Drugs, drinks, women, gambling, spot fixing! What more do we need to shut down the IPL? Cleaning up the mess is the answer and the responsibility lies with the BCCI, the IPL Council and the owners of the franchises
Drugs, drinks, women, gambling, spot fixing: Sounds like a cross between an early seventies rock festival and a sleazy bookies annual convention in Mumbai, with guests from Pakistan. No, this is the Indian Premier League (IPL), the jewel in the crown of Indian cricket and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
No wonder Kirti Azad, a key member of Kapil’s Devils, the team which won the 1983 cricket World Cup, has gone on a fast demanding that the IPL be scrapped. Azad may be asking for too much. Clean-up, yes; obliteration, no. All would agree that the 2012 edition of IPL has become something like the Augean Stables. And we need a Hercules to divert the Ganges and clean up the IPL which has created a stench worse than Chennai’s Cooum River and the Buckingham Canal.
What more do we need to shut down the show, asks Azad. But let us see if there are any positives to offset these activities of IPL players that offend the nostrils. Let us look at the negatives first.
Five uncapped Indian players in the IPL were caught in a sting operation by a TV channel that implicated them in spot-fixing. BCCI, which seems to have lost control over the IPL, has suspended the five players pending an in-house investigation. No one knows or is saying why the police have not been brought in because unlicensed gambling is a crime in India.
On Sunday night, the police raided a rave party in a hotel in Juhu, Mumbai, and rounded up nearly a hundred people, 58 men and 38 women, all young. Among them were two IPL players and the children of so-called celebrities. The police found 110 grams of cocaine, a large number of Ecstasy tablets and charas.
Superstar Shah Rukh Khan, joint owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders, was involved in a brawl in the Wankhede Stadium with the officials of the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA), which banned him from the entering the stadium for five years. Khan said he was objecting to a security guard “roughing up” his little daughter while the Association claimed Khan was drunk and disorderly.
Luke Pomersbach, the Australian playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore, was arrested on charges of molesting Zohal Hamid, a woman who is a US citizen. He was given bail by a Delhi court. His passport was seized and he cannot leave the country until the police investigation is complete.
The alleged molestation happened at five in the morning, after a drunken all-night party in which Zohal was present throughout along with her fiance. Pomersbach got full support from Siddharth Mallya, who used foul language on Twitter while claiming that Zohal was a woman of doubtful character. Zohal has filed a defamation case against Siddharth, son of liquor baron Vijay Mallya.
Azad’s claim is that these incidents are enough to close down the IPL; and who is to say that such things will not happen in future?
The positives in favour of continuing the IPL with a clean-up are that for five years the ILP matches have been providing good, wholesome entertainment for tens of millions of cricket fans all over the world; even Indians in the US are following these matches closely.
There will always be a few rotten ones but we cannot tar the whole bunch with the same brush.
And then there is the humongous amount of money involved in the IPL which is not just a yearly international cricket tournament but a big industry. The turnover since the time IPL started must have neared or crossed $1 billion. You cannot closed own a flourishing, billion dollar industry by a fiat. And there are thousands of contracts, many of them intertwining, which cannot be cancelled without creating a mess which would take years to settle. Cleaning up the IPL is the answer and the responsibility lies with the BCCI, the IPL Council and the owners of the franchises.
First, impose discipline on the players and the owners. From the beginning the players have been forced to attend parties after every match in which liquor flows like water, attended by women who most of the time stay on drinking till the parties get over just as the sun is rising.Therefore, the first step is no boozing for the players, no partying; and lights out at 11pm. The rest of the clean-up will follow automatically.
(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch the Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
The writer narrates some anecdotes during his stint at the Sheraton Suites. The 38th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
In the hospitality industry, competition was severe and all the managers running these units must have regularly had nightmares on the occupancy factor and revenue. I had just joined the Suites in the early 2001, after my almost three-year educative experience at the Courtyard. The computer systems in both hotels were different, and learning Geac was no easy matter.
