I reached Germany in late 1967 when it was still a divided country with East and West Germany as independent nations. Our focus for tourism promotion was on West Germany which had already become a rich country with large population and disposable income and there were no foreign exchange restrictions on German citizens for holiday abroad. Although India had friendly relations with both Germanys, West Germany was highly developed with American aid, democratic institutions, a liberal economy and free competition. In the late 1960s, its economy though robust was not very large. Travel, at that time also, was a high priority on every German's agenda. In the late sixties, however, they were still struggling to catch up with the rest of the developed world and travelled primarily to the neighbouring countries of Europe largely because of cost factors. Long distance airfares were still high and travel to India was certainly not one of their priorities.

I once hosted the head of the German National Tourist Organisation for a purely vegetarian dinner at my house. He was the only German known to me who was a vegetarian. Naturally it brought us closer. When I congratulated him for hosting millions of international tourists to his country every year, he evaded the compliment and light heartedly told me a secret. “Of these millions, Mr. Seth, at least one million are Dutch. You know what kind of tourists they are? They come to Germany in their cars, fill up gas tanks from their side of the border, they bring their bread and butter too from their country, carry their own camping equipment, pitch up their tents in our valleys and camping grounds, spend two nights and move home leaving their garbage for us to clear. Whatever the number of these tourists to Germany, they leave little impact on the economy of the country.” He added.

I may add that traditionally, Germans regard the Dutch as parsimonious people so this may have an element of exaggeration, but it was, nevertheless, an economic reality about this kind of international tourism. In comparison, though with far smaller numbers, we were not doing too badly - 6000 Germans visiting India annually, contributing an average of US $ 1000 per visitor to the Indian economy during their average stay of 14 days. Long distance travel to destinations like India was not affordable for them as yet though once in India, the low prices of Indian hotels and food did bring down their overall cost of holiday.

As per a survey done by us, India was number 6 on the German’s list of overseas destinations they wished to travel to in the seventies. This was encouraging. I learned that the Germans were deeply interested in Indian civilisation, culture and study of the Sanskrit language. In fact, the Vedas were introduced to the west through translations done by German scholars. My challenge in Germany was to translate this interest in Indian culture into actual travel .

New developments were changing the pattern of holiday traffic in Europe. The introduction of the Boeing 707 (large air-crafts accommodating 250 passengers each) had reduced airfares as well as travel time to some extent. The new Boeing 707s made the older planes redundant. Tour operators found a novel use of old planes. They used the old planes for carrying large holiday groups to warm destinations in the winter. The holiday cost was set at a level which could be afforded by even a factory worker or a receptionist in an office. The fuel costs were very low in those days. The planes could be leased for back to back charters and tour operators marketed all-inclusive holidays for a week or more for the price of one month salary by a factory worker. Surprisingly, these packages were not necessarily sold by travel agents and tour operators, but also by German departmental stores - almost like grocery items- demand was so high ..

These ‘chartered flights’ took off from cold countries like Germany, United Kingdom, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway or Sweden to destinations like Spain and Portugal in the Mediterranean or even Southern France. Charter traffic suddenly emerged as a big business moving thousands of people from one country to another where weather was warm.

India had already developed some sea resorts like Goa and Kovalam and this seemed like a real opportunity for us. On behalf of our European Tourist Offices, we proposed to the Government of India that charter traffic may be allowed into India. However, the Indian government owned our national airline, Air India opposed it. They felt that this would affect their scheduled flights further diluting number of India- bound passengers which were not very high in any case .

Back home in India, tourism was getting some importance. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had set up an independent Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and appointed as Minister, Dr Karan Singh, the former Sadar-e-Riasat of Jammu and Kashmir State. Dr .Singh was an ideal choice for the job. He used to tell us in a lighter vein that he had a taste of travel even in his mother's womb. He was born in a Paris Hotel after a long trip from India by ship with his parents. He understood the type of tourism westerners needed and it was during his tenure as Minister that construction of new luxury hotels through incentives and loans advanced by the Government started.

