India Tourism’s Differential Pricing

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Recently, on a coffee break with a colleague, she talked about a video she came across of a Moroccan traveler who was traveling to India and was outraged at high ticket prices for foreigners at some of the important historic sites in India. My colleague too was disgusted with that saying this kind of “discrimination” is bad. She was all the more shocked to see this approach/attitude coming from the government.

It’s true that many countries (or probably most) may not be having this kind of differential pricing but then, for me, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good reason.

While discussing this topic, one needs to understand two things properly:

  1. Differential Pricing
  2. Every Difference is Discrimination

1. Differential Pricing
Differential pricing, as a concept, isn’t new. For the same goods or service, often different charges are levied on different customers. Now, the basis may vary depending on the goods/service in question and many other factors. But everybody getting charged the same for a good/service may not happen every time. It is neither good for customers, nor for business. And screaming “discrimination” at the sight of two price points is really naive.

2. Not Every Difference is Discrimination
One of the principal argument in favor of the same pricing of tickets at all sites is that not all foreigners are rich. Many are average middle class who are on a budget and save the hard earned money for the trip, especially the backpackers. On the other hand, there are Indians who are rich but still pay subsidized rates. Very true.
Via Rail Canada charges discounted fares for senior citizens while regular adult fares for everyone above the age of 12. Will that be called discrimination? Aren’t there rich senior citizens who can actually afford to pay full adult fare? And aren’t there poor or middle-class adults who may not be able to pay the full adult fare? What about the children of rich adults who might be charged the same fare as children from poor or middle-class families.
Also, by that logic, when Indians travel to western countries, they should get subsidized rates at tourist sites. But that doesn’t happen. I’m not even saying that should happen. But this is just the example of the extent to which the logic can be extended.
There will always be exceptions who might be getting an unfair advantage of certain policies and some who might be getting penalized unnecessarily. It is always improvisation.

Also, if this pricing was hurting India, it would have been reflected in India’s tourism figures which say otherwise with an increase of 52% in the last five years.

Many people have compared the ticket prices at historical monuments and heritage sites in India vs the world, citing that even with the so-called extraordinary prices, India is still the cheapest place in USD terms. While that may be true, it is still a bad argument since pricing isn’t to make Indian heritage sites entrance prices at par with the global level. That is not what dictates pricing.

Lastly, we often miss the complete picture or the larger context when trying to analyze things. We need to keep that in mind.

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Can IVMS Hit 2 Targets with One Stone?

Automating the Driver’s License Issue/Renewal and making our roads safer.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-23,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Everyone deserves a safe environment – be it inside our house, our work or even the road. Given that after our home and workplace, the third largest pie is most likely to be the roads, where we spend considerable amount of time through our daily commuting or traveling for other purposes, it is imperative that ensuring road safety goes long way into creating a safer society.

Being a data analytics professional, I tend to think how this field can help create a better society overall. And being a driving enthusiast, linking the two wasn’t a long shot.

What is wrong with the existing system of driver’s license issue/renewal?
The most obvious reason to automate anything is to eliminate human intervention. Removing human intervention is not only required to reduce unnecessary human effort utilization but also to remove subjectivity as well as corruption from the entire process. Secondly, the existing process depends on testing the driver for just one day for a few kilometers and deciding whether the driver is a safe driver for the next 5-10 years. While this system has been going on since long but doesn’t mean it is right.
Also, the current system of penalizing drivers is only based on violations (that too, if the violation is caught) or accidents. Also, in most of the cases, once the drivers clear the road test, they start thinking of themselves as James Bond and go back to their own unsafe driving habits – over-speeding, tailgating, lane cutting, suddenly accelerating/decelerating, not providing signals while turning or changing lanes and more.

How IVMS (In-Vehicle Monitoring System) Changes Things?
IVMS is not such a new concept. Largely based on “black box technology” used in the aviation, it is now finding applications in automobiles as well with some use cases such as that of Shell Global.
To begin with, I see it is possible to automate issue and renewal of the drivers license based on the data provided by these monitoring systems installed into the cars of the drivers. Based on the data collected on driver’s driving habits over the entire period of time and applying suitable algorithms, the system will determine whether a particular driver is a safe driver or not. These systems can also be used to downgrade a driver’s license category if the driver fails to maintain the driving standards. This will essentially ensure that the drivers follow the rules irrespective of whether there is a police car or not. It can essentially eliminate rash driving, unless the driver isn’t really worried about losing the license.

