A prime mover in the development, promotion and expansion of tourism in the country, India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) has been synonymous with tourism infrastructure in India for over five decades. Incorporated in the year 1966, the Corporation has been bestowed with the task of developing and expanding tourism industry in India and managing the Ashok Group of Hotels across various cities in the country. Recently, ITDC appointed Ravneet Kaur as its Chairperson and Managing Director. She has had a stellar career, holding key positions in various Ministries of the government, including top positions in governmental agencies, such as Punjab Communications Limited, Exim Bank of India, India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited and Punjab State Industrial Development Corporation. As head of the tourism giant, Kaur now has a challenging path ahead. With increasing competition in the Hospitality Industry, the government-run Corporation is looking at other avenues of revenue generation, such as ticketing, travel and tours, event management, duty-free shopping, hospitality education and skill development. In a candid interview with Today’s Traveller, Kaur shares valuable insights about the achievements of ITDC, the challenges faced by the organization and the road ahead. Speaking about the achievements of the organisation, Kaur is happy with what the organisation has achieved thus far. “At The Ashok, we are doing very well. Recently, in September, the hotel bagged the National Tourism Award for ‘Best MICE Hotel Award’ for the third time in a row and was also awarded with “Hotel Providing Best Facilities for Differently- Abled Guest” for the first time. The entire credit goes to the team there. The Ashok continues to be recognised when it comes to a meeting-based venue. The major positive achievement is the hosting of the India Travel Mart, which is the first Global Travel Mart organised by India. For The Ashok to have hosted it clearly brings out the organisational capability and the great advantage we have in terms of location of the hotel and the credibility of the brand,” says Kaur excitedly. As a profit-making organisation, ITDC is really pushing the boundaries when it comes to opening up new avenues of revenue generation. It has recently signed an Memorandum of Understanding with a private company, under which it has to develop a tourist destination in Kakinada with a budget of over Rs. 500 crore. It also signed an MoU with Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development (SMIT), an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Kingdom of Morocco, for strengthening cooperation in the field of tourism. Another major area of revenue generation is cargo handling. The company recently bagged the contract of handling cargo (above 35kg) for the Indian Air Force, when it comes to surface transportation. Kaur, however, is animated about the training programme that the ITDC is providing in developing skills related to the Hospitality Industry. Informs Kaur, “Engaging people at the bottom of the tourism sector is the key to develop the Hospitality Industry in the country. This is because customers coming into the country would be mainly dealing with people such as bus conductors, auto rickshaw drivers, tourist guides, policemen and travel agents. Developing the soft skills required to interact with foreign tourists would be immensely helpful for the tourism industry in India.” With this aim in mind, ITDC has recently teamed up with Jamia Millia Islamia to provide a Bachelor’s Degree course in food production. More importantly, the Corporation is also providing customised short-term training programmes. Recently, the organisation conducted a workshop for bus conductors in Amritsar as well. An MOU has also been recently signed with Amity University to train hospitality aspirants.
The pragmatic bureaucrat does not shy away from the challenges facing the group. One key area, where Kaur wishes to invest the time, energy and resources of the Company is renovation. Most Ashok Group of Hotels have been in the business for quite some time now and need renovation to be at par with upscale, private hotels in the country. “For a while, we have not taken the question of renovation seriously. But, The Ashok being a running hotel, will have to be taken up under a phased renovation process. Currently, we are approaching the peak season, but the preparations in-house can be undertaken. Nonetheless, we have government processes to follow: there are tendering requirements, other requirements of designing and such like. We can do all that work and get ready for some renovation to start happening, when we get into the lean or the off-season,” says Kaur. We ask her about developing the Convention Centre of the Hotel. The Ashok is well-known for being a premier destination for hosting corporate events, but Kaur says, competition has toughened over the years. “New convention centres are coming up in Dwarka and Pragati Maidan. The presence of these centres has to be factored in,” says Kaur, adding that as and when the organisation decides to develop its convention facilities, it will surely hire a business analyst for expert advice. Integrating technology into the business model of the organisation is another crucial area for ITDC. “On the tech front, we are leveraging social media to the hilt,” says Kaur. “There has been an exponential growth in the number of people following ITDC and the Ashok Group on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. So far as technology within the organisation is concerned, we are adopting more and more technological solutions. We are building up our IT wing as well. We have, in fact, shifted to Tally, which is the payment software. So the entire payments are being processed through that. We are also building up an MIS system; of course, we can move towards more technology solutions when it comes to the hotel,” adds Kaur. Being the first woman to handle the realms of such a big company inevitably brings up the subject of work-life balance. Kaur signs off by saying that one needs to find time for the family, but work does take precedence as required.