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What can you do for your association? : Rajeev Kohli, JMD, Creative Travel

In our industry, apparently one can find an association at every corner. From one TAAI, came IATO and then others. From FHRAI, came HAI and others. And so on and so forth. But have you ever asked yourself, what does, can and should an association do for you? And more importantly, what do you need to do in return.

Associations are a very important & useful tool for industry action. They help collect thoughts from across stakeholders. They are a medium to lobby for policy change. They help impart education and create networking for their members. They can be the backbone of progress. It is about fraternity, being in a community. But when associations see infighting and politics takes the forefront, that is when the decline starts. In the Indian tourism industry, we seem to have tilted to the dark side in association management. Now before I get pounced upon for picking on anyone in specific, let me clear – I am not. This piece is to make you ponder on what role you have in your association’s success or lack of.

My tryst with associations has been old. I was President of my college’s Economic Society and started the first ever Economics festival in Delhi University. I was President of the Indian Students Association at my university in the US. I have been President of ASTA India when it was the largest chapter outside the US. I have been in senior leadership positions in ICPB and IATO. I became the first & only Asian to lead the global association SITE and now am President of specialist global DMC association. So, I am not blowing smoke. My thoughts on association management & member behaviour come from deep international exposure & experience.

Note that the title of this piece is very specific - “What can you do for your association?”

I am putting the focus on you as a member of your association. On your duties and obligations. If you want services and benefits from your nodal body, you better well deliver on your part as a member. The conversation cannot be one way.

What are association facts for us in Indian tourism? First, our associations have most certainly gravitated to being political cesspools. Second, our associations have become completely transactional, casting strategy aside. Third, our associations have seen members with experience and depth take a hands-off approach from any participation. Fourth, our associations have become opaque in their functioning. Fifth, members in general simply do not care any longer. Take a step back and look at your nodal association. I can bet they check off at least three of these, if not all.

So, given we have a structural problem, what do we do? Very simple – take an interest in your own affairs.

I find it very irritating to hear people complain about my nodal association. My retort to them is then show up to the party and express your opinion. Sitting on the side-lines and bit****g is not acceptable. Speaking of my inbound segment specifically, none of the leading companies are active nor do they add value by being present. No segment of the economy has flourished without the key players taking an active role in advocacy, leadership, or mentorship. Look at auto, IT, pharma. Look at the names of people involved and their stature. Who do we have to provide us insight and learnings from their qualitative experience? Should we not be taking advantage of the money power the bigger companies and have the skilled people & advisor they can share? The mantra we have adopted – big companies are evil. We have become exclusionary without realising the damage it has done. Because most of our associations are run by small entrepreneurs (with no disrespect), we don’t get the right input for a future vision and strategy. We the members are to blame.

I was part of the founding team that created FAITH. This was the fourth time in history the creation such a federation was attempted. It took leaving egos and self-interest outside the door to get there. We succeeded. But see all the back room snide remarks that come even today after seven years of its formation. For what reason? Do you honestly not see strength and power in unity? Whose fault is that?

Our association conventions have become more social events. Sessions tend to be a mixed bag. The bar is the busiest place of the event. And what disturbs me, is the low attendance by active members. Isn’t this in the fault of the members whose indifference is strong?

So, I go back to my question, “What can you do for your association?”

If you want to have a healthy, progressive industry, you need strong leadership. That is a business fact, not an opinion. So, when elections happen, please be active. Please ask questions. Please challenge the candidates. Please be responsible in your choices.

Please do not use WhatsApp as a medium for making sarcastic comments and unkind remarks. Please do not use WhatsApp as a crutch to communicate. Please go to your association meetings. Please ask questions through formal channels. Please give constructive feedback. Please volunteer to assist on committees and projects.

I cannot singularly change our associations. But I can most certainly do my part, be a responsible member and get value for my money. I can most certainly not hide and keep silent. I can most certainly demand action, ask for results. This is about preserving my business and in today’s world, revising my business. My association bloody well help me with that. So should yours. As I said, its not a one-way conversation.

Authored By : Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel

Happy to get feedback and thoughts on this issue. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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