Trade bodies need better co-ordination and sustained efforts to make a difference in policy making: Sajan Joseph

sajan joseph breakout hotels

Sajan Joseph, co-founder and CEO of Breakout Hotels, feels trade bodies must be in continuous touch with the government to make a difference in policy making. The associations tend to be in contact with political authorities only during conclaves and when a crisis erupts. He says trade bodies should include people with a wider exposure, not just tourism, to have more impact. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: As a hotelier you must be wondering what wrong has the hospitality industry done to deserve the ignominy of getting ignored repeatedly by the State and Central governments. Your thoughts please.

Well, the industry is trying to figure out why there is no effort or even a positive response to the requests from the industry for revival assistance. Both state and central finance ministers had acknowledged that tourism and airlines are the most severely affected industries. Despite this acknowledgement, no action has been taken.

Q: Despite creating myriad jobs for society, both directly and indirectly, the travel and tourism industry does not enjoy a seat at the table, so to say. Do you see this as a failure of the various industry lobbies representing the sector?

More than a failure, I would like to see it as a lack of co-ordinated and sustained effort using resources and giving a proper representation and quantifying the loss in terms of jobs and revenue.

Q: What do you think of the constitution of bodies like FAITH and IATO? Do you think we have the right people in these associations to make a difference?

I would not like to comment on individual trade bodies. But we can judge their effectiveness by analysing the results. Even during the GST introduction, we could see that we were not properly represented.

Q: Do we need a new set of national bodies to represent the concerns and aspirations of the sector? What kind of people should helm these associations? 

We do not need a new set of trade bodies. But we may need to look for people having a wider exposure than just tourism, especially if you wish to be heard by the government during policy making.

Q: Union Minister Piyush Goyal, in a webinar organised by FHRAI, had accused the hotel industry of “wrong doings” and asked it to look within. He said the hotel industry deducts 10% value of the foreign currency when international customers use their currency in hotels. Also, he wasn’t impressed that even 5-star hotels were asking for government intervention. How come the minister is coming down hard on the industry, when it is already struggling to survive?

I am not sure what made a well-spoken minister to make such remarks. I strongly feel that he was given wrong feedback about certain aspects of the industry. Feedback is given to government officials and ministers by the trade bodies and that should be a continuous process. We tend to be in touch with different ministries only during conclaves and crisis situations. We should keep giving an update on a monthly or quarterly basis too. 

Q: The same goes for the Kerala government too. There doesn’t seem to be any effort from the part of the state government to stem the rot. Where’s the rescue package and where are the sops, even when the industry is not able to pay salaries to employees?

Despite being one of the top travel destinations in the country, Kerala’s state government has not responded at a level that was expected of them. While we talk about the goodwill created by our efforts in the health sector during the pandemic, we forget the amount of goodwill created by tourism over the last two or three decades.     

Q: In this scenario, how do you think the sector will survive? What do you think the entrepreneurs should do to turn around this situation? It doesn’t look like any external help is arriving.

As industry stakeholders, we must understand that social behaviour of human beings is undergoing a vast change and what we learnt in the past may not help us in the future. Saving capital and staying afloat should be the target for next 6 months. This is a season for sowing. Similarly, capital should be deployed only at the right time. Burning your cash reserves is not an option for next six months. The after-effects of the pandemic are still evolving and it would be premature to advocate a strategy at this point. We have not yet seen the peak of the pandemic in India. The US presidential election is a major event for this year and we should watch out for any development on the COVID vaccine.