Riding the new-age start-up wave III


Continuing with our discussion on new-age startups that have the potential to create jobs, and unconventional ones at that, what if we were to give wings to our wildest fantasies and make them take largely maiden flights to hitherto unheard-of vocations. So to say, whereas the last two blogs talked about ideas that had already been tried and tested, what follows is largely uncharted territory – fantastic, fanciful & insanely exciting.

For instance, while we’re already aware that the last bastion of one-horned rhinos in Assam, India, aren’t exactly staring at a bright future, not everyone will, despite beating hearts and glowing emotions, feel it apt to visit Kaziranga and Manas wildlife sanctuaries in person. And this despite the fact that the state, torn apart in the 1980s by ethnic strife, has been pretty placid in recent times. Actually, the greatest issue for everyone, whether from other parts of India, or abroad, is accessibility. The North-East isn’t exactly well-connected though things are changing.

Given these circumstances, what would a wildlife warden sitting in Kohora, one of the main gates of Kaziranga do in order to increase footfalls? Sure, the conventional advertising and PR activities will remain. However, maybe one can take up something really innovative like experiential safaris which are basically augmented reality-like virtual tours that’ll get the potential tourist so engrossed that she’ll pack her bags and set sail for Assam at the earliest opportunity.

In other words, in order to entice tourists into visiting in person, presuming the potential tourist checks in at the website, he gets to see the vanilla pop-up and drop-down advertisements, PR testimonials and the usual stuff. However, the call to action here really is a small video grab that, against a nominal fee, helps one plunge into rhinoceros land lock, stock and barrel! Once the viewer clicks the video, it streams to pan out into a well-cut game-like video that encourages the viewer to partake of the joys of the park – sight birds and wild buffaloes, run around with the shy deer, spot a slithery python sunning itself on the giant eucalyptus, or indeed cap the horn of the one-horned pachyderm with Santa-like caps! This will be designed to be so interactive that the viewer will be induced and so influenced that he’ll book his tickets and make his reservations right away!

Similarly, for heritage tours, one can have an app that is inspired by and designed like a treasure hunt! Imagine an otherwise mundane city ‘darshan’ / tour brought to life with a little imagination where the tourists in different buses are pitted against each other in a race akin to a treasure hunt! For instance, let us assume that Mrs Namrata & Ms Shalini have clicked on to the app. Now, they’re given the option of outwitting each other and winning free passes to the latest water park in town. The app gives them clues akin to a treasure hunt and in the course of the race, they almost experience the city first hand, a decidedly tasty bait for them to make reservations and pack their bags. What’s more, the same app can be replicated on ground and gifts handed out to the winning team. This will easily add the much-desired zing to plain heritage tours or city sightseeing experiences!

Having already spoken of places where the wild things are – of Nature’s bounty as it were – and of man-made heritages and city-walks, it’s a good idea to take a swim with the dolphins and sea-turtles off exotic costs and picture-postcard islands. Yes, when we talk of coastal tours, what is almost always missed out is the crucial bait that makes potential tourists opt for one beach over the others. Look at Goa for instance. What is it that makes this tiny state the party capital of India? Cheap booze? Wrong! There’s cheaper liquor available elsewhere in the country. Is it the beaches? Nine out of ten times, Goa’s famed beaches will leave one underwhelmed. The answer, it’d appear is a quagmire – a cultural heritage that’s as un-Indian as it gets, locals who make a career out of lethargy, a strong PR and Bollywood’s go-to destination for all things sinful! Which is precisely why while a honeymooning couple might choose it, a couple travelling with kids would prefer the serenity of Pondicherry. And while Goa is top-of-mind while selecting a beach vacation, quainter places like Pondicherry and Daman are slowly moving up the line too. So yes, the point is to remain a little enigmatic and a little exotic in order to be that much more attractive to the discerning traveller. So to say, advertise by all means but be clear about your USP. And play it to the galleries.

Riding the new-age start-up wave II

Continuing our discussion on rocking start-up ideas in travel and hospitality, before we go on the ideas per se, wouldn’t it be worth our while to ponder for a while on allied career paths that you might take after graduating from the prestigious Blue Whale Academy. Confused? We’ll tell you a story that’ll most likely help you understand better.

Take for instance, Anthony Bourdain’s or Samantha Brown’s jobs. Do you think both of these supremely successful travel-show hosts have travel degree under their belts? And we’re not talking of honorary degrees that various academic institutes have conferred on them. Just a cursory skim through Wikipedia will tell you that these people are just plain hardworking chaps who eked out a supposedly cushy life on – guess what – their communication skills and affability alone! So yes, we’re suggesting you can take up an allied career like travel media – don’t restrict yourself by the medium but go the whole hog with TV, radio, print, web and social media. But remember, it’s very competitive and you might not mint money from day one. So, please be patient! And also be prepared for the grime and the smoke that travel entails, as well as inclement weather and your body’s reactions to conflicting time zones. It’s not all about tasting exotic ales & dining at thrilling live barbecues.

