If you missed the SITE Young Leaders' "In the Know" Facebook interview with SITE President, Rajeev Kohli on 28 April, you can read it here. The interview was facilitated by SITE Young Leader Co-chair, Michael Dalton, Director of Sales, Moloney & Kelly Travel, Dublin, Ireland.
Michael: Welcome to the "In the Know" Interview. I'm delighted to have Rajeev Kohli, SITE Global President and Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India.
Michael: Rajeev, we would like to start by getting to know a little more about you.
Rajeev: I was born into the travel industry - my family owns India’s largest independently owned inbound tour operator. The company has been around for 39 years and I have been in it for 22. I have a MBA in Marketing & Entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!) I worked a bit in the US before I came back home and joined the family business in 1994. Also, I love to travel and I LOVE ICE CREAM !!!
Michael: How did you first get involved in SITE?
My first experience with SITE was at the 2005 Global Conference in Toronto - the first SITE event I ever attended. I had been a member for 5 years, but never got involved. This is where I got my first exposure to incentive quality events on a global level and is where I got hooked. I have attended every Global Conference since and they are the highlights of my annual travels. Before that, SITE was just a logo on my card. Now it is my professioal home and passion.
Michael: What is your favorite part about being SITE President?
Rajeev: Hmm… I have many favorites. Sitting with the folks on the SITE board has created an extended family for me. I just love public speaking. SITE is a great platform to share your thoughts. But, what I really love most about my role as a SITE board member is the ability for us to go out and help destinations to create awareness of the positive business impact of incentive travel. With the SITE Executive Summit, we have a very strong mandate to visit new destinations that want to get started on this journey. I have been to Argentina, Egypt, Dubai, Dominican Republic and this year Slovenia. Each country was eager to hear what we said, what we had to share and appreciated the advice we gave to help them create an incentive product. To be able to go out and make a real difference to a region, to an industry, to peoples’ businesses - is a great honor and privilege.
Michael: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and how has it helped your career?
Rajeev: More than advice, it was an action. When I was just 3 years into the business, the best thing my father did for me was to get me involved in industry affairs. He literally dragged me one afternoon to a local association election where he made me contest and I started as a volunteer in our national convention marketing association. It’s now been 18 years since I embarked on this journey of giving back to my industry. This, I would say, has been the best way for me to learn from people a lot more senior, to grow as a professional and also to network to grow my business. So the best advice I got – get involved in your industry. Participate in the discussion and help make change happen.
This was the best thing my father could ever do for me. Those of you who work for your parents or work in a family business may appreciate the value of this mentoring. Those who work in more corporate environments go out and find your space. It is there, especially in SITE.
I was just elected to the #2 spot in India's most important travel association, India Association of Travel Operators (IATO), which I will hold for at least two years. That is where I will try to create conversation in my home country and help our industry's cause.
Michael: What can SITE offer newcomers to the industry to further expand their network and education about Incentive Travel?
Rajeev: When I discovered SITE, I discovered a passion for incentive travel and slowly we started building on our competencies in meetings and incentives, and we morphed the company into a more professional DMC. SITE was my training ground to learn more about incentive travel, and I do not say this as a marketing pitch. It is truly where I learned what this industry is all about and how to make it a highly profitable and successful part of my business.
I say this because when I started getting involved with SITE, I was still very green in the business, did not have enough experience and had a lot of learning to do. SITE is a place where young professionals can interact with the leaders in our industry and feel comfortable. People are really willing to share and mentor.
I cannot underscore the value that being involved has in your professional growth, your career and your development as a human being. Volunteering can take different forms - being an officer, being a committee member or just being there to help. Position and power is not important. The value you put in your work and the happiness it gives you makes all the difference.
Also, to be fair, being involved does help your business. When you are visible, when you are vocal, when you are seen, you automatically become more credible. So as long as you do not take undue advantage of your role, you will be on a great path to success. Volunteering has many aspects around it.
Michael: The SITE Global Conference is a fantastic event. So you will definitely be in Panama as well this year?
Rajeev: For sure. I, along with the SITE HQ team, have already done one site visit and the next one is coming up soon. It's an amazing little, quaint country, has tremendous opportunities and also the Panama Canal is very cool... imagine huge cargo ships passing by and SITE members sipping cocktails overlooking that. Just one sneak peak of what is planned.
Michael: All markets have their own cultural differences, what are your key tips for people on how to work best with the Indian Market?
Rajeev: India is a journey of the senses. It is about the sites you see, the things you taste, the sense of touch and smell, the sounds you hear. No matter where you go in India, your senses are affected and you leave a changed person.
Michael: Now we are putting your DMC expertise to the test. What is the number one must-see in India for first time visitors?
Rajeev: First time visitors tend to stay in the North. Delhi, Agra and Jaipur form a basic route, even for incentives. Delhi is our capital and one of the main gateways. Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur has all the forts and palaces and stories of royalty and that makes the trip unique.
Michael: Any top recommendations on hidden gems apart from the usual main attractions??
Rajeev: Did you know that India has more wildlife species than Africa? Did you know that Varanasi in the North is the oldest living city in the world? Did you know that India is the birthplace to 4 major religions of the world? Not to give a sales pitch, but India is a trip of experiences, of discovery. Whether you are interested in culture, spirituality, wellness, beaches, the mountains or just luxury, there is something special and unique for everyone.
We also are home to 75% of the Himalayas and some of the best trekking and expectation routes. We have skiing and whitewater rafting. So even the outdoorsy type can have their fill here. And, we are great at driving...https://youtu.be/0FOzi49C4WA
Michael: What are your biggest goals for SITE Young Leaders this year?
Rajeev: Deep Question...I want our Young Leaders to go out and bond more with the “Old Leaders” (for the lack of a better term.) This is your platform to network, to learn and to actually teach the rest on what is going on in your world.
We need to build the next level of industry thought leaders. Don't be afraid of asking questions or exploring new paths. We have all been there. We appreciate your curiosity and desire to grow. Use that to your advantage.
But at the end, I want you to be happy. SITE should be your first and last home when it comes to being a professional. As your President, if I cannot deliver that, I am not doing my job. I am always available to any Young Leader or Chapter for any support they need.
Michael: I would be thrilled if I could engage more with our SITE leaders, especially at the Global Conference. How can we get more Young Leaders to attend, but don't have the budget at the company level? Would love your insight on this issue.
Rajeev: I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. We are working on ideas along with your Young Leaders' leadership team and, hopefully, we will be able to come up with a formula that works.
Michael: Last question, where are you off to next on your SITE Journey and where can SITE members catch up with you?
Rajeev: You have obviously been paying attention to what I said at IMEX. Being a DMC, I need to source my business globally, and so I end up spending close to 6 months a year on the road. My next trip starts Saturday morning for 7 weeks and I will be in Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Mexico, Chicago, Atlanta, London, ending up in Turkey on vacation. I do make it a point to catch-up with SITE chapters wherever possible, so I would be happy to buy anyone a drink anywhere along the way.
Michael: Rajeev, thank you so much for joining us today and answering questions. If anyone else out there does have a question please feel free to email Rajeev and he can answer it. We really appreciate everyone's interaction in todays interview.
Rajeev: A huge thank you to all the Young Leaders for having me. I really enjoyed this. I am available for any support or advice anyone needs. Mail me at email@example.com, or touch base with the SITE HQ staff at any time. We are one big happy family and our common goal is to make the Incentive Travel industry a fulfilling one.