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4 Apr, 2008

Whither PATA? It’s Longest Serving Member Speaks

Alwin Zecha, chairman of the Pacific Leisure Group of companies, is arguably the longest serving member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). Just prior to this week’s PATA Board of Directors meetings in Colombo, Mr. Zecha spoke to Don Ross, Editor of TTR Weekly, and Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire, fielding some tough questions about the past, present and future of PATA.

In this dispatch:


Alwin Zecha, chairman of the Pacific Leisure Group of companies, is arguably the longest serving member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). During nearly his entire 45-year membership, the 72-year-old Mr. Zecha has been involved in its various committees, the Board of Directors and the powerful inner circle known as the executive committee, or ex-com.

Just prior to this week’s PATA Board of Directors meetings in Colombo, Mr. Zecha spoke to Don Ross, Editor of TTR Weekly, and Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire, fielding some tough questions about the past, present and future of PATA. He responded to his “detractors” about how he has built on his PATA connections to promote his commercial interests, discussed the new-format conference known as the CEO Challenge as well as his own future and that of PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong.

This dispatch features a near-verbatim transcript of the interview. It has been edited only for relevance, grammar, readability, clarity and flow. The context and essence of the comments have been maintained. It will be of great interest to all those involved with PATA both now and in the past. For those with no interest in PATA matters, please disregard this dispatch.



Imtiaz Muqbil & Don Ross: There are a lot of concerns about the future of PATA and its future directions……

Alwin Zecha: Stop right there. Both of you have actively looked at PATA over the years and yet neither of you are members of PATA. From your side, perhaps you can explain why. It interests me that when you say it is of concern to you. And I am delighted. But the fact that is that the mandate from where you come already prejudges the situation.

Q. Where does it say that journalists have to be members of an association in order to write about it?

A. It doesn’t. I am just making a comment. It is interesting that you say that you have concerns for the members or whoever, and then you want to talk to me either to get a corroboration or to have my perspective… and yet my perspective…… I could not care less about PATA for PATA’s sake. I am very much interested in PATA for Pacific Leisure Group’s and for Alwin Zecha’s sake. That is where I am coming from, and I always have. I am happy to go on the record that I am in PATA for my commercial opportunities and interests and I shall continue to be there as long as it continues to serve my commercial interests.

Q. Isn’t it then in your commercial interests to ensure that the association remains in good shape? If PATA goes down, that’s not going to help you…

A. But it’s also not going to drag me down, is it?

Q. Is there is a generational transition taking place?

A. Yes, there are new faces. By age or organisation?

Q. Both.

A. It’s not just in the context of PATA. You see it happening everywhere else in the industry. The current age generation has not emerged in the same active manner as when we were there. Take Skäl, take ASTA, anywhere. So why are you only harping on PATA? You say you have concerns. You are trying to find things where therefore I will have to say there is a problem.

Q. Because of changes in the global situation, because of technology, the age issue, etc., does PATA have to assume a new role?

A. If you look back at the charter, the purpose, mission and vision of PATA, I believe it is still valid today, and that is the beauty and strength of PATA. It’s still valid today — to foster travel and tourism within the region. The implementation of it varies according to time and people who are actively there. I am just one. The board is 70 something. The fact that I happen to be on it, maybe is not because I am any smarter but maybe because I have just been hanging around long enough. But the fact is there are people who are detractors and say ‘Mr. Zecha, he seems to be everywhere, and he seems to be getting the benefit’. That is because I do my homework. I know what is available, where the opportunities are, how to leverage. Within every organisation I’ve been and not just in PATA. You’ve come to me as if I am some kind of a sage of PATA. I don’t accept that.

Q. What are the changes you see right now in PATA?

A. Basically, it has moved form being a purely marketing organisation to a wider involvement in the industry as a whole. And also within the context of the globalisation of the industry, no longer just within the Asia Pacific. And it has also gone beyond in terms of other issues that would, could, do impact on the industry. These are all to me helpful things, from my perspective as a member. Is it good? Bad? enough? Frankly, it does not matter. From my perspective, it’s good. And it serves my purposes.

