"On visits abroad,
after working hours I try and avoid getting into
an 'Indian Clique'. Instead, I prefer gaining
an understanding of people at my working level
- which is different from getting to know the
locals during a vacation."
Hiru Bijlani, president, Zenith Global Consultants
Pvt. Ltd's involvement as management consultant
in varied spheres globally gives him the opportunity
to pursue his pet hobby : travel.
of his other interests are visible in his spacious,
elegantly appointed, harbour-facing apartment at
the southern tip of Bombay island. He is an avid
art collector, and the works of renowned Indian
and some international artists intermingle with
unusual and interesting aretefacts sought out during
sojourns to farflung destinations.
attired in shorts and T-shirt, Bijlani relaxes in
his favourite spot, the verandah, after a packed
day at work. Besides attending to the routine at
the office, there are teching assignments (a self-devised
MBA programme in international business at a suburban
college) and writing. His first book, Globalisation
and Business, is being released by Reed International,
introduces himself by speaking about his work. "Most
of my work experience during the past 22 years,
first as a professional manager and then as a consultant,
has been rewarding. Based both in India and abroad,
working on international projects, I've had different
beats at different times in my life: the Gulf beat,
the West Africa beat and now the SE Asia beat. In
Africa, was involved in setting up a glass-container
factory and looking at various investment opportunities
from Senegal to Cameroon. In the Gulf it was shipping,
trading and business improvements.
I decided to set up my own consultancy, primarily
to give me the flexibility to do other things that
I liked: writing, teaching, research, traveling,
golf - and to spend more time with the girls, my
wife Meher and teenage daughters Laila and Tanya.
These were motivations enough to get out of a 9
to 9 routine. But first I completed my Ph.D. in
firm, set up in 1989, has been one of the fastest
growing management consultancy firms in the country,
and is probably one of the more successful ones;
it involves diversification planning, business improvement
studies, headhunting and technology transfer work
in Asia with big names like Mitsubishi, Hindustan
work has involved presenting seminars, organizing
training programmes and attending international
conferences including the prestigious annual meeting
of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where
he had the honour of meeting Nelson Mandela.
always had the desire to travel, but could not do
much of it till I started working in my late twenties.
The drive to work in an international arena has
also been fuelled by my desire to travel. I find
international business, as opposed to local business,
brings in a third dimension, which is true of everything,
whether it is culture, politics, management etc.
While on visits abroad, after working hours I try
and avoid getting into an 'Indian Clique'. Instead,
I prefer gaining an understanding of people at my
working level - which is different from getting
to know the locals during a vacation. Getting familiar
with the psyche and lifestyle of someone which is
equal to me professionally and socially is more
has recently and more frequently combined vacations
with work since earlier, Meher could not travel
with him as their daughters, now 18 and 16, were
much younger. "On our 20th wedding anniversary
last year, on a business trip to Bangkok, my wife
joined me and our local friends organized a fascinating
party on a boat for us. After Bangkok we went to
north Australia to the Great Barrier Reef and lived
in a resort called 'Silky Oaks' on the edge of a
150 year old rainforest of Mossman. Though it is
out of the way for most tourists, we thought it
was worth the trip, as in the bargain we got to
see both the tropical forest and the coral reef."
Bijlanis took a ride in a very amphibian-like vessel;
a cross between a link and a hovercraft, it skimmed
over the marshlands, where they got several glimpses
of alligators - and learnt to identify the ages
of trees. Then there was snorkeling and, for a closer
look at the exquisite coral, a ride in a semi-submersible
vessel. A helicopter ride to the mainland gave them
a bird's-eye-view of dolphins and whales.
Australia they went across the Tasman Sea to New
Zealand. Instead of spending time in Auckland, the
couple opted for a small hotel in vineyard about
50 miles from the capital. The public areas were
tastefully decorated with exquisite art, antique
furniture and sculpture; the resort has won an international
award for its interiors. "Living there was
an experience. Outside, on one side, we saw sheep
in the meadows and the hills forming a lush green
backdrop and on the other, the vineyards. We spent
time on unusual activities like clay-pigeon shooting.
also visited Rotorua hot air sprints, a Maori village
where even the food is cooked by villagers in the
hot springs in wooden boxes. The village is a center
of Maori crafts."
next stopover was Bali, where they stayed at the
world famous Amandari Boutique chain of resorts.
Some of the bigger rooms here have swimming pools
attached, and overlook the emerald terraced paddy
holiday to Kenya materialized when someone from
the family got married in Africa. "The groom
took 30 of us to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, located
on the Equator. We lived in quaint cottage-style
villas; you step out into a garden and see the towering
Mt. Kilimanjaro. And in the morning you wake up
and fed the peacocks, crested crains and other birds
that step up to you, right outside your rooms.
there, we flew to MasaiMari game park, camped in
tents and saw the most fantastic game, including
a very rare sight - a pack of wild, ferocious hunting
dogs chasing a herd of gazelle; but they couldn't
catch them. They they chased a pack of zebras and
again couldn't catch them - just as well, as we
were told that if they did they would reduce them
to a heap of bones in next to no time. We did see
a lion feeding of a blueball. A balloon safari at
dawn landed us right in the middle of the game park
for a champagne breakfast!
encounter at Masai-Mara was the inverse of a zoo.
You are 'caged' in your van looking at them, and
the whole territory belongs to the animals. You
realize that this is one place on earth where Man
is actually an intruder".
another vacation the Bijlanis traveled to Mauritius
and stayed at Le Touessrok Sun, part of the Sun
is a beautiful hotel - a very high quality product.