Moving on to innovative start-up ideas, there’s the sterling case of Lyft – the cab rental service that unlike its rival Uber enables ordinary people become cabbies and then puts them across to passengers who require rides! So to say, imagine that you’re driving back from office and decide to ferry someone to a place that lies on the way. You post on the Lyft app that you’re travelling on say, the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli-Link-Road to Powai from Goregaon East. This update immediately goes up along with your location details to other users and the user closest to you hitches a paid-ride to Poonam Nagar, Andheri East that’s on the way! In other words, you don’t need to don a cabbie’s uniform, nor go out of your way to earn money – just go with your flow and make money while at it!

Then, take the unique case of two very elemental – yes, maybe, but that much more necessary and ubiquitous apps – WeatherSphere and Peek. WeatherSphere, no prizes for guessing, helps avid travellers negotiate the inclemencies of weather so that the fury of Nature never plays spoilsport in one’s travel plans. Just ask travel aficionados how relevant real-time weather updates are and you shall know just how important a need gap WeatherSphere fills in. Coming to Peek, the app is experiential in the sense that it awards a guided-tour-like experience to its users. And unlike the dime a dozen websites that provide luscious photographs and location reviews, this app by Ruzwana Bashir also employs testimonials by big names to build credibility so genuine that even established players like Disneyland are willing to pay it a 15-20% commission from sales that happen through it’s platform!

And if you always were this grumpy air traveller who managed to find fault with everything from seat reclining angles to food freshness, to heck even the air-hostess’ chipped nail paint, worry not, there’s help for you too! The name’s Tensator – an obvious portmanteau for technical translator. Simply put, these are multi-lingual HD holograms that attempt to enhance ease of travel by answering passengers’ questions about security, flight and gate locations, and airport navigation and in a manner that has been reported to be more affable and knowledgeable than regular ground crew. Currently on a pilot in Dubai International, Washington Dulles, and Boston’s Logan International airports, they’;re so popular as to already solicit coveted epithets like ’employee of the future’.

Further, there’s the absolutely delightful Scottevest – a travel garments’ retailer that prides itself in making travel wear that is fun and functional at the same time. They claim to make “travel clothes with special pockets designed to let you take everything with you”. In other words, they have special pouches/compartments for your mobile, Kindle and other portable devices all sewn in with your travel clothes. Interesting, isn’t it?

To conclude, we return to an app promising a service much like what we began this series with, HotelTonight. This app’s product differentiator is that it helps you make last-minute hotel room bookings without burning a hole in your pocket.

Riding the new-age start-up wave I

Bluewhale_3When it comes to earning dignified livelihoods after passing out from the prestigious Blue Whale Academy, there is indeed no greater truth than saying that the world is indeed your oyster. Given the dynamics of the job market across the wide wide world today, it is indeed no exaggeration to say that apart from jobs across the entire hospitality and ancillary services-related industries, there are indeed wholly unexplored jobs that are waiting to be claimed.

Indeed, given that a strong start-up wave has invaded India, there’s no time like now to be in travel & hospitality. For, like we’ve always desired the world to be, the best thing about startups is that they pay credence to winning ideas. Ideas that have the potential to change the market dynamics and fill glaring need gaps.

Take for instance the stupendously fantastic thought that went behind the modern marvel – Oyo Rooms! When its 22-year-old founder & CEO Ritesh Agarwal, an avid traveller faced the very real and practical issue of unpredictability of quality budget rooms, he pivoted the concept of aggregating standardised budget hotel rooms that undergo periodic audits so as to maintain that most elusive of qualities that the budget traveller faces – QUALITY! In other words, Oyo Rooms is nothing but a cluster of hotel rooms (according to their official website, the present count is over 40,000) that promise to give you exceptional quality without burning a hole in your pocket. The rates are standardised and services are adjusted accordingly. For instance, Oyo Rooms across the country (and they claim to have a footprint across 164 cities via 4,000 properties pan India) priced at, say Rs. 1,000, will have the same facilities across the length and breadth of India – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kolhapur to Dimapur. It’ll not be like the unorganised sector where if one gets, say a Wi-Fi room in Guwahati for Rs. 2,000, she’ll have to shell out Rs. 2,500 for the same in Ratnagiri. Apart from price, Oyo Rooms’ fanatical attention to hygiene and standards is another USP for the upkeep of which too, regular audits are carried out.

The point here is not to only to marvel at the success story of a barely-out-of-his-teens Agarwal (that’s of course there) but in order to see how an astute businessman could sense the potent need gap in the market and turn it around into a winning business proposition. And, as any businessman will willingly tell you, at the heart of every single winning business is a simple scalable and executable idea, not rocket science! Purists might argue that there’s hardly anything novel to Oyo Rooms and that it is inspired by the international success of AIRBNB. To that we’ll say that the first measure of success is how many detractors it has! And if, at all, it’s just a matter of inspiration, what stopped others from getting inspired?

Again, when commuting to and from our colleges & offices, haven’t we all fervently cursed the traffic and the attendant din and bustle and promised to take the issue up with gusto with the local MLA? But how many of us have actually done it as against the vast majority of us who have simply preferred to plonk ourselves on the sofa and watch the umpteenth re-run on F.R.I.E.N.D.S? True, isn’t it? A far more practical solution would be what Alta Bicycle Share is doing – operating a bicycle-sharing system. This not only eases commutes by easing traffic snarls but also does a splendid job of reducing carbon footprints and burning unwanted fat in the cyclists’ bodies! How cool is that?

