ES. Please share with us your professional journey. What have been the major milestones and most amazing achievements and moments in your career?
Ronjon Lahiri. I have worked in the Govt. of India Tourism Department for a little more than 35 years. For a short period a Tourism Investment Cell was set up in 1994. I was given the charge of the Cell as a Deputy Coordinator. Advertisements both Nationally and Globally was made to attract private investment into the various sub sectors of the Tourism and Hotel Industry. Several thousand private players both domestic and foreign showed interest. The details of land and project availability prepared by the various State Governments were sent to them. Investors meet in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai was organised. It was appreciated in the investors circle the way and the roadway had been devised which made it easier for the investors to meet their probable Indian partners and start a project.
When I was posted in New York (1997-2000), I approached the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) to consider having their Out of Country Meeting in India. A few months later it was put under the consideration of their Board of Director. Three countries name came up, Turkey, Morocco, and India. India was chosen and Mr. Robert E. Whitley, President of the USTOA informed of the decision. It was a 12 day trip to India in the month of January, 2000 with full hospitality from India, i.e. the Ministry, Air India, Taj Group of Hotels, Oberoi Group of Hotels and IATO. Mr. Robert E. Whitley wrote to me after the trip that the he thought that the meeting was a great success and that all of their members were impressed by the destination and new programmes would be instituted because of this trip. The tourist arrival figure showed that there was 22.5% jump in 2000 from USA and little more than a year later it overtook UK as the largest tourism generating market for India.
ES. Please share with us your take on this situation?
Ronjon Lahiri. The situation does not bode well for tourism. Countries which have kept their borders shut like Taiwan and New Zealand have been able to contain the virus through contact tracing. In India, due to the lockdown measures, the spread of the disease has been slowed down. The curbs in inter-state travel has remained in place. Railways have commenced running trains but these are mostly directed at migrant workers who wishes to reach their home state. It also includes others who got stranded before 25th March in various parts of the country as they had gone for business, and meeting friends and relatives. There has been a perceptible loss in the economy with all the sectors taking a big hit. Time will tell when the economy starts bolstering by itself and how much was due to the stimulus by the GOI.
ES. What do you see the roadmap ahead for MICE Tourism?
Ronjon Lahiri. At the first instance, MICE Tourism service providers could attract Pharmaceutical Companies to have their Conferences and Conventions and Exhibit their products for those who are interested in knowing the latest breakthroughs in various areas of medicinal research and also to prospective buyers. Secondly, the Medical Fraternity and Practitioners and the Hospital Chains could be brought together for having meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops to talk about various fields of medical research and breakthroughs which are taking place and which are likely to happen.
The companies who manufacture medical equipment could be the exhibitors in these forums. Thirdly, there are various Government Laboratories and major Private Laboratories that can hold meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops to talk about various fields of scientific research and breakthroughs in various fields of Bio, Chem, Physics, and Geo which will have profound effect on the growth of science for the benefit of mankind. We have the IIT’s to be participants in MICE Tourism. Fourthly, there might be Chemists and Medical representatives who could be reached out to be participants in the above three segments. Fifthly, IIM’s could be reached out to hold meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops to talk about ‘Resilient Leadership’ for the senior management of the corporate firms and also MSME. Sixthly, there are many Agricultural Research Institutes both at the Union as well at the State level who could be approached to hold meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops to talk about ‘Supply Management by Farmers in case of disruptions through intermediaries’. Seventhly, approach the entire Indian banking industry to organise meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops and invite the top Indian Economists from India and Abroad as speakers and speak about the changes that this pandemic has brought to the world and Indian economy and its antidote for recovery.
ES. What can be the recovery guide for MICE. How to deal with ‘Business Disruptions’?
Ronjon Lahiri. The MICE industry would need to review the findings of their own Goals and Strategy in mind.
a. Review your benchmarks and re-evaluate your performance.
b. Assess how competitors’ actions and your marketing ideas correlate with your initial strategy
c. Get a fresh view of the market and be prepared for changes
d. Adapt the best new practices and avoid other companies’ mistakes.
e. Filter out any ideas that don’t comply with your company’s offering, positioning, ultimate goals and strategy.
f. Competitive intelligence is the key indicator for your future performance
g. Encourage and initiate changes in your marketing plans and strategy.
