NITIN: Hi guys, my name is Nitin Sachdeva, Co Chair for Meetings Mean Business India today's positivity campaign episode Ihave with me Mr.
Ashish Kumar, who has been an industry veteran for 40 years.
He's beena thought leader and an agent of change a Co-Chair for Travel & Technology Committee, FICCI.
He has worked in several positions, CXO positions in variousbrands like Reliance like International Travel House and has managed variousdivisions within the Travel, Hospitality domain.
Welcome Ashish, thanks so muchfor joining the positivity campaign.
ASHISH: Thank you, thank you Nitin for having.
NITIN: Well the first thing that I want to pose in front of you is this question of thecrisis, everybody knows that this is the crisis but what are the positivethoughts that you think that people should actually consider to make it anopportunity for them.
ASHISH: Right, well firstly I'm I've always been astrong believer that in almost every adversity lies a ray of hope and nobody iscloser to it than the travel industry itself which has witnessed fromfinancial stress of Lehmann brothers across the world to the 9/11 to variousviruses and epidemics across the world so therefore travel industry as such hasnot been agnostic to to adapting itself but what is more important today is andto draw positivity out of it is that one must be conscious of the things whichwill happen if we think we're gonna be an ostrich and put our head in the sandand say oh it will all blow away I think it's them is the most negative thoughtpoint for the have in mind right and at the same time I don't want people to beoverly optimistic to think oh there's nothing gone wrong and tomorrow morningeverything will be fine because the tomorrow which will dawn is going to bedifferent from from the yesterday that's right and and that thing which whichdawns in the travel industry will have two facets of it one is the socialimpact and second of course is the financial impact.
Unfortunately what Isee around with me in the room of doom on the travel side of it is alldiscussions on the financial impact but but to me the social and psychologicalimpacts have a far-reaching positivity around it then the financial it'sbecause financials are a matter of cash flows according to you you need themoney to be able to tide over till such time you are in a position to tide over, right? so financial that nothing but cash flowbut the social changes because if you look at look at the travel from fromearly 1800 and from the time of Marco Polo if you see it's the social changeswhich is which is changing the way people travel the way people buy the waypeople choose the way people decide destinations and I think somethingsimilar is going to happen today so when I say that let me elaborate if I wasrunning and obviously it's different for every business vertical.
So if I wasrunning today at tour operating outfit be it big or large or medium which whichspecialized in holidays outside India a bit specialize in holidays within Indiaand I will come to the inbound holiday aspect separately for a minute, what Ineed to see is that who are the people who are going to buy the choices ofdestinations today will be will be different and actually the wholenarrative should be actually broken into three parts about it.
Part number one isthe immediate part of the lockdown and when I use the word lockdown peopleshould view positively the lockdown is not the 14th of April or the extensionyou talked about as far as India is concerned lockdown as a whole pipelineof lockdown across the world because the travel in tourism is is incubated in alarger world perspective you need to travel out to UK and if UK is in the logdown for six months, arguments sake, how good it is for a lockdown in India so tosay.
The second factor and so therefore thelockdown period and managing the cash flows during the lockdown period is animportant aspect and the second part is the social aspect during the lockdownwhich effectively means that you go to prepare for the future and thatpreparation for the future will come from understanding of the social needsso therefore put it very mildly I would say you know if you look at if at arating company like TripAdvisor which would advocates the star rating tovarious hotels, resorts, destinations I really would probably see a safetymeter coming up tomorrow, safety of destination, safety of resort, city ofproducts etc.
How safe do people should be feeling in this and it's a perceivedsafety and a narrative safety.
So people will the choice of destinationswill be based on what they perceive as safe destination and that would stem forboth in coming into India and out going into India.
Obviously without beingnegative to Spain it's not something you will perceive to be a very safe holidaydestination immediately if you were to talk about for the moment.
The second aspectwill be holidays which confine you to large group, if you put it in a touroperating perspective, whether you looked at at large group departures be it inMICE or the Tour Operating would the demographics change, I think the positiveside of that is that you will have very you will have a lot of unbundledofferings coming in.