Very similar to the DGS&D rates for products in India, the government here had also fixed the maximum per day allowance for the government officials moving about and visiting out on “stations of duty”. If the booking was made “at government rates”, it was mandatory for the front office staff to ensure that all steps were taken to identify the person and then check them in.
We do not know how it happened, but, apparently, a lot of government contractors and their representatives were making the booking, on the phone, for their rooms “at government rates”. While the front desk associate may have checked the ID of the person, it was not a practice to see other forms of government ID. We began to enforce this rule, and many of our regular clients resented this in the beginning. It took sometime before they were able to accept our regular rates, as no longer the benefit of government rate would apply for their stay.
During the summer months, most schools conducted “summer camps”; this meant a large number of students, both boys and girls from the same school, would be on sight-seeing trips, which necessarily included a visit to the capital, Washington DC. Relatively speaking, hotels in the capital were more expensive and parking space for large luxury buses was also a constraint. With the result, across the Potomac river, it was Virginia, which hosted these large groups, and our hotel was one of the few that catered to this need for many years.
In most cases, the trips were well organized and chaperoned by qualified staff. We had to block one floor each for boys and girls separately; in addition to the school’s own security systems, there were also floor guards so that we do not have any untoward incidents, as the students were young boys and girls. By and large, they were disciplined; they would march in punctually for breakfast, after which, they would move to the buses outside, and were gone for the whole day. They were back in time for supper, have it quietly, stop over the shopee for buying up their midnight snacks, cameras, films, etc, and move over to their rooms. If a late swim was arranged, the life guard would be on duty, after which, they would all march to their respective floors. After the given curfew time, they were locked in, and not allowed to leave their rooms.
We had excellent dealings with both the students and their group leaders. Our sales in the shopee would pick up tremendously during their visits, and we did not, fortunately, encounter any problem whatsoever.
We had a large ballroom, which could be divided into small sections, depending upon the number of seats (occupancy) required. A smaller conference room, with access to the main dining hall was also available. The catering service was handled by Hassan who had several years experience in the field, and had made bookings for almost the whole year. And the wedding dinners took place on Saturdays, when generally most hotels were not fully occupied!
Like all other hotels, we kept in close touch with the police force, for which we had an emergency switch to press in the front desk; and in less than three minutes we had the police vehicles at our door step. In fact, very often, due to children playing with the phones in their rooms, we have had urgent “security check calls” from the police, when the operator would ask “what kind of assistance do you need, as we have a 911 call from the hotel?” “Is everything ok?” The efficiency of the police force cannot be described. They were excellent.
All the rooms in the hotel had automatic water sprayers, in case of fire. These were small knobs on the walls; also, in case of emergencies, automatic sirens would blaze through all the floors, and the staff was trained to handle different and difficult situations before para-medics can come to the rescue.
On one such occasion, I was not on duty, and we had a wedding reception planned in our hotel. The bridal and hospitality suites were allotted for the family, and one of the guests, apparently by mistake, had simply hung up a dress on the nozzle of the water sprayer, and gone out to get something! Oh, what a mess this created! Because of the weight of the clothes, I suppose, the nozzle was pulled down, triggering the alert signal to the fire station and water spraying started in the entire floor. I believe it took some three hours before this could be set back to normalcy! Needless to say, it did spoil the person's clothes, unfortunately, but, at the end of the day, everybody had a great laugh!
The restaurant catered to the needs of the guests and offered both continental and American full breakfast. They would also set tables separately for the groups, in line with their own approved menus.
Likewise, the bar opened only in the afternoon, and picked up business late in the evenings. They had to strictly follow the rules and law relating to serving of alcohol to adults only; in case of even the slightest doubt, it was mandatory for the person serving to ask for the age proof. Only the senior-most of the bartenders took over this responsibility with great care and diligence. We had surprise checks from police force, who came incognito, and any mistake was immediate suspension of the person and HR department would take care of the removal procedures for such violations.
