It was a rainy day in Goa, India and I had just got back to the hotel in the evening after meeting customers. As I walked through the corridor of the hotel I saw a lot of people from the Middle East sitting at the lounge and enjoying a drink as they chatted and gazed out over the Arabian Sea and the rains. I asked the lobby manager as to why so many people came in from the Middle East during monsoon times. He smiled and told me that his hotel marketed what they called “Monsoon Tourism”. People from the Middle East region who had not seen such heavy rain wanted to experience it. I really liked the way Indian hotels were marketing rain. This was twenty years ago.
As I set off to four small cities in India as part of a pilgrimage, little did I know that I was becoming part of a different type of tourism. The pilgrimage took me across from the south of India to the north and back. It starts at a place called Rameshwaram, goes to Varanasi (or Kashi or Benaras as it is called) and also to Allahabad and Gaya and ends in Rameshwaram. It takes close to ten days to complete the whole circuit and the whole program is structured around offering prayers to all the departed souls that you know and want to pray for. Typically, people do it for their parents and prior generations, but, when you get in to the meaning of the prayers you realise that you can offer prayers for any departed soul – could be a friend, a pet, a tree – and they could also be offered to souls that you do not know!
The experience I had was amazing and I now call this "Tourism for Death". These four small Indian cities survive and thrive on this Death Tourism. It is remarkable to see how people have generated employment - and built an ecosystem that has thrived for centuries - on death.
By now you may be wondering why an article on this particular kind of tourism is being published by Outsource. Well, the model used in this business is very interesting and is one of the best uses I know of outsourcing services based on professional capability.
Typically, a priest (or a family of priests) is contacted by someone who wants to go through with this pilgrimage. The priest gets into action and offers a complete package with all services from the time the person reaches the location. Other than the prayer services that he provides, all other services are outsourced. He has tie-ups with hotels, conveyance and travel services, city tourist guides, other priests for special prayers, outstation priests (eg. if a priest in Varanasi is the one you have contacted, he will work with priests in the other three cities), cooks for special food preparation, clothes shops if pilgrims need clothes for the prayers, etc. I was amazed to see how the co-ordination between the different service providers works.
This is outsourcing at its best. They work based on what they are good at doing and do not step into each other's shoes. It works on complete trust and everyone has a share of the pie. It works like any multisourcing deal but with one service provider taking the lead. Typically, it is the priest that leads the deal, but they let the professionals handle their part. What I also noticed was that if there is a family of priests handling many cases, they seem to have invested into downstream and upstream businesses such as conveyance providers, caterers, clothing shops, hotels, etc. It's an amazing web that works well to deliver the services required.
Some lessons that I learnt from this model were:
- A multisourcing deal can be signed up with one service provider being accountable for the total customer experience but with professionals doing their part working in different organisations.
- There is a single point of contact with the customer unless the customer wants to sign up separate deals with each provider.
- There's excellent communication between the different service providers with each knowing exactly what needs to be done for a customer.
- Total trust is in place between service providers and so no-one "bad mouths" the other or tries to compete for clientele.
- The hand-offs between the service providers are pretty good. I did see slippages in parts but generally, these slippages were not deal-breakers.
- There is very little technology usage – I saw that they had a manual system and used the mobile phone quite often. However, I believe that to scale this to a much larger level, they would need better use of technology. Technology could play a huge role in taking this game international should they choose.
- The priest does a wonderful job of setting clear expectations with the customer on how the ten days will unfold. There are a few surprises, of course, when some hand-offs don’t work, but, generally, I noticed that what I got was well in line with expectations.
- Pricing is a very interesting aspect: the pilgrimage package is made based on what the customer can afford. So, what prayers to offer, how many days, which hotel to stay in, the type of transportation, etc. are all a function of what the customer says s/he can afford.
Though these are ultra-short-term deals and so co-ordination is easier for a single customer, I realised that these priests can each handle over ten customers in a single day. They seem to have multiple service providers for the same service and move across providers based on the price-point needed by the customer and capacity constraints.
Outsourcing comes in different flavours; this is a great example that has been going on for centuries in India.