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10 Oct, 2014

Why outgoing PATA CEO Martin Craigs lasted only one term

Bangkok – When his resignation was announced at the PATA Travel Mart in Phnom Penh this past September, outgoing PATA CEO Martin Craigs took an indirect swipe at the PATA board. He was quoted by the TTG Asia e-Daily as saying that it needed more diversity, thus: “People who have served their time on the board should happily share their knowledge and hand over to the next generation, otherwise they are inevitably going to refer to their old experience. We’d like to see more Asian females on the board and people with specialist knowledge, e.g. a legal person or someone in IT, which is usually next-gen. We also discussed, and it’s been agreed in principle, that our Face of the Future (award winner) should come to an executive board meeting at least once, twice a year.”

Mr. Craigs was right. PATA boards and committees are badly in need of fresh new faces. They are still peppered by the “old guard”, including some who were directly responsible for causing PATA’s past problems, and are still repeating the same mistakes. Others are also using their positions to seek lucrative post-retirement consultancy contracts in Asia. Still others actually fear an increasing role for the young generation, which operates on a totally different bandwidth and often has complete disdain for the “experience” of the older generation. While the “old guard” was hugely successful in building the industry to its current size and strength, the “new guard” has to manage it, warts and all. Two completely different agendas.

Mr. Craigs got the satisfaction of diplomatically putting his views in the public domain. PATA’s internal structures and mechanisms are certainly in need of new faces. However, he has no-one to blame but himself for his one-term tenure. Having publicly declared his desire for a three-year extension, his “resignation” came as a surprise. In fact, Mr. Craigs has known since the Executive Board meeting in Zuhai last May that he would need to start looking for another job.

There is unanimous agreement that Mr. Craigs did a great marketing and PR job in keeping the PATA brand alive. He worked his contacts in the aviation sector, made global appearances that impressed many, had excellent inter-personal skills, knew the fine art of ego-massaging and was a master at recognising a good photo-opp. Finally, his best asset became his worst liability. Said one board member, “Martin was a great Chief Marketing Officer, but not a good Chief Executive Officer.”

Ironically, it was Mr. Craigs who brought in Mr. Mario Hardy to rectify exactly that imbalance. The plan was for Mr. Hardy to keep the internal housekeeping humming while Mr. Craigs travelled the world. That backfired. Finally, the executive board decided to opt for one over the other, and keep only one senior-management salary on the books.

That probably would not have happened if Mr. Craigs had better balanced his time on the road with his time in the office, if he had not tried to achieve too much with too little, if his internal communications had been as good as his external appearances and if he had worked harder to put “Asia” back into the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

In several conversations with this editor, Mr. Craigs himself admitted that he was on the road much too often. If a full roster of his travels is ever made public, people will be amazed at the sheer volume. It was exhausting, especially if it also meant simultaneously keeping a watch on the office back home. But he felt it was necessary to keep PATA on the global stage, which is what he had been hired to do.

The problem was, his travels lacked focus. He was just all over the place. Some of his foreign appearances could have been handled by video-link. Moreover, his speeches were a victory of style over substance. He was over-obsessed with the UK Air Passenger Duty, which may have been a big deal for East African and Caribbean countries but was of little concern to the Asia Pacific. However, the posturing made it appear that he was fighting the good fight on behalf of his members.

Although the Asia Pacific countries had far more important issues to address, PATA never developed a policy platform clearly and sharply outlining its new “raison d’etre” in a rapidly changing world. Its “Building the Business” Blueprint does the job only half-way. There were many lost opportunities. One of the biggest ones was after the Mekong Tourism Forum in Chiang Rai in June 2012. There Mr. Disnadda Diskul, Secretary-General of Thailand’s Mae Fah Luang Foundation, sounded some dire warnings about the impact of the growing rich-poor income gap, one of the thorniest socio-economic and ultimately geopolitical challenges facing an emerging Asia. He talked of the importance of Thai King Bhumibhol Adulyadej’s Sufficiency Economy as a potential antidote. Mr. Craigs publicly pledged to heed the warnings and follow them up. He didn’t.

If Mr. Craigs’ external marketing appearances had been balanced by well-crafted position and policy statements on key issues facing Asia, and the role of travel and tourism in addressing them, over and above the humdrum sustainability-technology-education-marketing agenda, it would have given PATA a lot more clout on the global stage and, perhaps, attracted membership interest.

Indeed, PATA wants more members but developing, adapting and fine-tuning a suite of products to attract them is still work in progress. As incoming CEO, Mr. Hardy is right in trying to develop PATA events as places where members can learn, network and socialise. But far more important, members expect PATA to bring to bear the collective power of an association to discuss, debate and ultimately solve larger problems that they individually cannot. The nature, scope, severity and frequency of these problems has changed dramatically. Many are outside the traditional “comfort zones” but have a humungous impact on travel & tourism. Normal industry conferences and events avoid them entirely. If PATA cannot, or will not address them, its mission will always remained half-fulfilled.

In his comments to TTG e-daily, Mr. Craigs also talked of the need to change mindsets at the board level. He lost sight of the fact that the first mindset that needed change was his own. In that sense, his biggest failing was failing to heed the mistakes of his predecessors. Eventually, Mr. Craigs learned the hard way that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.