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Monday, 16 February, 2015, 18 : 00 PM [IST]

Almost Surreal: The Shadows Draw Near

In the aftermath of the Kuoni decision to exit from the tour operating business, it is getting evident that the online revolution is finally hitting the brick-and-mortar world and everyone is soundlessly trying to draw in their flanks and take a hard look at their own strategies.

Kuoni was the fresh breath of air that flowed in the heady aftermath of the opening of the Indian economy in mid-90s. The marriage of SOTC and SITA at the altar of a straining-to-breakfree-economy was solemnised by the company, giving birth to Kuoni India. I remember how one of their new managers gushingly informed me about what a gigantic leap it was for Indian tour operations and the business. Luxury travel was growing, and with few players ready with such a sizeable reach and resources, the dream was very much on.

Nothing will change, we are assured, and neither the employees nor the travellers who are expecting the great services they were assured of and used to, have any reason to break into a sweat. It’s a strategic decision - one that shaves off dead and dying cells to reveal a smoother younger skin.

Now how corporations work, arrive at decisions, and plan their future and strategise their efforts is not for others to understand, and especially not for armchair critics to analyse. Over sundowners and for want of not much to nitpick otherwise, let us try to understand why certain aspects of tour operations start appearing as a drag to a mammoth.

Earlier, the small and large tour operator and travel agent always crossed paths, telescoping businesses seamlessly. The sifting and specialisation started in the early 80s. Ticketing was the money-spinner those days, though not many admitted it. Tour operations were ‘actually a lot of work’. Communication revolution was knocking on the door and it changed life for good in a few years. Two decades down the line, it’s taking a full circle. In the recent past, the travel market has seen a major change with the business moving online, hitting conventional tour operators hard. Traditional travel agencies are therefore forced to recalibrate their plans.

There is a belief now that the business can be better developed under a new ownership and the Swiss office is on the hunt for a good suitor. The thousands who just this one business employs, and the few - though single digit - billions it generates, has stirred debate on widely disparate issues. It’s not just about business models and corporate decisions, but is also being seen as wider travel business trends that will govern corporate decisions in future.

The lesson is about focus. The travel industry’s focus, especially in the early 2000s, had started becoming too over reaching for its own good. The market seemed yummy and no one wanted to miss out. This is not exactly a back draft of a quick buck situation - it’s much more complex than that.

However, shake off the fluff and stealing a peek in other board rooms can be an interesting exercise today and might reveal hectic activity in strategy sessions of many other biggies.

Watch this space.

(The author is a freelance writer based in Delhi and a regular contributor for TravelBiz Monitor)
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