A major part of my life has revolved round promotion of international tourism in India and overseas. When I joined Indian tourism in 1958 our entire focus was on promotion of international tourism. I became a part of it coincidently and having joined it, fell in love with the industry – its intricacies, its operations and functioning and its key players. I was a part of it based in India and then increasingly as the head of Government of India overseas offices in San Francisco, Frankfurt, Tokyo and New York.

I was assigned to San Francisco in 1964 to promote India as a holiday destination. In the early sixties, air travel was a little more expensive than the sea travel. Only Indian officers at the level of Ambassador were allowed to fly with their families by air. Air fares had, however, steadily come down but it had not yet dawned on the Indian government that travel by ship of an officer with his family cost a lot more money and time than air travel. However, as far as my family and I were concerned, we thoroughly enjoyed the ship travel at government expense.

We were a family of five by then - my wife and I, our son, Anil, who was thirteen , our daughter, Sushma, was nine and the baby, Sapna, was one. It took us one month to reach San Francisco. We started with a British ship from Bombay; connected to an American ship after a week’s break in London; took a train from New York after taking a break there and finally reached the West Coast.

We travelled luxury between Bombay and London on the British ship – S. S. Chusan. The Chusan was more like a city with 1000 passengers on board. There was a huge deck for walks, two swimming pools, a dance hall, dining hall, badminton courts to play and shopping on board. We were required to dress formally before going for dinner as per the British tradition. There were hardly any other Indians on board. English food was served in plenty for all except my wife and daughter who were vegetarians. As they had no objection to eggs, they would eat a breakfast of egg and toast then make do with potato chips or French fries for lunch and dinner.

Khushal Rawat, a young boy from Kumaon, Uttaranchal also accompanied us as a domestic help (as allowed by the Government then). He was the proudest Indian on board. The English stewards on the ship polished shoes in the morning, if they were left outside our cabins at night. We did not use this service as the chances of getting shoes dirty during sea travel were remote. However, Khushal placed his shoes outside his cabin every night. When asked why, his answer was, ”The British ruled over India for 200 years and made us do all their menial jobs. Now, I can order them to polish my shoes daily, can't I?” There was no point in arguing with Khushal. He had the right to get his shoes cleaned as it was part of the services covered by his fare. He not only kept his shoes outside the cabin but also the children's shoes. He had his full revenge against the British rulers on this British ship!

Our journey to New York was on an even larger American ship, the S. S. United States. It could accommodate 3000 passengers and had more facilities. However, the atmosphere was less formal than the Chusan. We did not have to dress for dinner. Formal dress was required only for the dance floor. Here, too, food was a problem but the variety of vegetarian snacks was greater. The Americans were much more casual. They would introduce themselves and start talking as if they had known us for years. I began to relax in this friendly atmosphere.

The Atlantic Ocean, however, was rough and we all suffered from sea sickness, keeping us in bed for most of the time. On the sixth day after leaving London, we had a glimpses of the Statue of Liberty from our ship, bringing great joy and an end to the journey. Immigration checks did not take long as we had official passports. The African American Customs Officer asked me, “How is Nehru doing? How is his health?” He was an admirer of Nehru and was concerned about reports that he was sick. India had a Tourist Office in New York as well and the Chief of this Office was at the pier to receive us and put us in a taxi for our hotel. We were booked there for the next three days till we connected our train to San Francisco.

When the taxi left us at the hotel, I paid the driver the fare which was shown on his meter. The driver gave me my first lesson in the American way of life, “In this country taxi drivers are paid ten percent extra as tips – do not forget this in future, Governor.” I said sorry and immediately took out a dollar to pay him but he left abruptly. (During my subsequent posting in Tokyo, when I added a tip for the driver as a matter of habit, he politely returned it as they did not accept tips in Japan!)

