The Table Turners: Dynamic Entrepreneurs revolutionising the travel  and tourism space

There’s no ‘magic elixir’ that effortlessly lifts you off your cubicle’s confinement and lets you into the independent world of entrepreneurship. The great successes indeed grow from one tiny seed; need the right kind of perseverance to deal with the failures and zeal to fall and rise, time and again. From dealing with a fair share of scuffles to improvising constantly for building a stellar reputation in the market, the true business entrepreneurs run the show single-handedly with ease. We put a spotlight on some of the key entrepreneurs who dared to go big in the travel and tourism industry and inspired others to break the monotony of a 9-5 routine, walk through the undulated and winding road to success and eventually embrace the essence of an entrepreneurial journey

 

“If you believe in something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes”

 

KANWERDEEP SINGH, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, TRAVELBULLZ

Bearing a consistent aim to expand its reach and presence in new destinations, TravelBullz, founded in 2010, is one of the most reputed B2B companies in Southeast Asia today that has also developed its in-house technology to take care of their growing technological needs. Speaking about the company’s near-future plans in the remaining half of this year and opening of 2020, Singh informs, “We have some exciting technology rollouts on our new booking engine ‘Phoenix’ while new destinations are coming on board with Indo-China and Indonesia getting activated on system. Also, we would launch our unique INR collection model in the last quarter of 2019 to be able to make the transactions seamless for our B2B agents and partners.”

He further asserts, “We are looking at closing this year anywhere between INR 200 to 220 cr (USD 28 to 30 million) turnovers with over 2, 00,000 guests on our network. While this could have been much bigger had the Hong Kong protests not intervened in our growth in quarter three and four, this year. Also, we unleash our new technology that would push the benchmark of technology to the next level in B2B.”

Attributing his success to the TravelBullz team, his integrity, perseverance and the passion to do what the company follows along with a structured financial discipline, Singh shares how he used to work with a global online wholesaler when he realised the rapid change of consumption pattern for holidays. “Realising that the consumers would be shifting to short-haul holidays with three to five hours of flying time aided by low-cost airlines and visa regimes, becoming much friendlier, TravelBullz was founded from a humble beginning of my apartment with just four people and four laptops,” he further adds.

He aimed to revolutionise the B2B travel business by delivering all destination management services seamlessly, online. The idea was to provide a complete package for booking like that in a shopping cart, giving details of every service, transparently. “We were the only online company in 2011 to be able to do so. Since then, we have helped the travel agents and their teams improve their efficiency by almost six times, compared to how they booked offline.” Speaking of hardships, failures are an inventible part of any entrepreneurial journey that Singh’s venture trounced remarkably during its nine years’ journey. “If you believe in something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn, get up and start again with the same belief you started with on Day One,” avers Singh.

 

“The biggest proof of our success is the retention we have had of clients”

PRIYANKA NIJHAWAN, DIRECTOR, NIJHAWAN GROUP

It has been almost eight years since her coming on board that the Nijhawan Group witnessed multi-fold progress and diversification of ventures under one umbrella. Coming from a background involving Finance, Mathematics and Computer Science, she was intrigued by the mannerism of interactions required in sales, marketing and events. “Individually speaking, selling travel was coming from the back office to face-to-face interactions thus, becoming faces of products,” she adds. A stern believer of “there are no shortcuts to success”, she shares that she hasn’t had a smooth climb to the branded podium.

“While I came into an existing portfolio and had an advantage of coming from a certain family which was well-known in the fraternity, the disadvantage was people knowing who I was and also putting me into a situation where I had to go an extra mile to prove my efforts and skills. The family name and my background opened doors for me but beyond that, it was completely on me to take it forward and I had the stalwarts in the family who I was going to be matched up against,” expresses Nijhawan and continues, “Both my Husband and Father-in-Law are decades ahead of me in terms of experience and thus, the pressure was higher to perform and stand on my ground.” When Nijhawan came into the company, there were two products which have now risen to 17 and the growth has been immense.

“For me, the biggest proof of our success is the retention we have had of clients and the faith that I see in them like so many times when everything is left to my discretion. They know that whatever I decide for them will be in their best interest,” she further boasts. Over the past decade, India has increasingly come into the spotlight and everybody wants their share of the India market. This is how the idea of representations began and Nijhawan group offers foot soldiers in four cities to all its clients. “On the sales part, we help them connect with the right partners for marketing and now digital marketing and PR, as well. It started as these outbound destinations had an interest in the India market,” Nijhawan informs.