In the field of Tourism promotion, he asked Air India and the Tourist Offices to pool their overseas promotional funds and do joint marketing to lure more tourists to India. This joint marketing alliance was initially conceived for the European continent only and called 'Operation Europe'. Europe was a major market for India. Under 'Operation Europe' Air India agreed to augment the promotional funds of the Tourist Offices by 20% through its resources. They agreed to provide free transportation to Tourist Officers based in Europe for easier movement. They also agreed to carry free of cost tourist literature destined for India’s overseas tourist offices, thus reducing considerably the freight costs to these Offices. Under the same scheme, we managed to improve our presence in Europe by opening three additional tourist offices - in Milan ( Italy ), Vienna ( Austria) and Amsterdam ( Holland).

Participation in ‘Operation Europe” was beneficial for Air India and the tourist offices both, if tourist traffic to India increased. Air India as the national carrier benefited the most because they had the most frequent flights to India. The Tourist Offices started including Air India literature along with their own in the packages that were despatched to potential travellers to India. It strengthened both organisations. The only disadvantage of this Alliance was that the competing carriers to India were apprehensive of the bias of Indian Tourist Offices in favour of Air India.

During my overseas postings, my first priority used to be to identify individuals who knew the market and could help me with marketing India. Unlike many Indians of my generation, I had no problem in learning from people who were junior or younger than me. In Germany, I met a young man, Ram Kohli, who represented Travel Corporation of India (TCI) in Germany. TCI was India's top inbound tour operator, with largest share of the German travel market to India. Ram Kohli spoke German well and had already been in Frankfurt for three years. I had met him earlier in San Francisco - a little man with tremendous wit, warmth, energy and a sense of public relations. Apart from Germany, he promoted his company business in most parts of Europe, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the European tour operators who could generated more business. I met most of the big travel agents in Germany with him as I could not speak German and they often had difficulty in communicating in English. Ram was of great help to me in getting to know my new market.

One of the major steps we initiated was to participate actively and in a big way in International Tourism Exchange in Berlin. One day in the Conference is reserved for the general public of the country when thousands of Germans come to see for themselves what each country offers and take away literature on destinations of interest to them. As well as the Exhibiton, ITB provided a venue for a Buyers-Sellers meet. Buyers from major tourist importing countries were invited to attend. The number of such buyers coming to ITB exceeded 2000 annually- now it is even larger. Travel Business worth billions of US dollars is transacted during this four day event. We encouraged Indian travel agencies to cooperate with us and actively market India on this occasion. The India pavilion provided an opportunity and place for the visiting Indian travel agents to meet the buyers. This kind of co-operation became routine in later ITBs. It was quite an honour that in 1971, I was requested by the organisers of ITB to address the international delegates on ‘Future of International Tourism’.

I was in Germany for less than two years when I was posted to Tokyo. On taking stock of my activities in Germany, I realised that in my less than 2-year term in Germany, traffic to India rose from 6000 to 8000, a modest growth in numbers but not a bad growth rate.

I enjoyed every one of my foreign assignments – but Tokyo where I moved next was the highlight for me. When my boss called to tell me that he was thinking of posting me to Tokyo, I was reluctant on the grounds that Japan was not an English speaking country and I had College and school-age children to educate. In reply to my objection to non-English speaking country, he pointed out “So is Germany! The best English speaking country in the world is India.” He said in a joke. Then he invited me to Delhi for consultations to explain to me the significance of the assignment to Tokyo.

In Delhi, he told me about the immense potential of Japan as a tourist exporting country. The Japan government had removed earlier restrictions on the overseas travel of its citizens and was now offering liberal foreign exchange allowances to enable its citizens to go abroad for a holiday. The Japanese were making good use of this and were rushing to travel overseas. He wanted India to benefit from the new travel boom from Japan. India had already opened its office in Tokyo but the Director General was not satisfied with the rate of growth from Japan and wanted me to take over. The assignment was to persuade the Japanese to visit India in larger numbers. He told me that I had always loved challenges in my life and Tokyo presented the challenge of a totally new market for Indian tourism. It was a great education and an exciting job as I would be responsible for the region as a whole and it included countries like Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore. Malaysia, the Philippines and Korea etc. The Director General generously said that in his opinion, I was the right man to promote holiday tourism from Japan and other emerging nations of South East Asia. I felt flattered and said yes.

