TV panel discussions are sickening.
A passel of politicos, as sincere as gorging scavengers over a decaying carcass, caterwaul at each other, spitting and snarling, in a disgusting display of sub-human viciousness. Aren’t political parties aware of the fact that very few Indians want to get involved in a controversy, to say nothing of a no-holds-barred fight? How many of us report a traffic accident? How many even want to interfere when they see a women being harassed by goons? We want to steer clear of fights. That being so, what on earth has got into our political parties to turn every issue into a slanging match? They seem to be more interested in spectacles of discord than the challenges of debate. The reactions of their disgusted audiences at the elections should be interesting.
So what has this got to do with us in the Tourism industry?
Quite a lot because we seem to have been bitten by the same conflict-causing virus. Look around you, agents seem to have a single-minded fixation on protecting their commissions. Understandable. But no one has ever explained to us how you can force a customer to employ you as an agent when he is free to make bookings direct on the www? So why not channel all your energies and marketing skills in discovering your customers’ needs and catering to them?
And why do hoteliers, airlines and transporters blame agents for not filling their facilities when they sell more than they can cater for? Or have you never heard of over-bookings and bumped off passengers? But what has the Tourism industry done about transporters fleecing passengers? Recently, a party of our relatives from Australia and New Zealand hired a coach for a long tour of our land, questing for their Raj-era roots. They were assured of having an English-speaking driver: they didn’t get one. Instead they had a stubborn, ill-informed man who misled them and refused to go where they wanted to. The response from the transporter was evasive and unhelpful.
We, the People of India, conserve our heritage of wildlife, art, architecture, for ourselves and our guests. All this belongs to us, not to the Ministry of Environment & Forests and the Ministry of Culture. They are only caretakers on our behalf. How, then can they, with arrogant arbitrariness, deny us access to our inheritance, prohibit us from taking photographs in museums and ASI digs, while bowing and stooping to so-called VIPs and their minions? We have often heard of tourists being excluded from a National Park because a VIP group is being escorted around by fawning forest officials. As India-born George Orwell expressed it so succulently in his Animal Farm, “all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others!"
These are just a few examples of the woeful lack of co-ordination between the many organisations that claim to serve our tourists. All of them, including TAAI, have worked in self-defensive sequestered worlds fighting off real and imaginary threats from others. Now, however, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. The theme of this year’s TAAI Convention expresses a need to reach out. But let’s not stop at expressing a pious wish: let’s give it reality.
TAAI should initiate the creation of a Tourism Co-ordination Council with a member each representing Travel facilitating organisations dealing with Inbound tourists, Outbound tourists, Domestic tourists, Adventure tourists, MICE, Hoteliers, CII, the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Tourism, Environment & Forests, Railways, and Culture. We visualise the Council meeting once a quarter with the chairperson rotating by a drawing of lots at every meeting. The exclusive purpose of the TCC will be to resolve matters of co-ordination between the various interests represented. For example “We are expecting an influx of visitors for the Avatara mela in Mangalpur in January how can we transport and accommodated them?” or “Both the International Science-Fiction Congress in Mysore and the World Assembly of Sceptics in Bengaluru are scheduled for February. The delegates are likely to be antagonistic to each other. "How do we programme their pre-and-post convention tours?” or “Can we sponsor a carrying-capacity study of the five major tiger habitats by the Bombay Natural History Society so that we have a scientific basis to control the inflow of tourists to these places?” The objective of the TCC is not conflict resolution but the co-ordination of existing tourist facilities. Finally, the proceedings of the TCC should be carried on their website within 30 days of the meeting regardless of whether they have been formally approved or not; this will ensure transparency.
Or, perhaps, they can be telecast live if that doesn’t encourage participants to over-act. Such programmes would have more relevance, and be more interesting, than those eardrum busting, political, slug-fests called ‘panel discussions’.