She continues saying that almost 10 years back, the company had to explain what representation is at client meetings whereas, now everybody has a structured understanding that if they want their share of the booming Indian travel, they need to have representation here in India. “When I came on board, this was an existing vertical that my husband had started. From then to now, our portfolio has grown by doing only sales and we moved on to marketing as well as PR of tourism boards, hotels and theme parks, overseas. We are also looking at wedding and corporate sector.”

 

“The success of TrawellTag can be highly accredited to our ability to be innovative”

Dev Karvat, Founder & CEO – India & Emerging Markets, TrawellTag Cover-More

Some owners start out in the industries that are already popular. Others have to put on rubber boots and wade through the mud. Karvat had to do just that. This perceptive, young entrepreneur did not enter a market that already existed; he created a new one and made bets on how the current markets would evolve. Asked how he built an immaculate reputation in the travel insurance space, he recounts, “The idea of TrawellTag Cover-More struck me when I was waiting at an insurance company, trying to help a friend get a travel insurance to avail visa for the next day. During times when it took two odd days for a travel insurance to be issued, I managed to get the work done in around five hours. The travel agent was surprised with the turnaround time and asked me if I can do it more often for a small fee. It did not take long for me to realise that a solution to this process that all agents had to go through could revolutionise the way people travel. In addition, the support and guidance from my family played a vital role in making me realise my vision and turning TrawellTag Cover-More into reality.”

He adds, “Initially, no prospective client trusted the set-up, so I started servicing them via a third party vendor. Secondly, travel protection was a niche concept and TrawellTag being a new brand, therefore, hiring became a challenge. Thus, we tied-up with the pizza delivery boys to deliver travel assistance and insurance to customers. It surely took time for the tables to turn but it did help us and here we are today as one of the leading providers of global travel protection services in India.”

In spite of the initial phase of struggles, he was nevertheless firm to rise above all, which he certainly did. “The success of TrawellTag can be highly accredited to our ability to be innovative and tailored products as per the customers’ needs. We also developed the Travel Agent’s Engagement Programme to equip travel agents to impart practical insights of achieving higher quality of travel ancillary sales,” Karvat boasts.

Starving artists and new business owners have one thing in common: They have to be masters of innovation. Moreover, Karvat, being no exception, has always believed in accomplishing the unlikely feats. “When I started TrawellTag and built the brand, I grasped four key aspects of business – people management, innovative thinking, an appetite to take risks and above all humility from business leaders and friends from the industry and outside. These values have been and will always remain at the very core of TrawellTag Cover-More’s success,” he highlights.

By 2019 end, the company aspires to achieve further growth by leveraging Zurich’s capabilities and the experience gathered by catering to the e-commerce clients, informs Karvat. “Our continued efforts for training and enlightening the travel will help us in achieving our primary goal of improving the conversion rate of the Indian travel insurance industry, which is at 20 per cent.”

 

“Our venture’s ups and downs were treated as learning, which has made us stronger”

SUCHETA NAGPAL, DIRECTOR AND CEO, TRAVSTARZ HOLIDAY & DESTINATIONS PVT. LTD.

Bearing a great mutual understanding and a productive working relationship, between a husband and wife that works as a team, Travstarz was founded by Sucheta Nagpal along with Managing Director Pankaj Nagpal with a clear vision of making it one of India’s “most loved and respected B2B companies” as Sucheta Nagpal states. Travstarz is an all-inclusive B2B company, growing steadily year-on-year, as the company consistently diversified its portfolio for the B2B front while understanding the diversity of each traveller’s requirements and expectations that formed the very basis of the company’s philosophy.

“Over the years, we have worked hard towards achieving that vision. With CTRIP investing in our company in 2018 to launch the group’s B2B business in the Indian sub-continent and other adjoining regions, that vision has become closer to the real situation and in the next 10 years, we see this happening completely. The company soon came to be known for its quality services and competitive pricing and grew rapidly to add various other destinations. Speedily, we got noticed by leading, global hotel chains as one of the leading wholesaler and consolidators in India,” she further boasts.

Moving ahead, the achiever of ‘Women CEO of the Year’ by Femina World Women Leadership Congress 2018, Nagpal informs that the focus, now, is on tier II and III Indian cities. “We have been adding on newer products with the increase in our DMC offices in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Bali and Maldives, to name a few. We also started Travstarz Cruises in 2019 when we were appointed as a PSA (Preferred Sales Agent) for Genting Cruises. We are now a one-stop-shop for our B2B partners offering all aspects of travel that are possible.” Travstarz also launched an online portal named ‘clickontravstarz.com’, recently for booking cruises with ease that includes the other DMC products available across 22 countries.