After a couple of weeks, I was on my way to Tokyo. When I arrived in Tokyo in late 1968, Japanese traffic to India was insignificant – less than four thousand a year. Of this, more than half was business traffic with hardly any leisure traffic going to India. The initial rush for holidays by the Japanese was to USA. The Japanese had a great fascination for America which had conquered them. Their initial preferred holiday destinations were the USA mainland if they could afford or nearby islands like Hawaii and Guam in the Pacific under US rule which were more affordable. In the affordable south-east Asia, they preferred Hong Kong the most, followed by Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan.

In Tokyo, we had a beautiful well-designed, street level office in Ginza area which was located the heart of Tokyo's business district. At night, Ginza was Japan's best known entertainment area with thousands of restaurants, drinking outlets and entertainment venues.

On reaching Tokyo, I started learning about the Japanese travel market. I visited the Tourist Offices of my competitors (Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, USA, Egypt, Spain and Italy) and met their Directors to see how they functioned in this market. Each office had its own system, strategy and plan of action but not one of them was on street level as we were. Most of them were on higher floors where rents were low and costs of operation even lower- but our rent was high. No office including USA had strength of more than four or five and they seemed quite efficient to me.

I discovered that our offices overseas were patterned on the basis of our Indian government office norms where labour cost was insignificant and the staff included a peon, dispatcher and a clerk who registered all mail in a special register noting its movement which was not necessary in a small office , an accountant as well as a Secretary for the boss- she could be a local girl. We could get away with too many members of the staff n a low wage country but in high priced Japan. I asked Delhi to reduce my staff by one – from 7 to 6. This was an unusual request by an officer of Indian Government. It was far more usual for government servants to grumble that they were overworked in their respective domains. Delhi asked me to reconsider my proposal. But, after I explained to my boss in Delhi, he readily agreed.

The street level office, to my mind, had a very high rent - money which could be better used for promotion. However, we had built our reputation on this location for years and it became a promotional asset. Thousands of Japanese people passed by our office window each day as they moved around shopping and doing business. The displays in the window on India's tourist attractions were changed frequently attracting attention. We also made good use of our office location and its décor by utilizing our premises for holding educational programs and seminars on India in the evenings for the Japanese travel industry. Our cocktail parties cost very little as being a foreign government office we could get duty free liquor through our diplomatic mission and the staff voluntarily extended their help in looking after the guests. The location was so central that we would always get good attendance in our parties.

Communication with the travel industry was another priority for me. There was no established system of regular communications with the Japanese travel Industry and my office then. The only thing we were doing was despatching a lot of tourist literature on India to travel agents without even checking with them if they needed any. It was wasteful and expensive. During the very first month, I introduced a newsletter (initially in English and later also in Japanese) addressed to tour operators as well as travel writers giving them news of new facilities developed (e.g. a new hotel started in Agra or new flights to tourist centres) and current events and offers (e.g. reduction in fares, information about festival and fairs, travel happenings).

With this went personalised letter from me to travel editors as well as travel agents informing them about the range of tourist literature we offered, with a printed order form which they could complete and return to us at our cost. The newsletter called ‘TRAVEL INDIA’ had an impact. It started two-way traffic. The first communication resulted in 50 order forms with requests for literature on India from all parts of Japan. I assigned the translation of the newsletter drafted by me in Japanese to a well-known travel writer of Japan who did his job well. Tour operators wrote back to applaud our efforts. More travel agents visited our office daily, and even more called.

For travel editors looking for stories to publish, I had articles ready in the Japanese language on the Taj Mahal and other places of interest of India with accompanying photographs. I had commissioned the services of some Japanese travel writers who had been to India to write such articles.

