Monday, February 10, 2014

Switzerland



Switzerland is like a 5-star hotel in Mumbai, surrounded by relative mediocrity & poverty. Everyone outside is enamoured by its splendid facade, has heard stories of its spas & beach-facing swimming pools, and the tabloids catch the rich & famous zipping in & out.


Back in the day, when this 'hotel' started out, some of its enterprising owners realized their great location advantage, and invested in creating the best infrastructure for the biggest marketing campaign of all time - the Swiss Alps. Needless to say, it was a roaring success. And since so much money & effort was put behind making all this infrastructure, the 'prices' had to be prohibitively expensive. This meant only the richest of the rich could come & 'stay'.

As this started happening, the enterprising Swiss figured a common thread running through these rich visitors - their need to stash away their cash, secretly. So the 'hotel' started offering 'other' services as well, very discreetly. The rich paid more & more to enjoy the benefits. Over time, everyone from the waiters to the guy who sorted the hotel trash started earning enough to be driving around in Mercs - some did, some chose not to and even left. The 'hotel' continued to get facelifts, and the common people outside continued to look on with awe. But the 'benefits' that the hotel provided, known only to the rich few, became one of the biggest USPs of the hotel, keeping it well ahead of other magnificent hotels.

But then two strange things happened in quick succession.

The owners of the hotel were impressed with the stupendous growth the hotel was seeing, and wanted more. They realized that too many people were leaving and not enough coming in, especially for the kind of growth they wanted. So they decided, undoubtedly correctly, to let anyone from around the locality in to help work at the hotel. This was a strange thing as this was never ever done in the history of the hotel, which was always a closed, selective community. But it brought in fresh ideas & 'unspoilt' people who were willing to do whatever it takes to make their lives, and by design, the hotel's future a success.

The other strange thing that happened was that laws got passed to have a 'camera' in all 'hotels', including Switzerland, with full access for global governments. The carefully built, and biggest standing, USP of the hotel was no more. The rich and famous could no longer come in & get other services without having Big Brother watching them through that wretched tin can on the wall. Many clients swore never to come again. There were murmurs of some other hotels somehow having the ability to have a few rooms without cameras. Many of the rich & famous promptly began going there.

Business dropped dramatically at the hotel. Enough clients were not coming in.

What's worse, some of the original inhabitants of the hotel started complaining that the stream of folks from the locality were getting too many. There were meetings & demonstrations, and open rejection of some of the cultural ideas of the ‘new ones’.
The owners had no clue what had hit them. They had two problems to solve at the same time. One, how to get business back. And two, how to quell this discontent amongst some of its inhabitants against the people coming in.

Interestingly enough, these problems might be linked. But more on that, and the first problem, later.

Bowing to pressure from this dissenting group, the owners did the unthinkable. They made it everybody's problem by asking them to vote on whether the people from the locality should be allowed in. They thought, rather naively that this group was a minority and the problem would solve itself with the vote saying that everything's fine, “keep 'em comin' in”.


The result of that vote came on Sunday evening. A shocker, to say the least. 44% of the people didn't even bother voting. Of the 56% that did, 50.3% were the dissenting group. That's well less than a third of the total. But as it happens, the owners have to go by the result, and tell all those locality groups that they cannot allow people to come in indiscriminately. The two problems are now even bigger.

Had the owners' thoughts of a victory in the vote materialized, the people from the locality would have come in, with fresh ideas, hard work & ambition, and helped solve the first problem, of business going down. Because people trying hard find a way, eventually.

The once magnificent hotel is now at a crossroads, its future uncertain. The best bet for the owners would probably be to go back to the original USP, around which in the first wave of business was built - beautiful, natural gifts complemented with amazing infrastructure, and a dazzling marketing campaign. But they would need people, and if not recruiting from around the locality is a constraint, they might well fall short. They might need to take down pricing in pockets, so as to gain volumes, but then would existing infrastructure suffice?

Strong positive, business building steps need to be taken…

Else, the hotel is destined to die a slow, painful death, eventually taken over by those dissenters who think they can do without help.

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As a new member of the hotel staff, I find myself in the midst of this calm chaos. The natural wonders that this place possesses coupled with the painstakingly built infrastructure is even more amazing than what it looked from the outside. But the murmurs of dissent against 'us' just got a voice today. Albeit only 28%. Hope they realize that we're all eventually working for the prosperity of the same hotel, that's how the system was designed.


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