A former chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) has called for a comprehensive probe into PATA’s financial management as well as a membership survey to determine its future directions.
Responding to the recent reports about PATA’S filings of financial statements with the US Internal Revenue Service and disclosure requirements, Mr. Ram Kohli of India, who chaired PATA between 2004-2005, said: “I believe it is time for the PATA to face its problems squarely, and for those of us who have been deeply involved with PATA to courageously raise pointed questions addressing strategic issues once again about the future of PATA, including its vision, goals, governance, accountability to members — our fundamental raison d’etre.”
Complimenting TTR Weekly and Travel Impact Newswire for bringing the issues to public attention, Mr Kohli said, “All these issues which you are raising now had been brought out during my chairmanship. Ensuring strict compliance with the by-laws of the association and accounting had been among my major concerns because they go to the heart of association management – the upholding of public trust.”
He said he had chosen to break years of silence “because I consider myself a well-wisher of PATA. Transparency, accountability and disclosure are absolutely imperative in publicly-funded, taxpayer-supported, non-profit organizations.”
Mr. Kohli added, “PATA was considered one of the world’s most prestigious travel organizations. Today, it appears that it is no long run by or for Asians, it is more dominated by few individuals, benefiting personally at the cost of the general membership.
“Some of them are there for years and years, circumventing all rules and regulations by their appointment as members of the various committees or Board of Directors, which is highly questionable.
“The small and medium enterprise, which was the backbone of PATA and whose representatives looked forward to the annual conference, is slowly disappearing because PATA events are now too expensive and elitist, to suit a few. Some NTOs are rethinking why they should spend thousands and thousands of dollars without any tangible benefit.
“The time has come to ask the membership of PATA at large to evaluate the benefit of being a member of PATA versus other more service oriented associations.”
Mr. Kohli said ensuring transparency and public accountability, as required by the laws of the US Internal Revenue Service and the State of California (where PATA is still registered as a non-profit organization), is critical.
“Those laws have not been passed for nothing. They have a very specific purpose – to establish public trust. During my days as chairman, I had insisted on the appointment of a proper financial officer but a junior staff was given the responsibility, based not in Bangkok but in San Francisco even while day-today accounting is controlled in Bangkok.”
He noted that he had raised concerns about the 62.3 percent of the total budget being spent on salaries at that time.
“The most problematic expense relates to that of high CEO compensation plus perquisites, which do not seem tied to performance objectives. I had also pointed out that the outlook for generating new sources of revenue, especially through membership growth, appear bleak and small gains in revenue are offset by higher expenditures.”
He said he was sorry to see these issues being aired in public but also said part of this was due to the “cursory and in my opinion, ineffective, oversight provided by elected officers.”
“In the executive committee meetings, whenever I raised deep questions to the management, they were evaded and when pursued, the response was one of defensiveness or a counter-charge of micro-management.
“At one stage, even in my capacity as chair of the association and despite my persistent inquiry, I was not successful in securing a meeting with auditors to review the association’s financial standing. Once, I recall, a meeting was fixed at the auditors office but inexplicably cancelled just half an hour before it was to take place.
“There was no whetting neither of expense accounts nor of travel and accountability of time away from office, or use of contributed air tickets. Many accepted rules of effective management, which requires having checks and balances, responsibility and accountability, were being circumvented.
“I very strongly recommend that we should hire an outside agency to go through the finances. It is possible that all the officers past and present can get into serious trouble with both American and Thai authorities, which should be avoided.”
Mr. Kohli said his greatest concern was about the future of PATA, especially the critical question of what benefit it is providing to members.
“What is the value received by members for their investment? While I have been asking this question for some time, no satisfactory reply has been forthcoming and the sad conclusion on the part of many is that PATA may have outlived its usefulness, to be displaced by other more vital tourism organizations on local, national or international levels.
“Membership is our lifeblood: we are losing members faster than gaining new ones. Our chapters system is breaking down. While it is easy to say that quality of the remainder is more important than quantity, NTOs are as impressed by the size of the network as by its strength in determining the value of a paid membership.
“It would also be useful for an independent group to undertake a survey of PATA membership to establish whether they find it useful to continue being members. It will reveal the true feelings of small and medium companies,” Mr. Kohli said.
As part of the joint TTR Weekly-Travel Impact Newswire editorial effort, some of the selected quotes from the above interview were dispatched to PATA for comment. President and CEO Mr. Peter de Jong was on leave, and operation director Michael Yates was unable to provide a return comment by deadline.