To establish a close rapport with the staff of international airlines, we took another major step . Prospective travellers often contacted an airline office for destination information in addition to their flight bookings. I found that the airline staff (other than at Air India) expressed their ignorance about the existence of India and were not aware of the services our office offered. In small batches. I invited the entire staff of each airline separately to our office for cocktail parties (ordering hot Indian samosas from the Indian restaurant, ‘Ashoka’, conveniently located above my office). During the cocktail, we offered a colourful presentation of slides on India showing the size of India, its varied climate, seasons, tourist attractions, dance, music – and the diversity of India and its democratic form of government. The presentation was in Japanese and proved to be for most of them their first introduction to India. Among those who attended were also their Managers and the Sales Managers.

My main aim in bringing the airline staff to my office was to familiarise them with the location of my tourist office and its address. In this way, we succeeded in educating some 300 staff members of the international airlines about our existence. In addition, I offered all airlines’ staff a one week sightseeing packages(including a visit to the Taj Mahal) for US $ 100 only- a tempting bargain The packages were developed with the help of some Indian tour operators on a no-profit basis. These packages brought over one hundred airline staff to India on short trips with most of them returning to sell India with greater zeal.

In marketing tourism for any country, a good advertising and public relations agency plays a key role. However, we had a paltry advertising budget of Rs. 500,000 for Japan (40 yen equalled one rupee in 1970). No major advertising agency would even look at our account. I could not ask for more money as India was passing through a financial crisis and the tourism budget was one of the country's lowest priorities. My only option was to work with a small advertising agency headed by a known creative person who was willing to take up the challenge with this small budget. Ultimately, I came across the right person. He was a young man who ran his own advertising agency specialising in travel and who was also a respected travel writer. He spoke English well and was quite knowledgeable about India having visited it briefly a few years earlier. He was able to produce good advertising copy after discussions with us and we found that we were both on the same wave length. Mr. Ohta - that was the name of the Advertising and PR agent selected - had a staff of 10 artists, designers, writers etc. in his office

My first assignment for Mr Ohta was a survey of well-educated and affluent Japanese to find out what was their current perception of India. We selected a sample of 2000 Japanese professionals from all walks of life in the major cities of Japan. In four weeks, we knew the results and were taken aback. Most of respondents associated and described India as -

    1. Hot and dusty.

    2. Poverty and disease

    3. Famine

After the first three, they associated India with

    1. Lord Buddha

    2. The Hindus

    3. Cow

    4. The Himalayas

    5. Mahatma Gandhi

And then followed

    1. Yoga and

    2. Indira Gandhi

The Taj Mahal was nowhere in their picture!

We could not build India tourism on their current perceptions and so our task became to create a new image of India as a tourist country through the Japanese print and electronic media. Advertising alone would not achieve this objective under such circumstances. We must make the media go and see India and report on what they saw. I decided to interact directly with the media in Japan. I asked Mr Ohta to get me appointments with the top brass of Japanese newspapers. I wanted to meet them and talk to them about their image of India and to personally invite them to visit India as our guests. I advised him to focus in my bio-data and my experience in journalism and writing instead of on my being a travel salesman. The strategy worked and within a few days, appointments were lined up in Tokyo as well as in other cities with senior editors of of the Japanese press. Most of the Japanese editors had seldom met an Indian journalist and their perception of India was only through the wire services like Reuters. In fact Mr Ohta told me, they were keener to meet me.

We prepared a nicely packaged set of tourist literature in Japanese along with pictorial books on India in English – describing India in all its aspects. I also took a nice gift (usually an Indian handicraft) on behalf of our office. Most of the editors knew some English even though they were reluctant to speak it. At times Ohta san( San is like the Hindi word Ji ) accompanied me, and at times the editor himself had arranged an English speaking reporter to facilitate exchange of views. Our discussion often extended to two or more hours. I always ended my call with a request that the editor may kindly accept my invitation to visit India as the guest of the Government of India. Although flattered, the senior editors rarely accepted the invitation for themselves on the grounds that they were too busy. However, they expressed their willingness to depute one of their senior writers to visit India and report about what was happening in that country and to also visit the tourist sites. That was exactly my purpose. I was particularly interested in hosting their travel editors or senior writers. In Japan, almost all newspapers have their travel sections every week with an editor designated for each section.

