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A Lonely Child No More

By Rajeev Kohli, CIS, CITP, DMCP, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel

I started this piece two weeks ago and am now finishing it after the news of a most horrific predatory attack on a female visitor to our country. My mind is now in a state of disgust, shock, and despair, wondering how uglier India can become. And so this affects our industry as well.

I am not a pessimist, nor am I a fatalist. Quite the contrary. I believe that we each control our fate and write our futures with our actions and thoughts, individually and collectively. I consistently hear the same chatter around the industry water cooler: Inbound is down. We have no government marketing and promotions. Hotel rates are up. Room availability is an issue. The conversations are loud and depressing.

The fact is clear: Inbound tourism is the lonely child.

The system has all but abandoned this segment. Hotel partners have somewhat turned their backs on us. The government has disowned the industry. Customer demand in overseas markets is at an all-time low. These are not observations but facts.

Should we then surrender, hold our heads in despair and wait for the Grim Reaper to take his bounty? Or shall we rather be bold, band together and fight back to regain our space in the tourism eco-system? I would much rather do the latter.

One thing is clear: actions by our national associations and tourism bodies have failed to move the government to take any action towards inbound tourism. I don’t expect that to change. We have been unable to get any respect for our contribution to the national GDP and foreign exchange reserves. Mark my words: 20 years from now, economists will mention the current shortsightedness in ignoring a healthy diversification of foreign reserves sources.

Here is what stakeholders in inbound tourism need to do.

First, talk to each other, to our clients, and to our local partners. We need to have open and deep discussions not only on our current state of affairs but also on what got us here. How did our industry lose the plot so badly? What missteps did we make? What role do our associations have in the situation, and how could we have been better members? Introspection is healthy. We must learn from the past and change our course for the future.

Let’s get into a room for a full day and talk it out. We leave our egos outside the door. Let our frustrations come out. These discussions will organically lead to answers. Healthy debate leads to great solutions. Right now, we are all running around like headless chickens trying to survive. Growth will never happen if we do not pause to understand.

Second, we need to accept two things.

One, domestic tourism is currently filling the needs of our hotel partners. There is nothing wrong with that. I, for one, am very grateful that domestic travellers allowed our hotels to survive during the pandemic and that our tourism infrastructure emerged unscathed. This is very different from what happened in the West when hospitality assets shut down en mass. This market will organically see a shift in spending patterns and habits, and the balance will return. When I don’t know, but the laws of economics state it will. Sacrosanct.

Second, the Government of India just doesn’t care. They saw the low-hanging fruit of domestic travellers where they had to do very little work, letting the states do the heavy lifting. There is no accountability, no one to question what is and is not being done. Therefore, there is no reason for us even to think things will change in the short to medium term.

The private sector needs to finally put their hands in their pockets and create a private sector marketing fund. Even if each one of us gives 0.5% of our top line, that adds up to something better than nothing. As small as that may be compared to the government spending, it will be enough to make credible actions online. We need to get our national inbound association to release the money it is hoarding to help bring back the industry. There is no defensible reason for them to sit on crores when their core segment needs help.

We must create a private sector crisis management team to help combat the negative press. The recent attack on the Spanish visitor has brought back the tremors of the Nirbhaya case of 2012. Yet we learned nothing. It’s De Ja Vu in its entirety. We have no crisis management policy, no voice or statement to counter or address the news. As the private sector, we have no official stance to say anything. Today, India is ashamed. Our claim to Incredible India stands in ruins today. The lack of reaction is all on us. No action is equally complacent to the horror. Rule # 1 of crisis management is to be present, forward-facing, and honest. Unfortunately, we have none of those characteristics in those who govern or lead. So, let’s now learn and do it on our own.

I can go on and on. But for now, these are just a few things we can do independently. Without asking for anyone’s permission or help. What’s stopping us?

Stay positive. We have been at the low before, but we always come out on top. It’s our perseverance as an industry. I am proud of all of you for that. I shall be a lonely child no longer! I can no longer sit quietly. So, watch out for an email from me.

Happy to get feedback and thoughts on this issue.

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