I would like to see the larger companies offering gift aholiday where independently each of the channels may be able to choose wherethey want to go, when they want to go, rather than being herded in a bus of 200people together which they may or may not in atleast the short and medium termthe second so therefore that's the way you need to frame your thought andobviously technology plays a great role because it's also easy said and done orthat I'm going to offer FIT holidays in single holidays but you know so it theThird aspect which will also advocate the strong use of technology is the agedemographics.
People frankly, I'm in that bracket if you're 60 and over you knowthey they were one of the largest travelers worldwide not necessarily inIndia but worldwide.
They came into India that because theyhad plenty of time they were there were no pressures on finances for forEuropeans or Americans to come into India to drive so therefore the sixtiesand beyond and people with underlying health conditions may feel to reallylook at giving up that I care a damn attitude can travel wherever I want toin the world because safety again would be paramount.
If that happens do you see ayounger breed of travelers coming in? and if there's a younger breed of travelerswhich are coming in then obviously you got to be talking the language youngerbreed of audience understands.
So whether it is digitalization, whether itstechnology pay and I'm not necessarily saying the the false narrative of of OTAversus non OTA, big versus small and so on debates which are flounders in theindustry which I'm dead against but but something you know which which makes theyounger audience feel that they are that you and I understand their language ofchanging dynamics so that's the third element I see.
The fourth element I seeis been confined to holidays in an inner in a space, cruise for example is onesuch I'm not too sure how comfortable one would feel at the age of 60 andabove to be confined with 2, 000 people for a 10 day voyage.
Now the question is II may be shooting in the dark oh you know and the cruise industry willcertainly Lobby to say BS but I'll say that it will certainly impact theshort and the medium term and anything which in turn impacts the short andmedium term will have changing dynamics in the future because I don't see cruisecompanies or the cosmos or the globus and the coach to be able to tide overthere cash flows in the shorter perspective to say okay two years laterwhen people adapt to changing with a group of 2, 000 then I'm I'll be sailingit won't happen they'll have to adapt today but thereare positiveness because I think that changing behavior may overall grow theindustry in the shorter term.
I will certainly like to see people who havepropensity to spend money are more younger in their needs and tastetraveling more.
I don't personally advocate too much ofthis will they travel abroad moreover they travel in India more becausetraveling in within India, India is like like many countries in one.
Sowhereas I may feel very safe traveling to Rajasthan but I may not feel verysafe traveling to Maharastra, it all depends since in various countries intheir various thoughts behind hygiene factor behind various factor, so this iswhat I meant psychologically and socially it's going to have a lastingimpact and for us to build positively it is important to for us to have thesesocial understanding, adapting a business model, our technology processes tothese needs and the biggest positive which I have is is that of course weknow in India travel is touching tier 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 cities likenever before, so therefore, if you have to touch them then you have to touch themboth virtually and physically.
NITIN: yeah ASHISH: if you have to touch them virtually andphysically then we have to positively look at growing the market and I thinkthe market would grow if you are conscious of that.
I'll give you a littleexample that social distancing and staying and work from home to me havemay have a very very large impact especially in the travel vertical I knowfor a fact that travel verticals big or small I have always felt oh youknow I need my team in front of me to work it's okay the TCS and the Wiproand HCL, know how to cope with off-site and on-site locations but I don't thinkthe travel industry has really understood mentally the art of workingfrom home and the reasons are multifold.
The reasons of course are they have notadapted to the processes in the manner they should be because if you work fromhome your processes have to be very streamlined where I am who's workingfrom home is able to handover something to you who is working from an officialspace in end-to-end solutions or whatever I may do in customer serviceinquiry and so on and so forth and and the other thing is of course managingthe security of it, there's always been a fear that if I employee is at home andhandle business he is going to steal my data and let's face it I meanwhat's to prevent me to do it while I sit in your office you knowso we've lived in very very very cow web space which I think will open up withand you know what will that do socially straightaway I would see pressure youknow that pressures on Real Estate mean we stop because real estate lease it's abig cost in travel industry.