ES. What do you see as the upcoming trends of MICE?
Ronjon Lahiri. MICE Tourism service providers could reach out to GOI Ministries/ Departments their PSU’s to hold Conferences and Conventions. State Governments and their State PSU’s could also be approached. This would not be difficult as MICE Tourism takes place in major Urban areas of this country.
2) Large Corporates who were able to maintain their profits during this pandemic could also be invited to hold meetings, seminars, presentation, workshops on the subjects of Corporate Management during a crisis. And, talk about ‘How to run a Family Run Business’.
ES. What is the silver lining of this pandemic?
Ronjon Lahiri. It has highlighted how vulnerable ‘Capitalism’ is in the face of such global disruptions. Governments have to rethink as to how to blend various sectors to rejuvenate the economy. Over dependence on the private sector or the public sector can cause such disruptions. The economic stimulus by the various Governments suggests that they have recognised this and in the coming days measures will be in place to prevent re-occurrence of this type in the future. Even China has not been able to prevent the negative effects of this pandemic, as per news report there unemployment figure as of now is approximately around 80 million. MSME’s and Family businesses are the worst hit, they would require to invest more into proper management of finance and put aside funds for Business Corporate Insurance and also into management practices to deploy safeguards to prevent business disruptions by ensuring adequate and daily sensitisation of employees and management.
ES. What do you suggest to entrepreneurs who are facing stress in these times?
Ronjon Lahiri. 1) Focus on dealing with the situation to manage continuity.
2) Focus on adapting to the changing circumstances with proper financial safeguards in place.
3) Focus on preparing for the worst scenario and you will not be caught off guard and will have systems in place to counter the external negative factors.
a) Quantify operational data: Businesses need quick ways of making sense of a variety of operational data which is peculiar to the industry as well as the firm.
b) Ascertain risks: by challenging business assumptions, cross checking financial parameters, reviewing unit costs, and summing up strategies in an effective manner.
c) Understand business trends: Business decisions are adaptive to changing operational and external elements that need adaptive informative insights for business trends, revenue impact assessments, trends of operational Key Performance Indicators, etc.
d) Monitor: the magnitude of loss/ damage to business due to failure to meet obligations or otherwise.
e) Simulate business decisions: by looking at past experiences using historical and recent data of the industry and firm to arrive at seemingly informed decisions.
f) Periodically assess outcomes: to make the necessary course correction.
g) Gain business transparency on process and transaction areas for effective customer engagement.
h) Adopt technological innovations: wherever possible to make the business process more efficient and resilient.
i) Gain operational and process insights: Continuous business process evolution is only possible through proactive assessment of improvement areas, process deviations, and bottlenecks.
ES. Please share with us your personal assessment of the situation?
Ronjon Lahiri. Businesses are experiencing unprecedented disruptions. One of the dominant disruptions that is now becoming visible is the inability of organisations to meet their obligations arising out of contractual relationships or otherwise. However, the operationalisation, efficacy, and the associated risks for each sector or business would vary. Governmental intervention have also resulted in many companies having to implement working models in haste, or not at all while deferring broader business risk and downstream regulatory risk considerations. Therefore, the financial impact of disruptions to businesses will extend beyond losses as it will also impact the mental health of the management professionals who will adopt a ‘Risk Averse’ policy in contrast to the ‘Risk Taking Policy’.
ES. What has been the impact of this pandemic on Indian Tourism industry?
Ronjon Lahiri. More than the financial loss, it is the mental health of family run businesses which is most worrisome. In a perfect world, family businesses which most firms are in the Indian Tourism Industry have a transition leadership from one generation to the next along a predictable and well-planned process — whether that’s determined within the business, the ownership group, or the family itself — passing the baton after years of preparation. And this, of course, can leave family members with a false sense of security as the business would thrive in the old financial model. Pandemic scenarios can leave leaders utterly unprepared for the job.Pandemic scenarios can leave leaders utterly unprepared for the job.
An unprepared next generation often defaults to backing away, either opting to leave employment in the business or treating it purely as a financial asset without engaging in leadership. Both options tend to lead to selling the business altogether — an outcome that the previous generation may not have anticipated or wanted. It is anticipated that small business firms will either declare themselves insolvent or will be swallowed by bigger corporates.