Q. It’s not just been marketing. But taken on very strong role in development role…

A. Yes, development of the product (within the context) of the four P’s. That’s where the development part at that time was, to try and have a wider and better product within the membership region. Destinations mature and they keep on improving. Now, will they be able to keep up? Not all the members have developed. When PATA was first started, North America looked up this entire area as potential and under-developed. And PATA has played a good role in helping it, and also sustaining it.

Q. Do you think this transition has been properly managed from marketing to a wider role?

A. I think more than well managed. From my perspective, it is accepted by the members and embraced, and it gives me a much stronger base. I have worked under, and I stress the word under, every CEO since the days of Marvin Plake (the first Executive VP, from 1959-75), and each time some of the other questions have come up — how is it that you are able to continue, flourish under different styles, times, under different persons? I said because I adjust totally according to the time and circumstances. How do I get my return on my investment in money, time, sweat, blood and effort? Everybody knows that I have a sufficient ego. But I am not there to stroke my ego, believe me. If that was the only thing, I can do better things, hire a PR agency to promote me. I am there because I think whatever I do will eventually help me, and people like me, whether or not they can make use of it in the same way that I see the opportunities.

Q. Are you saying basically you are only in PATA for the benefits you can get from it, and are those benefits financial ones?

A. Both commercial and sustainable. Purely financial is not the right word. Commercial yes, I am in PATA primarily and foremost for my commercial reasons. And don’t read too much altruism into it.

Q. Does it still deliver value in terms of commercial benefits?

A. Absolutely, for 45 years, I have leveraged it, and built on it. The benefits I have received through networking and being able to have access to people who have been able to respond and strengthen my commercial base has been incredible.

Q. How do you respond to the detractors?

A. I say to them outright, why don’t you do your homework? Nobody is preventing you from using the opportunities presented by PATA in the same way that I have. But don’t forget I have worked at it for 45 years. Do I give my input on say even bylaws or whatever it is, I say my thing. Do I always get my way, no. But life is a tradeoff. I will settle as long as I don’t think it is going to hit me in the face.

Q. There is a feeling that your position on the ex-com gives you an unfair advantage in terms of influencing some of those decisions.

A. Nobody is also stopping them from getting actively involved. On the board I am one of I think 73 members, and on the ex-com, I am one of 12. How do I get on the board? Everybody else gets exactly the same rules. I step off after each term. I get re-elected when I am re-eligible. I accept some of them don’t want to (stand) any more. Fine. I have been building on the foundation. I have invested time, effort.

Q. This sounds like a very cold-blooded assessment; surely you must be having some emotional attachment to the association.

A. Sure…this goes back to 1963, I have no qualms about sharing this. Neither of you may know. In 1963-65, I was persona non grata in my country of birth. How did I get back in to set foot in my motherland? Through PATA. Is there an emotional attachment? You bet. ….. Is (PATA) still relevant? Doubly so. Has it moved with the times? Yes.

Q. Why is it that so many people tell us they can’t see a benefit, and they question whether they should be a member?

A. There is no free lunch. If I just stay on the sidelines, and think that just by paying my dues, the channels will open for me…. Any association, especially PATA, is like the key to a vehicle. In order to facilitate my moving commercially from Point A to Point B. However, can I do without PATA, and get from Point A to B? Probably yes. It’s just going to take helluva lot longer, competition is going to be probably ahead of me and I will probably be more tired and more sweaty. But the key does not guarantee me (anything). I still have to open the door, I still have to fill fuel in the tank, I still have to turn on the engine, shift gears and I still have know how to drive. How do I do that? I practise. By homework.

Now, to answer your question, where are there so many detractors? I can only suppose that they don’t bother to hang in there and to do their homework. Take networking. Many people go to trade fairs, conferences, and they collect name cards, and they say, look, I’ve networked. Excuse me, that ain’t networking.

Q. What do you see as being PATA’s strength and weaknesses?

A. There are few weaknesses that I cannot leverage. As for the strengths, it is the greatest opportunity for continued networking and finding new commercial opportunities through those who are at these events. That to me is of the greatest value.

Q. What about weaknesses, and please look at it from an association perspective, not your perspective.

A. That’s kind of difficult. Because I am always driven by…

Q. What’s in it for you….

A. Exactly.

Q: So what are the weaknesses from that perspective?

A. If you do a SWOT analysis, I would be hard pressed to (identify) the weaknesses. I would be hard pressed to (identify) the threats that are not taken into cognizance by the association.

