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Sep, 01 2007

India Gets Rolling

THERE was a time when a holiday meant fleeing from the heat and dust of the plains to cooler areas.

THERE was a time when a holiday meant fleeing from the heat and dust of the plains to cooler areas. People would mostly stay cooped up in its salubrious surroundings, play cards, take the mandatory daily walk up to shops or go for the weekend picnic at the edge of a waterfall.
But increase in the disposable income of the Indian middle class, who now likes to spend money on vacations abroad or at home, the explosion of the internet, travel bonanza on various channels, discounted airline fares and the mushroom growth of the hospitality industry along with aggressive advertising campaign `Incredible India` by the government have changed the whole concept of travel and travel industry in India. Both foreigners and domestic tourists are now keen to explore India.
Indian travel industry is one of the fastest growing segments, which is growing at a phenomenal rate from last couple of years. According to industry experts, outbound market is growing at 20 to 25 per cent while inbound market has been showing an increase of 8 to 9 per cent. As the Indian economy integrates itself with global economy, industry is bound to see growth of business traffic.
Today, travel is being taken as part of lifestyle and no longer treated as an activity for the rich. The growth of low cost carriers in India has expanded the market, giving rise to domestic tourism growth.
Contribution to economy
It is not a hidden fact that travel industry is among one of India`s most important export industries. Even with comparatively low levels of international tourist traffic, travel industry has already emerged as an important segment of the Indian economy.
The year 2005-06 saw travel sector emerging as one of the major sectors for the growth of Indian economy, the foreign exchange earnings increased from Rs 16,429 crore to Rs 21,828 crore till December. Travel industry registered a growth rate of 17.3 per cent in foreign tourist arrivals, which has been the highest in last 10 years. Foreign exchange earnings grew at an even higher rate of 30.2 per cent.
Besides being an important foreign exchange earner, tourism industry also provides employment to millions of people in India, both directly and indirectly. It is estimated that travel sector employs two crore people in India.

Coming of automation
Over the past decade, travel agencies have been battered by the rise of internet and the reduction or elimination of airline commissions. According to the travel agencies, more than 75 per cent of all travellers now use the internet partially to chalk out their travel plans.
Asad Siddqui, CEO, Sofia House of Tourism, says, "Now, being a travel agent has become a real career, the biggest change is the rise of the `specialist`. Ten years ago everyone was a generalist. But today, the traveller being much more self-sufficient, half of the business does not require an agent anymore. It is all done through automation."
Further Vinay Gupta, CEO, Via, states "Teams win, individuals have limited capacity. We have successfully proved this by teaming up with 4600 agents and growing business partners across the country to bring to the travelling customer a choice of world-class services. Our success is linked to the success of each partner and therefore we are committed to creating more value for them."
Nowadays travel operators make sure that a traveller has a complete set of travel documents and instructions. Industry experts estimate that as many as 35 new airlines in Asia and India are only accessible through their own websites, while others are not. So, sometimes these travel operators face the problem to find out the flying route of these airlines. In addition, after the emergence of travel portals, a communication gap is created between the tour operators, which greatly increase the complexity of interlining or transferring baggage.
This demand for a new breed of technological-savvy agents, to execute services, customer is willing to pay for, increases. The modern, high-tech travel agent must be conversant with global security, different airline types and fare classes, and the unique rules for standbys, upgrades, cancellations, itinerary changes, and other purchase restrictions. Some portion of almost every company is now online. Many simple transactions are processed without being touched by an agent.

Franchising as an option
Over the past couple of years, Indian economy, which has been growing at a rate of more than 8 per cent, is constantly the centre-point of global discussion. Significantly, the travel industry has been at core of this boom. This industry has seen more and more international players interested in taking a part of the pie. International players have now realised that they can reach every nook and corner of the world through franchising.
Even Indian players, such as Raj Travels, SOTC, and Odyssey, now prefer to expand their business through franchising, which will help them to access local markets across India, thereby establishing a pan-India presence. In short, experts feel that travel industry is relationship driven, and is looking for franchisees across India who have strong business sense with sales skills to effectively tap the business in their local market.
Supporting the franchise model for growth, Arup Sen, Executive Director, Cox and Kings, explains, "Although franchising as a business model has been known in India for decades, but there is clearly an unprecedented interest in adopting this model in recent times." He further added that due to adoption of franchising concept by travel industry, particularly by tour operators, this sector has been witnessing growth rate of 30 to 40 per cent per year from the last five years.
The size and geography of India is ideally suited for business through the franchising model, particularly in the services` sector of the economy.
Nikhil Thakurdas, CEO, Odyssey Tours and Travels, opines, "A franchisee network provides an excellent solution in the present scenario where franchise owners are able to grow their business by employing tools and technology solutions for the ultimate benefit of the traveller. Furthermore, franchisees continue to enjoy access to industry leading incentives through the vast network of travel operators across the world."
On this issue Javed Akhtar, CEO, Travel Port adds, "Today, by adopting franchising, travel business has started making waves all over the world. 70 per cent of our franchisees are doing excellent and the rest of them will soon get started."

