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Tuesday, 02 April, 2019, 10 : 58 AM [IST]

‘We like our ability to be independent decision-makers’

Creative Travel will implement a focused strategy in key source markets for its JungleSutra brand as well as deploy social media platforms to promote Victoria Cruises in the Indian market this year. Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel, in a detailed interaction with Disha Shah Ghosh sheds light on the plans for each of their verticals along with the willingness to consider acquisition opportunities that align well with their core principles.

Q How do you look at the evolution of Creative Travel in the past 40 years?
It has been an amazing ride. Rohit (brother) and I joined the family in Creative a little over 24 years ago. At that point, we were a small operation like most of everyone else of the time. We were fortunate to have the tutelage of an industry veteran and path breaker in our father, Ram Kohli. As we grew over the years one thing became clear, we did not want to be everything to everyone. We had to establish our own space and dominate that. We worked hard to become good at what we did and embark on a path of showcasing our destination through very different ways. As the years went by, we became known for being specialists in luxury and experiential travel. We became the most awarded player when it came to Incentive Travel. We started being sought after. This allowed us to be more selective in what type of business we would go after. We consciously decided to focus on quality over quantity and gave a pass to many opportunities that may have enlarged the top line of the business, but did not fit well with our ideologies. All those decisions have paid off and today 42 years later we sit in a space where we are confident, we are growing and we have a plan. What started as a small dream is now amongst India’s largest privately-owned inbound operator.

Q For a company that has a history of over four decades, what is your plan for diversification considering the travel & tourism industry has emerged as a breeding ground for start-ups and niche concepts?
One thing we learned early in our journey is not to copy others. That seems to have been the path many other took. We decided to be selective and focused. We never got into medical tourism when so many others did and so many failed. We never got into wedding tourism which never hit the potential it could. Whatever we did, we did with a clear eye on the end. We started ‘Plan it!’ Meetings and Conferences with a focus on the association meetings market. Today, Plan it! Is a respected professional congress organiser across the region and also does events overseas. Just over three years ago, we started investing in a specialist outbound team in Signature Tours. Today, the company closes its year after doubling its sales of 2018 and is on a strong path of growth. We have a specialist brand in JungleSutra Wildlife Journeys, which has proudly been inducted as a partner into the prestigious and ultra-luxury Virtuoso luxury travel network. That shows its success in establishing a presence in the high-end wildlife market. At our scale, we prefer to ensure that our investments are carefully thought out and seen to their success. Over extending oneself does not make for good business sense. We do have a few more ideas in the pipeline that we would consider over the next 2-4 years, which depends where the Indian economy and tourism policy take us next.



Q What are your views on the trend of M&As across the world and in India in the travel, aviation & hospitality sectors? Any plans by Creative Travel to undertake any mergers or acquisitions?
It is a strange world out there where money seems to be for free. There are many M&As going on in tourism in general around the world. I do question the viability and logic of many though. Buying for the sake of increasing valuation doesn’t always work in an industry of declining margins. Also, we do not have the same economies and efficiencies of scale as manufacturing industry would have. So, let’s see where all these bought out companies land in the next 24 months. For us, we have been approached many times, but have politely declined. We like our ability to be independent decision-makers. Having said that, we do seek companies who would like to align themselves with us and perhaps take advantage of our skills, systems, purchasing and sales network. So rather than be acquired, we would prefer to acquire ourselves.

Q Cruise travel has emerged as an attractive proposition for Indian travellers. In this context, what kind of traction do you receive for a niche river product like Victoria Cruises? Any plans to grow this proposition in the Indian market?
The interest in Victoria Cruises has been positive. We only recently started marketing it and we find there is good potential to sell this luxury operator with some of the finest ships on the Chinese Yangtze. The Indian consumer is spoilt for choices today and getting the word out is tough. We will be pushing forth this product though with some more focused marketing on social media. Hopefully it will work.

Q The MICE segment hasn’t even scratched the surface in India considering the potential it holds. Therefore, how are you working at growing the Plan it! vertical?
We are actually specialists in two areas of MICE – incentive travel and association & corporate meetings. Both verticals are flourishing. Plan it! Apart from doing meetings in India has also handled some very successful and large format projects outside the country. They have also established a specialist Association Management Company called ‘Vraata’ in association with Talley Management Group Inc. of the US. We will now offer world-class association management best practices to organisations in India. This is in line with the growth plans for the company.

Q In terms of trade & consumer engagement, how different will your strategy be for 2019 & 2020 for all your verticals?
Signature Tours has had a sharper focus on consumers in 2018 and that has shown its dividend. We started that team off as a B2B venture, but slowly had to face the reality that selling luxury products through the B2B market was a lot tougher than we expected. We still have some trade partners, but we do find the consumers are far more open to listen to a luxury story. So we will see the year with a continued focus on consumer brand building. Creative Travel stays as a B2B brand and has grown its portfolio of travel partners across the world.

Q With the growing interest for experiential holidays, how has been 2018 for the Insight Vacations’ brand?
2018 was a fabulous year where we doubled our numbers over 2017 on Insight Vacations trips. It has been a hard road as building the brand in such a vast country is not easy. But the customer feedback has been tremendous, and the word of mouth is spreading.

Q Wildlife Tourism in India still continues to be largely tiger-centric. How are you looking at pushing the JungleSutra product?
JungleSutra is a labour of love. We all sell basic wildlife in our land, but JungelSutra takes the journeys to the next level by offering a more in-depth specialist experience. We are also very proud that the company has been recently taken in as a preferred supplier to the ultra-luxury travel network ‘Virtuoso’. This opens whole new doors for Indian wildlife across the world. The team also offers some very unique engaging journeys that dwell into the rural eco-system around wildlife parks. In 2019, it will be getting a far more focussed marketing push in key source markets.

disha.shah@saffronsynergies.in
 
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