What can be under monitor?

Acceleration Rates
Smooth accelerations gives greater control to the driver over the vehicle and also the vehicles/pedestrians around to adjust to the speed of a given vehicle. There can’t be any necessity for high acceleration rate.

Deceleration Rates
Yes, in emergencies, there may be situations where you may need to decelerate very quickly or hit a short break. However, many times, these short breaks are also because drivers don’t pay attention on the road while driving as they may be busy quickly looking into a message on phone or chatting with the passenger next seat. Either of the reasons do not suggest good driving skills. Beyond certain limit, there can’t be any justification for high deceleration rates if the driver is vigilant enough.

Signaling during lane changes or turns
Signalling is the most fundamental medium of communication between drivers on the road. Failing to communicate results in crashes that are fatal at times. We already have software in the cars that alert if there is a lane departure without signaling. Taking it further, these software also store the number of times these alerts have been flagged for a given driver. In addition, any turning of the car without an indicator on, also indicate bad driving practice.

Distance from the car ahead vs speed
Many of us know the 3 second rule. Personally, I feel 3 seconds is more and, in practice, people generally keep about 1.5 to 2 seconds, which is still in the safe zone if you car’s breaks are working fine and you are attentive on the road. There are already software available in some cars that identify the distance between your car and the car ahead of you and determine if it is the safe distance or not. These systems can monitor whether the drivers maintain safe distance between the cars, taking into consideration the speeds as well. This can prevent tailgating which can be dangerous.

Road Speed Limit vs Car Speed
This might be a little tricky as it may require data about the speed limits of every road in a given geography. In general, there is a tolerance or 5-10% above the posted speed limit but beyond that, it can be dangerous for the driver as well as other cars around him/her. And this is perhaps the most violated rule while driving in most of the countries, once drivers acquire their licenses.

Seat-belt Compliance
Not wearing seat belts can increase the severity of injuries or even fatality in an event of an accident. Seat belt is also one of the reasons you can get a ticket, if you are not wearing one. It is a good enough reason to fail a drive test as well. Cars, since more than a decade, already have alerts if the seat belt is not on and the car is in drive mode. It will not be something very difficult to track.

Complete Stops at Stop Signs
This might be stretching things a bit too far but then that’s what STOP signs are for – to stop. This one may have a little low weightage, and depending upon whether the violation is in the form of complete failure to stop at the STOP sign or partial stopping at the STOP sign, the penalty quotient can be determined.

In addition to these, the number of at-fault accidents and total number of violations can be other major determinants during the issue and renewal of the drivers licenses. The entire system can ensure that the drivers remain safe drivers throughout and not just during the driving tests, which is essentially the objective of the road safety. Also, as they say, never send a human to do a machine’s job – we can put human intelligence to better use rather than have them sit with a stranger whose driving habits they are not at all aware about.

Sources: Wikipedia, Shell Global

 

Not Respecting People With Different Food Habits Makes You More Ancient Than Modern

A couple of days ago, one of my friends posted, on Facebook, her parents’ plight while traveling with Emirates from the US to India. Just as expected – the most common – they encountered an issue in food where the crew ran out of vegetarian food that her parents had pre-booked while purchasing the tickets. It was bad enough that in spite of prebooking their vegetarian meal, they were served lamb biryani and that too quite late after her parents checked multiple times with the crew. What disappointed me all the more was that the crew tried to pass off a chicken curry as vegetarian by replacing the label. I used to hear such a thing about long distance European and American carriers.
Over a period of time, based on my personal experiences and listening to others’ experiences, I’ve been more convinced that while the public, in general and at an individual level, has been quite sensitive to each other’s food habits, when it comes to bringing that sensitivity to corporate level, the same individuals fail. In my experience after working in US and Europe, I’m yet to find a vegetarian friendly cafeteria in any company. Most of them have hardly any vegetarian options and the ones that have, make ridiculously awful food when we talk non-salads (quantity may be economics but quality is intention).
And it’s not just food quality but also the conditions in which they are made raises more questions than the calorie value of the meal. Using the same utensils which were used for meat, not changing gloves and even worst – not wearing gloves, heating both kinds of food in the same oven – makes me think if we’re still in 19th century where people haven’t heard about vegetarian or vegan food habits.
When it comes to airlines, I’ve been lucky so far not to have faced any issue whatsoever. However, now I wonder if I should prepare meals myself while traveling instead of relying on the airline.
Corporates who may not be in the food business directly but have food services as one of the key part of their daily work environment, need to understand that not respecting people with food habits different than theirs make them look more ancient than modern.

