We spoke to Veer Vijay Singh, CEO and MD of Trance Hotels, on the sidelines of India Travel Congress. It was more of a free-wheeling conversation where he spoke to us on the importance of right leadership in pushing cities and destinations on the tourism map, besides sharing his views on a host of other issues impacting the industry. He talked to us on the impact of GST and on the need for city promotion boards. He also shared the path ahead for his venture – Trance Hotels. Here are excerpts from a candid interaction with him:
You mentioned in your speech at India Travel Congress that CM Chndrababu Naidu was more a CEO of Hyderabad than the CM of Andhra Pradesh. Do you see such a leadership role happening now, in the current milieu, for the city of Hyderabad?
I think it is a very relevant question and I wish to stress on, which is very important, is that how strong a leader is. The difference between a leader and a manager is a subject very close to me. When I met Mr. Naidu, I found him to be a very mediocre person. He is not somebody who is very articulate or understands the finer points, but he believes in learning from anybody, and wanting to do the best. So, he always benchmarks his performance with the best in the world, follows them meticulously, recognising their talents and encouraging them to perform. So, these are some of the unique qualities that he has as a leader.
Taking about whether do I find that kind of leadership today, I do not, really. So we have a leader who has played a key role in forming the state of Telangana but to be seen as a leader who would lead the state and bring development, and especially make Hyderabad a great city for tourism, I think that leadership is missing. I do not think that we have it.
We understand that Hyderabad is the pivot, a hub of sorts, and we have a number of destinations in the state supplementing its larger tourism profile. How judicious is it to be heavily reliant of a single product or a destination? We had Nirbhaya a few years ago, and it really slowed down tourism. So, it is time to look at marketing numerous destinations, within the state as well, to ensure that even if there is bad publicity around one of such destinations, you have other products to cover that slump? Your thoughts.
I personally, sometimes, feel that how important it is to see how we have a policy in place to mitigate such risks and talk sensible things about a destination. The press (media) does not really mean that you take any story and blow it up to gain a larger readership or viewership. That is not the way to do things. There is some amount of maturity that the press must have. Such incidents have taken place in international circles, too, but their press does not show all those things. Outreach is limited to things that are relevant.
Bodies promoting tourism and even governments must learn how to handle the situation. I do not want to get in to the whole debate of Congress vs BJP, but the world is recognising India and its leadership, whereas we are trying to bring it down in India. Yes, it is true that promoting a single destination can have a negative effect, but we need to find a way and create a wall around these cities and stories.
There is a global phenomenon, successful one at that, where tourism promotion boards, the world over, are promoting specific cities. Do you think it time for us to handpick 8-10 cities and focus on promoting them?
Yes, very much so. I was talking about Hyderabad and Hyderabad promotion bureau during my panel discussion at the event. We created the body. It is happening the world over. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, New York are all being promoted through city tourism boards. The idea is to get like-minded people from within the larger tourism industry and play a parallel role in promoting destinations. Sometimes, we keep asking what the government is doing. The government cannot take care of all facets of promotion – advertising, marketing etc.
Rightly so, 10-12 cities need to be earmarked and the tourism department should work vigorously on them.
During our last interaction, we spoke extensively on your newest venture – Trance Hotels. What is happening in that space?
We currently have two hotels in Hyderabad. One is a 48-room resort, but we have just signed a lease agreement for our second hotel which is Park Continental. We have signed an agreement with Sterling Hotel. So, it is now going to be clearly in our hands. Earlier, the F&B of Park Continental was not in our hands.
Also, we are signing a deal for a hotel in Jhillai in Rajasthan; the hotel belongs to the royal family of Jaipur. We already have a hotel in Gujarat, at the entry point of the Rann of Kutch. The fifth hotel for which the work has already began is in Lonavala, Maharashtra.
Given the kind of profile your hotels have and the kind of experiences it curates, do not you think that the Northeast would be a fantastic territory for you to explore?
I was speaking to somebody and he gave me an advice suggesting that I must not spread myself too thin and end up not managing hotels too well! I am based out of Hyderabad and will soon have a head office in Jaipur also. It will help me cover the northern territory.
The Northeast is a little different territory. I do understand that it is unexplored, so there is a huge potential there. So, if you ask me today, Northeast may really not be the priority. I would rather look at the north, central and south of India, then moving towards the east of the country.
It has been some time since the GST has been implemented. What is your take on the impact it has had on businesses in the hospitality industry?
I think the negative impact, if it has had any, in our industry would remain restricted to five-star deluxe hotels. Ones that are paying 28 percent GST. Other than that, I think it has brought down taxes for us. The three-star segment hotels have lower taxes, especially if you are doing outdoor events, because it is a non-airconditioned place.
GST, according to me, has been a positive step. There were multitude of taxes which has been done away with. Taxes were certainly high in some states. With GST, there is a level playing field now.