Kicking things up several memorable notches this year, the Hospitality Purchasing Managers Forum (HPMF), a trade association of hotel procurement managers, recently concluded its eighth Annual Convention and Awards in the historic city of Varanasi. As in the past, the mega convention struck me as a fantastic capstone to the organizational resilience and innovation as well as the big-picture thinking project that HPMF has become today.
Eight years ago, the Forum started with just three core members. But HPMF has spread its wings to include 2,100 plus members today and is now fast expanding its footprint globally.
“What started off as an idea with only a few dedicated professionals has today snowballed into an organization of 2,100 plus members across the world who are united in their efforts to improve the procurement profession and the hospitality and allied industries. As a non-profit organization, HPMF aims to provide a common platform for buyers and vendors from the hospitality industry. Training and development of procurement professionals, consolidated procurement, industry product standardization, volume discounts, improved professionalism in the purchasing process, development of potential vendors, green initiatives and corporate social responsibilities are some of the key areas that HPMF is working for,” says Mohan Deshpande, Chairman, HPMF.
Thanks to the indefatigable spirit of the HPMF managing committee led by the boundary-pushing spirit of its star Nitin Shankar Nagrale, Founder and General Secretary, HPMF, the Forum has made impressive strides over the years and has gone as far as to launch International chapters in the Middle East and Sri Lanka recently.
“I have identified five imperatives for collective action – sustainable development, prevention, building a more secure world by well informed procurement professionals, supporting individuals by training and development and empowering the world’s women and young people to become more responsible. I am determined to bring all relevant partners together and strengthen HPMF to advance its agenda. As part of this initiative, we are revamping and forming an extremely talented, experienced and knowledgeable Advisory Board comprising experts from India’s procurement fraternity and from the hospitality and allied industries. They will be part of the new HPMF and will help in achieving the dreams that we envisioned a few years ago,” says Nagrale.
The Forum’s leadership has been pressing the organizational gas pedal hard ever since its inception. The doggedness has helped HPMF earn a glowing reputation and made it into the pre-eminent business and networking platform for procurement professionals in the industry. The annual conventions of HPMF have become much sought after calendar dates in the almanac of the procurement and hospitality industry. Known to put up hugely successful and fascinating shows, HPMF pulls out all stops to put up a glittering event worthy of their large fraternity. The annual convention last year at Jodhpur was the talk of the country, with over 250 members and over 30 suppliers, media persons and other members of the corporate world gracing the occasion. The show was absolutely top drawer, leading to speculation that this year the convention would be even more spectacular!
And true to their form, HPMF has outperformed each time, in spades. Without even making an attempt to flush you with all the hard statistics of this year’s convention in Varanasi – the gathering saw more than 400 hospitality veterans and purchasing managers from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, New Delhi, Chennai, Goa, Guwahati, Jaipur, Indore, Nagpur, Vadodara, Bhubaneswar, Puri and other parts of the country and abroad – it was three pulsating days spent over insightful debates, discussions, meetings and fun.
Rarely, have I come across such a lavish banquet of an event – gargantuan in size and scope and boldly ambitious and adventurous in design, conception and execution and with a generous camaraderie and folksy essence at its heart. The three-day anniversary celebrations featured an exciting tableau of conferences, B2B meetings, cultural activities, music, song and dance renditions by noted artists, enactment of the city’s famous Ramleela played out in the traditional style, sightseeing trips and tours of important landmarks of Kashi, arts and crafts shows besides loads of fun, feasting, repast and refection that allowed the delegates to savor and soak in the cultural, spiritual and gastronomic essence of a city that traces its roots to the mists of time and 5,000 years of civilization.
As delegates trooped in on the morning of Day One, they were greeted by a gigantic fire hose of enthusiasm from the HPMF welcoming committee members led by the ever effervescent and radio-active Nitin Shankar Nagrale. It was a reception that fused tradition, warmth and gaiety in equal measure against the backdrop of a live performance by a troupe posing as ash smeared sadhus chanting to the chorus of ‘Har Har Mahadev’. The sight reminded you of Varanasi’s rich religious legacy, its sainted traditions and heritage, and of its presiding deity lord Shiva. Immediately after the reception, delegates were also given a ‘Har Har Mahadev’ emblazoned orange colored kurta and angavastram to wear. In a subliminal way, it amped up our collective devotional fervor before taking off for a luncheon trip to the legendary foodie haunt ‘Baati Chokha’ known for serving the ‘taste of Benares’ through local delicacies presented in traditional Indian style and ambience.