It took us three days to travel by train the 3000 mile distance between New York and San Francisco. When we left New York in March it was still cold and we saw snow here or there in the entire eastern United States. The countryside changed colour as we reached central USA and then California. The California countryside is more like the Punjab plains. As we entered the railway station nearest to San Francisco, my old friend Janaki Bhat was there to greet us. Janki had been my colleague in the Publications Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. He had left on being selected for information job in the Ministry of External Affairs and was now posted in San Francisco as a Consul. It was a great reunion after about eight years. Our first real Indian dinner in San Francisco was at his residence.

Janaki Bhat started educating me about the American ways as we drove to the hotel where we were booked. My hotel was at a walking distance from Market Street which was the main shopping area of the city as well as where my Tourist Office was located. Our hotel accommodation was a two-room apartment with a kitchenette attached where we could do essential cooking. We had brought a variety of lentils and spices form India and with the fresh vegetables readily available in the market, we were ready to have our meals at our home from the very next day. In America, we learnt that fresh food did not cost much. The real costs were attached to labour.

In a couple of weeks, my colleagues in the office managed to rent a suitable house for my family and I could concentrate on my job.

Before leaving India's shores, I had no idea how I would do the job. Our chronic food shortages and increasing population had made us dependent on the massive import of American surplus wheat. India's Food Minister S. K. Patil, frequently visited Washington with a begging bowl. The food continued to reach Indian shores under American PL 480 Programme, a programme of deferred payments. One of the first headlines I saw on arrival in New York harbour made me shiver. The headline read


I could not imagine why any American, with this kind of image of India, would come to India for a holiday.

As to the image of India, I got further shocks as I began to realise how little most American knew about India. Proud of our heritage and dress, my wife and I walked into a neighbouring department store near our residence. My wife was wearing, as usual, her silk saree and a ‘bindi’ (red dot) on her forehead. When we reached the counter to make payment, the shop manager, perhaps a Spanish American, asked me, “Where do you come from?” I told him, “You guess.” He thought for a while and said, “You may be gypsies form Central Europe.” The same week, I bought a soft drink bottle from a small shop near my office and started sipping the drink. The shopkeeper knew that I was from India. He enquired, “Governor, enjoying the nice drink?” I said yes. “Do you have such bottles in India?” I was not amused.

The role of my Office would have to be to create an awareness of India. Simultaneously, we would have to educate the Americans about India. Keeping in mind my limited budget, I planned a four-fold strategy.

  1. Communicating with the American Press on travel to India – inviting travel writers to India to come and write about the country.

  2. Holding educational seminars for travel agencies and their staff in their own towns and cities all over the U.S.Advertising India as a destination for all seasons and to overcome their perception of just a hot country.

  3. Meeting and educating the many Indian students studying in California and advising them what to tell Americans about India, especially about the tourist attractions and facilities.

At that time, only about 200,000 people of Indian origin lived in United States. It was not easy to reach them all, but it was possible to make a start by advertising in ethnic Indian newspapers. We came up with advertisements around the theme,


The message was that when an American friend asked them about India, do give him the correct information you have on your country but also give the telephone number and address of the Government of India Tourist office nearest to you. We also asked them to write to us and get our literature so that they and their family members were well-informed about the tourist attractions and facilities in their own country. I initiated the programme by personally meeting the office bearers of the Indian student organisations and by writing to them letters.

I also drafted a 'Letter to an American Friend'. This was a four-page letter written in a humorous way. It tried to present the correct facts about India especially its medical facilities, hygiene, quality of water, climate, size of the country, seasons, transportation, hotels, etc. I tried to cover all the questions which Americans had so far asked me in the USA! We invariably included a copy of this letter in all packets of literature that we mailed from our office.

I never missed invitations from an Indian Association or Organisation to attend their function and, if given an opportunity to speak, tried to clear their misgivings about the conditions back home and the tourist facilities available. The Indian students there, had a lot of grievances against their Government especially.

Having been a journalist, helped me to call on editors of the major newspapers on the West Coast and I was able to sponsor the visit of some travel editors to India. This media blitz did help. Every one of these editors on return wrote at least two travel stories on India never missing Delhi and Taj Mahal. Their stories, more than our advertising, caught the attention of readers all over U.S.A. .