So to say, even our very home-grown Meru cabs did something very novel back then when it launched. It identified a need gap in the market and cashed in on it – a perfectly-sound and logical business idea that was instantly lapped up by passengers who were fed up of cajoling rude auto-rickshaw and cab drivers into rides that they would almost certainly have to overpay for. In it’s stead, Meru proposed a dial-a-cab service that obliterated the very need to step out of your homes before the taxi arrived at your very doorstep. Moreover, you paid by the meter and got a ‘pucca’ receipt for it too! Now that was innovation! Back in the day that is. Of course, one might argue that Meru is a dead duck now, but can anyone deny that back in it’s heyday, it was a beautiful swan?

Straddling a high-flying international career

Diploma in Airline Ticketing and Travel Management Courses Mumbai, India

Assuming that at one of the various campus interviews held at Blue Whale Academy, you are offered the job of a flight crew for a reputed foreign airline. And supposing you have taken it up, after very carefully scrutinising the offer letter and signing it as a gesture of acceptance, here’s all the dope on the prep you’d compulsorily need before taking off.

Since it’s an international airline, they will have stringent background checks. So make sure that the contacts you share as references on your CV/job application form (in all likelihood your college teachers assuming you are a fresh graduate) are informed well in advance and a convenient time slot booked for them when the HR might call them. No teacher likes being called during lectures and we’re sure yours is no exception too. Also, give them all the dope on your selection process and expectations so that they don’t appear thunderstruck when the HR calls.

Again, nowadays, all international airlines mandate swimming as a compulsory requirement for flight crew. Even if they didn’t ask you to swim at the interview, which wasn’t at the beach anyway, chances are there that as part of the induction, there’ll be a poolside/beach party for freshmen to meet and interact – a nice way to test how well you take to water. If you’ve lied through the interview, you’ll be caught unless you’ve learnt swimming in the interim period between the interview and actual joining, which mightn’t be possible for everyone. For it is widely speculated that fire signs like Leo take to water less easily than water signs like Cancer. So, remember, lying is never a good idea, least of all at an interview. So, if knowing how to swim is mandatory, go ahead and learn before you apply. At least don’t hide it. For all you know, if they like you otherwise, they might teach you swimming at the induction level before you actually start flying.

Then comes the very potent issue of dealing with transcontinental time zones. You’d do very well to remind yourself that your body is after all a machine with a mind of its own. A mind that very often tends to be mindless when disturbed or tampered with. One of the commonest issues international flight crews face is the issue of juggling multiple time zones. Thus, it is very important to train your mind and body by adopting holistic health practices complete with balanced diets, healthy habits and six to eight hours of sound uninterrupted and peaceful sleep. This is so because like the plane you shall shortly board to reach your work destination, and the many flights you will routinely board subsequently as your career progresses, your body too is a machine. As any doctor will tell you willingly, sleep is nothing but the body’s time to be grounded and refuelled so as to take on another day. It is a misconception that the body stops functioning during sleep. If that was the case, how’d you be breathing? That’s the circulatory system at work, for starters. Plus, there’s the digestive, nervous and all other systems that are in fact working along in tandem so as to recharge your batteries. A good night’s sleep, as Nature has told us very clearly through birds and bees, is very healthy and essential. What is it that they say about being early to bed or and early to rise awarding wisdom or something such?

In a similar fashion, your body needs to be sleep-trained by opting to sleep and wake up as per the country you are flying to. This can be very easily done by logging on to the internet and looking up local times at your destination city and adjusting your clocks accordingly. This is to be followed by trying to sleep at and wake up at the host city’s timings at least a fortnight prior to flying rather than plunge into it only after you land in your hotel suite jet-lagged and weary.

Also, familiarise yourself with your destination’s cultural milieu for some cultural shock absorption padding. This is to say, for instance, if your base city is the exotic Middle-Eastern city of Abu Dhabi, where all the girls headed for Sex and the City 2, please note that they work on Sundays and Fridays and Saturdays usually serve as weekly holidays unlike India. Also, you might opt for religion-specific holidays like choosing to work during Eid while opting for compensatory offs during Christmas and New Year holidays.

Also, researching the place’s quirks and eccentricities, food practices, laws, acceptable and non-acceptable public behaviour, dress codes, traffic rules, ethics and morals on the Internet is a good idea rather than fall flat on our face when we encounter spatial oddities first hand upon reaching the destination.
Again, avoid drinking pre-boarding or during the flight. Liquors are very dehydrating and you never want to start a career with a mid-air crisis! Plus a drink too many can put you off guard to reveal a side of your personality that can only be acceptable to your dearest relatives and friends.

Also, true even at 40,000 feet above the ground – drink only after a heavy meal, never mix spirits and keep sipping water and nibbling on cheeses and nuts.
Drink if you absolutely must, or your future colleagues insist on raising a toast to you – but leave it at that. They aren’t allowed to drink on duty as it is. So mock raise a symbolic glass and clink it too, but try not to plunge into it with gusto. The flight crew isn’t your friend yet. And this could be staged under instructions from the higher ups. Plus, aren’t there cameras in-flight?