Travel

Travel

I and my wife have a very different understanding and purpose of travel. It is very much inspired by the travelers (not tourists) around the world. After reading through so many blogs, watching so many vlogs, I’m glad that we have been able to cultivate this exploratory attitude to travel.
However, sometimes, especially when traveling in groups, we often end up compromising a little.
A couple of months ago, we went to Chicago. Chicago has this iconic tower called the Willis Tower which is a 103 story sky scraper providing an amazing view of the Chicago skyline through a Skydeck that they have developed.
Due to the Skydeck, there is often a huge rush. On weekends, there can be the queue which can take up hours to clear before you can get into an elevator. If you have the City Pass, you are at an advantage since there is a separate and a quicker queue. But still, it’s a good long wait – also because just before the elevator, the normal queue and the city pass queue merges.
As you reach on top, you see scores of people all around. There is one particular section where they have created a glass balcony which supposedly gives you a feeling of what it is like to be in the air as you look at the ground right beneath you. Dozens of people were lined up there to get their snaps (with a standard pose as if they’re falling) which they can upload on Facebook and Instagram. Get more likes and comments, which brushes up their self-esteem. More likes, more self-esteem, and self-worth.
The uniqueness of the entire experience was destroyed by the monotony of the process everybody followed.

  1. Stand in one of the queues and wait for your turn.
  2. At your turn, go to the glass balcony
  3. Take some snaps in about a minute
  4. Leave the balcony to let others behind you do exactly the same.

The entire experience left me with a lesson on the difference between visiting a place and traveling to a place.
So if you’re a tourist, definitely go!! If you’rea traveler, there is a high chance that it would not excite you.

Armyman’s House

Last year, on our way from Mumbai to Bangalore, we made a night stop over at Belgaum. We took the opportunity to visit one of my close friend’s parents. While her mother was a home maker, her father served in the military and retired couple of years back to settle in Belgaum, a small city in North Karnataka (close to Maharashtra border).
It was my first visit to a military personnel’s house. However, it didn’t take much time to figure out how their houses are different from an average civilian’s home (and now I know why, for them (may be not all), the society is divided as military and civilians). Every single thing was not just at it’s right place but also placed in the most correct manner.
The living room also had a wall loaded up with all the medals and honors received during the military years along with photos of those proud moments when they were conferred. And as you watch it, you feel the sense of pride for having these countrymen ready to sweat out in Jaisalmer or fight the freezing Siachen to ensure we sleep in peace. You don’t see such walls in a regular house.
As we got ready for the dinner, uncle asked if I would like to have something to drink. For the first second, I wondered why so early? Normally, we have ice tea, juices, colas along with the food. And then I realized where I was. The collection of spirits in that bar cabinet was exquisite, something which I decided to have at least once in my life time (besides Robert De Niro’s wardrobe in The Intern).
Another most noticeable virtue was the commitment to cleanliness which sees no exceptions. Right from ensuring no walking without slippers inside house to placing shoes at the right place and in right position, there were intricate details. For me, that was perhaps the most commanding task for house members, especially when it is more preventive than curative. Maintaining such a large house in an impeccable way is no child’s play. My own perception of me being cleanliness freak went for a toss.
My interaction with uncle was amazing and reminded me of my conversations with my father, on totally different topics though. During his military years, he had spent some time in my home town (Ahmedabad) as well, so it didn’t take much time to find topics for discussion. The dinner was very homely (obviously) and we took some cooking tips from auntie on the North Karnataka cuisine too which we implemented later on.
We didn’t discuss much on the army anecdotes which I would have loved to. But this short visit of perhaps just about 12 hours is something I will cherish for time to come with hope that I get another such chance.

Why I Try to Travel to a Place and not Visit

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While going to Dallas on a United flight, I came across this cover story in their magazine, Hemisphere, by Nicholas Dorenzo on his three days trip to San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Beautifully written, it made me want to go there instantly. More so, because his travel actually involved lot of interaction with the locals and understanding of the history, culture, cuisines and customs of the place rather than just tick marking the spots. Of course, that’s why it made it to the cover story. But the point is very few tourists indulge in this kind of travel.

