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Jan, 01 2008

Success routes

Human beings are essentially mobile. Be it on official trip or a leisurely travel, people nowadays count on the travel agents and tour operators for the sheer lack of time and professional guidance. Hence, the sector offers enormous promises for a new ent

India has significant potential for becoming a major global tourist destination. According to Travellers` Pulse Survey conducted by the world`s best-known travel guide, India ranked fifth among destinations that 20,000 travellers said they would most like to visit next. India`s tourism industry is thriving due to an increase in foreign tourist arrival and greater than before travel by Indians to domestic and abroad destinations. The visitors are pouring in from all over the world – Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia. At the same time, the number of Indians travelling has also increased. Some tourists come from Middle East countries to witness the drenching monsoon rains in India, a phenomenon never seen in desert climates.
The Government of India has realised the potential of the industry and has advanced several incentives to promote infrastructure growth in the tourism sector including launching of the worldwide campaign `Incredible India` in 2002.
The surge in the industry has boost up the hospitality industry too with several international hotel chains entering the hotel industry.
Travel and tourism is the second highest foreign exchange earner for India, and the government has given organisations in this industry export house status. Even with comparatively low levels of international tourist traffic, tourism has already emerged as an important segment of the Indian economy.
There are about more than 300 government approved travel agents. Nowadays, most of the travel agents in India have gone online. They provide all kinds of travel solutions including booking tickets of different airlines and railways, hotel reservation, providing taxi/car service, planning and executing road trips and also special services for corporate houses for seamless operation of meetings and conferences. With the rising demand for such services, many travel agencies from outside India are venturing Indian market through local travel agents.

Opportunities available
The prospective scenario of travelling industry has enabled national and international tour operators to prosper. In India there are near about 400 government approved tour operators. These operators charge as low as Rs.5000 for a domestic trip and again for a luxury foreign trip, as high as Rs 2 lakh. These trips can be of three types – inbound, outbound and domestic. Inbound tourism is in nascent stage though, with the rising appreciation of the Indian currency, the Indians are showing inclination to travel abroad. As reported in 2001, the inbound tourism is growing at 15% year-on-year. Besides leading business houses, small tour operators are also doing good business. Rise in income has given the mass to splurge on travel. Commenting on the potentiality of the tourism industry in India, Heena J A, Co-founder & COO, Travel Port says, “Today, people look for a reason to visit a particular tourist spot. And India offers ample reasons in terms of culture, scenic beauty, aestheticism, religious purpose, exotic locations be it forests, hill station or beaches. India is one of the most favourite holidays for people all over the world.”

Taking the right path
A new entrant in the trade has two options: he can tie up with an already established travel agency by buying a franchise or he can start his own travel agency. According to Niranjan Gupta, VIA Just Go, “It has become very difficult for stand alone travel agencies to survive. A franchise system offers you with all the marketing and advertising tools that a stand alone can hardly compete with. So, it is advisable for a new entrant to take a franchisee rather than starting his own business.”
While it is true that taking a franchise makes job much easier for the entrepreneur by reducing the risk factor to a great extent, one cannot deny the fact that every big organisation had begun from a scratch. So, if you are determined to start your own travel agency, go ahead. According to Heena, “More than anything else, things that determine success in this trade are a keen interest in travelling, communication skill and being internet savvy. You are selling dream holidays. So you have to live up to it.”

Some drawbacks
In spite of being one of the most favourite tourist spots for domestic as well as international travellers, there are certain trouble areas that have to be taken care of. Gupta says, “Unavailability of hotel rooms is a major problem. The prices are also very high. There is scarcity of hotel rooms as well as tickets during the peak holiday season. We talk about exotic locations. But the living conditions are horrible. You cannot expect the tourists to enjoy scenic beauty in India and live on the streets. Just by saying Incredible India, does not make it an incredible tourist destination. Government has to take proper initiative to make India competent enough as an International tourist spot.”
This comment is supported by Heena who feels, “As far as the hotels are concerned, the demand is more than the supply. Besides, a better tourism infrastructure is needed in terms of safety and public hygiene which is lacking in India.”
Lately, many travel agencies have been forced to downsize or close altogether, because of competition from on-line booking sites, as well as a slump in the economy, and constant fears of terrorism. Most major airlines have heavily reduced, or eliminated altogether their commission to agencies, which at one time was a huge source of agency revenue. Companies too have felt the economic pinch and cut back on expense account travel for their employees.

Indian travellers` trends
Indians love to travel. In the earlier times people travelled for religious purpose. The purpose for travelling is different now. However, exploring new places still remains a favourite activity for Indians. The rapidly changing lifestyle, tight schedule, demanding careers and above all stress make the present generation seek for a perfect retreat in the holiday package. Now, holidays are more than just family outing once or twice a year that used to be planned keeping in mind the kids` holidays and availability of the people`s earned leaves every year. Today a holiday means different thing for different people owing to their age and lifestyle. They want to relax, enjoy and explore new places in a pocket friendly tour package.