Plus, you’ll mostly be flying the carrier you’ll take up work for and there are in-flight attendants who are monitoring your every move and reporting it to the minutest details. Don’t get spooked but even drab details like your posture and body language, interaction with co-passengers, communication with the flight crew, choice of in-flight content, handling of in-flight materials like quilts and magazines, table manners, adherence to safety instructions and even toilet etiquette is being closely monitored.

So, start shopping for essentials – multi-socket adaptors, warm clothes et al – and start packing your bags. Always carry a book, essential toiletries and allowed weight only. Remember to not take a lot of fluids, never take inflammable or contraband stuff or liquor. Also, there are declaration and VISA formalities to be completed on arrival. Always be truthful in your responses as the city shall treat you the way you treat the city.
So, have a great flight!

PS: This is an unabashedly indicative list

In-flight roles you didn’t know existed!

In-flight roles you didn't know existed Mumbai, India

Presuming that after you’ve graduated from your prestigious Blue Whale Academy, you are offered the job of a cabin crew with a leading international airline, isn’t it worthwhile to ponder as to what’s it that you can expect while on the job? Well, to put it very mildly, every airline is different, so there’s always that bit of permutation & combination that you’ll have to do as you negotiate your own job. That said, by its very nature of being part of the holiday industry, there are certain universal criteria that one needs to adhere to. For instance, in general, you need to pay particular attention to

Grooming – You must be absolutely well-groomed and shining from head to toe! Yes, appearances do matter and since you are in a guest-facing role, you cannot afford to be sloppy at all. So dear ladies, please ensure that your skirts, blouses & other dresses are the right/recommended size & length, your eyebrows are well-done, you get regular pedicures & manicures done and your nail paint isn’t chipped & your lips aren’t chapped. As far as men are concerned, remember that suits only look good on men who stride about confidently rather than slouch. Also, get those ties matched to your suits & ensure that you never wear open/dirty footwear. Also, both genders must take regular breaks to groom themselves – use mouth wash, take a quick shower, dust shoes or simply hydrate your face with generous sprays of water. Again, as a thumb rule, never report late to work or report drunk – guests can make out the slur in your voice or the unsteadiness in your walk. So, if you’ve had a drink too many, call for sick leave & please get thoroughly rid of that hangover before you report to work!

Interaction – Since you are in a guest-facing role, no prizes for guessing that you’ll independently have to manage a lot of guests, a vast majority of whom will try your patience. But it’s important not to lose any of your patience for, you know, like the bosses have always told you, the guest is always right – more so if its a pregnant lady, a child or a person with special needs or that peculiar species of irate flyers – movie stars & politicians. In your interactions, be polite but firm – if they make unreasonable demands like going on to the tarmac to smoke during a lay over, or carrying in-flight warmers with them, simply say ‘You’re not permitted to do that’. Again, listen to what they’re saying very clearly before taking any action – if in doubt, ask again rather than mess up requests. Remember that the chances of a guest re-booking on your airline is directly proportional to how you make her feel now when she’s actually flying you

But all these apart, have you ever been under the impression, like most of the uninitiated masses, that the role of a cabin-crew member stops at just explaining the safety procedures, helping serve the guests, catering to their demands & helping them board & de-board the plane? If so, you couldn’t be farther from the truth! For, within the very precincts of an innocuous-looking Airbus or a Being, there is an entire paraphernalia of roles that require a high degree of specialisation to get done. Here’s a low-down on the other niche roles that in-flight crew members perform
Enhance passenger experience by giving their practical inputs to engineering teams for ergonomic seat designs which ultimately has the potential to be a product differentiator for the airline. Matters like leg-room, degree of reclining etc. are of utmost importance for such matters. This is more prominent for people who are travelling with babies as they generally prefer the front row which has more leg room and space for bay bassinets.

Coming to food, another differentiator that airlines, more than crew members, routinely ignore – it is common knowledge that the food that’s prepared for in-flight consumption isn’t exactly fresh but in-fact highly processed. And there’s precious little that you can do to help this situation – there are space constraints and other restrictions to be paid heed to. One alternative is to maybe suggest pre-preserved foods like biscuits but given irregular flight timings, it is highly unlikely that guests will have milk & cookies for lunch or dinner

Then, there’s another product differentiator – in-flight entertainment (IFE) or the movies & TV shows that play out on the screens fitted to the seat in front of you. They need the in-flight standards & practices compliance for the territory they’re operating in and general stuff like air-crash, hijack, blood & gore and generally anything anti-airline etc. that needs to be avoided. Also, in-flight media like magazines and accessories like headphones & remotes that need to be meticulously taken care of.

Then comes the uber experience of duty-free in-flight shopping. As a responsible airline staff, please be thorough with what’s available, what’s out-of-stock & what can be delivered, know credit card limits and never over promise. Remember, no one likes tall hollow claims and every good guest-facing executive will tell you that the motto should be ‘under promise & over deliver’

So, now that you’ve got the flow, please get about your doing your jobs better than you were until now!

Before accepting the campus offer…

Campus-Recruitment, Interviews & Offers

Once you’ve passed all the campus interviews with flying colours, you’re faced with the enviable task of choosing the best offer. And this necessarily isn’t the best in terms of money. As any experienced professional will readily tell you, your career contour is, if not totally, at least significantly, decided by the first job you take up.