It’s in the last one year, that I have tried to make deliberate efforts to move away from conventional traveling methods of most of the tourists. Luckily for me, I have had a chance of staying in some of the most happening places of the world like London and Paris. And thus, got a chance to interact and make locals as friends as well. And that’s how I understand how overrated the so-called “tourist attractions” are.

For example, unlike what people think, Paris is not just Eiffel tower or Mona Lisa. For me, Paris is about taking a nice morning or evening walk along the river Sienne or enjoying street dance in the evening at Champs-Élysées or listening to live music in a metro or enjoying the breathtaking view of the city from the top at Sacré-Coeur. And perhaps much more. Eiffel tower doesn’t excite me and Mona Lisa is overrated.

It’s my Day 3 in the US and yesterday I went to New York city. While I got to see Times Square and a huge Christmas tree decorated at Rockefeller center, what really excited me was the breathtaking view of the NYC from my friend’s office on 23rd floor. What I enjoyed the most was a heart to heart conversation with another friend while relaxing on a chair with a view of evening lights out on Lexington avenue. What intrigued me was the depiction of the history on the walls of Port Authority station. Yes, Manhattan skyline is exciting but not beyond 10 seconds.

I guess one life is not enough anyway to see everything. And no matter what you do, you’ll miss something or the other (drawn from a dialogue in one of the Bollywood movies). So it’s better to enjoy fully, whatever you see.

Recently, my aunt and uncle made a trip to South America. I loved the way they captured last level of details of the places they visited and explained it when they uploaded the photos on Facebook. Certainly inspiring and showed that they actually “traveled”, instead of “visited” South America.

Traveling is evolving and the trends show that people are opening up to being more unconventional in the way they travel. In India, for example, couple of years ago, package tours were on the rise. However, off late, with more and authentic information available over internet through sites like TripAdvisor, all that people ask for are good deals on tickets and prepare their itinerary on their own. With better highways, road trips is the new fad. So much so, that in last one year I’ve came across three stories of people driving down from India to Europe.

If it continues, soon, the unconventional might become the new convention.

Irani Cafes Mumbai: B Merwan

Image Source: What's Hot

Image Source: What’s Hot

In my second trip to another Irani cafe, back to back weekends as it happened, I checked out B Merwan near Grant Road railway station, on a recommendation of a friend who frequents this place for breakfast and gave amazing reviews.

B Merwan was started in 1914 by Boman Merwan and has been serving Mumbaikars with amazing morning tea and bun maska as well as the delicious iconic mawa cake. It was sold last year and the new owners shut it down for about a month for redevelopment. It is touted as one of the best and the cheapest Irani cafes in Mumbai for breakfast. It enjoys tremendous customer loyalty with some people coming here for decades and have never thought of going anywhere else. With such a strong history and fame of a century, it is a must go place in Mumbai.

I reached there in the noon after I finished some work at the nearby Lamington Road. The moment I entered this place, it reminded me of the cafes we see in 70s bollywood movies – be it the chairs and tables, the arrangement or the interiors. Just like in Yazdani, I saw that people here also have no qualms on sharing the table. I shared the table with one gentleman who was almost done with eating. I tried the obvious – tea and bun maska, khari biscuits, omelette and parceled the famous mawa fruit cake. I also wanted to try out the pudding but they had ran out of pudding by that time. Other must taste plates of the place include samosas and mawa puffs.

Tea was good, although nothing that I found special but it was made well. Khari biscuits disappointed me a little as, in terms of look and taste, it was like any other Khari biscuit. It didn’t score well if I compare it to the one I had in Yazdani which was amazingly crisp and very different in appearance as well. Also, one of them was not crisp but slightly doughy.

What amused me was bun maska as it was a little different than I expected – two thick bread slices with butter in between. Breads of shape that are typically used for garlic bread. Although, on the internet, I did see this place serving bun maska with the actual bun, so they might be calling both of them the same and serving whatever is available. I loved the omelette. Perfectly made – neither overcooked nor undercooked from any place. The combination with bread – eating like roti-sabzi was unique and went well.

However, the star of the day was mawa fruit cake and now I know why it is famous for. It is definitely a must try.

The staff was good and the service was amazingly fast even though the restaurant was full at that time. What I also loved was, excluding the cake, the entire bill was just under 70 bucks which is dead cheap for the quality served. So, if you’re short on cash but want a heavy breakfast under 100, this is the place to be!!

Sources: DNA, TOI, Bombaywalla