Having met over 25 such editors in different cities of Japan, we were able to compile a list of newspapers which were willing to nominate their editors to report exclusively on India, specially on its tourist attractions. We prepared different itineraries keeping in view the interest and preferences expressed by the writers nominated by the newspapers. At the same time, I was keen that they cover a broad range of India's tourist attractions with some going North, others to the South, West and East trying to put Delhi and Agra as first stops. We encouraged the writers to take their photographers with them. Extending hospitality to such a large number of people did not prove very difficult. Our Japan Office had its allocation of hospitality funds for writers from Japan in the overall hospitality budget. This budget was not enough but, I told the Department that if need be, I was willing to accept a cut in my advertising budget to meet the expenses on hospitality as this was my top priority.

To a great extent, the expensive part of hospitality was taken care of by the co-operation of our national carrier Air India, as well as other friendly international airlines. My relations with Pan American and Cathy Pacific in Tokyo were excellent. They had daily flights from Japan to India and were willing to offer my guests complimentary seats in first class. (Writers often in their reports refer to the airline they travelled and its facilities). At the request of the Department of Tourism, Indian Airlines offered gratis domestic air transportation. Our Department took care of the accommodation, meals and sight-seeing of the guests.

India needed to be talked about in electronic media as well as in print and we left no stone unturned to expose more and more Japanese opinion makers to the charms of India. We went out of our way to extend hospitality to TV channels which wanted to produce new programmes on India. I offered several channels new ideas of what to cover in India. We offered to provide them with guide service and, we got a positive response. Special television shows on India were screened on popular TV channels creating interest in India. We promoted the Indian Himalayas by sponsoring several trekking and mountaineering expeditions. Some of the mountaineers produced films on their expeditions showing great skiing on the Kulu Himalayas - creating new images of India in Japan.

Next to the media who create awareness and a favourable environment for travel to a destination, it is the tour operators who matter. They have considerable influence over the destinations their clients choose to visit. They could not recommend India if they were not familiar with India's attractions. There are some destinations which sell on their own through word of mouth. A large number of Japanese had already been to Hawaii or Hong Kong and other people followed them. Affordability also mattered. The international fares to India were not cheap. The few 5-star hotels we had in India were more expensive than those in neighbouring countries. We, therefore, had to woo the tour operators, especially the wholesalers of travel packages to enter the India market.

Again we sent a number of tour operators on familiarisation tours to India. We extended full hospitality through the Department of Tourism to major tour operators with several branches in the country. For instance, Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) had 350 offices all over Japan and they could organise many group tours in a year. However, for smaller companies, we organised short tours with the help of Indian hotel chains as well the travel agents in India. This helped the Indian travel agents to build business relationships of mutual interest with the travel agents from Japan. We were able to organise hotel accommodation in India, while the Indian travel agents extended the courtesy of sight seeing including ground transportation and the guide services. Independent travel agents wanting to familiarise themselves with India were also assisted to visit the country on basic costs. The purpose was that those who sell India should know India – my 'mantra' for travel marketing.

Travel is a business where there is win-win situation for all its sectors in if tourism grew in a country. If more people visit India, every stake-holder benefits – airlines, travel agents, guides, taxi operators and ground transporters, as well as shop keepers and souvenir sellers. I sought and got the cooperation of all players of the tourism industry in my efforts to extend hospitality to more Japanese opinion-makers. During my five years, I was able to send over 1000 members of the Japanese travel industry to India not including the airline staff who used their free tickets and bought package tours offered by Indian travel agents. We also sponsored over 300 Japanese journalists, reporters, editors, TV anchors and cameramen.

I spent five years in Japan, doing what I enjoyed the most, making people familiar with India and winning friends for our country. The statistics indicated that my efforts were on the right track. The traffic from Japan to India in those five years increased from 4000 to 35000 – almost an 800% increase and the increase came mainly from Japanese holiday makers.

Overseas postings were generally for three year periods. My daughter had just finished her high school in Japan. We wanted her do her higher education in India so that she could become familiar again with India’s culture and ethos. She had been out of India since the age of nine. However, Dr. Karan Singh (then Minister of Tourism) wanted me to continue in Tokyo. But I succeeded in coming back to India in 1974, as the chief of Publicity and Marketing in the Department of Tourism. I now faced the realities of home scene after some l2 years overseas. These realities were rather difficult to swallow after a decade's absence. I had returned to new levels of corruption and intrigues especially after the Emergency. When I left India this was not the state of affairs. At least, my Department was totally free of corruption but I could no longer vouch for its integrity.