Almost all the hotels were keen to introduce and apply Six Sigma programs in their day-to-day activities. There were two that drew our management’s attention. One was the handling of transportation work, which was given a contractor, for managing this responsibility. It was our own vehicles; we were maintaining them and incurring all the expenses; the drivers were getting free lunches and dinners, while the only job outsourced to this contractor was to execute rosters and in ensuring vehicle runs efficiently. Like many of my own colleagues, I raised this issue with the management, as to why we needed to outsource this and why it could not be done by us? A few months after this was raised, the front office took over the transportation, reduced our expenses and became more flexible to meet guest requirements, to their entire satisfaction.
The second related to the complimentary copies of USA Today. I was given this assignment. First was to establish a consumption (or requirement) pattern for the newspaper, Monday to Friday, based on bookings made and anticipated variation in additions and cancellations. I stopped the booking for the full house for all days of the week and brought it down to realistic levels; made changes, week after week; eliminated the student groups, as they did not want delivery of the newspaper. On several occasions, I came to the office by 4am to ensure that paper delivery was in order. Very rarely, we had a shortage, but this was more than offset by our offering the copy of Washington Post in lieu from the shopee.
In the month of August, we had the annual outing for the staff, when, for the first time, I had to opportunity to play baseball, though, unconsciously, I held the bat very much like a cricket bat, which was corrected by someone who had come from England!
I felt more and more I was feeling at home, and a sense of belonging was overwhelming.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in making the guests “feel at home”. The 37th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
Our hotel was situated in the “old town” of Alexandria, where, some two hundred years earlier the first lot of settlers had come in to live. It was on the Potomac river and trading was brisk. In fact, there are some very old buildings and hotels in the area that can trace back the history, and are declared ‘national’ heritage and monument sights.
Besides, Alexandria, being part of Virginia state, was the gateway to Washington DC, the capital, and because of the space limitations, thousands of government employees always lived in the area. The town, therefore, was always buzzing with activity; it had a great variety of restaurants, sight-seeing historical sites, and the connecting link to cross over to Maryland state over the bridge on Potomac. Route No. 1 passed through the town!
One of prime jobs as the supervisor was to know the town itself; I did this best by walking around the area, road by road, after my shift was over during day time, making notes of restaurants, landmarks, etc. The hotel was one of the few that was all ‘suites’ and generally occupied by business travellers visiting DC and meeting the IT companies in Virginia. So, we catered to their breakfast and supper (dinner) needs and did not have regular lunch at our restaurant. The general practice, in business has been, all over the world that most have a “work-through-lunch”, having a quick sandwich, and a leisurely dinner! Of course, our restaurant catered to group lunches upon order, which is why, it was in the evenings when guests would come for booking tables, seek recommendations after mentioning the choice of food that they wanted to eat, and have our complimentary vans drop and collect them! Not only I went on these trips regularly, but drove the coach myself, to experience the work involved.
We had some 22 suites on the ninth floor, catering to Platinum members who were served complimentary breakfasts; there were times when we had run out of rooms on this floor because of high traffic of Platinum guests. We had to assign them to different floors, but yet they had access keys to the elevators that would take them to the Club floor so that they could enjoy the benefit for breakfast in the mornings and snacks in the evenings. Of course, there were days when the assigned in charge of the Club room failed to turn up and the front desk had to cover up this lapse, by taking over that additional responsibility too. In case we had a staff problem ourselves, we had to issue complimentary breakfast at our restaurant, by giving away the coupons! In the first couple of months, I had to undergo training of running the Club room as well in case of emergencies.
Attached to the front desk was a little kiosk that contained various items of sale for the guests. Essential items like toothbrush, paste, shampoo, soap (all kinds of toiletries) were in the suites on a complimentary basis. But the shop had all other items, including snacks, soft drinks, cameras, films, shoe polish, etc. Since I was a regular visitor to Wal-Mart, I found many items, such as umbrellas and eatables that were cheap, and we introduced them in our shop. We had cigarettes on sale also, but, because of government regulations and strict enforcements, we did not make a sale until we demanded and inspected a photo ID of the buyer that he/she was old enough to make the purchase! By keeping a strict control on the sales, and cash register, I was able to bring in a good turnover, soon after I took over.