So if I have a 5, 000 square feet of spacetomorrow my scaling up requires another 2000, I will look at processeswhich to be driven from home, so that I stay in my 5000 in years to comeand it will happen, that's a very big positive the other positive is that ifI'm working from my home in Delhi why can't I be working from my home inJaipur or my home in Bareilly if right so therefore jobs in in the travelindustry which were necessarily centered around big towns could be dispersedacross smaller towns of a bigger companies, so I could I would like to seeMakeMyTrip actually working across to say I will see that 40 percent of mypeople work from from the smaller towns and feed it into the larger hub, it'spossible and the moment you do that the positive of that is not only givingcomfort but and and commuting and taking the congestion of the roads in yourbigger city but also your cost because employees would be quite happyand willing to work at a at a lesser cost margin severe able to work fromtheir own homes in Bareilly, right because living in a city is a larger cost foreverybody and there is a huge migration of people we've seen it in case of laborwe haven't seen it in the case of blue blue collar workers because there is ahuge blue collar workers who are not necessarily belonging to Delhi and Mumbai and Bangalore which are two three of the largest travel hubs if youlook at the larger company and technology driven.
So that to me is avery big positive in a social spacing.
So coming backI would also see the positives are that if you can manage your cash flow, look atinvesting your cash flow and emerging technology.
The cost of handling inquiries be it for holidays beats or corporate travel befor anything is going to be far higher than it was before because here PeopleCorporates, Customers when enquire and if they asked you if you thought they askedyou five questions before deciding let me tell you they'll ask you 50 questionsnow.
So if they ask you 50 question either you should be equipped digitallyto be handling those 50 questions or manually to be able and question andtoday we know handling 50 questions manually will it cost a lot of money.
So thereforethis is where I feel somewhere investment and labs need to come in inthe emerging technologies be it AI, Machine Learning etc.
because if you lookacross the industry as much as we would like to pride ourself and say oh youknow we handle gave a very personalised service to our customers but if you wakeup in the morning you will and ask your staff what did you do something which isnew today they won't be able to recollect and that's in the past pre Corona daysI'm talking they won't be able to recollect if they did anything usuallythis is the same stereotype same process that they do day in day out which couldeasily be driven by the use of digitalization and technology and I amNOT an advocate to say, oh you know that personal voice is going away or thatpersonal touch is going away because technology is an aid it's a tool to runyour business it's not a substitution for human being it may reduce the humanbeing, it may empower the human beings to function better.
Today you and I aresitting at home and conducting a very healthy conversation which in a normaltime what it will say, Nitin, let me grab a coffee with you and we'll talk thisover, that will be the first impact but you getting me on a zoom, I feel ascomfortable talking to you here then I would do over a cup of coffee.
NITIN: Totally agree.
ASHISH: Yeah, so those are all positives.
I work very closely with the outlook group forexample I'll just give you an idea and now the narratives I am buildingwith them on the digital outlook traveller platform is the song of BobDylan which says one more cup of coffee before I go was hitting me too hardwhat what does it say it says that you know Iam inviting you for a cup of coffee but on a digital platform.
ASHISH: Right to have a conversation.
So, again coming back to our industry the positives are and thetravel fraternity can drive that.
They could drive a team-building effort or oremployee engagement effort for corporations on multiple platforms suchas what you and I converse today.
So I mean that's that's an abroad and substance.
Thank you so much for for so many so many ideas and so many positivesout of the situation.
You being the Evangelist of the emerging technologies, I'm sure you will be able to have a lot of people and I'm going to drop youryour contact detail on the video so that people can contact you to reallyunderstand how they can use emerging technologies to businesses during thistransformational time but one question that I want to ask you is during thiscrisis you know that the economy's is hit hard and people are thinking just aboutthe financial, which you just mentioned at the start of the conversation, what isyour advice to leaders, companies on the spend in the right investment mannerlike for example to invest in the technology, a lot of people think a lotof small medium companies might think oh I don't have cash flow how do I investand automate my system do you have something to say to them becauseinvestment is important.
ASHISH: Look Nitin, running a business to me is it isrunning like your household.
NITIN: Yes, ASHISH: If your cash is dried up what will you do.
You will start compromising on your way of life.