My senior bosses now spent their time kowtowing to the Ministers – misguiding them and bending rules and regulations to please them. It disgusted me. I had one Director General, a senior IAS officer, who even used to stay standing in his own room in deference to a minor Minister calling on phone. This amused and baffled me. The top boss of the Department of Tourism was usually a very senior IAS officer who held that position for an average for less than two years. It was too short a period to understand the intricacies of the modern tourism industry. The Indian tourism industry started ignoring the Department.

Rajiv Gandhi held the Tourism portfolio briefly and appointed his friend and confidant Mohammed Younis as the Chairman of a Committee to suggest ways and means to re-organise tourism on professional lines. Some of the best brains of the Industry were included in the Committee. They unanimously recommended that the Tourism Department be converted into an autonomous Board under a professional chairman. The report was submitted in the late 1980s and is still gathering dust in government archives. The senior IAS bureaucrats felt threatened, and did not want to give up their lien on the Tourism jobs. Few other postings exposed them to the luxuries of five-star hotels and foreign travel. The politicians had no desire to lose their patronage over public sector organisations like the ITDC.

After my retirement from Government, I was meeting a Minister of Tourism as a journalist. The Minister was in conversation with the new Director General who did not recognise me. I heard him telling the Minister, “Sir, if the Tourism Board is constituted, you will not be able to appoint even a peon in any public sector organisation.”

Today, the Department of Tourism is organised on the same lines as it was fifty years ago!

After hosting the 1978 annual convention of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) in New Delhi, my next stop was New York to head the India Tourist Office as the Regional Director. The New York office was responsible for marketing India as a tourism destination in the United States, but also the countries of South America. Through the 1000 foreign delegates, predominantly American, at the PATA Conference, the seeds of growth in American tourism to India had been sown. The Government now expected me to harvest the crop. It was a big challenge as well as honour and I wanted to make the most of it. It was going to be my last overseas posting before I retired from the government.

This was soon after the Nixon Presidency which was very hostile to India for supporting and helping set up an independent and sovereign Bangladesh. A new President Jimmy Carter. a Democrat, had taken over as the US President but relations between India and the United States had not warmed up yet. Tourism is hugely affected by the overall political and diplomatic relations with tourism generating markets. The image of India as an attractive tourism destination had taken a beating. On the positive side, at least, India’s image was a little better as with the Green Revolution having taken root, it was no longer dependent on American aid to feed its people.

India also had a number of other positive assets – a vibrant democracy, varied climate, diverse people, an ancient civilisation and culture. But, the country was not promoted on a wide scale. The Indian Tourist Office in New York was allocated $250,000 for advertising. It may be noted that tiny Singapore spent $30 million annually on tourism promotion through the eighties. A silver lining on the horizon was that the 'Operation' Scheme started in Europe had been extended to the Americas. Under this Scheme, Air India and the Tourist Office in New York could pool their resources and use the money for promoting India together. With our pooled resources we devised a new promotion strategy around the theme 'Fabulous India'. (The current common slogan to promote India all over the world is 'Incredible India'.) Our budget was too small to include advertising on television so we had to confine ourselves to the print media but even with this limitations, the response for more information was overwhelming.

However, our response time to requests for more information was slow. The packets of a literature we sent took too long to reach the people. During the interim period, the person needing the information often changed his/her mind and chose another holiday destination. I probed into the system of despatch. It dismayed me to learn that when the postal or telephonic enquiries reached our office, we sent a consolidated list of typed addresses once a week to another agency. This agency did the mailing not only for India Tourist Office but also for several other tourist offices and thus the delay could be of many days. We paid the agency money for not only storing the literature in their warehouse but also additional mailing and labour charges which amounted to substantial sums. The practice had been going on for several years and, as is usual with the Government, systems once established are never reviewed or changed. I also discovered that we paid rent for a storage space in our own building for ‘additional literature’. I had to make some effort to locate this space as none of the staff knew about it and finally we found it thanks to one staff member who had been with us for a long time. This storage area was only five minutes walk from our office When I got it opened, I realised that it had not been visited for some years and that most of the literature stored was obsolete.