Franchisees requirements
Travel is a service that is delivered over a period of time and is not a one time buy. Thus consistency and uniformity in the dissemination of training is crucial. "We look for like minded people who share our passion for providing quality services to our customers. Most of our franchisees are professionally and technically qualified. We are looking for franchisees that have the capacity to invest and run the business over a long period of time," emphasises Madhavan Menon, Managing Director, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.
Today, franchisees play an important role in the expansion of any business. A person opting for travel operator franchise should be familiar with the travel market. The investment required is Rs 2 lakh and above, with an office area of 300 to 1,500 sq.ft, and the most important thing is that the franchisee should register his name with TAAI and other local agencies like IATA.
Arun Verma, COO, Prime Travels, says, "The franchisee has to understand well that it is not just the company`s name, but also the entire system he is associated with. If he is not able to provide quality service to the customers, the name of the brand would be at stake in the town."

Major players in the sector
SOTC
SOTC is a leading brand of Kuoni Travel Group India. Its services include independent global vacations and independent India vacations, and provide some of the finest holiday plans to destinations around the world. SOTC`s range of escorted tours is tailored to meet the needs of non-resident Indians. In short, it is the first operator of choice amongst non-resident Indians from all over the world.
SOTC today operates in the US, Canada, UK, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, Dubai, Kuwait, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pakistan and South Africa.
For providing excellent services to his customers, SOTC has been voted the Best Outbound Tour Operator for three successive years from 2004 to 2006 by the Galileo Express Travel and Tourism Awards Committee.
As for the company`s future plans go, soon they are going to open their offices in Australia, Sweden and many other countries.

