTIA) in the capital. It saw government and industry stakeholders exchange perspectives on the proposed Digital Competition Bill. 

This Bill is expected to introduce ex-ante regulation in digital markets along the lines of jurisdictions like the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Government and industry stakeholders also exchanged perspectives on the proposed Digital India Act which seeks to regulate the emerging digital economy, promote digital innovation, and enable the creation of an ‘open internet’. They also discussed the Digital Personal Data Protection Act (DPDPA) 2023, and the National Digital Tourism Mission, which both impact the sector.

Rakesh Maheshwari, a former civil servant highlighted how the data protection law and the proposed Digital Competition Bill could collectively enable an ‘open internet,’ including in the context of the travel and tourism technology sector. He also discussed why sectoral regulators would need to collaborate to ensure sound implementation of different legal regimes. 

K D Singh, Director at the Competition Commission of India, apprised of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on ‘Anti-competitive Practices by Big Tech Companies’. He also highlighted that CCI is engaging in public consultations on the drafts of various regulations to operationalize the Competition (Amendment) Act, 2023 including settlement, commitments, and leniency-plus frameworks.

Rahul Rai, competition law partner at Axiom 5, a law firm, said that the policy decision on the ex-ante regulatory regime should factor in consumer welfare. Members representing industry associations voiced their support for the proposed Digital Competition Bill but stressed that the new law should target only those enterprises that truly pose a challenge to fairness and contestability. 

Navneet Sharma, Director General, CIRC highlighted that the total number of jobs in the tourism sector was predicted to increase by up to 39 million, meaning 1 in 13 Indians would be employed in the sector. 

Given the job-creation potential of the sector, various digital regulatory initiatives should be implemented after carrying out a thorough regulatory impact assessment, it was felt. 

The discussions centred on the need to facilitate consultation with a wider range of stakeholders. 

A collaborative approach was stressed to ensure that regulatory endeavors are geared toward fairness, contestability, ease-of-compliance, and growth in the travel and tourism segment of India’s digital economy.