I asked my people to surrender the storage space and save the rent. The current and relevant literature was brought from the Distribution Agency’s warehouse and stored in the main offices from where we functioned. One of my friends, an Indian architect practising in New York created the right space for literature to be stored within my own office. It was stored in a way we could see what we had on racks with easy access. He also created work space for despatch for preparing mail out packages. We hired a stamping machine from the Post Office and were soon in business. We had the necessary staff to complete all requests for information the same day, including the preparation of 50 or more address labels which was the average number of daily enquiries.

The India Tourist Office had a location in the well-known Rockefeller Plaza, next to Fifth Avenue. The office had a large lounge where I started holding educational programmes on India for airline and travel agency staff. With the co-operation of Air India, we also started hosting orientation seminars for tourist groups departing for India. They were given a brief film presentation with Indian tea and snacks before boarding Air India planes to Delhi or Mumbai. Even at other times, our lounge was seldom empty. Visitors were always there reading something on India.

Having organised my office on efficient lines, I got the recognition and reward two months later. A travel editor of a New York daily had conducted a study on the utility and efficiency of all Foreign National Tourist Offices located in New York. They called some 40 foreign Tourist Offices and asked them the same questions about their country, facilities available plus asked them to mail the relevant literature. The newspaper rated each official response on the following criteria:

  1. Speed with which information was despatched.

  2. Response – polite or otherwise.

  3. Quality of literature and information.

  4. Relevance to the request made.

Out of the forty Tourist Offices, India topped the list. The India package containing information reached them in three days; the quality was good and every aspect of the request was taken care of. The newspaper rated India Tourist Office the most efficient and the best in all categories.

What they appreciated most was that the package was accompanied by a personalised reply from the Director. I had trained my senior staff to examine every packet for relevance before it went to the post office. It made a difference. The senior staff ensured that the pamphlets included in response to every enquiry were relevant to the travellers’ requirements. We did not inflict unnecessary literature on people. It was also a routine for my staff to always customize our standard reply with additional information in response to specific questions about India. This pat on the back from a leading newspaper of New York boosted the morale of my staff to do better. My colleagues from other foreign tourist offices visited us to see how we managed.

During my meetings with Air India Managers from all over the USA and Canada, I was advised that the travel agents in the United States were ignorant about destination India. It was a distant area for them as Brazil would be for Indians. To overcome this lacuna, we designed along with the Air India managers, one or two day educational seminars on India for the travel agency staff in major cities of U.S.A. Usually each travel agency nominated one or two staff members. We had kept a nominal registration fee of US $ 10 because we had noticed that free promotions did not get adequate response from the more senior staff. But, we did offer a complimentary luncheon as part of the Seminar programme. To train the participants, we developed a 100 page workbook entitled, INDIA which became a resource and reference manual for future to be used by participants. The workbook recommend areas to visit and led them through the process of preparing and costing itineraries lasting from one to four weeks. At the end of the seminar, we awarded them certificates recognising them as India specialists. When we sponsored American travel agencies for familiarisation tours to India, we gave preference to India specialists for inclusion in invited groups.

These seminars were held in scores of cities of the United States from coast to coast with the initiative of the Air India managers who were located at that time in as many as 17 cities of USA and Canada whereas there were only three India Tourist offices in the US plus one in Canada. In every such educational seminar, a Tourist Officer accompanied Air India team to make India presentations and to answer questions from the participants. The Tourist Office shared 50% expenses of each seminar but I must compliment Air India sales managers across the continent for organising these seminars. They worked very hard and showed the keenest interest in organising such seminars perhaps because it also gave them the opportunity to get to know well one or two of the staff members in each travel agency in their area. In three years, we succeeded in training about 1000 India specialists in USA! This training has had a long term benefit also as many of those junior staff whom we trained are now managers of leading American travel agencies.