Cox & Kings
Cox & Kings is the oldest travel company in the world. Its distinguished history began in 1758 when it was appointed as general agents to the regiment of Foot Guards in India under the command of Lord Ligonier.
Between 1758 and 1950, Cox & Kings was witness to an exciting era in Indian history, and, in its own way, helped to shape it. In 1947, the British administration departed, but bound by strong ties to India, Cox & Kings stayed on and flourished.
Today, Cox & Kings is a premium brand in all travel related services, employing over 800 trained professionals.
Its India operation is headquartered in Mumbai and has the status of a limited company. It has over 12 fully-owned offices in India across the major cities such as New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Hyderabad, Pune, Goa, Nagpur and Jaipur.
The worldwide offices are located in UK, USA, Japan, Russia, Singapore and Dubai. It has associate offices in Germany, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Sweden and Australia.
Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook (India) Ltd (TCIL) is the fully-owned subsidiary of Thomas Cook Worldwide. TCIL is the largest travel and financial services company in the country, offering a broad spectrum of travel-related services that include foreign exchange, corporate travel, leisure travel and insurance. The company launched its Indian operations in 1881. At present the company has presence in 55 cities across 200 locations in India which employs around 3,000 travel professionals.
For providing excellent services to its customers, Thomas Cook has received a number of highly prestigious awards including Golden Peacock Award for Excellence in Corporate Governance among various other awards.
During the current calendar year, TCIL has undertaken various initiatives that have been firsts in the travel industry; this included the launch of Thomas Cook Titanium MasterCard, launch of the franchisee program Thomas Cook Gold Circle and introduction of innovative products such as U-special.
More recently the company announced its plan to enter into the online travel segment with the launch of a travel portal. Thomas Cook (India) today is one of the largest players providing integrated travel services with market leadership in foreign exchange and inbound travel segment.
Sofia House of Tourism
Sofia House of Tourism was formed in a small office area in the beginning of 2005 with a view to promote unconventional and offbeat holidays for the discerning travellers as well as to meet all travel needs under one roof.
The company conducts tours for those who would like to explore the land and its people, who wish to uncover the superficial layers that can never reflect the truth of a great culture and to finally discover the real gem that shines within.
Sofia House of Tourism`s main motto is to take common people to lesser-known places of rare beauty and to show a world that exists beyond brochures and boundaries, beyond luxuries and beyond imagination the stupendous natural beauty, the cultural diversity, the exotic flora and fauna.
Sofia House of Tourism is the first private tour operator in India which has taken vast initiatives of promoting eco-tourism worldwide, not only to the common destinations but to the offbeat locations as well.
Odyssey Tours and Travels
Odyssey Tours and Travels commenced operations in 1992. Since then it has established itself as a leading IATA accredited travel consultancy based in Pune. It provides the entire gamut of travel services including international and domestic air tickets, hotel reservations in India and abroad, car rentals, passport and visa services, incentives and conferences.
Odyssey Tours and Travels has a healthy mix of corporate and leisure clients and focuses on providing consistency in professional services and building relationships has ensured that it has a growing base of loyal clients.
Odyssey is now a member of the worldwide UNIGLOBE Travel franchise network. Set up in 1979 in Vancouver, Canada, UNIGLOBE is today the world`s largest single-brand travel franchise company with more than 1,100 locations in 35 countries.
UNIGLOBE in India is growing fast and already has 24 franchisees located in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Coimbatore, Cochin and Pune.
Raj Travels and Tours
Established in 1976 by Lalit Sheth, Raj Travels and Tours Ltd is today India`s leading outbound tour operator. Raj Travels provides a diverse range of tours to countries across the globe.
The company aims to provide the Indian traveller with superior quality package tour facilities with an objective to make family holiday tours more comfortable, exciting and memorable.
Raj Travels has announced an exclusive partnership with Grayline Worldwide, the world`s largest sightseeing company. As part of this tie-up, Raj Travels will become the master franchisee for Gray Line`s India operations. Along with Raj National Express, its point-to-point bus service, Raj Travels will operate a series of Grayline tours in several cities across India. In recent years, Raj Travels has picked up a slew of awards. These include the Best Performing Agency by reputed airlines such as Lufthansa and Air India.
Prime Travels
The company was started in 1992 with initial focus on corporate travel only. It has grown from one employee base to the current staff strength of forty and now has offices in UK and USA apart from the franchise network in India.
The company is eyeing to establish its retail outlets across India and for that Prime Travels is using technology effectively to grow at fast pace. Today, Prime Travels through its website, PrimeTravels.com, offers a range of services that include Business Travel, Retail Travel, Outbound Holidays, Incoming Tours which are meant for special interest groups, religious holidays, sightseeing tours, etc.
Travel Port
Travel Port is a leading national travel and tours company with an all India network having 08 branch offices and 67 franchise offices and 6 international franchise outlets. It has corporate headquarters in Mumbai and regional offices in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
The core business area is leisure and business travel services for corporate houses for their international and domestic travel needs. The company also offers `Corporate Loyalty Management Services` and thus creates large volume of travel and tours business by way of travel reward programmes including MICE.
Via
Via was established in July 2006 under the name `FlightRaja`. Today, it is India`s premier travel services company and the only integrated provider of mobile kiosk, website and travel agent-based ticketing services. Via`s turnover today, within a short span of a year is increased to Rs 700 crore.
It is an innovative company that is playing a significant role in creating networks in the travel domain. These networks will enable people to access, plan and buy travel products and services whether the mode is flight, bus, train, car, hotels or holidays in the most convenient manner. Via presently has a network of 4,000 agents spread across 336 cities in 28 states.
Via`s vision is to be the most comprehensive travel network offering widest range of travel products and services to people.

Annotation
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, India is seeing a tremendous growth potential and is poised to see an international tourist inflow that will outperform global industry standards.
Sen opines, "India has the potential to become a major tourist destination in the world with the demand growing at 10.1 per cent per annum. The travel and tourism industry holds tremendous potential for India`s economy. It can provide impetus to other industries, create millions of new jobs and generate substantial wealth."
Sunil Gupta, COO, SOTC and Kuoni Holidays, further adds, "Tourism in India is booming, multiple travel destinations have emerged and online bookings are surging for the increasing internet penetration."
Moreover, smaller towns are emerging as high growth hubs and an enhanced distribution through brick and mortar and the web is becoming critical and as the market evolves, customer segments by price, life-stage and activity emerging and puts a greater stress on product innovation.

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