Q. The membership is aging.

A. So has the whole industry. Is that a weakness? It is a weakness as an industry, not necessarily as PATA. Where are the young bodies? Where are they?

Q. PATA should know that.

A. I don’t. The movement away from a people to people thing, that’s what usually associations did, seems to have been perceived by the younger generation as not being important. And yet they talk about networking. It’s all about social networking through the Internet. To me, that’s not the same thing.

Q. If you don’t know where they are, perhaps PATA has not been attracting them to the level it should be.

A. Well, if people don’t know what they are doing there, or why they are paying their dues or wasting their time…..if they can’t really do it. And I if they don’t really think it as being important as they can use the internet, then PATA will have to make the best of the situation as the industry evolves. And it seems to be doing its best and continues to serve those who appreciate those values. Will it die out? Who knows?

Q. As an association?

A. No, the importance of person to person….

Q. But today’s industry is more into bean-counting than ever before…

A. The lack of person-to-person and face-to-face opportunity has deprived them and been an impediment in many ways to their growth.

Q. What would organising a conference on global warming do for anybody’s business?

A. Because frankly, a lot of people pay lip service to it. They don’t really believe that it does affect them in terms of sustainability. It will come on sooner than most people think. Everybody pays lip service to it. Maybe it’s a motherhood statement. Or they don’t know how to take the first steps. Do they actually believe and understand it can have a direct effect as well as in the long term?

Q. Just what is the financial state of PATA?

A. In relative terms, it is helluva lot stronger today than it was five years ago. It has a good reserve for the first five years. And that’s in absolute terms. In relative terms, in terms of what it is has undertaken in the rolling business plan, it can fulfill (the mandate) within the financial and human resources (available) to fulfill it.

Q. So if it falls short, it can draw on the bank balance to make up for the shortfall?

A. Correct.

Q. Would a CEO Challenge, if it does not produce the financial returns, have a financial impact on PATA?

A. Let’s look back to how the CEO Challenge came into being. What it replaced. The PATA annual conference in fact was costing the association money each year, despite the sponsorships and the hosting of the destination……. For what? What’s the sense? It was not only stagnating but regressing and the attendance came no longer from the highest levels of many of these organisations. So it had deteriorated, and therefore it had to go. So where was the opportunity for PATA to recatapult itself into a higher and wider state of the industry? One of them was this. Is that the only one? Who knows? I am sure there are others…

Q. If it does not work, it will not have a serious impact?

A. It will not have a serious impact. You don’t think we on the board have looked at the downsides of the financial…? What is the upside and what is the downside? The biggest downside is for not trying…..to have an event that will give the opportunity for PATA to be indulging that is something higher and wider within the industry.

Q. Can you qualify that?

A. We’re widening it. It’s not just another advertising campaign; it is something on which the industry can hang its hat on that could be possibly be of urgent relevance to them.

Q. Global warming? Urgent relevance? As against the sub prime crisis?

A. That came later. How would I know? Did the Federal Reserve know the sub prime crisis was coming?

Q. First you had a conference that did not make money, and now you have a conference that may not either.

A. There was a hiatus. Last year, there was neither a CEO challenge nor a conference. First of all, we had to stop the hemorrhaging, put a tourniquet on it. Then having stopped that, say ‘is there something that could be worthwhile to undertake as PATA’s mandate?’. PATA as a non-profit association is not driven by finances. This is why I am delighted, because if it were, it would probably be competing with me. It has to balance the books. And it has to build the reserve. The board (has said) that each year you have got to have something that will continue to strengthen the reserves. But we are not a financial institution so we don’t go beyond a certain range. Because then the membership will then say why are we paying so much in dues if you have that much in reserve. It is a very delicate balance. It is not a financial institution and it is not a commercial institution. It must have enough to sustain its activities.

Q. What are the numbers of the CEO Challenge right now?

A. I don’t know. Nor would I…..In fact, (a conference of this type has) never been done before. There is no yardstick by which to judge. (CEOs always have) to take decisions for companies without knowing what is going to happen. It’s irrelevant what the number is. A week after the event, I will form my own opinions. What is good, bad, indifferent? Should we then, after having given it our best shot, say, okay chaps maybe we should be looking at other things? I am not going to prejudge now.

