Innovate, Empathize, Remove Conjecture: The Post-Covid Way Forward for Indian Travel Businesses

There is a lot of anger brewing over the last year among everyone who’s livelihoods depend on Indian travel businesses, which contributes to 8% of the total employment in the country and a whopping US$234 billion towards India’s total GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the tourism sector in India, as it has done throughout the world. It forced many large and small businesses to shut shop and hundreds of thousands lost their livelihoods. It was rather shocking for me to receive a call from a renowned tour operator one day, selling, not tours, but PPE kits and sanitization solutions.

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Empathy is Everything in Customer Service

My wife and I dread the tea aisle of our local supermarket chain. The supermarket is always crowded with staff on the floor, and they keep on changing the location of the shelves now and then, making it very difficult to find anything each fortnight. But the tea aisle is just worst. The customer service staff there, or as we have code worded them “the TA girls”, are always there to pounce on you when they see you enter the aisle. We, and other customers, get constantly followed and badgered with a flurry of questions: “Green Tea Ma’am?”, “Darjeeling Tea Ma’am?”, “Try this new tea sir.”, “Chamomile Tea Sir?”, and so on and so forth. We dread the TA girls and therefore my wife has decided to avoid the aisle altogether and rather buy tea online. Much less hassle, we get what we need, without the constant badgering or hard push to sell.

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Guts Matter, Caste Don’t

I was watching a talk on YouTube by Wow Momo founders Sagar and Vinod Kumar. The way they made momos (dumplings, sort of) into a successful fast-food chain in India, is really admirable. But what put me off in their talk, is something that seems to be a trend in the talks by many current generation startup founders in India. They proudly emphasized, like many others, about the caste/community they were from, which was portrayed as a reason for their success. Here, they are from a small, closely knit Sindhi community in Kolkata. For other similar talks, many other founders emphasize on their Marwari or Gujarati roots as a recipe to their startup success. My non-Indian readers must have gotten the drift by now. The Marwaris, Gujaratis and Sindhis, much like the Jewish community in the West, are known for their business acumen and ability to take risks. These communities and their caste networks made an enormous impact in the economy of South Asia for hundreds of years.

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