CHENNAI: Panakkal Rajesh, CEO of Holidays4U, has only one piece of advice for people who wanted to start their own business: “Be focused and have a strong conviction towards what you do and the results will come.” It is this mantra that kept him going through the ups and downs that came with being a part of a dynamic and demanding space of tourism.
What prompted you to start this business?
I am an engineer and I was working in the software industry from 1997 till 2013. It was around that time that the software industry was down and I realised that I had to shift my business. Being someone who travelled extensively, I thought this was a good way to use my knowledge and experience and provide good value addition to my clients.
What does it take for a traditional travel agency to run at a time when online portals provide everything to people at the touch of a button?
Online portals definitely pose a challenge for any traditional travel agency but travel and tourism is a touch and feel business. The travel agent and client dynamic is also a far more personal one.
You can do everything online but when you are a traveller who has just landed in another country where the culture is different and the language is different and you don’t see someone at the airport to pick you up, it can be frightening because you don’t know anything for sure — how far the hotel is, whether the hotel will be up to the mark and so on.
When you go through an agency like ours, we are in constant touch with clients and agents who show them around. That adds an element of accountability which is missing with online portals because in any situation, by the time you call their toll free number and speak to an operator, you would have already lost so much time.
What are some of the steps you have put in place to ensure accountability?
I have personally visited all the countries where we provide tours, checked the quality of the hotels and restaurants and proficiency of the agent. Further, we have processes in place where, for instance, when a client lands in whichever country, the agent sends me a photo and I am also provided with live updates of the trip so I can make sure that it is going as per plan. With WhatsApp and other technology, it has become a lot easier to get real-time updates.
What are the factors for the tourism industry booming?
There are multiple reasons as to why we are seeing growth in the sector. I would say it is easily 10-12 per cent growth in the volume of passengers travelling outside the country every year. The main reasons are the consumption-driven economy of today, higher disposable income and the liberalisation of air traffic.
What are popular destinations you get bookings for?
When it comes to first-time travellers, families look at Singapore and Malaysia as holiday destinations. Thailand is a favourite for groups because of the nightlife and also because it is cheap.
What would a trip to Thailand cost someone with your agency?
Exclusive of airfare, I can provide an airport transfer, accommodation, sightseeing and all meals for one person for a four- or maybe even five-day trip to Thailand for Rs 7,000 or Rs 8,000.
What was the biggest challenge when you started out?
Getting client bookings initially was tough, but as people started travelling with us, they began referring our name to other people and we started getting bookings through word of mouth. We started off with 200 clients and today we have over 5,000 clients. We started off with providing trips to one destination — Thailand. We went on to include Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai. Now, we offer group trips and customised trips to any destination. We have almost 500 clients travelling to Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea, and more.