I invited for luncheon the travel Editor of the San Francisco Examiner, to talk about her experiences. She was ecstatic about the tourist attractions of India and the warmth of the people. Her image of India, she said, had changed. She also added in a light-hearted way, “Mr Seth, while I was travelling in India, through its bazaar, markets, monuments and temples, I was all the time afraid that I might get pregnant. Pregnancy was in the air in India. I saw so many children everywhere begging on the roads, frolicking on the side walks, following me in the markets, appearing at times out of nowhere…” Looking at it from an American's angle, I could understand her amazement as well as irritation. In USA, there was almost zero growth in population. Children were cherished and protected by the parents and the State but seldom seen on the streets. We only saw them in the parks, play-grounds or schools.

The reality of delivering on the promises that we were making in our promotions hit me when a senior American tour operator called on me to seek help in making his India tour possible. He was escorting a group of about 50 rich Americans on a Civilization Tour which included both Egypt and India. However, his 10-day India itinerary was not being confirmed by the Indian Airlines though a request for the booking had been made six months in advance. He was a wholesaler who had invested a lot of money in promoting this tour and had already 40 paid tour members for India. He started his conversation with me on a sarcastic note, “Welcome to San Francisco, Mr Seth. As the new Director of the office, you have a beautiful office in the most expensive part of the city – well decorated and well furnished.”

“Thank you, Mr Anderson. What can I do for you?”

“Well, your office has nice brochures on India and good films which are effective. I have already sold an India Tour to 40 Americans and more may join the group.”

“Thank you again. You have made my day,” I replied.

“But, Mr Seth, why don't you close down your office which is costing your Government tons of money?” he asked abruptly.

“You were admiring our promotional material a little while ago. Why this sudden turn around to get rid of my Tourist Office? Are you angry with us?”

“No, I am quite happy with your office. But, I am amazed at your government's priorities. You spend so much money to promote India through such beautiful tourist offices – better close them all and buy some more aeroplanes for your Indian Airlines fleet which connects places within India – and build more hotels. I had planned to take 50 Americans to India and have been promoting your country for one year – but the Indian Airlines seats are still unconfirmed and so are the hotel rooms in Delhi and Agra. If I do not get an answer fast, I will have to cancel the India programme altogether.”

“You are already getting more tourists in India than your capacity to handle them”, he added.

Although shocked, his arguments made sense to me. In the mid-sixties, getting an Indian Airline seat was a nightmare. You needed a contact or a recommendation from the right person to get seats for foreigners. Indian travellers could get bookings by greasing the palms of junior officials in Indian Airlines. Airline seats were few and demand for business travellers in India was high. Group tours needed bulk supply of seats. Foreign travel agents could not operate on the basis that four sectors of their itinerary were confirmed while only two remained unconfirmed. They had to cancel the entire tour for their clients. Indian Airlines, at that time, did not give any priority to foreign bookings nor did they care.

With great difficultly and phone-calls to my boss in Delhi, we managed to send Mr Anderson's group to India but I knew that I could not do this in each case. I sent the story of my conversation with Mr. Anderson to Delhi and the Director General read it out in the annual convention of the Travel Agents of India, in the presence of the Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism. However, we could not change the mindset of the Government which had the standard answer - scarce resources.

With hindsight, I know now that India was still not ready for international tourism. The national policy of allowing no competition in the highly competitive business of civil aviation and tourism had crippled the initiative of Indian people. At that time, the number of American tourists to India was around 100,000 annually despite all the promotion and paraphernalia of three tourist offices in USA!

However, in terms of my growth and that of my family, the San Francisco posting was a blessing.

San Francisco was the headquarters of an international travel organisation called Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Established in 1951, its objective was to promote travel to the countries in and around the Pacific region extending from Canada on the West Coast of the Pacific to the Indian sub-continent. Its membership included 60 governments, sixty-six Airlines and Cruise Lines, 1500 travel agencies and tour operators worldwide. Its presence worldwide was felt though 80 active PATA Chapters worldwide promoting the region in different parts of the world.