Unlike the Courtyard, at the Sheraton Suites, all the associates at the front desk had their own little ‘banks’ for their operations. At the end of the day, i.e. their shift, they had to record the dealings and drop in the collection in the safety box, which was in the control of the accounts. There were surprise checks at regular intervals to ensure that the banks were not misused by the associate. In case of misappropriation, the person concerned was relieved of the duty.
When I joined the Suites, we did have an exclusive floor, designed for ‘smokers’ only. On some days, when we were sold out, we had no choice, but to allocate the rooms to non-smokers, who did not accept them, but when bookings were made, our sales operators were trained to clarify the position of this possibility on such days. We did our best to have the housekeeping do the special cleaning and spraying, but we did have trouble with guests, who were compensated in many ways for this unfortunate situation, arising out of total sell-out.
On the second floor, we had a gym, which was open always (accessible by the room key for the guest), but the swimming pool had its operating times, as, due to the Alexandria County regulations only a lifeguard, certified by them, must be present, when it is open to the guests. We could not, therefore, employ even the Olympic gold medallist, if he/she was not certified as a lifeguard by the county. This was the general regulations in most other places, as well.
The gym had a great number of items for the guest to use; but the selection and type of equipment was uniform for all the Sheratons of the same category, but only the number of units may increase, in relation to the size of the rooms in each location. It had nice and pleasant warm water during cold wintery months, while it was cold water for summer. In either case, however, in case of first thunderstorm, due to the possibility of lightening, we had to clear all the users out of the pool immediately.
There were emergency phones available at all important locations, such as above, in order to meet any contingency. Children were not permitted to use the gym unless they were accompanied by a responsible adult member of their family. As a matter of courtesy to the guests, we delivered USA Today every morning to all the occupants; the (Platinum) guests, staying in the Club level had the Wall Street Journal additionally. If someone wanted the Washington Post, they had to get it from the shopee at the lounge.
Whether one was in the morning or afternoon shift, the main purpose was in keeping the guests happy, comfortable and to make them “feel at home”. Every complaint was promptly attended to by the associate concerned and if the guest made difficult demands, the supervisor and/or manager took over the situation and resolved the issue. Guest commentary cards were not only collected, but serious follow up action taken so that such mistakes, if any, did not recur. We were repeatedly told that one unhappy customer is likely to talk about his/her experience to ten other prospective guests, which was detrimental to our interests. We had to remember that an unhappy guest would voluntarily talk about his/her bad experience, as against a happy one, who would only make a good recommendation, when he/she is asked for opinion!
All the front desk associates had to go through the first aid training programs and take part in other customer-related workshops that were regularly conducted by the Human Resources director. Krista and John from Courtyard had become part of the Suites, much to my liking, and Jodie Chang also joined us a little later to take over the sales manager.
I was getting well acquainted with the Geac System and as new associates joined, it became my responsibility to train them as well and take care of their needs until they were able to handle the work independently.
The rush for check-out would become very high just after breakfast in the mornings, as guests would be in a hurry to leave, catch their flights and so on. Yet, in the process of doing this job, we had to keep a good conversation with them and seek their comments on the Guests Commentary Cards; if they had confronted any small issues, they may have overlooked them. If this was not take care of during the check out process, they may be rightly tempted to write this down when they get a questionnaire about their stay, which was sent by emails. If we did not enquire about their stay and how they enjoyed it will also be considered as an affront. So, not only we learnt to remember the names of our guests, but also their likes and dislikes, particularly if they were becoming a regular visitor.
The guest commentary card was analysed at the national level and the corporate office would evaluate the reports, by a team of experts, and place the hotel ratings suitably. We had to remember that we were in competition with other Sheraton Suites, nation-wide, and we had to stand out as the best. Not an easy task, we were in good wicket.
We learnt to create a sense of belonging for the guests and we all went the extra mile to accomplish this feat, as far as possible.
AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)