Apart from the fact that a campus placement on your CV is a definite plus, as you shall subsequently find out in your future job searches, you need to justify why you chose the offer you eventually did. And later, why at all are you looking for a change if its such a sparkling profile as you make it sound?

So, always choose your first jobs very very cautiously, weighing all the pros and cons, heeding all the advice that comes your way very cautiously and researching as much as you can. In this regard, it is a good idea to speak to trusted current and past employees about the company’s work ethics and culture, albeit in a non-intrusive and conversational tone which doesn’t serve to put them off. Just in case you didn’t know, they might just carry tales to your potential HRs.

You’d also do very well to remember that offer letters come with an expiry date which is very clearly mentioned in the letter or e-mail. Do a backward calculation to see if it suits you. If it doesn’t, make your expectations clear rather than go back on your word once you’ve hit the ‘send’ button on the e-mail soliciting your approval or signed a copy of the offer letter in black and white.

Now comes the trickiest bit – salaries! Most companies, be they hospitality or aviation, have their own pay structures and entry level salaries and often offer the best they can at campuses. If you are unclear on this, a good way of going about it is asking your seniors who have taken up such offers so as to lay all doubts to rest. If you think you deserve better, politely but firmly ask the HR if the offer can be tweaked to a more mutually-suitable one.

And be patient while this is being done. Re-working offers often involves multiple levels and layers of approvals which might take time. In the meanwhile, it’s never a good idea to stalk the HR on social media or WhatsApp for an update. She’s on the job, and the job being hers, she knows it well and has her KRAs to match too. Rest assured, she’ll pass on the information whenever she has some. It is very well-known that one of the biggest challenges any HR team faces is reducing the on-boarding time or the time taken to get a person to join the organisation. This is especially true in case of experienced professionals who straddle hectic schedules. In your case, since it’s a campus, and it’s your first job, your enthusiasm will be judged by seeing how eager you are to join the organisation.

Also, don’t forget to account for the time you are likely to spend at the Goan vacation that was planned long ago with your besties. You’ll seldom be able to extract time off work for an outstation holiday post joining. So, its a good idea to let your hair down while you still aren’t answerable to bosses.

Again, don’t ask for too much time as the HR will most likely retract the offer and make it to the next person in the queue. Remember, no one is irreplaceable and asking for too much time as a fresher is really not advisable. With experienced candidates of course, it’s a different story as there are mandatory notice periods to be served and severance penalties and buy backs that come into play.

So, the bottom-line is, please read the offer letter carefully before you sign an acceptance. Get help if you need to. Just don’t be in a hurry but don’t slack around for too long too! Follow up by a courtesy call to the HR informing her of your acceptance and ask about the office timings. You don’t want to reach late on the first day, ideally ever.

As you embark on a new journey – one which you’ll put most of your waking life into – we wish you all the very best

Learning and Unlearning on the first job

Learn, Unlearn And Relearn:  Career Guide

So, you have already landed the job of a co-ordinator at the travel desk of the latest seven-star hotel that’s the toast of the town. Heartiest congratulations, do take a bow!

But while you are still popping the champagne and enjoying the last few days of your freedom, it’s indeed worth your while to remember what every employed professional will tell you. First jobs are first jobs and the lessons you learn, and unlearn (while flitting between fetching coffee for bosses to carrying laptop bags to presentations) serve you well until the twilight years of your professional lives, nay, life itself.

It is an oft-neglected universal truth that all of us come with a lot of academic hangover when we step into our first jobs. In fact, neglected is not the term. It is so universal that nobody cares to speak about it. It has grown adventitious roots and become so intrinsically part of the system, that no one notices it.

Fishing for examples, first, let’s take ‘parroting’. Yes, Indian academics routinely over-emphasises learning by rote, rather than the more practical Gandhian ‘learning by doing’ method. As was very brilliantly enacted in the blockbuster 3 Idiots, there’s a wide schism that exists between the textbook and the laboratory, or the laboratory and the industry. So to speak, it’d serve us very well if we were to pick up bits and pieces of practicum and apply them to our first jobs than tend to learn processes by rote.

And then, the shattering of notions and views we had long learnt to nurture as students. For, truth be told, there is a vast difference between theory and practice. For instance, take the twilight zone of ethics. Each organisation gives its own zing to it and subjectivity means everything is open to interpretation. Don’t look like you’re shell-shocked even if you are. Learn to unlearn.

Secondly, there’s the mass marketing mentality or to put it more succinctly, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work. It might have served you well in college. However, professions are an entirely different ball game. Each task needs to be seen through a different prism. As also, there are fresh ways of looking at each task, when revisited. This keeps up the excitement and sees to it that the monster called monotony doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Thirdly, the all-important eye for detail and nitty-gritty. Your professor in college or your parents were inclined to give you the benefit of doubt. Your colleagues will find ways to expose lack of eye for detail. And half-baked cakes never easy on the palate. And remember, it’s a dog-eats-dog world and no one is irreplaceable.