ES. Your 3 takes on how to cope these times?
Ronjon Lahiri. 1) Slow Down to Make Better Decisions in a Crisis:
The best way to resist the siren call of action is to slow down. Panic makes people want to act right now to avoid a threat, but most of the actions people are likely to take will not be prudent in the face of a potential pandemic. A fast and intuitive reasoning system that responds to one’s current motivational state which leads to those fast judgments are generally biased toward action so one needs to slow down to be sure that whether quick reactions are actually warranted. It is best to take time when making decisions rather than acting on gut feelings. Those quick actions may reduce some of the anxiety in the short-run, but they are likely to create more problems than they solve. By slowing down, one can use deliberative reasoning with data to influence one’s conclusions. There is a lot of information out there right now about the virus and how to react.
Take the time to read and digest it before making important personal and business decisions. There are many actions people should take over the next several weeks and months, but the decision to act should be based on deliberation, sober reflection on reality, and discussion with experts not in reaction to a headline or a tweet.
2) Be Tough in the Face of a Crisis
A focussed, calm and presence of mind will keep it from wandering and getting lost, and helps reduces the pits of stress and worry that we can easily get stuck in. Even more importantly, the continued practice of unhooking and focusing our minds builds a muscle of toughness that will serve us time and time again. When we practice bringing ourselves back to the present moment, we deepen our capacity to cope and weather all sorts of crises, whether global or personal. The entire process begins with compassion and not self-pity. Compassion is the intention to be of benefit to others and it starts in the mind. Practically speaking, compassion starts by asking oneself one question as how to go about one’s day and connect in person with others. This helps the mind to expand, the eyes to open to who and what is really in front of us, and we see possibilities for ourselves and others that are rich with hope and ripe with opportunity.
3) Bad Times Bring Out the Best in People
A truly dire situation, as tragic as it is, “drags us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative in order to survive or save someone, no matter what our political inclination are or what we do for a living or living in a more affluent neighbourhood, that does not change our basic humanity. Business strategy should be reinforced by gestures of service and trust. The bottom line is practical, useful acts of kindness are good for humanity, and good for business. Acts of kindness are also good for the people who do them and the more tangible the act, the better. Actual disaster liberates a clogged mind, since it gives each of us the chance to express the best in ourselves in times of crisis, rarely achieved under normal circumstances.
ES. What will be the future of tourism?
Ronjon Lahiri. So far we have been dealing with ‘Over Tourism’ where destinations are overcrowded, very high carbon foot prints that its natural resources are under great strain with very high consumerism. India will have to work out a mathematical logarithm to create system of ‘Tourist Dispersal’ movement. Tourists will not be able to converge in large numbers in a popular tourist destination. They will be encouraged to go to lesser known destinations. This dispersal will mean that money will rev up the local economy with a greater multiplier effect. reaching the grass root level. It will also reduce high footfalls in attractive monuments and natural habitats. Therefore, a study has to be conducted as to the tourist movement from one destination to another and which destination is being left with little or no tourist. The lockdown had opened our eyes that nature can self-heal without the intervention of man. Tourism is the best way to educate a tourist on sustainable tourism. Less footfalls, less carbon footprints, less garbage and waste, better for the environment. Let tourists pay for the upkeep of the surroundings, make them feel responsible.
ES. How do you see tourism gradually opening up and what are your suggestions in this regard?
Ronjon Lahiri. Encourage tourism from source markets which are close by like Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia to begin with and then spread out to Japan and Taiwan, and ensure that it is not cost prohibitive as it was before the pandemic.
ES. What is your perspective on Air Travel opening up?
Ronjon Lahiri. Wait and Watch. The Aviation industry has suffered massive financial losses, till they become financially viable, if they do, tourism and general travel will all be at tenterhooks. It is reported that more than 40% of their fleet will remain on ground. Pilots also needs to focus as they have not flown for two months. The airlines will have to adhere to the Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on 21st May, 2020.
ES. Your message to the industry?
Ronjon Lahiri. The Buddha once asked a student: “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?” He then went on to explain, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.” The Tourism Industry has a second chance, they should redeem it.