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Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 11 : 27 AM [IST]

Inder Sharma A Tribute to The Father of Indian Inbound

Akansha Pandey

A young Inder Sharma started his first job with Mercury Travels in 1953 in Delhi as a Transfer Assistant. During that period, he was selected for training with SITA World Travels and post completing the six-month programme in New York, he returned to India in 1955 to open their India office in 1956, and since then there was no looking back. This became a milestone for the tourism sector He established SITA in the Indian market and nurtured his colleagues many of them went on to open their own travel companies. Passionate and grounded, the legend represented India as an experiential travel destination at every possible forum, and was honoured by the government with Padma Shri for his invaluable contribution to the industry. A pioneer in the Indian travel industry and Chairman of Select Group of Companies, he passed away on September 4, at the age of 86. TravelBiz Monitor pays a heartfelt tribute to him.

After finishing his Masters in Economics, Sharma joined Mercury Travels as a travel assistant at a salary of INR 150 per month. Within six months he was promoted as the Assistant Manager of the Delhi branch and within a year he was transferred to Kolkata at a salary of INR 450 along with free boarding and lodging at the Oberoi Grand Hotel. Soon another opportunity opened up and in July 1955 he got selected for training with SITA World Travels in New York and six months later was transferred back to India to open SITA’s first office.

With his continued hard work and dedication, the company grew by leaps and bounds. He further nurtured talent in his company and unlike the others wished well who wanted to move on to set up their own inbound travel brands. Today, majority of tour operators and travel agents who have been trained under his guidance and fondly remember him as a role model. He is among the chosen few whom the whole travel fraternity talks warmly about.

He worked as the Regional Manager (India) from 1956 to 1963 post which he was promoted to the position of Vice President, Asia. In 1963, SITA World Travel Inc. was established as an Indian Private Limited Company and Sharma took charge as Managing Director. Later by the time he sold SITA in 2001, the brand had 22 offices in India and eight offices abroad. For several years SITA was the largest foreign exchange earner as a travel agent, under his able leadership.

Sharma held several positions in the travel industry and represented his company and the sector on all possible industry forums. He served as the President of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) for three years and was the first Indian to be elected as the President of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). He was the first Asian President of World Association of Travel Agents, headquartered in Geneva, for three years and the only travel agent to serve on the Board of Directors of Air India and Indian Airlines. He also served as a Member of the Tourism Board of several Indian states and as the Chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Corporation for a year. Sharma was actively involved with education related to tourism, having served on the Board of Directors of College of Vocational Studies – Delhi University and also Kurukshetra University.

Sharma loved to travel because that gave him an opportunity to explore and learn new things. He once told TravelBiz Monitor, “I travel with an open mind and always look around because there is so much to learn. I believe in sharing knowledge and meeting people and this is one of the reasons why I was always invited to speak for various panels at national and international levels.”

Much later, Sharma retired from day-to-day operations from the Select Group, but was always there for his children whenever they needed his advice. After retiring from the travel industry he got involved as Chairman in building an ultra modern shopping mall in Delhi, “The Select Citywalk’ which since its inception in 2007 has won the award of the ‘Best Mall in India” each year. He also established the Inder Sharma Foundation in 1970 which aims at promoting awareness and education in the field of travel and tourism. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded over 250 scholarships to students across the country. He was also involved with several other charitable institutions.

For the past 40 years, Sharma and his six friends met every day in the afternoon at The Imperial, New Delhi for an hour and a half. Before retirement, it was 11 in the morning for an hour but after retirement the time and duration both had changed. To keep himself abreast of the world around, Sharma read two newspapers (Times of India and Hindustan Times) at home and two (Indian Express and Economic Times) in his office. Sharma’s favourite restaurant in London was Gaylord. He once said, “After eating out for some days, I feel the urge to have home food and Gaylord provides the best Indian food.” His last public function was the dedication of ‘Jamunwala Park’ opposite Select Citywalk on March 11, 2017.

Inder Sharma receiving the Padma Shri from President R. Venkatraman in 1990

Needless to say, he owed numerous awards to his credit such as the coveted Padma Shri honour given in 1990 by the Government of India for his contribution in the field of tourism; “Hall of Fame” conferred by the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) in 1993; “Life Membership” of PATA given at the 44th Annual Convention held at Auckland in April 1995; “Friend of Nepal” Award by Government of Nepal in 1998, the recognition of his efforts to promote tourism to Sri Lanka by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1998 and many more. In 2003, he was conferred the Life Time Honorary Professorship of the Indian Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management, Bundelkhand University, Jhansi. He was also the only Indian to honoured by the British Tourism Authority with the Holder of the Keys to Britain Award. Sharma married Dr. Aruna, a Medical Practitioner. During his college days, Sharma met his better half at a charitable hospital in Delhi. They have two children, daughter Neeraj married to Kavi Ghei and son Arjun Sharma married to Jyotsana.

He believed that whatever we do, we must try to get into the best of the league in that profession. He still remembers the pearls of wisdom his father gave him. “My father said that treat others the way you want to be treated by them and I have used this philosophy in every walk of my life,” he shared. . After all, successful man needs to learn time management. “Be honest to your profession.”.

Speaking at the IATO Convention in Bhubaneswar in 2008, Sharma shared his experience of maintaining ethics while also managing a personal rapport with competitors. “The overall view is that the business is the same but the workings are different. Companies need to be confident of their product offerings and believe in their customers. The fact that big boys pay huge salaries while the small boys do not is a myth that needs to be ignored. Times are changing and so are working structures. It is very essential to understand that money is a motivating factor but so is involvement into a product which is very essential for an employee. Companies need to realise that there is free flow of information between employees so finally, it is the survival of the fittest that makes a difference and having a vision and sharing the same with your employees is very important,” he said.
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