Q. How will it meet your commercial interests?

A. By learning from it, that’s enough. And can I apply part of, or an adaptation of what other people are doing, in my own organisation?

Q. But PATA has been focussing on sustainability since 1991? Surely you would know by now what you need to apply in your organisation without having to attend a conference.

A. I am a firm believer the day I think I am not going to learn anything more from anybody on any occasion, that’s when I know I may as well be six feet under. I feel I always have something to learn. If I don’t, I would be the first to say, let’s get off that one and go find something else.

Q. You are on the inner 12 (the ex-com). Over the years, finances has been top priority. Now you are saying that everything is fine. But your membership has fallen…

A. You know why? Because we bit the bullet. Some of them were delinquent for 3-4 years. What’s the sense of having account receivables of members not in good standing? We cut the crap. Because the one person you cannot kid is yourself. So why (did we) keep on hyping this — we have so many members, so much money. But how many of them are good. A huge percentage, we had to clean it all out. This was under the current administration.

Q. What’s so great about that? Why were they on books for so long anyway? Maybe you as a member of the ex-com were not monitoring this well enough. Maybe you were not doing your job.

A. Hallelujah.

Q. Industry people are asking who will be accountable if the CEO Challenge fails.

A. The board.

Q. But some say the board is too big and if the CEO Challenge fails, the ex-com would have to take the responsibility? Where does the buck stop?

A. The different committees nominate, the board endorses. And the actions of the board at every annual meting are ratified by the membership. Ultimately the membership itself (is responsible). Because they have endorsed the recommendations of the board.

Q. It’s the execution of the event that has fallen short, not the endorsement.

A. Everybody knew there was a risk. It was a new undertaking, never been done before. And cannot be measured by …we also presented (the board with) the high (forecasts) and the low. So therefore, they accepted it, and they cannot come back and say well, Jesus, we didn’t know it. Excuse me, you ratified it. It’s in the minutes.

Q. In normal corporate life, if there is a mess up, somebody (on top) takes the rap. Nobody tells the shareholders or the employees you guys messed up.

A. Excuse me. At Société Générale, the shareholders (told the CEO) under your leadership, we lost 7.2 billion Euro, and the guy said ‘Yes? And I am staying on to make sure it does not happen again.’

Q. Yes, but (Carly Fiorina) the lady who once ran Hewlett Packard took responsibility (for the poor performance of that company) and quit. So for every CEO who stays on, there are others who quit.

A. What does that prove? If it is judged ultimately by the membership that the CEO Challenge was not up to what was expected, they would be the first ones to say let’s not do it again.

Q. Is the financial success the most important factor?

A. No, it never was. The key (to creating a new-format conference) was the concept of stopping a known financial hemorrhage. That was done. (Now), we already know what the worst case situation is. Even if we were not to get a single paying delegate, we know what the outside parameters are. And we can sustain that. Maybe not for three years, but we can sustain that. So therefore, now, where do we go from there. Is it worth the effort to continue another one next year?

Q. Is there a cutoff date for this (financial drain)?

A. First of all, we are already beyond the worst case situation. We already have paying delegates. Therefore, from a financial perspective, we are splitting hairs because the fact is we have already gone beyond that. The key is, after the event, do we say, okay we continue having a CEO Challenge or should we find another type of programme? That’s when, I think, after the event, there will be a review.

Q. Who will do the review?

A. The ex-com and the board and ultimately the membership. Always. It’s an association.

Q. When will it be carried out?

A. By the next board meeting in September. There will be an ex-com meeting in September in Hyderabad.

Q. So there won’t be a chance for the membership at large to question this until the next AGM (in April 2009)?

A. There will be in terms of whether or not we continue or whether we do something different.

Q. You will have to make that decision before April 2009.

A. Yes, and the AGM can throw it out in April. They will not make a decision but a recommendation. Any action within the association has to be ratified by the membership at its annual meeting. If supposing, upon review by the ex-com and board in September, it is recommended again, then, at the AGM, someone says we are not continuing, and again the membership is free to ask why. And that’s been the process of the association for 50 some years.

Q. Once upon a time, the strength of PATA used to be its chapters. The strength of PATA chapters was supposed to be its membership for the networking opportunities it provided.

