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Friday, January 06, 2012

Tour of Nilgiris-Inside story

This post is a bit overdue. Didn’t have the time to compile it earlier. Sorry if the title is misleading. Nothing confidential about this article though.

Having an opportunity to be part of events, such as Nano superdrive and Tour of Nilgiris, on the organizers side, helped me understand the complexities involved in event management better. When you organize an event on your own, you’ll know the pains of it. If I was part of these events in the role of a customer or sponsor, I might not have learnt the inside lessons. In this post, sharing some inside details on the event management related to Tour of Nilgiris.

A bunch of guys cycling few hundred kms over 8 days- this may look like a simple activity. And since it is cycle, there shouldn’t be much expense right?  I too was thinking so earlier and wondered why organizers of TFN charge close to 25k to cyclists and seeks lakhs of rupees from sponsors. 2 days with the team, I have different perspective now.

The Recci
Though the event “Tour of Nilgiris” runs for about 8 days, the preparations start about an year in advance. TFN team goes on multiple trial rounds (known as Recci in event management parlance). During Recci the team studies the route- how good it is, what is the difficulty level (is it upward slope, downward slope, road conditions, towns on the way, time it may take to cover the distance for a normal rider etc), best possible accommodation on the way, where can be the support points on the way for refreshment and many other aspects. Recci happens about 4 times at different time intervals- 9 months before, 6 months before, 3 months before, one week before etc, to update and validate the already gathered information.

The support staff and vehicles
For about 70 riders, Tour of Nilgiris this year had a support staff of about 30. Support staff perform various roles- one team leaves very early in the day, ensures that the road cyclists will be taking that day, has no surprises. This team also marks the road with directions, wherever there’s possibility of confusion due to bifurcating roads, non availability of signage and so on
 
Above: I like the modification done to Tata Sierra.

There’ll be another team which mans support stations on the way. Support stations provide refreshments, basic repair etc to the riders on the way. 3 support stations will positioned at various distances on each day. Support teams also take a count of all riders who cross the support station. This way, it is possible to track if any rider is left out.

Medical team: A team consisting of an ambulance, physiotherapist and doctor on standby, which travels with the riders for any medical assistance that may be needed by the riders during the ride.
 
Photography team: A team of professional photographers and videographers accompanying the riders to capture precious moments. A blogger also accompanies the team to publish textual details at periodic intervals.

Bike Escort: A team of bike riders patrolling along the route for any support/assistance riders may need. Bikers are connected by GPS, their positions monitored by call centre and for any emergency, nearest bikers will be notified, who can respond immediately.

The sweep team: All riders are expected to complete designated kms within designated time. If someone is left behind or takes too much time to reach the day’s destination, Sweep team would pick them up. If the best cyclist completes day’s ride by 2PM, the last rider is expected to complete it, by say about 5-6PM. If I rider prefers to cycle slowly and reach by 9PM, not permitted. This is because support teams need to wind up for the day, gear up for next day. Those riders who are either left behind or chose not to cycle any more for the day, will be picked up by sweep truck tailing the convoy.
 
Above: Support staff sharing a lighter moment

Public Relations: A PR team was hired to ensure adequate publicity for the ride. At each city this team would organize a press meet with local media, get them interact with the riders and ensure cycling event gets some visibility next day.
Below: Day 1 press meet at Mysore
Call Centre: A call centre based in Bangalore would keep track of the happenings- receive any distress call, direct nearest help possible, give out information and so on

Vehicles used: TFN 2011 used a Tata Sierra for photography team, an Ambulance, a Tata Winger to carry food and people, couple of Tata 407s carrying baggage, support materials and cycles, a Scorpio doing early morning route check and marking, a Tempo Travelers carrying support staff and a set of bikers escorting the riders.

What it costs to organize an event?
If you thought organizing the cycle ride is easy and inexpensive, you’re mistaken. Day 1 hotel expense was more than 1lakh rupees (about 1k per person). This expense could be greater in some resorts where the teams stayed during subsequent days.

All the vehicles used above come with a cost- fuel, rent, driver expenses and on top of that, the interstate permit fees. Since tour of nilgiris covers Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, commercial vehicles need to pay huge permit fee at state borders. This amount alone comes close to one lakh. (During Tata Nano superdrive, a minibus used by events team which covered about 6 states had to cough up close to 1.6 lakhs in toll and permit fees alone)

Food, beverages and refreshments do add up to substantial amount.

Each rider is given a jersey, a well written handbook and other support materials. Everyday their bags are loaded on to a truck and taken to next city, which allows cyclists to ride without heavy load on their back. The handbook is well thought out- details each day’s route, profile, support station locations, contact details of the organizers, hotel at the destination and so on.

Material, PR and other costs: Public relations cost money, materials used for stage backdrop and other supporting activities cost money. There’re many other activities involved which I may not be aware of. pre-event preparation costs, travel costs of organizers etc.
 
While each rider paid about 25k to participate in the TFN2011. Riders can’t join just by paying the money- they applied online with their profile de That’s about 3k per day. Sponsors like BSA and Himalayas pitched in with funds and few other organizations offered certain services for as partners.

The selection process: Joining TFN is not easy. Money doesn’t get you a place. Each aspirant filed his interest by submitting details (past cycling experience, pace and several other details) and are hand-picked by TFN team.

War room meetings: After reach day, Organizers and support staff meet to discuss the day’s happenings, take stock of the inventory (of food and other materials) and plan for next day. I had an opportunity to witness this meeting wherein organizers sorted out the differences, gave solutions to problems. I missed the pre-event briefings on Dec 15th, which could have given me more insights.
Event management is a stressful job wherein one has to please the sponsors, participants, volunteers, media, vendors and so on. Each of these stake holders will have different priorities-
  • Sponsors want maximum publicity for their brand anywhere and everywhere- they might insist on activities purely for the sake of publicity, though not required for the event,
  • Participants want to recover value of every penny they paid, many will not stick with the instructions given- timings, do’s and don’ts and so on
  • Volunteers and organizing staff are often caught between high expectations and inadequate time/resources/funds. They are often deprived of rest and sleep during the event. Despite best possible preparations there’ll be unplanned/unauthorized/unexpected requests/demands/situations and it may frustrate multiple stakeholders unless organizers are capable of dealing with them smoothly.
  • Media people usually take it for granted that organizer will take care of their travel, food and stay expenses. Media wants best story and photographs- never mind if it is mocked up a little or participants have to take extra difficulty (to pose for photos in the way they want).
  • Vendors want their payment and need to wind up fast and leave, so that they can serve another customer.
As we read this, the TFN team might have started ground work for 2012 edition of the cycling event. Wishing 2012 TFN a great success...

TFN 2011 Launch event pics * Innovative Helmet * A highway accident we witnessed * TFN 2011's youngest rider *

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