Completing a decade of success this month, Travstarz, today, has gradually evolved in to a multifaceted organisation bearing the true definition of Nagpal’s mission and vision. “We attribute our success to our will power, determination, strengths and a dedicated team who have contributed to our growth to achieve the milestone of completing 10 years of Travstarz as a company. Over the passage of time, our venture’s ups and downs were treated as learning, which has made us stronger,” shares Nagpal.

 

“We overcame certain roadblocks in the past and would continue to do so”

NAVEEN SALDANHA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ROYAL ARABIAN DESTINATION MANAGEMENT

2019 has been a challenging year for everyone on the tourism front as it seemed crucial for the industry to sustain and survive and one of the exclusive DMCs in the Middle East, Royal Arabian Destination Management wasn’t excluded from the predicament. However, optimistic Saldanha looks ahead with the advent of ‘Expo 2020 Dubai’ that is approaching the threshold, soon. “We are planning and preparing for the great future ahead of us. We will continue to invest in technology, training and development of our people,” he avers as he recollects his days of initiating the vast venture that he built today.

Saldanha says to have had a humble beginning as he went to Dubai in search of a job and learnt from the tourism industry. “After working in the tourism industry for over 12 years with several DMCs in the UAE, I thought of putting together a team of professionals and like-minded investors to create a premium company, with a clear focus on providing great service while exceeding customers’ expectations.” He continues sharing that the team established Royal Arabian 14 years ago, with a foremost focus on providing value-for-money to the clients along with great service at competitive rates. “We have successfully created a reliable B2B Destination Management brand where our clients from all over the world trust us for quality and wellbeing of their guests. We closely work with government authorities, tourism boards, several hotels, serviced apartments and other service providers in the UAE to provide service of the highest quality,” he further adds.

Bearing the aim of becoming the most admired premium brand in providing destination management services across UAE by achieving a harmonious balance between business, environmental and social responsibilities, the company caters to tourists from all over the world that includes China, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Indonesia, Russia, GCC countries, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Royal Arabian is a total of over 350 employees spread across various countries with offices in India, China and UAE.

While attributing his company’s present triumph to the investors who have been associated since inception, believing in the brand and its strategies, Saldanha shares that the path wasn’t an easy ride to recovery. “Failure is part of any entrepreneurial venture. As they say, it is the stepping stone for success. We have learnt from our setbacks and kept improving our company’s processes with commitment. With patience and persistence, we overcame certain roadblocks in the past and would continue to do so,” asserts Saldanha. As the tourism industry is vulnerable to many external factors, he advises that one has to be very cautious but confident to move forward, investing in the right areas of the business.

 

“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of life or business”

ALEFIYA SINGH, DIRECTOR, IRISREPS

There are those who have known with unfailing certainty what they wanted to be when they grew up–and then there are the rest who have no deadline for success and while some are able to carve their career path out of a passion they’re born with, some weave the roadmap to success by taking longer routes than the deceiving shortcuts. One such entrepreneur is Singh who cultivated her own brand, IrisReps, with utter determination and desire to surpass fear and failures and became an inspiring reminder for the other women to keep pursuing their goals.

“I actually dived first and then learned how to swim. Thankfully, my experience in International Trade and Cross-Cultural Communication helped us get leads for foreign companies aiming to do business with India i.e. market entry projects, opportunity assessment studies, technology collaboration and partner identification assignments. Also, I was blessed to have well-wishers who connected me with key influencers including industry associations and decision-makers,” shares Singh.

Standing out in the teeming space of representation and brand management companies, Iris Reps today is a preferred name that has not just helped its international clients establish a prominent hold in the India market but has also acted as a growth stimulator for them. “We succeed on behalf of our luxury hotel, travel, tourism and destination clients because we get under the skin of the brand and advise on the best strategy for building a truly world-class travel brand. Decades of experience allow us to capture the essence of your offering and present it to the Indian consumers that matter so you can yield exceptional results. We aim at inspiring confidence in our trade partners by being an active participant in selling travel and also complimenting the travel trade,” Singh adds.

Well-aware of the fact that the importance of social media in business is growing at warp speed, Singh is of a belief that one’s business should take utmost advantage of this booming wield to survive and eventually thrive. Singh, the woman of substance, always envisaged of building and growing business with no-stopping spirit, however, she was aware of the fact that the learning curve leading to success is even great when crossed by several hurdles. “There are no moral shortcuts in the game of life or business, there are, basically, three kinds of people, the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful and those who become and remain successful.”