Fourthly, organise and prioritize. Use post its, memos, alarms, rap your knuckles, kick yourself, do everything but get your priorities right. Truth is, a lot of overworking happens because people tend to get priorities wrong. Have lists and maintain excel sheets. Also, maintain time and expenditure lists – a tad painful in the beginning, but quite enjoyable – and most importantly insightful – subsequently. Put in extra hours only if absolutely necessary but try not to make it a habit.

Fifthly, span out. Go out of your cubicle and meet people. Acclimatise yourself to the company’s culture, pedigree and DNA. Water coolers, cafeterias and smoking zones are all very well for bonding. Only, don’t monger gossip. You probably spend more time with them than with biological families or friends. So, get to know them. You will invariably come to strike life-long friendships at your workstations. Also, don’t be judgemental or stalk them on social media. And ‘stalking’ includes saying ‘good morning/evening’ to the person sitting next to you on social media and messaging apps. Be friendly and approachable by all means; don’t overdo it – that looks like you’re trying too hard to please. And nobody likes slimy people. Be a team player who is missed when he takes annual leaves.

Sixthly, maintain standard etiquette, dressing sense and thorough personal hygiene. Workstations must not look like they were just hit by a cyclone, shoes must be sparkling, brows must be freshly threaded, mouths must reek of mouthwash, teeth must not be stained, lips must not be chapped, and neither must nails be chipped. Dresses must be well-tailored and mixed and matched to perfection. Remember, you are in the business of hospitality and people tend to warm up to well-groomed people more easily.
Seventhly, don’t carry any kind of baggage or preconceived notions. Have a good chat and remember the golden rule – note down points rather than speculate and repeat instructions and also ask for advice rather than miscommunicate. Approach work with an open mind.

Lastly, by all means, let your hair down. But it is a good idea to refrain from drinking at office parties. We can never be sure how we behave when we’ve had a drink too many. It’s a small world, an even smaller industry, and tales travel. So, better be safe than sorry.

Go ahead, rise and shine. Chin-up and God bless.

PS – This is just an indicative list. Nothing is writ in stone. As you chug along, you’ll have to make your own permutations and combinations

While at a walk-in keep in mind…

Job Interview Tips

So, it’s raining campus placements at your prestigious Blue Whale Academy. And you’ve decided to give it your best shot. Now what?

Time it right – First things first, never ever arrive late for an interview, its criminal. Indian Stretchable Time is all very well for a stag party, not an interview. If you respect their time, they shall respect yours. What is that Newton said about every action having an equal and opposite reaction?

Be at your best behaviour – Make sure you’ve had a luxuriously long shower, trim your nails, use loads of deodorants, cologne, after-shave, mouthwash and perfume. But don’t stink of perfume, it’s revolting.

Have good oral hygiene, because you will be speaking and bad breath immediately repulses. Also, don’t be shabby. Match your clothes by all means, but remember it’s not a party. No embroidered/bling shirts or tees with garish slogans. Don’t look like a scarecrow in sagging clothes or a wannabe TV star in clothes that are bursting at the seams. Match your shoes (men, no chappals please) and belts, ties and shirts. Men, no unsightly facial, nasal or aural hair. Using tweezers is really quite simple and doesn’t make you less masculine. Ladies, no chapped nails or lips or unibrows please. And smile. You’re never fully dressed unless you’re wearing one.

So now that you’ve arrived, you just enter the lobby and wait for your turn keeping absolutely to yourself or burying your nose into a book? Not a great Idea. Mingle, but don’t be noisy or boisterous. The lobby is under CCTV camera surveillance and you are on the radar. The organisers are testing your soft skills – how do you take to people, are your communication skills good, bad or ugly, are you a loner or a whiner. Also, wish everyone taking the interview – most are your friends and batch mates anyway. Only, no group hugs or selfies. You are on the brink of a professional journey and the age-old saying ‘well-begun is half-done’ is eternally relevant. And professional etiquette is the eternal sunshine of a spotless CV.
And since interviews usually have a written round, carry a good pen that doesn’t blot. Also, write legibly and don’t doodle if you finish before time. Again, don’t copy or pore over others’ answers. Read the questions very carefully and try not to sound very academic in your answers. They’re looking for professionals, not students.

Also, always carry a hard copy of your CV. And make sure you have studied it meticulously for typos. Also, make sure you can justify whatever is on the CV. Know your marks and grades. When someone asks you what your marks are, don’t say ‘80 point something. They’re your marks, they should be top of mind.

Research your interviewers – Research the company, their DNA, team members and potential colleagues. But don’t stalk them on social media. No one likes half-baked answers. So, if you don’t know, say so rather than fumble or lie.

And, lying through an interview is never cool. What if you land the job and they find out you’re faking it? First jobs are the stepping stones to a career and the crucial entry point into the industry. And since it’s a wireless world and poaching happens, your reputation travels at lightning speeds. And nobody likes to be jobless, right?

And even if you have to wait for a longish time, don’t crib. Remember, it’s a walk-in and they usually take long. And you’re on camera. Adjust your schedule accordingly.

Once you’ve got your turn, politely seek permission to enter and sit only when asked to. Firm handshakes, warm smiles and an easy manner. Do not talk with fake accents, tap your feet or flex your muscles. Talk with reasonable speed but do not murmur or slur or shout.

