Rajni Hasija, former director at the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), talks to Education Post’s Tanay Kumar about the potential of the tourism and hospitality sector in India by the end of this decade, and makes it a point to mention that we still have miles to go in terms of safety and hygiene that will inspire women to travel more freely around the country, particularly if they wish to travel solo.
In 2019, under your leadership, India saw its first corporate train, which we know as Tejas Express. How is the landscape of corporate travel evolving in India?
Indian Railways decided to handover two Tejas trains to IRCTC to operate them as premium passenger trains in January 2019. It was decided to operate the first Tejas train on the Lucknow–New Delhi route and the second one on the Ahmedabad– Mumbai route. The first corporate train had its maiden journey in October 2019 on the Lucknow– Delhi route. Second corporate train came on track in January 2020 on the Ahmedabad–Mumbai route with value added services like new type of insurance with compensation in case train gets late, good food, special onboard entertainment.
One has to appreciate that the customer nowadays is well-informed and there is a change in definition of travel in the corporate world. The travel culture has evolved to an extent that people are not only looking for better facilities in need based travel but also talking about sustainability while travelling by opting for low-emission flights for leisure travel as well. People in the corporate world are ready to pay and look for value for service. So, to match up to the expectation of travelers, trains being introduced with better rolling stock should be operated in different manner as compared to normal trains. Understanding their requirement and consistent feedback from the customer becomes very important here. That is exactly what IRCTC did for these trains and we were able to build a strong relationship with the customers.
In the tourism industry as a whole, what are the issues that need to be addressed to help more women travel in India?
Traveling as a woman in India, like in many other countries, comes with its own set of considerations and challenges. While India is a diverse and beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage, it’s important for women to be aware of and prepared for certain issues to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Safety while traveling is always the utmost issue for women. Therefore, safe accommodation, destination, safe and hygienic transport and cooperative tour operator services are some of the issues where the entire tourism ecosystem of the country has to excel.
Having said that, it has been observed that in many parts of our country, tours are now being organised specially for women groups with special accommodation throughout the year. Such steps are welcome.
We often expect good service from IRCTC, but what are some things we as passengers can do to reduce the burden on IRCTC and the entire railway administration?
While IRCTC and railway administration are committed to providing the best of services to passengers, customers and travelers also have equal responsibility to take care of government property and help the administration maintain it.
The responsibility of customers of the Indian Railways actually starts from the booking phase, which should always be done through authorise channels. At the time of boarding the train one should use facilities at the station in a responsible manner so that facilities are available to others in good condition.
While in the train, one has to appreciate that ensuring the upkeep of on-board housekeeping facilities in a moving train is a big challenge and this cannot happen without the cooperation of passengers. Maintaining hygiene, behaving in a civilised manner while traveling, using the toilets which have to be used by dozens of other people in an appropriate manner will really reduce the burden on the administration.
And trust me, not only will this help the administration, these habits will mostly help the passengers themselves.
Last year, the Ministry of Tourism released the Draft National Tourism Policy 2022. What is your opinion of this policy?
The aim of the entire National Tourism Policy 2022 is to generate employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the tourism sector and provide a skilled labor pool so as to enhance the competitiveness of the tourism industry.
The policy also talks about attracting private sector investment and give clear guidelines to preserve and enhance India’s natural and cultural resources. The intention of the government is loud and clear and the work in the tourism industry is happening like a mission mode in order to enhance the contribution of tourism to the Indian economy.
In fact, recently, India has concluded a successful G20 mega event in our capital under its presidency. Before this event, an important historic event took place in Goa in June where a complete roadmap for the G20 economies in tourism was devised. The policy has now therefore gone much beyond the draft stage. The five key areas that have been identified are: Green Tourism, Digital Tourism, Destination Management, Skilling the Hospitality Sector and Supporting Tourism: Related To Micro, Small And Medium Enterprises (MSMES).
What are some innovations and reforms brought under your leadership and what are some other plans in the pipeline?
Many of us are in top management of companies handling important positions, but I seriously owe the success of the organization to the whole team of employees in IRCTC.
An organization does not have just a leader but also teams of staff and officers at various levels who give the leader an identity. I am lucky to head IRCTC, which has delivered many successful innovating projects like Operation of Private Trains, Operation of Bharat Gaurav Trains, launch of the Ask Disha portal and the help box that turns at the IRCTC’s website, Operating Ramayana Circuit, running affiliate marketing first time on Indian railways portal, and the ticketing project for CWG 2010.
Further, existing services of all business verticals were taken to greater heights. These team efforts led to several coveted awards like National E-governance award for three times with the National Tourism Award in 2022 and many more.
How did it happen that as a Zoology scholar, you entered the Indian Railway Services?
Well, after graduation, I took up zoology as a subject because I wanted to be a research scholar and pursue my doctorate degree from Delhi University. But my destiny had written something else for me. I had taken up the UPSC civil services exam, conducted and qualified with zoology as the main subject and opted Indian Railway Traffic services as per my priority choice. In fact, by that time I wanted to learn more about our country through Indian Railways. It is now my love for travel which has further driven me to the tourism sector and what you learn, it always stays with you.
No doubt, tourism has tremendous potential in India, but the workforce in this industry is majorly under-skilled. Do you agree with this situation or do you have a different opinion?
The tourism sector surely has immense potential, as it touches not only segments like business, employment but also encompasses culture, revenue in the country and the world at large.
As per an analysis done by the World Travel and Tourism Council for the upcoming decade, it has been projected that globally, travel and tourism contribution to the GDP shall be around 11.6% with a positive compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1%. When it concerns India, it has been predicted that tourism industry shall be contributing 7.1% in the GDP with positive CAGR of over 8% in the same period.
However, there is need to have skill development for youth specially so as to enhance job resilience and making the tourism industry a great career path.
Special thrust for economic development in rural areas and nurturing tourism skills among the local people will have a long-term impact on their economic growth. And for this purpose, upskilling and reskilling etc. are badly needed. Tourism has to be positioned as a promising carrier, especially for young men and women.