Incidentally, World Tourism Day this year falls just a couple of days after International Daughters’ day.
The whole world of tourism is gearing up to finally regain its pace after the Pandemic that crippled the industry, not only in terms of revenue and growth but also in terms of adopting the new norms and requirements as well as changing travel behaviour and algorithm worldwide. The hospitality industry has changed significantly over the past 60 years, particularly regarding women and gender equality. Along with the growth and globalization of the sector, opportunities for women to fill an active and rewarding role within the hospitality workplace have greatly increased around the world. While women are still fighting for equality at work in different areas, they have earned their place in hotels, catering, and tourism for quite some time now. In the overall economy, 46.1% of employees are women, but in the hospitality sector, this figure has grown to 53.7%. Whether it is sports, corporates or the service industry, the members of the fair sex have always needed to cross a path that is full of challenges and hurdles much different and sometimes harder than their male counterparts.
We are proud to start a series highlighting a few personalities who, in spite of all the obstacles, have made it to the top through dedication, integrity, skill, and passion. Nothing could a better occasion to start this series on the day of World Tourism 2022 which also focuses on the theme of “ rethinking tourism”.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
A graduate from Lady Shriram College in Psychology Honors and Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University, about her journey, views on tourism, the hospitality industry and the philosophy of Neemrana.
A Psychology Honours from Lady Shriram College and a Rhodes Scholar in Psychology and Management at Oxford University – how did you finally get associated with the Hospitality industry?
As a child, I was always fascinated by the world of hospitality. My mother often told me that hotels weren’t only about glamourous spaces as there was a lot of hard work behind the scenes that goes into running hotels. My late grandmother Sheila Nath was very enterprising and thoroughly enjoyed sourcing unique items for the Neemrana Hotels and was also the one who trained the local people in Ramgarh and started the natural Neemrana jams using the spare fruit from the Ramgarh orchards. So, the world of hospitality has been an inherent part of my childhood.
As a young Indian woman Rhodes Scholar, I was certain that I wanted to contribute to my own country and be a part of the growth and change that I wanted to see. When I joined Neemrana Hotels in 2010, I knew that the responsibilities were going to be manifold, but I was certain that I wanted to take the Neemrana vision forward as there was a lot of potential that still hadn’t been tapped. As a second-generation hotelier at Neemrana, my focus is always to maintain the USP and philosophy of Neemrana Hotels and to learn from the successes and ordeals of the first generation.
What are the key factors, according to you, that make Neemrana Hotels successful and a favourite among tourists?
When you enter a Neemrana property, you can sense and experience the warmth of each team member that has been trained to run their heritage with great pride. The success of Neemrana Hotels is largely due to the USP of the brand and the properties that have been lovingly restored by Mr. Aman Nath and the Neemrana team over the last three decades. Each room and public space at any Neemrana property has been aesthetically decorated and is a celebration of the arts and crafts of the different parts of India. The attention to each minute detail is unparalleled as we have created our own niche in the hospitality industry. There are plenty of open spaces for guests to enjoy.
At Neemrana, we pride ourselves on showcasing the best that the region has to offer in terms of cuisine, activities, traditional performances and so forth. We focus on simplicity and style where guests can connect with nature and themselves. There are music and dance performances at Neemrana Fort-Palace and Tijara Fort-Palace as Neemrana has been committed to preserving India’s traditions for nearly 30 years. For instance, on the 7th and 8th of October 2022, the Neemrana team has curated a two-day festival for the resident guests at Tijara Fort-Palace who shall have the privilege to watch two of India’s greatest dancers perform at the magical Tijara Fort-Palace and then hear them articulate their timeless art – to which they have both added their own contemporary sensibilities and repertoire. The weekend shall showcase rare music and stunning dance performances and guests shall relish unusual cuisines and attend interactive sessions. Similarly on 14th and 15th October 2022 there will be a very special East West Fest at Tijara Fort-Palace which will showcase some rare dance forms from Kerala as well as popular Western Music including Broadway and a few lighter classical songs.
With a number of well-deserved rewards and achievements including the very recent feat of being the Co-Chairperson of ASSOCHAM’S National Council on Tourism & Hospitality, you have seen tourism in close perspective. How the tourism in India changed in recent years and how do you perceive the road ahead?
The road ahead for tourism is a promising one as India has a huge diversity with its historical monuments, beaches, temples, mountains, textiles, artifacts, and delectable cuisine that is world-renowned. Although Covid-19 has demonstrated that domestic tourists are the backbone of tourism & hospitality in India, to be able to cater to greater inbound travel, India must improve its infrastructure in terms of road connectivity to all historical sites of national significance, flexible visa regulations, ease of booking and travelling by railways, and greater air-connectivity to key inbound destinations. We must focus on greater security and safety for our guests. Across the industry, we must consciously add more women to the various roles that are present in hospitality in terms of roles within the various hotel departments, drivers, and tourist guides. The industry has already started working on conserving water and looking at alternate sources of energy.
How different the Neemrana-experience is going to be for the guests in the post-pandemic circumstances?
Neemrana adapted to the new world of Covid-19 by introducing various hygiene and safety protocols, online check-in facilities, limited room service, and biodegradable cutlery and crockery too. However, we did not go overboard as all the Neemrana properties have plenty of open spaces, natural ventilation, and individual air conditioners. The Neemrana Hotels have performed exceedingly well in the FY 2021-22 and the current year as the response from guests was overwhelming as guests were able to enjoy time outdoors with their families after a harsh lockdown and several restrictions. With the concept of remote working increasing day by day post-Covid-19, we have seen an increase in the number of repeat guests as well as an increase in the average length of stay at some hotels. Neemrana Fort-Palace and Tijara Fort-Palace continue to be the preferred weekend getaways from Delhi-NCR.
