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If your risk management is done right, then there is very little to be afraid of: Sriram Rajmohan

Sriram Rajmohan, CEO and MD, Club7 Holidays, shares his perspective on the industry By Reema Lokesh

How would you describe your journey in the tourism sector? What are your understandings from the sector?

As one of the largest global economic contributors tourism is second only to energy. My journey thus far has been a very interesting and rewarding experience. Interesting because of the myriad learning opportunities this sector by virtue of its constant state of flux demands, and also immensely rewarding when your commitment to service is recognised by a plethora of happy customers. Over the years, I have gained an immense insight in correctly reading and navigating this seemingly complex web of relationships between a variety of suppliers, tourism products, destination marketing organisations, tour operators, travel agents among many others to the benefit and delight of our customers.

What are your key learnings and findings over the period of time as an industry professional?

Some of my key learnings are enumerated below:

  • Be Yourself, everyone else is already taken. By this I mean that even if your closest competitor or neighbour is having great success with something, don’t just duplicate it. You must identify a point of difference and make it your thing. You need to assess your strengths and work on it.
  • Be Excellent. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that appeal to our clients and gets them talking. On one of our recent tours to the Balkan states, a client got on social media to recommend the excellent ‘Musaka’ at Stara Kuka in Skopje. Delivering an exceptional experience, going above and beyond a client’s expectations is more effective and much less expensive than a big marketing campaign!
  • Review, Review, Review whatever you do. This in my opinion is the holy grail of service in the tourism industry. You need to constantly measure your marketing, your ROI on investments, testing and experiencing new products and finally ensure everything you do is Fun.

What  are the pressing concerns that causes the bottlenecks in the industry?

As in any other genre of business, tourism too does have some pressing concerns particularly with Risk Management due to economic instability, political uncertainty, low wage retention and tourism infrastructure. We all agree that tourism is a discretionary spend, and an economic downturn leads to tighter household budgets, tightening of credit conditions and falling asset values. People are less likely to spend money on luxury items such as travel in times of political uncertainty such as the oncoming national elections. Entry level low wages in the travel and tourism industry mean that we have a very high level of job turnover. This makes training difficult leading to a lack of skilled personnel. Moreover, each time a person leaves, contacts and information gets lost, and finally poor infrastructure in many parts of our country from substandard docks and ports to poor electricity, poor roads and a lack of adequate water deter tourism.

Any suggestions to face today’s challenges that can bring in a stable tourism environment?

Today we live in an era of unprecedented global integration. Technology and innovations have revolutionised the way we think of the world, how we communicate, travel and share information. The hyper connectivity of today is both a boon and a curse. Geopolitical tensions gets blown up at times. This is deterimental to tourism.  Rather than managing crisis in a reactive way, its vital to look at it in a proactive way and look at how to implement the right measures to avoid them.

With AI and ML ruling the technology game, is there a view you wish to share on this?

AI, ML, AR, VR – with so many acronyms in the machine-meets-marketing vernacular, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with which tech does what.

I think ML could play a greater role in enabling comprehensive technologically enabled solutions to enhance security and efficiency, ranging from re-envisioning the future of checkpoints and border controls as it is increasingly being put to use in Australia, Singapore and Canada to the improvement of data analytics tools in the application of e-visas, regional visa agreements and the expansion of trusted traveller programmes.

What are the focus areas of developments and new initiatives at Club7?

Continuing on the topic of technology, we at Club7 are in the process of making rather large investments in taking our business online. We expect to have this project rolled out first through our branches and then on a B2C module nationwide by the start of Q3. We are also going all out to expend the footprint of our forex business.

There are businesses within the sector that have lost faith in the potential and ROI this industry promises to bring in, there is more complaints than confidence. What’s your take on it? Is there a survival formula?

As I have enumerated earlier, the tourism business has great realised and unrealised potential. It is however subservient to wildly fluctuating Risk Management. If your Risk Management is done right, then there is very little to be afraid of. In my opinion businesses which have lost faith in the potential and ROI of this industry are those that have had major lapses in their Risk Management processes. Evolving and staying on top of the game is the only formula for survival. To quote Myles Munroe “People generally fall into one of three groups, the few who make things happen, the many who watch things happen and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens. Every person is either a creator of facts or a creature of circumstance. He either puts colour into his environment, or like a chameleon takes colour from his environment”. Be the chameleon and the tourism industry is a breeze.

M&As are said to be more prominent in the future. Comment.

M&As are de-rigueur worldwide, and have been for quite some time now. We are seeing this in communications, in energy, in finance, in hospitality and even in e-tail. Whilst M&As may have their own pros and cons, we must accept and adapt to the changes these may bring. In most instances these are good for tourism businesses as amongst other things they enable greater volumes of purchasing, streamlining operations and larger distribution networks. All of this leads to better pricing and more options for the customers. The downside of this is that sometimes this may lead to cartelisation, which unless properly regulated is disadvantageous to customers.

What are the future trends in travel?

The future belongs to the millennials and experiential tourism. Millennials increasingly form the bulwark of our clients. The days of travelling purely to see is headed for a certain demise. Our current mix of see some and do some, catering to Gen X is the future.

Do you have a critical observation on manpower wealth in this industry?

The good news is that most governments have recognised tourism as an industry thereby paving the way for universities to design curriculum channeled towards this sector. This education opportunity and flexibility of skills mean that the travel and tourism industry has a very healthy future. There is a plethora of jobs and opportunities in different sectors.  There is a place for everyone in tourism.