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A time for tough choices
It is said that in travel photography the best photograph is usually the one that got away.
You know, that moment, when you have taken 3,000 photographs and suddenly you come across a young Buddhist novice being carried on the shoulders of an elder monk, and then you realise it's the Dalai Lama (the elder monk) by which time it is too late because either your camera's run out of juice or you have.
The same can also be said of interviewing - the best question is usually the one you didn't get to ask.
At ITB Asia, during the Hotel Leaders Forum, one question I didn't get to ask because time ran away was "What will take a backseat as companies struggle to survive? Rank the following - 1 for the first to go, 5 for last to go. Training? Marketing? Innovation? CSR? Green travel."
On hindsight, I would have loved to know the answers. It's not easy - making such choices.
I am sure most of them would have said, nothing because we can't afford to cut on anything and everything is important as it is strategic to our company.
And indeed, I got this answer when I later interviewed Apo Demirtas, chief marketing officer of Jumeirah Group. "They are five different items. We can't compromise on any of them." (To Demirtas, based in Dubai where the Middle East still seems to be the one spot of growth, this is a slowdown, not a downturn and people are just behaving emotionally.)
Then I read an article headlined, "When the chips are down, you spot the fakes", basically saying that the crisis will reveal which companies are really socially responsible.
It quoted the director of Insead's Social Innovation Centre in Singapore, Luk Van Wassenhove, as saying, "Companies which are really committed will press on with CSR regardless ... Consumers can then differentiate firms which are serious about being responsible."
The key word here is "serious". In an ideal world, serious companies have these practices embedded in their DNA and these continue regardless, albeit with a few cuts here and there in total spending.
But in the real world, as companies struggle with dwindling revenues and stubbornly escalating costs, something's got to give. And if I were to hazard a guess, I reckon training and marketing would be the first to go, followed closely by the rest.
In fact, the lines between them would be so thin you'd hardly notice which was what because they'd all come under "discretionary spending" after necessities such as staff costs, operational bills and things that keep the wheels of business rolling.
In the same way that companies are having to make tough choices, so are consumers like you and me. We too have to make tough choices about what we spend on and what we cut. What's discretionary and what's necessary to keep the wheels of life turning so that it's still a joy ride not a miserable existence?
So I've also been asking my friends what they'll be cutting on.
Most tell me they are not doing it consciously - but now that I have asked them the question, they will be more conscious doing it, they say, so thank you very much.
One guy has given up two of his four credit cards. "Why do I need them? What you save can pay for a short break in Bali."
Men are such rational beasts.
Shopping, say the ladies. "I will think harder about what I need rather than just buy," one said. Fewer shoes and handbags, another said. "How many feet and hands do I have?"
Women can be rational, too.
"Maybe fewer long trips," said a male friend. "Holiday close to home."
"Less fancy dining. Eat cheap but good. No more foie gras, more pig's liver in claypot," added another.
That same week, a girlfriend called me. She had just returned from Hua Hin.
"How was it?"
"Over-rated," she said. The she gushed, "But I bought a pair of shoes. You remember that place in Bangkok with the funky shoes but they didn't have our sizes? Well, I found them. Quick, let's go out this week so I can wear them."
Ah, the human emotion that leads to acquisition and drives us to hedonism - long may it prevail.
I reckon it will see us out of this slowdown, downturn, whatever.
Footnote: So I did a quick straw poll of a handful of hotel chief executives in Asia and here are their answers.
What will take a backseat in terms of priorities as hotel companies struggle to ride out this downturn? Rank the following - 1 for the first to go, 5 for last to go.
1 Green Travel
1 Green Travel
1 Green Travel (unless its to do with energy conservation!)
How would you respond?
Reprinted with permission, Yeoh Siew Hoon and The Transit Cafe (www.thetransitcafe.com)
Yeoh Siew Hoon
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