There are so many young women from various parts of India who are aspiring to make it big in the hospitality industry. Any words of advice for them?
“Slow and steady wins the race !”
There are plenty of opportunities that will come your way. Therefore, it is important to identify the departments and work roles that you are passionate about and keep enhancing your skills through online courses whenever you can take time out. Connect with as many fellow colleagues in the industry, exchange ideas willingly and support each other. Focus on your core strengths and please don’t compare your career milestones with those of others as each person’s journey is different from that of others.
Don’t stand in a queue but forge new paths which don’t follow the Western path. We must never forget our Indian roots.
“Since most women have dual responsibilities at home and at the workplace, time management is key. Balance relationships at home and at work and reach out to your seniors if you require guidance.”
Senior Principal, Services & Delivery, Sabre India
Accomplished Aviation Professional with over 27 years of experience
If you could tell us about your journey in short and how did you choose to be a part of the travel industry?
Coming from a defence background and staying in an Airforce base, seeing Aircraft take off and land throughout the day always excited me. I was very sure, if not Airforce, I will pursue my career in the travel industry. To be able to fly in different aircraft, visit new places, indulge in the unique cultures of every place, meet new people, and build connections have always been attractive to me. My first job was indeed in airline airport operations and the journey continued for 25 years working in different roles with immense learnings. I joined Sabre in 2019 after walking a mile in the customers’ shoes, and it does help me understand the customer business needs and expectations better!
Being in the dynamic world of travel and reaching the top position of honour and responsibility – how difficult or challenging has it been for you? Being a woman has ever added to the difficulties?
I would be in defiance if I said that I haven’t faced challenges. Being a daughter to wonderful parents and a mother to two boys, I had to sail through many bumps and strive hard to establish a work-life balance. Like many working mothers I had to sacrifice family time (specially being around my kids) to prove myself at work and succeed. When I started my career, there were limited opportunities for women as we were perceived as being less productive and competent than men. Due to fewer women in the leadership position, it used to be very difficult to express or share the challenges faced by women employees but that didn’t stop me from moving forward – No, I started focusing on learning & development, self-awareness, dedication, teamwork & communication.
“As I always say, everything comes with a price. What you pay is your choice. If you want to pursue what you love, then there must be passion. Passion to prove yourself in a world where you are valued for what you deliver. “
How do you foresee the future of the travel sector in India?
India has a promising travel and tourism market. I believe, people will continue to travel extensively throughout the world and explore travel opportunities that come their way – both domestic and International.
The change I foresee is that travel will become more convenient and comfortable with new technologies. Innovation will change the travel experience. Modern travellers really want personalized experiences that they can control. With the fast evolution of technology, more and more channels are opening for making travel happen and the latest technologies like Artificial intelligence, Robotics, Contactless Payments, Virtual Reality, chatbots etc are helping the consumer much better than before.
Travelling by Airline with a focus on lower prices will not be the first choice of travellers, instead, it will be about safety and more – like the Airlines focusing more on covid protocols & maintaining hygiene. Destinations that have managed to control the spread of the virus will undoubtedly become more popular. Social distancing will be the main criteria when deciding on a destination. With more low-cost airlines launched in India, we can see an increase in domestic travel to just avoid international restrictions.
If you could share with us your experience in your present organisation.
My period with Sabre has been an awesome experience. Making a shift from the exclusive aviation industry to a technology organisation like Sabre was indeed not without challenges in the beginning but my peers and leaders gave all the support to get me settled sooner than I expected. I can undoubtedly claim that the shift has indeed made me much stronger, equipping me with the right set of skills and enabling me to give my best in the role I serve. Sabre has a great work culture that provides access to multiple learning opportunities and our employees are equally encouraged to gain and share knowledge which is valued and rewarded. Sabre also provides Platforms to exhibit our talent & share various innovative ideas
Apart from flexible working hours and work-from-home option, leadership accessibility with an open-door policy allow employees to reach out to leaders when they need guidance, have questions, or want to raise any concerns.
Despite the challenges faced by the travel sector over the past few years, the focus on diversity and inclusion continues to be a priority in our organisation. As a woman, I feel I have an equal opportunity to contribute and influence every part and level of our organisation.
What would be your message to the young women aspirants dreaming to make it big in the travel industry
Travel is all about connecting people, experiencing different cultures, and exchanging ideas. Who can do this better than “We Women”? The travel industry has incredible opportunities for women to be leaders and to make a positive change. Accept life as adventures, ride & taste the wildest experience, always aim high and fight for things you aspire for. You might encounter multiple defeats & stumbling blocks -let that not stop you, work hard, have faith, and get back into action. Create a positive reputation by welcoming the company’s diverse culture and showing respect to people from different cultures and skill sets. Help organisation retain top talent. Aim to become a thought leader by attending travel industry events which focus on innovation, leadership, and customer experience
Don’t wait for opportunities to knock on your door, you create them. Try to do your best & be confident in yourself. Do remember only YOU can be YOU. All we need to do is to celebrate one another in true spirit and hold hands when the need arises. Rest then will find its way to you.