A. It still is. The membership was always bloated. Lakshman (Ratnapala, former CEO), Jerry Picolla (former SVP Marketing), all of them, when they used to banter about 17,000 members, I would say where do you get these figures? They would all smile, and say who’s to disprove it? I (would say) prove it to me, how many chapter members? How many of them are active? And the response would be, you asked me about the chapters, you didn’t say how many active? And I would say how many are meaningful? All these things started falling apart when Peter (de Jong) came in. Because he came from an association background. None of the previous CEOs had come from an association management background. The diversity is still there. The numbers were basically hyped.

Q. You mean this was all PR? Do you mean the membership was lied to all those years about the strength of its numbers?

A. No, if somebody was delinquent for three years, would he be a member? Technically he is a member as long as you have not struck him off the books. But is he a voting member, is he in good standing?

Every single category of members is still there. The diversity of PATA is still there. One of greatest strengths of PATA is that it is the only travel organisation that has an equal, the operative word is equal, partnership between the public and private sectors in an all encompassing way, of equals. And that to me is still the greatest strength.

Q. Many of the small companies hit by crisis over the years, why would the CEO Challenge be priced so high that these members diversity could not represented?

A. We looked at all of the events of PATA, and we said look, the PATA annual conference was, in terms of human resources and financial resources, negative. (Let’s) stop that. Now, where do we want to go from here. We said, it might be helpful .. This (issue of climate change) is worth addressing industry wide, and even beyond because it is a global perspective. Let’s give it our best shot.

What makes it worthwhile, what is the objective? To get best practises from the top down, from bottom up, from across the board. What are the major elements of this? Transportation, hospitality and everything else that is therefore part of that. And then is it something that we would expect any destination who once again had to host umpteen hundred people….we said, what is the main reason for it? It is to get the message of practical, do-able things to address a looming problem of many years, which is everywhere.

Then we said do want to charge US$ 500 to get 1,000 people or do we want to charge US$ 1,400 to get a few hundred people. We said there are only two ways to get there. We can have US$ 500 but would it be the appropriate thing to do…

Q. From whose perspective?

A. From the event’s perspective.

Q. What about the membership’s perspective? Did you look at it from the perspective of whether the large majority of SMEs could afford US$ 1,400?

A. Yes, because..

Q. And you agreed that they could afford US$ 1,400?

A. No, we agreed that what we hoped to get out of it, the best practise messages….

Q. For whom, the SMEs?

A. Yes, the proceedings would be made available to the SMEs later on. All the proceedings will be made available to the members.

Q. How? Do you mean afterwards?

A. Of course.

Q. Then why would they want to come in the first place if they can get proceedings?

A. Because of the fact, would they all be able to have within the period of 1.5-2 days, the opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise.

Q. But you said you are giving them the proceedings afterwards.

A. Afterwards is fine.

Q. So why would they want to come?

A. They may not. This is why I said, at US$ 1,400, we can’t…. those who feel the urgently the imperative of sharing the experience are welcome to come, at US$ 1,400.

Q. So let’s get it clear, the proceedings will be made available to the members afterwards?

A. Of course.

Q. But that was not made clear to them up front.

A. Anything that happens at a (PATA) event is available to every member.

Q. Okay, please continue your earlier comments.

A. There are only two ways to look at it. How much roughly in a best case and worst case situation would it cost to stage this first attempt? A feasibility business plan was done. Okay, how would we cover that? Two ways, either by numbers and each unit would be smaller, or fewer or by each unit being large enough. What are the physical realities of a day and a half. How many people can share the interactive event? So we said, it’s simple, divide it up.

(The event will be driven) by CEOs, for CEOs. Best practices will have to be driven by those who are in a leadership role. As a retail travel agent, I would be totally dependent on the rest of the industry’s best practices as to how it would affect me. The Board saw and approved the budget.

Q. What is the breakeven point?

A. It’s probably only half of the target. The target is, if I remember correctly, from PATA’s perspective, is 300. That is the assumption.

Q. The ex-com estimate is that you can breakeven with half of that.

A. Yes. And as I said, if attendance would be zero. It would be therefore 150 (paying delegates) times US$ 1,400 and that is what we said, absolute worse case, can we afford it, and is it worth the risk? Everything at first is a risk. And so we said, yes, okay.

