Promoting tourism and friendship, uniting all sectors in the industry, Skal is an international association with over 12,000 members worldwide. The Delhi Chapter was recently honoured for being the largest globally. Recently, it did another kind of uniting, bringing three authors from tourism and hospitality to share the stage. Anchoring the session was Aabha Bakaya, former news anchor and now an enterprising business person. The venue was the fairly tale lawns around the swimming pool at Hotel Radisson, Mahipalpur. We bring select episodes and thoughts from the three authors.
On the tourism industry then and now, the big change
Navin Berry, author, A Journey in Tourism
Hotels themselves have undergone a total sea change. I mean they’ve taken quite a few turns and turns and they have gone reinventing themselves. So, there was a sense of from where I’m going to come, there was a sense of an industry, a very closed bonhomie you could say. You would not have thought of them as competitors. I have seen all the big guns among hoteliers and tour operators sitting together, enjoying an evening. They were all competitors and there was not even a thought of competition.
At a typical travel agents convention, there would be some 350 to 400 delegates. It was like your annual coming together to meet, with families very often. There was a sense of belonging, which doesn’t exist anymore.
And I have recalled how there was one association, which broke into two, and then into three, four and it goes on. So, there are so many of them, all doing their own thing and they are also kind of incestuous in themselves. They are not growing at all. Domestic tourism should have an audience of 5,000 ten years ago; today, it should have 15,000. We are not visualizing on that landscape and I think the more we are growing as an industry, the more our associations are going inwards.
Who will Own up for Tourism?
I see that nobody is there for ownership of ‘tourism’, that I talk about in my book. I have asked who are the stakeholders? And I kind of put my neck out, to say that I think hotels are mostly facilitators, they are mostly not the stakeholders. The stakeholders are the tourism product, they are the real stakeholders. These are product owners, there are probably 10,000 of them in the country. Nobody is bringing them together. So, I have actually used this expression, it’s the tail wagging the dog because there’s nobody who is taking ownership of the dog itself. So, what is tourism? Who is going to handle tourism? The tourism stakeholders are the museums, the whole gamut of experiences, both private and in government, whatever India has to offer, which is colossal, but there is nobody there to take charge of them.
And I think it is getting worse because I think there is only one person in the country, whether we like him or not, it’s all subjective and individual. There is only one proponent for tourism in the country and that is Prime Minister Modi. There is nobody else talking about it. Suffice it for me to point out, when there was covid, all my hotelier friends were talking about tourism. Now business is booming, nobody’s talking about tourism, they’re all working unto themselves, all are happy. So, tourism is doing all hunky dory because their job is not to drive tourism, their job is to drive their own hotels, their own businesses. So, the hotels are being driven well. But who is driving tourism? The ministry of tourism, I have written in the book, does not have ownership of beyond their own four walls. So how do you go beyond, they can’t tell what will happen to ASI because that’s with the ministry of culture. And, then there is the subject of roads, airports, everything is being controlled by other departments. And I have advocated there should be a tourism mission which should take care of India’s tourism. I have advocated there should be somebody in the PMO who should drive tourism directly under the Prime Minister’s direct stewardship. Certainly, then, things will change.
When Mrs Indira Gandhi wanted to host 70 heads of State
K B Kachru, author, ‘Humility and Agility – The Life of a Hotelier’
When Mrs. Gandhi was to host a banquet for 70 head of States and she called my boss and told him that she wanted to discuss the menu with the boss and the team. So, we trooped in, alongside myself and our executive chef, a Frenchman, Roger Moncourt. We arrived five minutes earlier and we were straight away rushed in and she said, what kind of menu we want to do. We meekly suggested it was around Christmas time, in December and we must have roast turkey on the menu. She said, why can’t we have biryani? I said, ma’am, we can do biryani, if that is what you prefer. And while we were discussing that, she suddenly said, why can’t we have both?
I didn’t know how to react. I said the two won’t go, and offered my reasons for that as well. And, she really gave me hell. She told my boss, this is the youth of India, they’re not ready for any change. My boss held my hand, suggested just listen to her. So, obviously, I did, had to save my job.
Everybody appreciated that. They appreciated because it was hosted by the host country’s prime minister or whatever it was. Everybody appreciated it. Then, after the banquet was over, I went to see her off. She came back, held my hand and told me, I told you this would be a hit.
I mean there were encounters, some controversies, I’m sure many of you know about the white paint over Hotel Ashok! India Today carried out a lead story on Hotel Ashok being painted white.
And there was a whole lot of controversy all over India. They said mad people, people who are running the hotel, they painted the stone white. Do you think one would have done that? But the real fact was the stone was never painted. There was a gap between two slabs of stone which was painted like pink. So that was changed into white. And the reason for that was we had spent, in those days, over a hundred crores refurbishing the hotel and it was her (Indira Gandhi) marketing mind. She said, you have done a lot of work internally and do people know what you have done?
Do it, create the controversy. People will know what you have done inside – we soon opened seven food and beverage outlets. Five of them opened the same day and some of you would have experienced those which were a hit. And you had an average waiting time of three hours to have a seat in that hotel during those days.
Industry must Celebrate its Big Achievers
Rattan Keswani, author, ‘Check In, Never Check Out’
I don’t think the hotel industry celebrates enough the people who work with us. And I would really exhort all of you that all the people who work with you, please celebrate them more. You all become MDs and heads of divisions, et cetera. You have these certifications such as the best employee and more, but we don’t celebrate them enough. Our industry, both travel and hotels, and when you put it together, is almost a representation of all the good and the bad and the confusion in our country. The societal confusion, the tribal confusion, the caste confusion. Our team members come from very different backgrounds and the older the organization or the hotel or the travel agency or whatever, you will understand what I am talking about.
But imagine all of them. We succeed when our business succeeds, but all of them come from different diverse backgrounds, thought and egos. But when they are on stage with our customer, there are hundreds of thousands of moments of truth and wow moments that they go through and handle for us. They are like multiple orchestras playing at the same time. And it still doesn’t sound dissonant. But we don’t celebrate them enough. We don’t recognize them enough. But therefore, the fun goes out in their life and it becomes a chore and just a job.
The second part is people don’t want to work in our business. It has been talked about so many times because we don’t market ourselves well enough, they don’t want to work with us. We get blamed for long hours. Every business is long hours. We don’t market them in our business. We don’t recognize the diversity of people.
There are societal hangups that we’ve got. I think we need to shed them. So, both as customers and internal customers, think of the community of the LGBTQs, that can be a powerful segment of employment that you never thought of, always kept away from. Both as a customer all over the world, that community is a better community, a more productive community, a more rewarding community. They pay better business rates and they work better for us. We leave aside a whole segment of people that we could have, which would make our industry both travel and hospitality a lot more creative and rewarding than we can think of.
The third part is that I did a lot of work with differently-abled people, which is why my book royalties are dedicated to work with that community. You will produce self-esteem. You will have a different set of people who create wonders and Lemon Tree Hotels is a prime example of what can be done. It opens up a whole segment.
Kids of this age group need us to think differently and they can create wonders for us. But if we don’t, we will only live in the past and we will never be part of their future.