Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s just cricket

Perhaps the billion prayers worked. For India won the semi-final against Pakistan in this year’s Cricket World Cup. And then again, perhaps prayer had no role to play. Perhaps it was just that the team that played better and held its nerve on the day won.
But was it war at Mohali?  Was it a life and death battle? One that determined the fate of the world? Not quite.
Will yesterday’s match, its result and the accompanying ‘cricket diplomacy’ solve all the puzzles that divide India and Pakistan? I would like to be optimistic and say ‘yes’, but I’m not so sure.
As Prem Panicker writes in this piece on Yahoo! - “The problems that confront us are too serious; their roots, nourished with the blood of so many innocents on both sides, go down too deep, for a mere game to set it all to rights — and those that pretend otherwise, including the holders of the highest offices in the land, do us all a disservice by trivializing these problems when they should be working to find lasting solutions for them.”
But in a world where hype often masquerades as reality, the spin machine forges ahead regardless; reality be dammed. So it will be enlightening to see how the spinmeisters position Saturday’s World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, let’s try to remember that it’s just another match. Yes, it is the final of the cricketing world’s showpiece event, but it’s still just another match.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coming home to stay

A few days ago, I took part in a discussion on tourism at the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum. It was a small, eclectic group, and almost everyone who turned up ended up participating in the discussion.
Much was discussed, but what struck me most was a comment by Josette Rey, a Frenchwoman who lives in Fort Kochi and dabbles in tourism. The homestays that are sprouting across Kerala, she said, end up disappointing many French tourists. The French tourist tends to opt for homestays believing that they offer an immersive experience in the local culture. The tourist, she explained, believes that a homestay will offer them a slice of daily life in Kerala; an opportunity to be part of the family, to eat with the family and learn from the family. Instead the tourist most often ends up getting the equivalent of a hotel room without the amenities that normally come with a room in a hotel, she added.
Josette has a point. Over the past few years, both Kerala Tourism and India Tourism have been gung-ho about homestays — India Tourism also calls them bed and breakfasts (b&bs) which is kind of misleading as a b&b can be rather different from a homestay. Both tourism boards have even crafted elaborate systems to classify homestays based on the facilities they offer.
What none of these classification schemes has been able to certify though is the emotional ambience of the homestay. By emotional ambience, I mean things like how involved the hosts are in the operation of the homestay, how much time and effort they put into interactions with their guests and so on. Little things at first glance, but actually vital ingredients of the homestay mix.
For running a good homestay involves striking a very fine balance between giving guests a taste of local life and giving them the space and privacy they want. A balance that needs to be reworked for each set of guests.
There is, I guess, no standard formula for this and it is arguably more of an art than a science. But there are homestays in Kerala that seem to have perfected the art of personalised inn-keeping — Philipkutty’s Farm, Tranquil, Gramam and others.
In the long term though, market forces will work on homestays as much as they do on any other sector. The good ones — that meet the needs of tourists — will thrive, while the others will either limp along or disappear altogether. Meanwhile, Kerala’s homestays could perhaps pick up a lesson or two from their more successful brethren, especially on how to bring more of the ‘home’ into the ‘stay’.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another gold…

This time it’s in Berlin. Your Moment is Waiting, Kerala Tourism’s new ad film, has won a Das goldene Stadttor or The Golden City Gate award at this year’s ITB Berlin. The awards, which are exclusively for the tourism industry, are given out every year at ITB Berlin arguably the world’s largest tourism and travel fair.
Your Moment is Waiting won the Das goldene Stadttor award in the ‘TV Cinema Spot’ category. The recognition at ITB Berlin comes just a few weeks after the film won 3 PATA Gold Awards.
More accolades, I suspect, will come the film’s way before the year is over. 
Pic courtesy Kerala Tourism

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Consumer rant #2: Mind your language

Beats me, some of the ‘customer friendly’ things companies do.
My bank, for instance, has a language option on its customer care telephone helpline in Kerala. You can choose to speak to the bank’s customer care team in English or Malayalam. A useful option, I’d say.
So I call the bank a few weeks ago and choose the ‘English’ option. I’m connected to a male voice that greets me in Malayalam. Thinking I’ve chosen the wrong option, I ask if it’s the number that connects me to an English speaker. “Yes,” he tells me, and continues to ask how he can help me — all in Malayalam. “Shouldn’t you be speaking to me in English,” I ask and am met with a moment of silence, before he goes on again — in Malayalam — about how he can help me. I give up and continue the conversation in Malayalam.
A few days later I call the bank and go through the same bizarre exercise again. Except this time, it’s a female voice at the other end.
Now I have nothing against Malayalam or any other language. But when you offer the customer the option of speaking to someone in a particular language, shouldn’t you deliver on that, every time?
So why is it that my bank couldn’t get this seemingly simple ‘customer friendly’ measure right? And if it can’t get it right, why doesn’t it scrap it altogether? All possible explanations are welcome.