Q. If you get 150 paying delegates, that would indicate that this event would go on to a second year?

A. It depends on the quality of the outcome. I think the financial thing which you guys are talking about, I would hate to think that a non-profit organisation would be looking at it from a purely financial perspective in any of its activities. Because again, why do I pay membership dues? For what it takes to service my membership and to contribute to the upkeep of the servicing apparatus.

Q. But you have to keep the association alive. When you look at the future now, where do you see the financial future?

A. As I said earlier, we are in a helluva better situation now than we were five years ago. Because I know there is enough to sustain the activities that we have decided to recommend to the board and the membership to undertake for the next 2-3 years. Each year we look at it. The business plan is two years. We review it each year and make adjustment for the next two years. So it’s a rolling two years. That’s how it operates now. Like any business. The beauty of it we have come around to say is that we are a non-profit organisation but some of the processes and procedures of a commercial organisation may be worthwhile undertaking. The auditors are also saying that would be (good) for the tax reviews in the state of California where the chapters….

Q. How much do the premier partners and sponsors pay?

A. Premier partners pay a minimum of US$50,000 a year, off the top of my head.

Q. How much are the sponsors of the CEO Challenge paying?

A. I have honestly no idea. But it’s not a substantial portion of the revenue. Otherwise we probably would be able to set registration fees of US$ 1,200 instead of US$ 1,400. It’s all a matter of balancing. When you do a budget, what are the assumptions? Do all the assumptions come true? Rarely. Do some of the assumptions exceed? Sometimes. Fall short? Sometimes.

Q. What exact role do you plan on the ex-com?

A. There is no individual role. Do you guys know how the ex-com is made up? There are ex-officio members and there are nominated and elected members. But the key is geographic and category distribution. So therefore, there are people from the industry category, carrier, government category and you also have the elected officers. There is no individual role when you come into the executive committee and also to the board. As an elected member of the Industry Council to the board, it is not my role to just say okay from the industry side, I have to be looking at how it relates to other parties. The agenda is worked out between the officers, and the CEO, and finance is only one of them. So is every activity and so is the business plan.

Q. So who is really responsible for the CEO Challenge? Is it the CEO and he will stand and fall by this, or is it the ex-com?

A. The ex-com gets into the nitty gritty. Management only implements what the board has approved. The ex-com goes into more detail than the board, and it presents its findings of the details to the board. Concepts come to the board also. Management is only there to implement what the board directs it to do. It cannot implement outside of those mandated decisions.

Q. In terms of deciding the concept of the theme of this conference, what opportunities were there for the membership to say this was a good thing or not. There was no AGM since the time it was conceptualised.

A. Not the theme, but the event, definitely.

Q. So the theme was decided by whom?

A. By the board upon the recommendation of the ex-com. This was approved by the board.

Q. The broader membership did not have a chance to make the kind of input in deciding the nitty gritty.

A. No it can’t…..

Q. But you want the membership to take responsibility in case things go wrong.

A. By having entrusted the board to be their representative.

Q. But it didn’t.

A. Of course it did. The board is there as a representative of the membership at large. Actually, percentage-wise the board now represents a much larger percentage of the membership.

Q. Is that sustainable? A 70-member board?

A. Well, it could be shrunk or the terms can be made even shorter. Now the board’s term is two years. It used to be three. As far as I am concerned, it probably is correct at this stage. Is it forever? Nothing is forever. Should it be looked at? Anytime someone feels uncomfortable with it, they can bring it up.

Q. There was a lot of heated discussion about this event. You are obviously prepared to communicate the same replies you are giving us to those..

A. Sure, but not me personally.

Q. There were many people who opposed it.

A. Nobody opposed it from the board. There will always be people who didn’t think it to be such a good idea. But were there any other options presented? No.

Q. Was there enough time and opportunity think of other options?

A. Certainly, there was more than a year. Nothing of the sort (an annual conference) happened last year. The outline, the concept was approved a year ago at the board meeting in April last year. And people say there were so many other such events going on. It was made clear that others were doing it, such as London, Davos, it was already in the agenda. This is why WTTC, WTO, IATA said this made good sense.