They’ll usually offer you tea, coffee or water. It’s wise to opt only for water as slurping while talking isn’t really cool. Make sure you opt for a private audience with your placement director to understand the desired skill sets and alumni feedback.

As you take on the interview, follow the simple rule of listening very carefully and asking again when you do not understand, rather than miscommunicate. Also, don’t be vague or use college/SMS/mobile/social lingo or anything evenly remotely abusive. You’re not among friends. Never dwell too long on questions or snap at irritating interviewers. They’re probably trying to test your patience.

And be street smart but not zany. For instance, at my first interview at school, they asked me “Which is the shortest month?” I replied, “M-A-Y”. I was in that moment while my future classmates had to face other rounds.

Again, there will be questions like ‘How do you fit into our organisation/role’. These are generalised questions and it’s a good idea to read up such questions on the Internet. And have some stock responses ready, but not quite rehearsed and by rote. It’s not a poetry competition. And never be a bundle of nerves. You’ll have to do a lot of calming frayed nerves later anyway. So take two deep breaths, say that prayer that always works in your mind and get set go!

Also, remember if the interview board is spending time with you and you are having a good time, you are doing well. Longer interviews usually mean you are getting aboard. Never ever bitch or badmouth others. And don’t carry baggage of any kind. No one likes a sore loser.

Then, comes the trickiest part, money. This is usually at the end of the tether. And as first timers, say the classic line ‘If all our expectations are on the same page, this is the last thing we should disagree on’. Tell them to make their best offer and we’ll see if it works. Again, don’t appear too eager or too hung up. As a fresher, you need that elusive first break.

After you’re done, ask anything that you might need to know and the vital ‘next steps’. Say courteous ‘good byes’ and ‘thank yous’.

And never follow up immediately. Decision-making takes time and these are busy executives who are at other academies too.

It’s usually OK to wait a fortnight before making any e-mail enquiries. Telephonic should be taken only if hugely necessary.

Stop by at the lobby by all means to share your experience but again don’t bitch. Or try to paint a false picture to intimidate others and lessen their chances.

Even after you exit the venue, take a good vantage point before you lighten up and loosen your tie or light a cigarette.

So, what are you waiting for? Do your homework, stay positive and chive on. We’re sure you’ll get there! Godspeed and good luck!

How to be a successful guest relations executive

Guest Relations Manager Roles and Responsibilities

India has two unique and distinctive traditions of religiously following the sacrosanct phrases, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ and ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam‘. Both are Sanskrit phrases which are essentially very similar in meaning – while the former means ‘guests are divine’, the latter can be loosely translated as ‘the whole wide world is indeed my extended family’!

As a guest relations executive at any of the sprawling three, five and seven star hotels that criss-cross the entire length and breadth of our great and vast country, you’ll do very well to adapt the above two phrases as your personal motto while dealing with guests and clients in your day-to-day lives.

This is so because guest relations is predominantly a people-facing job that requires a lot in terms of communication skills, soft skills and yes, the most-often neglected people skills that the two Sanskrit phrases which were evoked at the very outset of our conversation sought to invoke!

The first phrase – ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ – might ring a bell instantly as it is constantly being played out on our television sets as the hugely popular television commercial campaign of Indian tourism endorsed by Bollywood heavyweight Aamir Khan!

Let’s delve into some mythology now. Legend has it that Lord Krishna’s impoverished childhood friend Sudama’s wife, fed up with the family’s unending poverty kept goading him to seek help from Krishna. But, he refused to budge. Ultimately, after a lot more goading and pestering, Sudama went to meet Krishna, now the grand King of Dwarka. Krishna received him as befits a dear childhood friend, with rare state honours and ordered a grand feast and gave elaborate instructions for his pleasant stay too. However, even when it was time to leave, the self-righteous Sudama couldn’t bring himself to ask anything from Krishna. Krishna, however, presented him a little bundle of rice that’d keep him full throughout the journey.

Once Sudama left Dwarka, he decided to keep the bundle of rice for his family and instead manage on wild berries and fruits. As he was entering the narrow lane that led to his house, he was stunned to see a palatial palace looking out from the very place where his humble house had hitherto stood. Almost simultaneously, his wife and children ran out to greet him amid peals of laughter and thankful gazes. Moreover, He was surprised to see them dressed in clothes that were well beyond their means. It so turned out that Krishna had already guessed the purport of his friend’s visit and immediately went about ameliorating their sufferings. What was even more surprising was that Sudama felt that his bag had suddenly grown heavier and as he reached for the bundle of rice so that he could hand it out to his wife, he was stunned to find that the entire clothes bag had nothing but gold coins. Without so much as a word uttered, a friend had done his deed by helping another friend in need!

The point of the above story is that you need to go out of your way to make guests feel comfortable given that as first-time guests at your hotel, they are in an alien setting and among people they don’t know yet. This is truer in case of patrons (or guests who patronise your hotel) as you’ll be expected to know their quirks, follies & foibles like the back of your hand. In both cases, it is a very good idea to take & maintain notes about the guest to give them such personalised service that they award that birthday party contract that your boss has been pestering you for so long. Maintain a separate MS Excel spreadsheet and the physically taken notes too and be doubly sure to cross check details like anniversaries & birthdays. Also, if your hotel is pet and child family, please remember that all dogs aren’t named Tommy & all boys do not play football!