You'll say i will go out lessI won't eat fruits five times the day I won't do this I won't do that right soin many ways if you look at the travel industry it has three or four large cost, employee costs being one, real estate cost another, marketing and customeracquisition cost being the third, so these are three about the largest cost.
So if you and and let me tell you technology as a percentage of the entireindustry is miniscule.
So therefore if I say I have I wasspending hundred rupees or I was getting in hundred and five rupees and I wasspending hundred rupees in the past and five rupees was my profit which I waskeeping, now I was doing perhaps two things with that five rupees, either Iwas taking home that five rupees as a debenture and an equity profit or I wasreinvesting back a partial of it in business.
So promoters first of all andshareholders have to realize the days of dividends on your investment they haveto sacrifice, allowing companies to reinvestment their their five rupees into the company right and whatever areas you choose to.
Now I come back tothat hundred rupees, so that hundred rupees itself will have to shrink tomaybe 70 rupees.
Now how that would shrink it is a solution you have to findwhether it means that I and obviously technology will play a role to do thatand obviously if your processes etc if I spend some amount of money I I would beable to reduce the and the real estate costs which are just said it's possibleit may be able to reduce my human cost in in in a way forward and in factupscale my human because you will leave human beings who survive with you doinga more value based work than they're doing today your own employees who youcall them very loyal and very intelligent let me tell you eightypercent of the job they do is a donkey's job sorry to say yeah I call it you knowwhen the ticketing business I'll give you an example before the web and aticket came in travel industry thought you know you know if you had to pay astaff huge amount of money if you knew how to handle a GDS or if he knew how tohandle to do a fare construction, but a time came when ticketing became anidiot-proof I use the word idiot-proof even an idiot can issue afford and youdo it on a web don't you right it's the same way.
Many jobs which exists today wego up go away, if you put a proper use of technology.
So therefore if you areinvesting three rupees out of the five rupees in technology or or anything youhave cut out of that hundred rupees to make it 70, why technology investmentmake sense is that ultimately you drive your human costs lower, what peopledon't look at is that wastage and inefficiency has a huge cost.
I may havea staff sitting handling 100 inquiries a day spending lot of time and with a verypoor materialization and if technology handled it and aided him better he maybe able to handle 110 or spend less time doing it.
So and these arecosts which can be actually arbitrated to say okay if i have spent five rupeeshow do I get back five rupees.
Five rupees doesn't necessarily comeonly from topline driven, it comes from rationalization of the cost.
So that'swhat it is if you if you look at your own space you may be on advertising andmarketing and promotion fair enough we keep cursing the digital media for formaking us spend a lot of bucks on it Google or at the way it but let's faceit the days of print and we spend a lot of money tour operators spend a lot ofmoney right and do they spend that kind ofmoney on per print, no not anymore right so therefore whole thoughts will have tochange to make things that technologies of cost.
Technology is not a cost it'sit's a cost today but a recovery tomorrow.
NITIN: Its an investment.
ASHISH: It's a recovery and and I would leave off leave you offwith a final word is that you know if you think you can just buy technologyput it there and everything will work like a magic wand then you're living ina very fool's paradise because technology itself has to be adapted bypeople who drive it has to be optimized by the way your staff embrace itI've worked in projects where bigger companies have invested huge amount ofmoney in building travel platforms but not adapted very well at the grassroot leveland they continue to duplicate the effort they logged onto the technologyplatform and they did it manually as well because they felt comfortable doingit right so I think that's the change promoters and shareholders haveuniformly joined and lastly Nitin travel is one of thelargest communities you can find.
It touches the lives of the weaver andBhadohi, it that who makes the carpets for thetourists who come in, it touches the life of that guide in Montecarlo who takes youaround it touches everybody's life and my message you can reach it to all ofthem that you all are part of that huge community and can make a difference ifeach of you adapt yourself and not look at somebody else over the shoulder andsay but you know what is the government doing what are the what is the biggercompany doing but what can I do, take that out of your mind and that's thebiggest positive you will bring on the table.
NITIN: Thank you so much Ashish, thanks alot for sharing these wonderful thoughts because I think people need it today andI'm sure this will help them a lot.
Thank you so much once again.
ASHISH: Thank You Nitin, appreciate it again.