Q. Why did it take the website so long to be put up? Why was the management so slow?

A. Well, that is the nitty-gritty.

Q. So isn’t that the question? Why was the management so slow to execute what was decided so long ago?

A. From what I know, part of it is that we could not get the specific commitments of the people we wanted. We wanted them but we couldn’t get them commercially.

Q. But you have praised Peter de Jong’s role as CEO. He came in and cleaned it up….

A. It’s not just one person. The CEO is there because he is a partner with all volunteer money. We said this is what we are going to do and you make sure we do it. He was the first guy who came from an association. He brings a different perspective to which the ex-com and board responded positively.

Q. But he’s a lame-duck president right now, he’s going to leave in 18 months or less.

A. Everybody under contract is a lame-duck from day one.

Q. That’s a wild statement.

A. Was George Bush a lame duck from the day he came in? You bet your ###. Nobody guarantees he’s going to stay beyond a four-year term. Joe McInerney (former President & CEO), Lakshman, everybody was under contract. Nobody is a lame-duck until the last day. That is the reality of life. Why would anybody who is in the middle of a contract be any more or any less a lame-duck?

Q. The inference is that he’s not going to make tough decisions that’s going to have an impact on his future employment.

A. You must be looking at somebody who obviously has no interest in what the referral will be. Did any CEO leave without any positive legacy? Fortunately for PATA, from my perspective, none. Did everybody who left only leave on a positive note? Probably not. And after (Mr. de Jong) leaves, we will probably say he could have also done this or that. Who knows? But while they are in office, in my opinion, nobody is a lame duck, especially not under PATA.

Q. And you agree with him when he says he wants to leave on a high note?

A. I assume every CEO has felt the same way. And the contract is not guaranteed to be renewable by anybody, nor for anybody. Will he asked to be renewed? Will he accept renewal? Who knows?

Q. He seems to have made it clear, this is his last renewal.

A. So did Ken Chamberlain (also a former Executive VP). At each (renewal) time, he said the same thing, but finally came the point where it got renewed. Lakshman decided at the last moment he was not going to throw his hat back into the ring. He could have if he wanted to.

Q. What time lag would be appropriate to start finding a new CEO?

A. We would know beforehand. We sure had no time under McInerney. Lakshman decided at the last minute not to throw his hat into the ring. It is still up to us to decide whether not to accept it. Knowing the process we went through when Joe left, I would say probably three months.

Q. Is there a golden handshake in the contract?

A. If anybody is under contract, if he wants to break it, he has to pay us for the (unfulfilled period). If we want to push him out, for not good cause, we would have to pay him for the rest of the term.

Q. He has said on the record that he is not going to renew, this is going to be my high point, my swan-song.

A. As far as I am concerned, his term will expire at the end of the contract. If I remember correctly, it is until the end of 2009.

Q. Is Michael Yates (presently the Director of Operations) the heir apparent?

A. There is no heir apparent. Neither will anything imply otherwise. Anybody, when the time comes, will be looked at. Rumours, you can’t stop.

Q. So where do you want to see the association going in the next five years?

A. To continue serving the best interests of its members. Each of the members have their own specific reasons to be there and to see whether or not the association continues to serve their best interests.

Q. We see the CEO driving the association upwards into the big time corporations and leaving the smaller members behind. There could be a time on the horizon when it does not serve the benefits.

A. It could and when it does, I’ll be out of there.

Q. What are you doing to ensure it does not happen?

A. Why should I?

Q. Because it benefits you.

A. No. My job is to make sure that I do the best for my company. I will use the avenues, channels and tools at my disposal, and I will devote time and energy accordingly.

Q. You don’t want to see that legacy? That you made it all stable and steady….

A. Give me a break. You are ####ing in my pocket. The claim that I made it strong and stable is tihsllub (pls read in reverse). Humility is not part of my middle name, but let me be perfectly clear.. Yes, I have had an active hand it. I am not worried about the future.

Q. As an ex-com member, you have not really told us how you see this association going forward.

A. I will turn 72 in two weeks. I am extremely confident that it will continue to serve my interests for the rest of my active life.

Q. All these “detractors” — how are you responding to them those who say you need to move on and you’ve been around for too long.