Before taking the plunge
The travel industry offer huge opportunity for new entrepreneurs. However, there are a few things that have to be taken care of before starting a travel business. Setting up and running a successful – and profitable – travel agency is quite challenging.
For you to officially call yourself a travel agent and be able to offer travel services, there are certain minimum qualifications that must be met. To some extent, the requirements vary from state to state, but generally you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent qualifications.
Computer skills are a must of course, as is a good telephone manner and the ability to communicate with customers effectively. Ideally you would like your customers to return to you and recommend your services to other people. Many schools and colleges offer travel classes which vary greatly in what they offer, as well as the cost. It is also useful to have a background in basic accounting or business management. And of course, a love of travel is a must, or - better still - travel experience.
You must have some knowledge of such diverse subjects as weather, currency exchange, passport and visa requirements, and customs regulations. And most importantly, to be able to do ticketing for your clients, IATA registration is necessary.

Why travel business?
Ask yourself why you want to start a travel business. Are you interested in earning some of the trillions changing hands? Are you looking to utilize your skills in the great outdoors? Maybe you just like the idea of travelling yourself, perhaps with a discount or with others. Only when your motivation is clear, you can move on to actually beginning steps toward your career. Here are some pointers that you need to work on before you enter the sector.
Establishing strong network
A travel business thrives on its owner`s network with his potential customers, hoteliers and holiday resort owners. Being a part of associations like TAI and TAFI is beneficial in making a good business network. Apart from these travel exhibitions, also SATE, OTM, TTF and IITM take place from time to time which provides a wonderful platform for new travel agency owners to interact with travel agents, resort owners and hoteliers from all over the world. It is beneficial for a new entrant in the trade to visit such exhibitions which often prove to be a good source of knowledge as well as business tie ups.
Contriving a successful business plan
Like all business ventures, you will need to make a business plan. This will come of use if you need a loan to get your agency started. Your business plan should include the capital you need to start your business, potential earnings, overheads, number of employees, etc.
Low investment
According to Heena, “Travel business is the easiest trade to get into. It has almost zero start-up cost. You need to invest in the bare minimum office equipments. The minimum investment of Rs 50,000 can give you a decent start-up. The gestation period is barely 4-6 months. It is crucial to get the first 50 passengers. Once you manage to reach that benchmark, your business takes off smoothly.”
Make your presence felt
This is a trade where the location is not very important. With the basic tools of the profession – only a phone and a computer – you can easily work from home. This is one trade where more than visibility, a proper network is essential. Instead, invest in making a good website providing essential information about the tour packages that you are planning to offer. This will also be beneficial as a marketing strategy. Investing in office apparatus, like computers, phones as well as other stationeries, is essential.
Identify the target market
Your target market largely depends on the kind of service you are offering. If you are offering air tickets, your target market can be anybody and everybody who travel all through the year. However, if you are offering holiday packages, your target group varies owing to their age, lifestyle and occupation. Heena comments, “At Travel Port, we target the corporate executives for leisure trips.”
Find your niche
It is very important to carve a niche for yourself in the market. You may specialize in airfare only, complete tour packages, or a particular area of the world such as domestic or international tour packages. The cruise market is a huge part of many agencies` bookings and is set to grow even more; many cruise passengers are repeat cruisers. Business and corporate travel is a profitable specialized market too. More and more people can book their airfare, hotel and cruise on line with ease, and to thrive as a travel agent you must be able to offer a personal touch. Many people use travel agents when they are planning a particularly complicated or expensive vacation, or a once in a lifetime travel experience. Honeymooners generally still trust their travel plans to a reliable travel agent.
Strategies to take up
A good marketing and advertising strategy has to be planned out. It is very important to have awareness about your business. Start with a well designed brochure. Distributing pamphlets and advertisement in the local cable channels also help in the initial stage. Advertise in the local grocery shop and market places. In regards to large scale brand promotion, you can take up any media starting from news papers to radio channels, to television to hoardings.
Get in touch with a good Chartered Accountant who will help you get your service tax number, PAN number, shop and establishment number and a separate bank account for your business.
Essential employee qualities
Employees should have a passion for travelling. Most importantly they should be people-friendly and ready to mingle. The tourist guides must be amiable and adaptable in nature. They should interact with the passengers from time to time. They need to have a tremendous presence of mind to handle any kind of situation. They should be well aware of the travel destination so that they can provide a solution if anything adverse happens. The attitude of the employees of a travel agency should be hospitable and cheerful. They should make the passengers feel that they are headed for a safe and joyous trip that breathe some fresh air in their mundane lifestyle.

Summary
The travel industry has immense potential. So, if you have the passion for travelling and the intense urge to share the same with an added quality of good communication skills, just take a plunge. With knowledge and experience in the trade and a customer-centric service you are sure to make it big as a travel agent.

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