One reason for my assignment to San Francisco was to ensure a successful annual Conference of PATA in 1966 in New Delhi. The Conference usually attracted more than 1000 travel industry leaders from different parts of the world. Hosting the annual PATA Conference could be one of the best vehicles for promoting a destination and exposing its tourist attractions to key travel industry people from around the world. This could be done at relatively little cost to India. The delegates paid their own airfares and conference fees which included hotel accommodation, transportation, entertainment etc. The Department of Tourism would only have to host a couple of dinners and sightseeing tours in association with the Federation of Hotel Association and the Travel Agents Association of India.

PATA asked me to take over as the Chairman of the Planning Committee of the Conference in San Francisco. My task was to market the India Conference to attract more participation, select and invite the best available speakers on tourism from different disciplines and sectors like the aviation sector, travel agency leaders, marketing experts and economists of repute. I was also supposed to chart out the programme of the Conference in India, in consultation with my colleagues back home. The Director General, Mr. Chib, was supposed to preside over the 4-day annual session in Delhi.

The Conference was held in January 1966 attracted some 900 delegates. India offered all the delegates a free trip to Taj Mahal on the new Taj Express train. Another free trip was organised by air to introduce a new tourist destination, Khajuraho, to the world. An Indian pioneer, Poddar had built a deluxe Hotel in Khajuraho very near the ancient complex of temples with their erotic sculptures. The transfer from Khajuraho airport to the hotel ( a very short distance) was provided on canopied elephants or by bullock carts, an experience that the delegates never forgot. The trip proved a winner and put Khajuraho on to the international tourist map.

The greatest surprise for the delegates was a visit to the Army Parade on the morning of the Republic Day of India on January 26. The parade consisted of various units of the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy in their traditional uniform marching before a million onlookers. This was followed by a cultural pageant which included folk dancers from different regions of India, floats representing the culture of different states of the country and vibrancy of the Indian youth. This was the best representation of India's unity in diversity, colour and vibrancy. It was also a production whose scale was so grand that many delegates told me later that they had never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world!

I continued to be associated with the affairs of PATA in one form or the other for many years. In 1975, at their conference in Hawaii, the organisation conferred on me their ‘Pioneer of the Pacific’ award. In 1983, at another conference, I was given the ‘Best Travel Writer' Award in my new incarnation as a travel writer after my retirement from government.

As the Director of the San Francisco Office, I also looked after Indian tourism promotion in Mexico as well as the American state of Hawaii. I visited Mexico where the Indian Ambassador was a well-known leader of the former Indian National Army, Col Niranjan Singh Gill. Through his courtesy and hospitality, we were able to organise an educational seminar for travel agents in Mexico City. It was perhaps the first time that the travel agents of Mexico were introduced to the tourism attractions of India. We made a beginning and during the next couple of years, I watched the progress of traffic from there which was small in terms of numbers (2000 which grew to to 3000) but big in terms of the growth rate.

I visited Hawaii, a few times. There were many Indian students in Hawaii University with a reputed Hotel Management and Tourism School under a learned Director, Dr Barnet. He asked me to speak to his students on Indian Tourism. This experience put into my head the idea of taking up tourism teaching in India after my retirement from Government. (The retirement age at that time was only 58.) I also started thinking of writing a text book, ‘How Tourism is Managed’ for the Indian students. No work had so far been done in India on tourism as a discipline. I published my first book titled “Successful Tourism Management” in 1978. The book was a success and has now gone into its fifth editions.

On the home front, I was happy that both my children were doing well in their academic studies. My son, Anil, had topped his graduating class in all subjects in his High School including English and Maths. My daughter, Sushma was still in Junior High School but was thriving in the American school system which encouraged children to be independent and to think for themselves. Anil achieved top honours without any coaching from either parent after coming to San Francisco.

I recall the following conversation with my daughter when she was only eleven.

“Dad, do not disturb me today, I am very busy” she told me.

