Rezlive bets big on multi-skilled, cross-departmental workforce

The future of travel looks bright, says Jaal Shah, Group Managing Director, Rezlive. In an interview with Voyager’s World, he sheds light on how the organization restructured itself

Business owners, particularly those in the travel industry, are grappling with keeping their team stay afloat during this pandemic. Many CXOs believe the definition of leadership changed over the last few months. What’s your take on this?

I do not think that anything has changed. Every business is founded on the basis of certain fundamentals that define the organisation. In a crisis like this, these fundamentals get tested. The nature of the COVID-19 crisis is unique. It was sudden and induced by governments around the world. There was nothing that anyone could have done about it. However, the survival and subsequent resurgence of an organisation relies on the strength of their fundamentals. Leadership, in that essence, means defining the core values of an organisation, nurturing the values in every aspect of organization’s function, and imbibing it in organisation’s culture.

When I founded in 2007, I was determined to build our organisation on a strong financial foundation. We wanted to be profitable from the first year, debt free and cash rich. We ticked every box right from the start. Further, over the last two years, we analyzed all the risks associated with our business model such as currency exchange, credit, and business disruptions, and strategically worked on strengthening our organisation on all these aspects. These efforts paid off during the pandemic. When the cash flows came to a grinding halt, we had no trouble in refunding all affected reservations to our clients in their original mode of payment. For me, it is proof that we are on good footing to run a sustainable business post-COVID.
Jaal Shah

What are the key qualities required to lead during times of crisis?
Decisiveness, transparency with all stakeholders and proactiveness.
In the first week of March, our leadership team was in India to oversee the launch of REZ2020, our redesigned platform. We were following the COVID-19 developments and that was the time when Europe came under the grips of the pandemic. The day after the launch, we sat down to revise our business projections for 2020. It was apparent that the business would shrink substantially. We quickly got our strategy team to project multiple scenarios and develop actions for each of the scenarios. All employees were transparently appraised about our assessment of the situation and our expectation from each of them to give uninterrupted service to our clients. We war-footed all preparations and announced work from home before the government announced lockdowns in many markets.

We are not immune to downsizing measures. We had to let go some of the wonderful talent that we had. However, the transparent communication right from the start and a well-thought-out restructuring effort helped to reduce the pain and help our employees as much as possible. Not just employees, I think that it is equally important to keep a transparent line of communication with suppliers and clients to appraise them of prevailing business situations and give them confidence.

Moving forward, we can all agree that the market size will be shrunk and the growth slow but steady. I believe that this market is only for those who are proactive in terms of their product, service levels and adapting to changing requirements of the industry.

On a personal front, what is the biggest life lesson that lockdown taught you?

The biggest learning, I would say, is the revelation that the world can throw challenges at our business any time and it is important for us to be prepared for any situation. Staying focused on business fundamentals, optimizing, and maximizing the available resources and setting up a high-performance, customer centric work culture is essential to mitigate such challenges.

Travel should now be geared toward safety. What are the safety trends you foresee in the coming months?
Safety and hygiene will become an important parameter that every traveler will consider before choosing the destination and property to stay. Recently, as part of our efforts to build a comprehensive COVID safety and hygiene database, we reached out to several hotel chains, standalone hotels and attractions to gather information about their safety and hygiene practices. During our interactions, we were heartened to know that a lot of thought and effort has gone in to make guests feel safe and comfortable. Cleaning procedures, social distancing and contactless service has taken centerstage. Every touch point such as front desk services, restaurant, room service, concierge, house-keeping and public places has been considered and safety measures implemented. I believe that this might prompt guests to choose well-known brands, where they can feel comfortable. We can also expect many safety precautions followed by airlines and airports to become a norm post-COVID.

How has your workplace changed in the past few months? Has there been a rejig in your staff’s roles and responsibilities? 
Well, naturally, we had to downsize and restructure. The organisation was built over the years, growing in size to match the growth in business. Starting early March, the volumes dropped sharply, and it was apparent, right from the start, that it will take considerable time before we can expect 2019 levels. It was clear we were oversized in the beginning of April and we had to make ourselves lean to suit current volumes. Further, we noticed that as our organisation grew, some inefficiencies that were inherent to a hierarchical organisational structure had crept in. It was an opportunity to go back to a flat structure with a multi-skilled, cross-departmental work force.

Apart from social distancing and remote working measures, nothing much has changed. We are a sales-driven organisation – a hard-working sales team that is always on the ground and committed to help our clients build a sustainable business model, supported by a strong product, excellent technology, and a down-to-earth post-sales support. We are not able to meet our clients in many markets considering safety precautions and well being of our employees and clients. However, the spirit is undisturbed. Our people are engaging with our clients to share ideas, appraise them about travel restrictions, emerging safe destinations, new features, travel trends and travel news. In the last four months, I personally spoke with over 400 of our clients and all our suppliers through video conferencing. These discussions and idea-sharing sessions help to keep the spirit up and observe all emerging trends and not miss any opportunities.

How would Rezlive brand itself in the coming months? has always been a brand that our clients can trust. We are the first home-grown B2B travel reservation platform in India. We have a mature understanding of this business and the changing requirements of the travel industry. The dynamics of the business has changed in the last few months. Several large players in the leisure and corporate business are facing unprecedented cash flow challenges. Every organisation, both large and small, are burning cash to sustain operations; There is no appetite from both banks and credit insurers to extend credit or allow exposure to the industry. In this situation, one needs reliable partners to work with. fits very well into that requirement.

How do you envision the future of travel?
Bright. Travel is an integral part of human life and I do not think that the pandemic is going to make any profound change to our approach to travel. Even business travel will bounce back after a period of embracing virtual meetings. The uncertainties and travel disruptions that we have today are temporary. Once the uncertainties settle down, we must see recovery. The pace of recovery, however, will depend on macroeconomic conditions and disposable income of people. World’s GDP is expected to contract this year and recover fully in the next two years. I am confident that the travel industry would rebound completely by that time and will once again lead global economic growth.