In keeping with the ebullience of the arriving delegates, the evening was dedicated to a pleasurable cruise down the banks of the Ganges on bajras (large boats). The water trip offered a frontline view of all the storied ghats and of the magnificent Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh ghat. The aarti is a soul lifting spectacle shimmied up in divinity and performed in an elaborately choreographed ceremony. It has turned into a landmark attraction watched by thousands of devotees and tourists very evening. A group of young saints dressed up in silky saffron and white robes conduct this ceremony. Each pandit or saint takes up a specific spot on the ghat and begins the ritual by offering flowers to the river. Oil lamps designed like snake hoods are waved in a synced motion. Conch shells are blown and yak tail fans and peacock feather fans are also waved during the ceremony. The priests end the ceremony by pouring a bowl of water into the river, upon which, the devotees let go of small oil lamps with flowers on a leaf to float on the river.
Another sight that leaves an indelible imprint on the subconscious is the never ending train of burning pyres on Manikarnika ghat where bodies are burnt round the clock all round the year. As we passed by, the glow of burning pyres hit our eyes and senses with a sombre, sepulchral force – forcing us to reflect on how we think about life and our pinched allotment of mortal time upon Earth. The eerie sight is bound to leave anyone in a soul-searching mood about the finality of life and our existence itself. The poignancy of bodies going up in flames reminds us of how we all gotta pay our dues in life and how the sands of time are running out even through each moment we live and breathe. The Manikarnika ghat’s incessant deathly rites wells up the heart in a lachrymose sentiment capable of mellowing the most hardened of human spirits. Relatives, family and friends accompanying the body of the departed look somberly on at the horror of death combined with a Thanatos-longing for the eternal deliverance of the soul of their beloved – the attainment of moksha for the departed soul, which the holy ghat of Kashi promises to fulfill.
Next on the itinerary was a tour to some of the more iconic ghats where local artists enacted virtuoso performances reliving interesting historical anecdotes associated with the ghats and the holy city. To add to the excitement of the moment, there was also a sound and light show depicting Kashi’s religious moorings and significance, which left us delegates feeling closer to the Lord than we have ever been in our life. A few minutes later, we were into the middle of a magical evening soiree at the picturesque Guleria kothi, which was specially decked up for the Gulab Bari festival. As delegates disembarked from the boats to climb the flight of steps leading to the ancient mansion, they were once again accorded a traditional welcome with garlands, rose water and petals. The next couple of hours were spent in the company of soulful ghazals and melodic numbers sung by one of the famous proponents of the Banarasi gharana followed by a mesmerizing dance performance as an ode to lord Shiva. To wrap up the day, delegates were treated to an eclectic and elaborate platter comprising local and other exquisite dishes before returning to their hotels and winding down for the night.
The agenda for the day was a perfect mix of business and pleasure. After a cheery breakfast, delegates gathered at The Gateway Hotel Ganges, the venue for all business conferences and meetings. Once again, the guests were greeted with much fanfaronade to the accompaniment of the beating of drums and a folksy dance performance by a troupe dissembled as holy sadhus. Every inch of the hotel’s capacious foyer was taken up by the exhibitors hawking an impressive display of wares of interest to the hospitality procurement professionals.
The day was punctuated by a bucket list of informative and energetic conferences, presentations and B2B meetings. Delegates got to mingle with the brightest minds that are constantly disrupting the status quo in the hospitality, airlines, retail and F&B industry. Success stories were recounted – among them a brilliantly inspirational account of successful restoration of dilapidated neglected historical structures into resplendent standing hotel properties – by the chief guest Aman Nath, a true hospitality exemplar and promoter of Neemrana Hotels.
Many hot button and pertinent themes were discussed and parsed by worthy mavens of the hospitality and procurement trade. Complex issues were aired and discussed, the latest trends in hospitality and procurement were highlighted and industry captains held forth on path breaking innovations, deploying proven path-to-purchase strategies and best-in-class industry practices. The enlightening topics were further enlivened by the witticisms of speakers who not only offered morsels for the mind from the high church of though leadership but also brought in moments of light poetic interludes that kept the audience interest alive and riveted all through the sessions. To dial up the audience enthusiasm in between the sessions and perk up the general mood of the gathering was the spirited interventions of the very vivacious and loquacious emcee Shikha Singh who never lost a chance to inject pumped up shots of conversational adrenaline and peppy humor to keep the proceedings animated.