As India Tours in USA were usually expensive due to the distance involved and the time consumed, we had to target only those who could afford the time and money. The obvious choice was senior citizens – the retirees who had both the leisure as well as money to take such tours. Some Indian travel agents took the lead and contacted a well established Association of Senior Citizens with a million members above sixty. An India deal was worked out with this Association. Airlines gave them special rates as they were bulk travellers, hotels in India and tour operators too joined hands to make 14-day tours a bargain for senior citizens. The result was an organised a series of tours – leaving every week. Air India was the main carrier that they utilised. Other major international airlines followed them. Often the Tourist Office gave them a little send-off party before they took off on their flights to India from New York.

Another India promotion I recall was of the Writers Guild of USA. We persuaded them to go to India for their annual conference and followed this up with a long familiarisation tour of India. The Guild had some 500 writers and non-writers as members. Four hundred of their members took the 10-day India Tour. It helped us in changing the mind of the Americans about India. Several of them published articles on India.

In an expensive and highly competitive market like the US, our Tourist Office with its limited resources could not adequately promote India as we wished. It had to be the team work of all the stake holders who who would benefit from the increased traffic. Fortunately, at my time, we had in New York, representative offices of the three major Indian in-bound tour operators. The Travel Corporation of India (TCI) office was headed by a son of its owners, the Katgara Brothers. Sita World Travel Office was headed by one of my old colleagues Avinash Anand (who had worked for several years with me in the Department of Tourism) and Trade Wings was also represented by a senior person in New York. Other leading tour operators visited America at regular intervals. I often met the Indian representatives of Travel Agencies for luncheon or tea and we exchanged notes and often co-ordinated our promotions. For all of us, it was more a mission India. With their inputs, I had a better idea of who were the best promoters of India tours in USA. Our tourist office could then better select the tour operators to be assisted with some advertising support.

The tourism from US to India was growing when suddenly the growth came to a halt. With the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the advent of old fashioned mullah rulers, Iran was in a turmoil. In November 1974, militants stormed the American Embassy and arrested some 70 members of the staff. There were voices to kill them all. US-Iran relations were at their worst and a war-like situation was created. Iran banned American airlines from flying over their territory. Scores of tours to India already sold by American travel agencies were cancelled. The crisis lasted over 400 days before the American hostages were safely brought home. But we managed to hold the US traffic to India at normal level – avoiding Iranian skies.

We were able to create an awareness of India in some South American countries too. We had targeted Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico as the primary source markets. I visited these countries every year holding meetings with the tour operators of these countries with the help of our embassies and Air India representatives whenever they were available. It paid dividends and traffic started moving up though in small numbers.

On the personal front, my years in the United States were very satisfying. I have no hesitation in saying that the school education of my two children during my San Francisco days cost me nothing. Education for all, including foreign students was free up to the twelfth grade in USA. My son, who later did his Ph.D. in one of the most prestigious Universities of USA, completed his studies without asking for a penny from me. All his expenses including food, accommodation and University fees were met either through scholarships or from what he earned by assisting his Professors.

I loved the American approach to personal freedom. In the US, no one forces his or her choice on you. In a cocktail party, so long you are holding a glass, no one questions the nature of your drink – alcoholic or non alcoholic. In an Indian party, our idea of hospitality is to force alcohol on everyone.

I kept in close touch with the American Universities where tourism management was taught as a career. I met some of the leading Professors of these Universities like Prof. Robert McIntosh who was then head of Tourism Studies in the University of Illinois. He was the Professor who had pioneered tourism studies in the USA. More than 60 years ago, he published his first comprehensive text book entitled Tourism, Principles, Practices and Philosophies which is now in its tenth edition.

Inspired by him, I published my first text book, 'Successful Tourism Management' for Indian students in 1978. I improved it further after meeting him and his colleagues in USA. This book too is in its fifth edition now. I admired the generosity and eagerness with which American Professors like him and Chuck Gee, Head of Tourism and Hotel Management Studies, University of Hawaii shared their knowledge with their counterparts in other countries.

I retired from the Department of Tourism in 1981 but could not leave Tourism.