 

“Basic instinct and zeal that inspires you to take bold decisions”

DEEPIKA KHANNA, FOUNDER AND CEO, ANCHOR DESTINATIONS AND TRAVEL MANAGEMENT PVT. LTD.

Founded in 2016, Anchor Destinations was initiated by Khanna with the solitary idea of executing global DMC representation and consolidation. Today, the company outreached its boundaries, having partner offices in Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the USA. “Sometimes, it is your basic instinct and zeal that inspires you to take bold decisions. I started the company with full passion and I am happy to create recognisable footprints in a matter of just three years,” shares Khanna. Deepika Khanna is a highly reputed travel professional with an enrich experience of 16 years in the field of travel and tourism Industry with Sales , Marketing and Business Development as her forte. With her business and marketing skills, excellent PR abilities, the company has seen growth under her leadership and guidance .

To educate and provide its partner agents, PAN India, with competitive rates and great services while the clients are on the ground, the company has also acquired a wholesale contract with the best of resorts in the Maldives. “We have been continuously organising presentations and workshops, showcasing the products to agents for better understanding and even better selling. Our recent FAM trip to Sri Lanka ensured that we not only showcase exclusive hotels and resorts but also different activities such as golf tour along with culture and unique experiences. Our yearly B2B fixed departures to the USA during April to June gives great itineraries along with value-for-money and the pleasure of being on a tour guide-escorted trips for the clients,” Khanna adds.

She summons up that as a start-up company, she and the team had experienced concerns such as gaining the trust of clients and suppliers, initiating new partnerships, giving concrete shape to the vision and final release as per the expectations. “However, I still feel that this is an ongoing process and it only makes your vision clearer to move ahead. Failure comes naturally when one is moving ahead,” she inserts.

While primarily an offline company, Khanna informs that Anchor Destinations is now getting ready for the online module, which shall be launched by the end of this year. “We are also trying to be ‘Product Specialists’ and have various new offerings to be announced soon. Till date, if Anchor Destinations has made its mark in the present B2B and consolidation business in India, it is primarily due to the sharp vision and great team support as Khanna rightly points out. “When your client or agent vouches for your services and endorses you, that is your success!” she underlines.

 

“Ignore the roadblocks, get on with the job and you will find ways to get around things”

HUSNA-TARA PRAKASH, GLENBURN TEA ESTATE & BOUTIQUE HOTEL

A blissful tea-plantation retreat, tucked away in the lap of nature, on a hillock above the banks of the River Rangeet, high in the Himalayas, overlooked by the mighty Kanchenjunga mountain range, The Glenburn Tea Estate & Boutique Hotel looks like something straight out of Ruskin Bond’s stories. Started by a Scottish tea company in 1859, Glenburn then passed into the hands the ‘Prakashes’.

On her very first visit to Glenburn, Husna-Tara Prakash decided that this was the spot. “Here, in addition to the ‘tea experience’, we could also offer guests a ‘walking experience’ and Glenburn remains one of few destinations in India where you can walk all day and return to luxury at night. This project would never have been possible without the hard work and resourcefulness of our Glenburn Tea Estate Manager and his team of local workers who transported everything to this very remote site with amazing results,” Prakash elaborates.

“The initial idea took about a year to materialise. In 2002, The Burra Bungalow was lovingly restored while retaining the style of a colonial planters’ bungalow. With 1,000 acres of private forest, and two rivers running through the estate, Glenburn is a wonderfully peaceful place to stay and offers a unique holiday experience. Further in 2008, we added four more rooms at Glenburn as part of The Water Lily Bungalow,” she adds.

Glenburn’s top-notch stay comes with some of the splendid views of nature and cosy nooks—perfect for curling up with your favourite novel and a fine cup of tea. It’s clear the emphasis is put more on exclusivity here. “Limited to nine well-appointed panoramic suites, where every need is anticipated, our philosophy is to create intimate havens of sophisticated luxury where visitors can deepen their understanding of local culture, history and cuisine as we indulge you. Our venture clearly has brought a high quality hospitality product to a remote region of India, involving the local community to delivery world-class service and gourmet meals to a huge international audience of guests from all around the world,” Prakash boasts while also taking pride in the warmth showered by the versatile hosts, the Nepali community.

Unlike the other entrepreneurs who go with the market flow, Prakash is of a belief that focus should be set on doing things differently and perfectly. A woman with a sheer spirit of ‘keep going’, Prakash highlights her success mantra and says, “Ignore the roadblocks, get on with the job and you will find ways to get around things.”

 

 

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