“Pray tell me what is keeping you so busy today.”

“The teacher has asked me to write a project on agriculture in Mexico and if it is good, I will be asked to read it before the entire class.”

“How do you plan to do it?” I asked.

“I will consult the encyclopaedia and write the paper.”

“Do you know what an encyclopaedia is?”

“Yes, the teacher has shown us how to consult it and I have seen it in the school. It is also available in the neighbourhood library; I will go there and write it. The librarian there is very, very kind.”

I was impressed. I had seen and consulted an encyclopaedia only in the final year of my degree. I could not imagine an Indian student in the sixth class being told to consult an encyclopaedia. I recall another story about my daughter’s school education and in turn her efforts to educate parents. One day, she was accompanying me in the car which I was driving. As a matter of Indian habit, I was about to throw some paper out of the window onto the highway. Sushma stopped me. “Do not be a litter-bug, Dad. It is not done.”

“Who told you?”

“My teacher and she suggested that we should put the waste paper basket in the corner of the car to be deposited in a waste-paper bin on reaching home.” This to me was an example of good school education. It was also a great example of how parents can learn from their own children.

While in San Francisco, I was able to help some of my relatives. A nephew of mine, Ashok, had declared to his friends (well before my departure from India) that he was going to move to USA for higher studies in Hotel Management – a course he was failing in India. He was a reluctant and mischievous student and he would have been the last on my priority list. However, his sense of humour always attracted me towards him. I could not say no to my only sister when she approached me on her son's behalf. On reaching San Francisco, I contacted the Principal of the Hotel Management School in San Francisco and persuaded her to offer him a place.

He had problems with clearing his English test to qualify for his US student visa. After some smart talking at the US Embassy, he made it to the USA but still faced a similar test in English before getting admission in his College. I had to put him into an adult school for new immigrants to learn English for a year. He struggled with the language for six months but was ready for admission. On my transfer from USA to Germany in 1968, I sent him to the University of Hawaii where he obtained his degree in Hotel Management and is now a successful Hotel man in the United States with an American wife and three bright daughters.

The other relation to whom I could be of help was my wife's younger brother, Subodh. He had done his graduation in Engineering in India but was not happy with the job he got. I assisted him in getting his admission to the Master's Programme in California University purely on his merit. He left behind his young wife and a little baby. He worked day and night on his studies and completed his Master's Programme with distinction in less than a year and a half. Normally it takes a minimum of two years. He was immediately employed by a US Company and brought his wife and child to the US.

Subodh settling in San Francisco changed the course of my son's life. He had just finished High School when I was transferred to Germany. Subodh readily agreed to take care of my son and we were able to leave him in San Francisco to continue his higher studies.

The third fellow was no blood relation but the boy whom we had brought with us as our domestic help, Khushal. He was totally illiterate when he joined our family in Calcutta. My wife had taught him the Hindi alphabet in India. On arrival in San Francisco, I enrolled him in an adult school where he went in the evening for two hours, three days a week. This school was free. Within a couple of months, he was communicating in “American English”!

The next step was for him to learn a craft, such as cooking Western food, which would get him a job. There was, however, the problem that that he had come into the US as my employee, This meant that he was not allowed to get a paid job anywhere else. I knew the owner of a neighbourhood American Restaurant which I patronised and with whom Khushal was already friendly. The owner of the restaurant agreed to take him as a trainee for two hours on some days of the week. However, Americans do not exploit labour, especially fellow workers and he compensated Khushal in cash occasionally.

Several years later, Khushal, working as a chef in India, managed to get an American work visa. Through sheer hard work, he ended up as the French chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York – one of the most prestigious luxury hotels in the country. Khushal's assets, at 65 now, exceed a million dollars which is not bad for an illiterate boy from a remote Kumaon village! He now phones me in India more often than my own children and visits me in Chandigarh almost every year.

My posting of three years in San Francisco came to an end. In the new scheme of things, I was relocated to Europe, as the head of the Tourist Office in Frankfurt, Germany.