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Hospitality Back to the Basics

Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 09:56 Hrs  [IST]

The Hospitality Industry in Kashmir’s anguished Srinagar has shown the way.

When tourists were stranded as a fall-out of gravely troubled times, the Industry opened its doors and its kitchens to succour them. This is in the best traditions of civic hospitality and goes back to its strong socio-religious roots. In the Medieval Age in Europe, orders of monks .. particularly the Benedictines .. were noted for welcoming wayfarers, pilgrims and refugees. From their herbal gardens they brought the sick and wounded back to good health. The words hospital, hospitality, hostel and hotel were derived from the social services provided by these dedicated people.

Even when the Romans built their great network of roads to serve their far-flung empire. they encouraged entrepreneurs to minister to the needs of travellers. While these wayfarer facilities started as self-supporting commercial institutions, many of them evolved into powerful, private, civic bodies. Still called “Inns” they became the training grounds of Barristers, and some were taken over by a religious order of Knights who then called their monopolised Inns, “Temples”.

Jawaharlal Nehru was a barrister from the Inner Temple which had once been an inn. This awareness of the social role of Inns could well have been at the back of the mind of the first PM of India when he decided to have the Ashoka Hotel ITDC chairman dropped the last ‘a’ much later .. built in New Delhi. This iconic structure, too, was not created for tourism. Nehru realised that India’s rich cultural heritage needed recognition and the best way of achieving this was to persuade UNESCO to hold one of its annual meetings in New Delhi. The Ashoka was built to house the delegates and Vigyan Bhavan was constructed for the UNESCO’s meetings.

Nehru also proposed that the Ashoka should expose Indian culture to the world. The hotel’s collection of traditional and contemporary art is formidable and is displayed in its corridors and public spaces. Its theatre was created to stage regular performances by both renowned and aspiring artistes.

We know of no other hotel, or hotel chain, so formally dedicated to promoting our enormous and very varied heritage. This is part of what we refer to as the Social Outreach which should be a regular activity of every hotel. Exposure to the enormous range of our culture was necessary when our ruling elite had a European cultural orientation. Today our social responsibilities have changed. Hoteliers must realise that the continuing success of their properties depends on the efficiency of the civic services of their environment. Before Burmah Shell became Bharat Petroleum they had a very catchy slogan: In India’s Life, and Part of It. It is not enough to build faux palaces and forts if, when your guests step out to experience the real India, they are injured by a slab falling from a carelessly maintained over-bridge as happened in Mumbai recently. The continuing apathy of the richest municipality in India is scandalous. In our Internet Age a shooting in a New Zealand mosque, an attack on a tram in Holland, makes headlines around the world as Breaking News. Can we then pretend that by closing our eyes to the problem of the continuing apathy of the BMC, it will go away? As a New Age guru said: “If we are not part of the solution then we are part of the problem!”

It is time that our Hospitality Honchos admitted that their silent acceptance of civic apathy is very much a part of the problem.

We suggest that the Hospitality Industry takes a united stand against the misuse of Corporate Social Responsibility funds by political parties to promote their own partisan interests. Instead, every upmarket hotel should set aside this money to support a Civic Awareness Club. This will be open to registered organisations dedicated to monitoring and improving local civic services. The participating hotels should make their conference facilities available to these organisations free of cost as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. Membership to the Club should be for Indians only.

Yes, it will draw the ire of civic authorities. But then, are our Hospitality Movers and Shakers any less courageous than their peers in the media?

(The Views expressed within this column are the opinion of the authors, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication)

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