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Size doesn’t matter


“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

I loved this quote as it really sums up the emotions I want to express in this piece.

Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel

The past few weeks have seen an increase in chatter in our industry, WhatsApp groups on the debate of big vs small and underquoting. This is a never-ending story that I will evocatively say is fake news.

The conversation this time was triggered by a posting on Ebix’s latest industry acquisition. Then the Cox & Kings saga added fuel to the fire (I do hope they survive. Not good for the overall industry to lose a major player, also, horrible for their employees). The conversation snowballed into several comments, as all WhatsApp debates tend to do.

“Big guys are underquoting,” “The ministry has to come down on agents undercutting otherwise we will have more and more MSME companies closing down,” “Ministry needs to keep a check if any agent is doing good business and still going in loss or not generating profits should be questioned,” “We need to review the competition law”; “Govt, as well as IATO, is also not bothered who spoiled business,” “I think IATO should take this lead of waking up the ministry to the ticking time bomb of these mega travel companies.”

These are actual statements from that chain of messages. Just some of the many messages exchanged that day. And there is another group where some have taken the overall conversation to even a more debased level of sheer cheapness. (One is amazed at the free time some people have. That’s probably one reason why their businesses have failed.)

There is one clear consistency though in all the conversations across all groups. The national government, the Ministry of Tourism, The Ministry of Finance, IATO, FAITH… all are to be blamed for the problems of the industry. All of them have failed and deserve to be skinned alive. They and only they are at fault. We as the stakeholders, the tour operators and travel agents, are not at fault for the state we are in. We take no responsibility for our individual and collective actions. Our hands are clean. We are pious. All blame lies with others.

Wow! Wow! and more Wow! What does one say? How does one react? I can only say “WTF is wrong with everyone?”

There is absolutely no denying that the inbound travel industry is in very, very bad shape. The Ministry of Tourism, the Central Government, the Niti Ayog, The big companies, Ram, Jesus, Allah– they can all make bold statements and say whatever they want. The ground reality is that we are in a country that lost its largest airline, we are on the brink of losing an iconic travel brand, mergers in tourism are happening at unsustainable valuations with no visible strategies. The ground reality is that I cannot find even one colleague, across any segment of the tourism industry, who will put their hand on their heart and truthfully say that they are having a great year. The Indian tourism industry is now officially sick. We are by large unprofitable. Putting our money in the bank earns more at simple interest. So yes, we have a major problem.

Almost all tour operators do is, blame big players for the situation we are in. It is time to stop the blame game. Stop! Stop looking out the window and look in the mirror! When you blame and criticise others, you are avoiding some truth about yourself. When you blame others, you give up your power to change.

My company can probably be considered to be in the mid-to-large segment. So, I can with firsthand experience tell you that the larger one is, the larger the pressures and the problems are. Every challenge a small player has is amplified in larger companies. The pressures of payroll, overheads, credits, payments, are the sins of size.

We have successfully competed against some of our larger competitors. Yes, there are times when we see bad behaviour in pricing. But overall, I will say that it is not the norm. One must appreciate that larger volumes do allow for better pricing. But everyone also needs to realise that pricing is just one part of the sales equation. Yes, there is a new challenge from the breakaway teams from the big companies who are aggressively spoiling the market in desperation to show their new masters some business. But they will also die as that strategy can never be sustained. Sad, but true.

What about product design? What about originality in thought? How many inbound companies have invested in developing new ideas and training employees to think out-of-the-box? How many realise that selling the Golden Triangle is no longer the viable route? How many have sat down and analysed the way they work? I will say very few and I say that from my firsthand experience of curating education sessions for IATO and seeing the attendance levels. There is a strong lack of disinterest in becoming better at what one does.

The big companies have not created the problem. As a company, Creative competes with more smaller and mid-sized companies than larger ones and I am shocked at the low prices they give. And more surprised at the low level of hotels showcased. But we do not win business on prices. We win business on content. That is the reality of the world today.

To succeed in any business, you have to change your business model every few years. You have to adapt to new economies, new generations, changing interests. This is not easy. But if you don’t try, you will just wither away and die.

The Indian Tourism industry is dying for some very simple reasons, we are disunited, our associations are political cesspools of hate, we refuse to have healthy debate and we have not made a collective effort to tell the world what else we can offer them.

Blame means shifting the responsibility from you onto someone or something else, rather than accepting responsibility for your role in a painful or uncomfortable experience. At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your success and your failure. And the sooner you realise that you accept that, and integrate that into your work ethic, you will start being successful. As long as you blame others for the reason you aren’t where you want to be, you will always be a failure.

Let’s end the blame game. Let’s sit down and introspect what is going wrong. Focus on fixing the problem. Problems are only resolved when solutions are sought. It’s time to care, it’s time to take responsibility, it’s time to lead, it’s time for a change, it’s time to be true to our greatest self and it’s time to stop blaming others.

Happy to get feedback and thoughts on this issue. As I say, a debate is healthy. [email protected]

About the author: Rajeev Kohli is Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel. With over 23 years of industry experience, he is also a CIS-Certified Incentive Specialist.