As regards the second phrase, ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam’, it goes on to induce the very essential quality of treating people as you would your family members. Just like we all have our roles to play in our unique families and have demands from family members to cater to, remember that guests of a myriad hues will pour out into the lobby and not everyone will be good to you. Please allow for the fact that everyone has their bad days, their tipsy days and their flirty days. Be calm & composed when dealing with all of them. And remember, personalisation is the key here too. If Ms Bannerjee likes her vodka with coconut water, offer her that, rather than decide on a tall glass of iced tea. If she’s paying for the service, she’s got the right to have her way.

So, all you guest relations rockstars, please remember to adopt the above two Sanskrit phrases so that you can be the girl Mr Batra looks for every time he flies down on business from Los Angeles to Mumbai!

What Exactly Are Soft Skills and Why Do They Matter?


Getting the soft-skills right

It is said that manners ‘maketh a man’. At the surface, each jobseeker is equipped with the professional pedigree that her chosen industry desires. But for an industry like travel and tourism which is predominantly client-facing and involves people management, at both macro and micro levels, good marks are seldom the ticket to success. And while success is measured by different people with different yardsticks, blessed is the lady who has the oft-neglected soft skills to give her career the edge academic degrees routinely underemphasise.

So, what exactly are these soft skills? For starters, they are ‘soft’ in the sense that they are not tangible in the literal sense and don’t feature in mark sheets. They are a heady mix of good grooming, exceptional communication skills, a pleasant personality and the ability to get things done. And for a high-octane industry that travel and tourism is, just ‘doing’ never suffices. Because, there are doers and there are movers and shakers.

So, when do these soft skills come into play? While many have operated subconsciously which made you ace the interview and land the plush job at a suburban five star hotel, it is while you are on the job when they will be really tested. It is these soft skills that will make the client look for you on their next visit, or tip better, rave about your services on social media, or even write you a recommendation.

But, such is the nature of the game that the operative word here is ‘elusive’. Nothing is writ in stone and the world is constantly evolving. It is a continuous process of learning and unlearning. Most people in hospitality, travel and tourism would however agree on some of the below cardinal rules. In no particular order,

  1. Be well-groomed – while we do not endorse Botox or plastic surgery to enhance your looks, make it a thumb rule to never be shabby at work. Since your appearance repels or attracts a stranger, be immaculate in your presentation. Get a spa session once in a while. At some hotel chains, these are complimentary for the staff.
  2. Follow the cardinal rules of dressing – Match your belt and shoes, never wear ties that do not match your shirt, never ever wear open footwear to work for men and no chapped lips or chipped nail paint for the ladies. If it’s raining, have a change of clothes at the office.
  3. Never report to work drunk or hungover – It’s all very well to party and let your hair down. Only, follow the golden rules of drinking – never drink on an empty stomach, for every drink, have two glasses of water and keep nibbling. And most importantly, never mix spirits and go overboard. The morning after, brush like there’s no tomorrow, use copious amounts of mouthwash, mouth fresheners and chewing gum. Nothing repels like bad breath and rheumy red eyes.
  4. Master your languages – And we don’t mean literally earning a degree in language. Just watch good TV, read good magazines and newspapers and work on your ‘scope-for- improvement’ areas. It’s OK to make mistakes but never OK to repeat them.
  5. Communicate well and never miscommunicate. If you haven’t understood, it’s OK to ask again. Repeat orders rather than see frayed nerves when the squid meant for table 2 reaches the Jain family on table 1.
  6. Be nimble-footed and always smile – Notwithstanding how things stand in your life. If they are paying you for the job, better do it to the best of your abilities. Half-hearted work is never good work and one dislike on Facebook (yes, it’s coming soon!) can cost you potential customers.
  7. Mingle with the staff – Work is where you spend most of your waking hours and you cannot remain strangers to your colleagues. Share lunches, extend a helping hand and travel home together – seemingly little gestures that will get you a support system when boss cracks the whip. But never bitch. And if you find love, switch jobs – no one wants to talk shop at home and it unconsciously becomes so when we work at the same office.
  8. Remember names – Nothing sounds sweeter to us than our names. And this applies to others too. This is indispensable in hospitality.
  9. Always be on call – Given the volatile job market, the ‘I switch off my phone after work’ attitude never works. Be at the beck and call of your bosses 24×7. If you don’t, they’ll find one who will.
  10. Never stack up or take more than you can swallow. It’s all very well to try to impress but don’t behave like a wannabe. Everyone can tell when you’re faking it.

The aforementioned are just the tip of the iceberg and every organisation has its own best practices. So, one has to constantly adapt, adapt and adjust in order to truly fit into his organisation and shine at work. Clients, bosses and schedules are demanding and will always be. But as the famous Hindi proverb goes, ‘Problems life mein kabhi kam nahi hogi. Yaa to usme bhaag lo, or usse bhaag lo!’ Go ahead, shine at work.

Soft Skills Improvement Tips | Blue Whale Academy | Mumbai, India

Hope you enjoyed reading our blog post. Did we miss something? What is your take on soft skills? Tell us your stories in the comments.