They organized a day-picnic and took us out on a
boat. There were people whose sole job was to entertain
us on a boat. There were people whose sole job was
to entertain us with guitars, bongos, drums and
Creole music. They anchored at a spot where they
could drive off and snorkel, and then took us to
this stunning waterfall forming a natural pool and
its base where one could swim, and champagne was
served in the pond. After an idyllic, music-filled
cruise, the day ended on an isolated beach, where
as barbecue was laid out."
considers the Maldives one of the most beautiful
countries in the world. The blue lagoons, white
sands, scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing make
this an ideal island-resort. "I caught a large
groupa, which was grilled for us the same evening",
country he is partial to is Singapore; he declares
it "the melting pot of Asia" - not only
in the economic sense, but also because of its harmonious
society. The Indians, Malays, Chinese live in perfect
accord without any animosity. The fact that it is
very clean makes it one of the most ideal societies
to live and bring up your children in. You can't
get a safer, cleaner, more congenial place. And
added benefit is that it has an Asian culture that
is akin to ours. Some people say that it is too
clean, too antiseptic. That's a whole lot of rubbish.
Why shouldn't a place be too clean? Its stringent
laws are responsible for it being the wonderful
country it is today. It is an eye-opener!"
he is such an avid traveler, Bijlani would certainly
have his preferences among airlines. "Clear
cut!" he asserts. "Going east it's Singapore
Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, though
I have not traveled to Japan recently. While going
west it's Swissair and now British Airways and Lufthansa.
The most important criterion is punctuality.
on a business trip you are on such a tight schedule,
hopping from meeting to meeting, city to city. You
cannot afford to be late. Air India, unfortunately,
has been a disaster. I know a person who used to
travel from Rome to London just to catch Air India
to travel to New York, despite a choice of Alitalia
non-stop from Rome to New York. That was in the
'60s, and many like him did this just for the experience.
That is what Air India all about. It was what Singapore
Airlines is today", he laments.
to hotels, and Bijlani laughingly declares that
he's got a bit spoilt, having stayed at the best
hotels chains in the world such as Regent Oriental,
Shangri-La, Hyatt etc.
they are priced very high and one has to pick something
a little cheaper. In Singapore the Goodwood Park
has an old world charm. However, if I am in a place
faced with uncertain conditions like in Africa,
I'd take a safe bet with an intercontinental. In
Ghana, years ago, I was told that a hotel called
Continental was the best. I thought it must be like
the Intercontinental. It was unbelievable! The room
had no windows, mosquitoes buzzed around, glasses
were chipped! I had misjudged it totally. I learned
my lesson: to be cautious and to select only reputed
brand names in such countries."
of the tourism scenario in India and what our status
is today vis a vis SE Asia, Bijlani says, "India
is marketed very badly by the government. The first
point of contact the tourist has leaves a terrible
impact. In Bombay, for example, it's the slums.
Agreed, Thailand had more slums, but they have been
pushed into the background. A person on a holiday
doesn't want to be faced with moral issues. We are
immune to the sight because we are exposed to it
all the time around us, but to a foreigner, we are
forcing morality down his throat - not only from
the point of hygiene but also of conscience.
have monuments, wonderful pieces of architecture
everywhere around us. I tell people to look at Bangkok.
They have two million people coming to see an ordinary
temple only because they have spruced and polished
it up and brought out colourful brochures. As everyone
talks about it, you are half-brainwashed into believing
it's going to be good, and that's the secret of
India, I am certain we could find equally interesting
monuments. Presently, they are rotting away, unattended.
We have to take care of them, clean them up, build
the infrastructure, gardens, motels, lakes around
them; photograph and put them into glossy, attractive
brochures," he suggests.
he feels, is wasting its time trying to beat the
Japanese at electronics - something which he is
confident we can never do. Instead, he feels, we
have a product that no one can take away from us
: tourism. "We have it all: the sun-fun, culture,
adventure, history, which the western tourist is
looking for. We have the best, but don't package
it right or have the infrastructure to support it.
Take Agra, for example, it should be converted into
a garden city. People should not go there just to
see Taj Mahal and go away. Instead it should be
a spot for a 7 - 10 day stay. Give the tourist cultural
programmes, food festivals, music, craft bazaars,
son-et-lumiere, this works. They should use the
Taj as the focus and build up around it".
the arrival of private airlines, one aspect of the
infrastructure - availability of transportation
- is improving. But what he finds highly detrimental
to the process of tourism is the one repeatedly-talked
about issue which no one seems to be doing anything
above: the proliferation of slums.
reminds one of the high-powered marketing blitz
of the 'Visit Indonesia Year' and currently the
ongoing one for the 'Visit Malaysia Year'. "These
are wonderful opportunities to emulate their successful
strategies. All we have to do is pick up everything
and repeat it in relation to India. Of course, during
our 'Visit India Year' it was a bad time due to
strife. They should have just called it off".
cites a recent incident which he feels is something
India should also take up earnestly. "We were
attending a business conference in Australia where
Malaysia was selected as the venue for the next
one. To sell their country, they had created a wonderful
video of Malaysia, not just as a business destination
but as a tourist spot as well. I feel that even
for business conferences and meetings, we should
also market India as a tourist destination. All
the other countries, one notes, are constantly selling
themselves as business and tourist destinations
simultaneously, and with equal thrust in both directions.
We should do the same; when all these chamber of
commerce and other allied delegations go abroad
they ought to carry well-made videos of India.
finally, the government and the tourist industry
should co-operate in marketing India jointly to
earn valuable foreign exchange, which will also
result in increased foreign investment".