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25 Apr, 2012

PATA’s Whistleblowing Ex-Chairman Wins Recognition Award

Veteran Indian tour operator Ram Kohli, who chaired PATA between 2004-05 and later blew the whistle on what he now refers to as a “culture of corruption”, won the PATA Chairman’s Award at a ceremony during the annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, April 21.

The award was conferred by PATA’s Immediate Past Chairman (2010-2012) Hiran Cooray, Chairman of the Sri Lankan Jetwing travel group, who over a span of a five-year tenure as PATA’s Secretary/Treasurer, Chairman-elect and Chairman, played a major role in cleaning up PATA’s finances. The PATA website says the Chairman’s Awards are a “personal gift of the serving PATA Chairman (to) recognise an individual (or individuals) for their help, support, loyalty and dedication during the Chairman’s tenure.”

For medical reasons, Mr. Kohli was unable to receive the award personally. PATA’s media announcement said simply, “For nearly 40 years, Mr Kohli has played a leading role in developing India’s inbound travel industry and has also served as PATA Chairman and Secretary/Treasurer.”

Asked to provide a few quotes from a statement that the Chairman is normally given the courtesy of making when conferring the award, Mr Cooray said he did not get this opportunity. “I was on stage (giving the other awards), and Stu Lloyd (PATA Senior Director, Marketing and Membership Services) said the chairman’s award goes to… and that was it.”

However, Mr Cooray said, if he had the chance, he would have said the following: “I strongly believe that Ram Kohli is a very much a misunderstood person in PATA. If we had listened to him in the mid-2005 period, PATA would not have been in the situation it faced over the last few years.”

Describing Mr Kohli as a man with “a heart of gold,” Mr Cooray said, “he was the first person to welcome me into PATA and give me all the assistance I needed. When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka (in December 2004), the first person who called from abroad to offer help and assistance was Ram Kohli. One does not forget such moments.”

He added, “Ram has made his mistakes, but so have many others. I gave him the award in the spirit of forgive and forget. I hope that he will get more recognition in PATA than simply a chairman’s award.”

That was a reference to the continuing efforts to block Mr Kohli from getting a PATA life-membership status, a privilege that is normally accorded to PATA chairmen but has still been denied to Mr Kohli.

Mr Cooray confirmed that such efforts were still under way. Asked if he was disappointed by them, he replied, “Yes, very much so.” A question sent to PATA asking why Mr Kohli was being denied the life-member status went unresponded.

See a statement from Mr Kohli below. His biodata is here.

On other PATA matters, Mr Cooray said that PATA’s history had been divided between the pre- and post-internet days and that the association, having completed a very productive and positive annual conference, was working to cope with the new challenges.

He said the association’s finances will be posted on the website soon. “They do not look good but we hope that now, with the new activities coming up, new members will come on board and we will be able to achieve breakeven.”

He said PATA’s former glory days will “probably never happen” again because the association no longer receives the kind of sponsorship support that allowed it to pay the US$150,000 or more commanded by top-level former speakers such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Hence, he said, the key is to create smaller, more focussed events such as the city hub forums which have been held in Hong Kong and Bangkok, with more to follow in other Asian capitals.

Mr. Cooray hailed PATA’s advocacy efforts, especially on the UK Air Passenger Duty (APD). “Even the Malaysian tourism minister openly asked PATA to do a study on how much the APD would cost the UK economy, to see how badly the UK would stand to be affected by its own policy move.”

He noted that countries such as Malaysia, India and China were now joining up to the anti-APD campaign and that would help the effort far more than just PATA or its CEO taking it up. “Of course, we will do our bit but it’s the pressure by the major countries that will matter most.”


Its always a pleasure to be recognized and this is actually my second PATA Chairman’s award.

PATA has evolved over the years and today sits at a very interesting crossroad. Many of my friends in PATA have not forgiven me for being outspoken and for shaking the association out of slumber. During my tenure as PATA Chairman, I openly opposed the culture of corruption the then CEO had created and the huge financial losses he had caused the association. It was based on the noise that I made that the board was forced to sit up and react. Unfortunately a few of the then board members who intentionally turned their back to the misdeeds to support their own personal gains, continue to sit on the board, further choking the future of PATA.

I am and have always been a PATA well wisher. I am proud to have been a Chairman of PATA when the association actually meant something. I will always be around to lend my full support in turning things around but PATA needs to change a lot more than just intention.

I would like to thank Chairman Hiran Cooray for this honour and for believing in the vision of the future of PATA. Even though I was treated unfairly, I have no regrets. PATA has played a very important role in my life and I thank all my friends who have helped me grow. I would have loved to be there to receive the recognition but I had to cancel at the last minute on advise from my doctor.

I wish the office bearers, the board, the management and all the members all the very best. May PATA grow stronger.