We live in a ‘male dominated’ society. Survival of a woman here is tough. Survival of a Single Mother here is tougher and if you happen to be a thorough professional, meticulous in your work with a ‘no-nonsense’ approach, well, God save you then! So, how many women do you know who have the guts to turn down meaty job offers, lucrative incentives, choosing to walk on the path of integrity and build a reputation based solely on talent and hard work? Well, I know one, and it was an absolute honour sipping a hot cup of cocoa with her, as she took me down the memory lane of her life. Punam Singh, who has shouldered many portfolios in the last few decades, needs no introduction to the people of travel trade. Even today, she continues to play an active role in the travel trade industry, managing profiles ranging from marketing to organising events to skilling the youth in tourism. Here’s our exclusive feature on this veteran under BOTT Spotlight.
Priyanka Saxena Ray
Born in Ludhiana after an age-gap of almost 14 years from her elder brother, Punam, was what you would call a ‘mannat’ child, who was looked upon as a blessing from the Gods in an era where daughters were not such a welcome sight. Her family shifted to Delhi while she was still an infant and she completed her schooling and graduation from JMC, before joining Air India’s GSA as her first job. Soon after, she got married and started touring India with her husband as he was in a transferable job. Keeping her credentials in mind, Punam ensured she got a transfer in her job as well, irrespective of the post, in whichever city she was based in but it was in Jaipur, after her daughter’s birth in 1982 that she did a Diploma in AD and PR from the Rajasthan University and passed it as a Gold Medalist. Some years later, after separation from her husband, Punam set up her base in Delhi (with her parents, brother and sister-in-law lending strong family support), and re-started her stint in the travel trade – the rest, as they would say, is history.
She had started working with Air India, moved to Manor Travels, then Trade-Wings, followed by Old World Hospitality and TSI. In early 2000s, Visit Britain was looking for a Country Head in India and Punam was one of the shortlisted candidates. However, someone else was appointed by them as that candidate had prior experience handling the same profile. It was around this time somewhere in 2002 that Punam decided to take a sabbatical. Not the one to sit idle, she challenged herself to get trained in Fine Arts as that was one field she had absolutely no clue about. “I could never draw, so the journey was not an easy one. I learnt it from scratch and became an art advisor (did a couple of shows too as art advisor),” she reminisces.
Her sabbatical was not long as she was yet again contacted by the VisitBritain (VB) team, something which her Spiritual Guru had predicted and assured her off, at the time when she did not get the job. “It further reinforced my faith in spirituality and I was convinced that there are certain people who are blessed with some special powers allowing them to see and predict the future,” she adds. Punam joined VisitBritain as Country Manager in 2004, a move which became a turning point in her career in many ways.
“I opened the Mumbai and Bengaluru offices for VB and I was their Global Champion for MICE, Business Tourism, Food and Drink moving on to Shopping and shared insights on these verticals with all their offices world-wide. It was wonderful exposure and I also started composing a guide book on Britain, especially tailored for the India market for them. But soon enough there was a global repositioning at VB. As I wasn’t comfortable working within the new set-up dynamics, I decided to put in my papers. However, I had barely done so when I was approached by Visit London who were extremely keen to have me on-board and insistent that I do so soon enough,” she recalls.
Punam worked with Visit London from 2007 – 2014 and it was during this time that her interaction with the travel trade increased manifold. She became a brand in India who, for the trade, was synonymous with London. Rarely would you ever come across a person who is so knowledgeable and passionate about their area of work as she was with hers. She went out of her way to make London even more popular in India, not just in the metro cities but also in the tier-II and tier-III cities; which were the untapped markets at that time. In 2014, Visit London had to close down some 9 offices globally and India figured in one of them. Having done her bit in the field of the Tourism Boards, Punam decided to explore the “trade shows and event entertainment world” and made them, like all her previous ventures, a roaring success.
“I always felt that the travel shows (not trade exhibitions) in India were very promiscuous and lacked structure from the focused business meetings stand-point. So, one started the Travel Show format. We have conducted 17 Travel Shows so far under the luxury (6), weddings (5) and MICE (6) segments and all of them have been table-top, closed door, serious uninterrupted shows with exhibitors and hosted buyers pertinent to that vertical from Pan India. We have got a great response and a loyal participation base. Soon, we are introducing an Allied travel show in July 2019, which will have a special focus on tier II and tier III city markets,” she elaborates.
She is also, in the meantime, teaching a weekend, government recognised course in Tourism and Hospitality Management, in South Campus, wherein a batch of 30 odd students are taught from the faculty and some hand-picked senior resources from the trade fraternity, giving them first-hand knowledge of what awaits them out there in the market. Supplementing all this (yes there is more!), she handles a few turnkey projects and offers assistance to help NTO’s co-ordinate and manage their events in the India market. She also does marketing for ESG – a leading DMC for Western Europe.
So with close to 3 decades of experience in the travel trade, how has she seen the industry evolve? “The platitudes are still the same, as they were 30 years earlier. Inbound remains synonymous with tourism in India from the government’s perspective and Outbound, despite being a huge contributor, is still struggling to gain recognition. The overall reputation of the Indian travel trade industry overseas is quite poor, with certain trade persons being respected rather than the market. However, there are certain individuals who have evolved and raised the bar in the fraternity. A lot of new drivers are in the offing, with newer verticals like the Weddings and Landmark Events being cash cows and some focused professionals and the youngsters are now enhancing the travel trade canvas.” she explains.
A single mother who had to let go of her quality time with her daughter in her struggle to give them a life they deserved, Punam today believes, she couldn’t have done it any other way. While she is extremely grateful for the support she got from her parents and extended family, she also has some beautiful memories of her holidays with her dearest ‘Misha’ (her daughter), who is now happily married and leading an independent and successful life.
A lady who is not afraid to say what she thinks, Punam has always been known as a person who doesn’t mince words – thus making many people wary in approaching her. I was one of them, till we became friends on social media and I saw her lovely-cuddly pics with her two babies – her dogs – Muffin and Moshe, whom she absolutely adores. Practising and following Nichiren Buddhism since 2006, she has humbled down in life and is not afraid to admit that she has made some mistakes along the way – and learned from each of them. Life handed her a lame recipe, but she took it upon herself to make a Yummilicious cake out of it, which she is enjoying, given the respect and honour she is receiving in the industry today. For the rest, it’s work in progress. She is a woman, who is celebrated not just on Women’s Day, but all the year through.