A. Have I ever stood in the way of anybody who says, wait a minute, it’s because you are there that I cannot be there? And if that were to be the case, I would hopefully be able to prove them wrong. I have not stood in any particular person’s way by virtue of my being there. My being on ex-com is still always subject to the incoming chairman’s prerogative.

Q. As you admit that PATA serves your commercial interests, it has been noted that the CEO of Munich airport (a client of Pacific Leisure Group) is on the CEO Challenge programme. Why him? Why not Singapore airport, or Hong Kong airport?

A. Now that’s very interesting, and I would say frankly, I didn’t have a single word of contributing to his name being included on the programme. They may not believe me but that’s up to them. I am delighted he’s there, and I am doubly delighted because he’s a client. He is just as deserving as the next guy. But (as to the question of) why him? It’s not because of me.

Q. It’s got nothing to do with him being a client of yours?

A. No, absolutely not.

Q. On the one hand you admit that you are in PATA purely for your commercial reasons. On the other, you say you having nothing to do with your client being on that programme.

A. Let me finish. I have always said I am in PATA for my commercial reasons. I will never knowingly do something at the expense of PATA. I will make the best use of what is there but not by compromising its relevance to other members.

Now, name somebody else who is on the (CEO Challenge) programme. Is Tony Tyler a client of mine? No. Am I close to Cathay? You bet your ###. Is David Baffsky a client? No. Do I lot of business with Accor? You b.y.a. Is Marriott a client? No. Do I have commercial relations with Marriott? You bet your bottom dollar. Expedia, do I have it, yes? Tourism New Zealand? Indirectly. Qantas? Yes, definitely. Don’t forget, I have 20 countries in (the Pacific Leisure group). Six Senses? Yes. Do I also have a link with Aman Resorts and Banyan Tree? Yes.

This is how I am going to prove my point. How does this happen? Because directly or indirectly through PATA over the years I have established the relationships that serve my commercial interests. Has it been at the expense of PATA? I hope not. Do I have anything to do with these guys (being on the programme)? The answer is absolutely not. That’s where I draw the line. Now is anybody able to accuse and prove me wrong? No. Can they be jealous or maybe envious? Let them be. That is what proves my point. And you deep down inside know it.

Some people will be convinced until today that the only reason why PATA HQ moved from San Francisco to Bangkok is because Zecha had moved there (the Pacific Leisure group was previously headquartered in Hong Kong). Am I going to worry about it? No. Those who are convinced will remain convinced that I am pulling the strings from inside. Those who want to believe, believe. I don’t lose any sleep over it. I am glad you brought it up. What can I do? Everywhere I turn, there is (said to be a connection). But I will be the first one to admit yes, there is a connection in many other cases. Close to 90% of my business has certainly been helped or facilitated by my PATA connections.

Q. What advice would you want to give future generations?

A. To continue to be actively involved, not just on the board or ex-com, do what I did umpteen years ago to build on it and which I am now reaping the benefit of.

Q. What USP do you see for PATA in future at a time of proliferating conferences, travel marts, associations, and all the other networking opportunities?

A. It’s the only one that literally that not only says but also practises the all-encompassing equal partnership between the public and the private sector. That is unique. All the associations represent either one industry segment or the other. But they are not an equal partnership. It also has a cross section segment, geographically as well as in terms of segments, there is no other one that practises an equal partnership. That is to me is the underpinning, underlying USP.

Q. What good does having an equal partnership do to members? What difference does it make to someone’s bottom line?

A. It depends on what the development stage of your organisation. If you want to branch out and establish operations, it could facilitate helluva a lot better if you have direct access to the policy makers who make the rules and regulations, or later on to be able to call up and (seek an appointment with a minister). I get through the front door helluva lot faster and easier. That’s what I mean — making yourself known not obnoxiously (but by) getting into the consciousness sphere of people whom you think you might want to follow up.

How was I able to have operations in 20 countries? I am not an American Express. I don’t have the resources or access to public funds. I have always maintained that it’s not always necessary to be richer but try to be more creative with the resources you have at your disposal.

Let me go back to the what I said about the key to the vehicle: Ultimately, must I pay for the key? Of course. If I have the key, does it guarantee me to beat the competition? Also not. But it gives me more tools at my disposal. That’s all. Do I use the right tool at the right time? Who’s to say? How do I teach something like that?

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