Four rounds of illuminating panel discussions, presentations and keynote speeches by leading luminaries were held before the assembled gathering broke for the lunch break. But all through the chinwags and oratorical pyrotechnics of the speakers, there was not a moment of mid-afternoon energy slump and nary a moment of distraction. There was a rare lightness of spirit and frisky bonhomie all around as the delegates came out of the convention hall to frontload on calories and refreshments.
The post lunch period was reserved for B2B meetings with a slate of industry leaders and companies and was the stuff of hard-nosed business networking and exchange. But it was in the evening that the action reached a climax. All of us delegates repaired to the stately Virasat Haveli for an evening of entertainment and presentation of the annual HPMF Awards. Draped in decorative lighting and flanked by vast stretches of emerald green on all sides, the haveli epitomizes the sacred symbiosis of Kashi’s expansive grandeur and its modern-day buoyancy. We were given a glimpse of Varanasi’s rich tapestry of arts and crafts history by a motley band of craftsmen showcasing their labor of love: intricate glazed pottery, handmade artifacts, curios, silk fabrics, objet d’art, memorabilia and a host of other collectibles. In one basement of the haveli, a group of weavers practised their wizardry on hand-woven carpets whereas another floor tended to hand-drawn paintings. The whole place looked like a collector’s paradise and a connoisseur’s Shangri-La.
The Awards gala began with uncharacteristic fervor – a specially created video with a patriotic theme and a panegyric to the brave sacrifices made by our armed forces – was played on a giant screen and received a rapturous applause from the audience. Members of the HPMF team from across the country had essayed different roles as soldiers from India’s armed forces representing its three wings. Everybody in the audience agreed that the video was shot to perfection and the HPMF team members enacted their roles to consummation. In fact, the high-octane video presentation was a befitting tribute and a ringing endorsement of the valor and courage of Indian soldiers and also a worthy prelude to the special honor bestowed by HPMF this year upon eight soldiers from the country’s armed forces especially chosen for their acts of bravery, derring-do and sacrifice made in service of the nation. The war veterans who were felicitated were Deepchand Kayyat Nashik, Major General Dilawar Singh, JW Nalin Talwar, Subedar Uday Ram, Brigadier Sushil Bhasin, Commander Keshav, Lt Colonel Ramesh Kumar Chhetri, and Major Aval Sethi.
As is customary, the Awards ceremony concluded with the conferment of different categories of procurement excellence awards to 23 professionals from the industry. Incumbent Chairman Mohan Deshpande and VT Alexander were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition, Kaushik Jhingan, Mansingh Rathore and Subramanyam Natarajan were awarded Living Legends Awards. All of these stalwarts have spent over four decades in the hotel industry. Of the 54 submissions, 42 were nominated and 23 winners were eventually selected.
With such a profusion of activities all around, one would expect the spirits to flag down a bit on the concluding day. But even at 6.00 in the morning, the adrenaline count was high as delegates boarded the bus for Assi Ghat to partake of a scared bath in the Ganges. It was a bracing experience and we emerged out of the water with a feeling as if bombarded by high energy particles. The next stop was the adjacent Tulasi Ghat, where we spent some time watching young wrestlers at work. Back at the hotel, we readied ourselves for another afternoon of intellectual snacking – conferences, presentations and talk sessions. The day’s highlight was the release of a book – Hospitality Procurement Practice – a one-of-its-kind reference book containing detailed information about various aspects of hospitality procurement. The contributors to the book are professional procurement managers with vast experience in hospitality purchasing and procurement.
The evening, however, was once again the time to fuel the endorphin rush. The venue was Jeevan Deep School, a sprawling well maintained academic complex with vast open grounds and acres of verdant greenery all around. A fit venue for a grand finale evening loaded with Dussehra styled celebrations, a traditional Ramleela performance, the burning of Ravana effigy and the heralding of Diwali. To ratchet up the excitement further, the evening revelry was accentuated by a regal king size jumbo ushering in the King and Queen of Kashi, announcing the Dussehra festivities open upon the return of Lord Rama from exile. To round up the dizzying evening was an epic cornucopia of gustatory offerings and a veritable gourmet guide to vegetarian dining.
Next day, as we began departing, there was a sense of ‘all good things coming to an end’. But give it to HPMF, which knows how to hatch and act on events that create a gunfire of buzz and a gold mine of positive reviews. Trust the ninth edition in Kochi to be even more fantabulous.