Whether it’s holidays in Bali or the Bahamas, or a quick turnaround on that business trip to Paris, these are the professionals you can’t do without. Google and Kayak.com notwithstanding, most of us look for that personal touch when we plan a holiday or even an office conference. And if you’re stranded mid-travel—snowed up in Chicago’s O’Hare airport or ash-ed out in Amsterdam’s Schiphol, without a connection or a place to stay, then you are even more likely to thank God you went through a travel consultant you can place a panicky call to.
We spoke to three travel executives about their daily routine and asked them to give us a lowdown on how you should plan your vacations.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers.
Karan Anand, 48
Head, relationships and supplier management, Cox and Kings India, Mumbai
In between work trips to New Zealand and the Caribbean, Anand can be found in his first-floor office in Mumbai’s Fort district. Most of the loose ends for the hectic travel season of the year—the summer months —have been tied up, hotel deals done, airline block bookings and tour packages taken care of. Anand is now relaxed and preparing to leave for a month-long European holiday with his Danish wife, Jeanette, and three children.
The master: Anand, who has spent 17 years in the industry, has travelled to his heart’s content. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
How he got here: Anand took a long route to the travel industry. After an economics degree from St Xavier’s, Mumbai, he spent seven years managing various family businesses, including a franchise of Garden Vareli fabrics in Mumbai. In the early 1990s, a family friend, Peter Kerkar (now the global CEO, Cox and Kings), was looking to put together a team in Mumbai and offered a position to Anand. “I knew the family business could never be as fulfilling for me as this opportunity sounded,” says Anand, who joined Cox and Kings as a consultant in January 1994. The next few years were spent in different departments of the business—from operations, sales, marketing and corporate travel to foreign exchange and insurance. Today he handles all the buying and key contracts—with hotels, airlines, car rental firms —for the company.
Daily duty: A typical day at work begins at 10am and winds up by 6.15pm. It involves liaising with suppliers—airlines, hotels and organizations such as tourist boards. Anand also has a couple of meetings with any one of the 12 vice-presidents of the different verticals. This might be to sort the legal terms of a hotel or airline contract, or to discuss solutions to problems such as the shortage of hotel rooms in busy travel destinations. For the rest of the time, Anand travels—almost 100 days a year.
Skills set: Understanding people, resilience and patience while dealing with clients.
What he loves about his job: “I get to see the world, I get to meet good people—and the bonus is, I get paid for it.” Also, the fact that his job is constantly evolving. “In the early 1990s, the world didn’t like Indian travellers,” says Anand. They were notorious for carrying their smells of cooking with them, for littering hotel rooms. “Today the Indian traveller is being wooed, and travel, specially the leisure and tour segment, is exploding.”
And even though a lot of travel-related booking has shifted online, Anand doesn’t see that as a threat to travel agencies. “The Internet is used more for booking air tickets. But the moment it’s high-value vacation or business trips, most travellers want the comfort of having someone to take care of the details. It’s like the famous line from the movie Ghostbusters: If something goes wrong in Europe, ‘Who you gonna call?’”
One thing he would change: The fact that he travels a lot. “In fact, there was a time I was travelling 150 days a year and that was too much.”
While planning a holiday: Take advantage of early-bird offers. Book in January for a May holiday and get as much as 30% off. Research your destination.
Compensation range: Up to Rs50 lakh a year.
Manmeet Ahluwalia, 35
Marketing head, Expedia.co.in, New Delhi
The commute from his home in Delhi’s Patel Nagar to the Expedia office in Gurgaon can take as long as 3 hours on a bad day. But Manmeet Ahluwalia uses much of that time for work-related phone calls. As marketing head for the online travel portal, much of Ahluwalia’s work lies in liaising with the Tokyo and Sydney offices as well as with associates in India.
The middle man: Ahluwalia wishes he could get the time to utilize some of the discount offers he gets. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
How he got here: After an MBA from the Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship Development, Pune, Ahluwalia took some classes for the International Air Transport Association (IATA)/United Federation of Travel Agents’ Associations (UFTAA) foundation exam. He cleared it. In 1999, he joined Thomas Cook. A five-year stint there was followed by stints with the Marriott group of hotels, the Singapore Tourism Board, East India Hotels and Yatra.com. Ahluwalia joined Expedia in May 2010.
Daily duty: Ahluwalia’s workday begins with tracking the latest travel-related trends through newspapers and online channels. He looks at a mix of financial sites and travel sites such as TripAdvisor to track products and services as well as consumer reactions and preferences. “We do a lot of product analysis, looking at traffic on the Expedia site, at the break-up of what the consumer is buying. Also, how he is buying it, whether through a credit card, debit card or online banking, and also look at a set of reports from the call centre.”
Then there are calls and meetings with Expedia’s ad agency, Lowe Lintas, and meetings with vendors such as hotels, car rental companies and airlines. Since Expedia is an online channel, Ahluwalia doesn’t ever meet customers over the counter. Instead, he travels to places such as Hyderabad and Bangalore to sit in at consumer focus groups discussing travel. Once in three months, he travels to the head office or for various conferences across the world.
Skills set: Experience in the different sectors of the travel industry, and the ability to track consumer trends quickly.
What he loves about his job: The travel.
One thing he would change: The fact that he doesn’t get time off often enough to travel more. “In the travel industry we do get perks like discounted stays and discounted tickets but, somehow, through the years I’ve never had enough days off to utilize these offers. I wish I could change that.”
While planning a holiday: It’s better and more economical to do your own Internet research and customize your travel to your preferences, instead of taking a preset package. It works out cheaper to plan your activities and buy tickets for them much in advance. So book your tickets for Broadway shows, operas or Disneyland online on your own.
Compensation range:Rs15-35 lakh a year.
Konica Bhatia, 27
Operations executive, Air Travel Enterprise India Ltd, Mumbai
The beginner: Bhatia, who spends most of her time behind a travel counter, wishes people at her level got a chance to travel more. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Konica Bhatia’s workstation at her fifth-floor office in Andheri, Mumbai, has a nice view of coconut palms. But it is a world away from the Caribbean-blue posters and cut-outs that define the travel agency’s office. “Life behind a travel counter is very different,” says Bhatia, talking enthusiastically about how she loves designing travel itineraries. Bhatia joined the travel profession because, she says, “It sounded so glamorous to travel, and like everyone else, I thought joining the travel profession was an easy way to get to go on a trip.”
How she got here: Bhatia began working with a travel agency when she was 18. “A family friend who ran a travel agency called Pearl Travels was looking for data entry operators for their website, so I used to go there part-time, while I was doing my graduation.”
The agency had a branch in the UK, so when they suddenly needed a temporary assistant, Bhatia was sent to London for six months. “This turned out to be like on-the-job training; I learnt ticketing as well as how to negotiate with hotels and make arrangements for tours.” After graduating from Symbiosis Institute of Arts and Commerce, Pune, in 2005, she moved to Mumbai and took up a job with a travel conglomerate, Nijhawan Group of Companies, before she joined Air Travel two years ago.
Daily duty: After the hour-and-a-half commute to her Andheri office, Bhatia begins her day at 9.15am, usually with a fresh query or a follow-up on an existing transaction, such as a hotel or airline booking. Then there’s coordination of arrangement for tour groups travelling abroad—Bhatia has to speak with suppliers and her agency counterparts in various countries and cities where their tour groups are. All through this, Bhatia must keep herself informed about the online rates and prices of tickets and hotels. “The first thing every single customer tells me is that I am getting this rate online. So I have to study the online rates. Anyone can quote a price of Rs1 with two asterisks saying conditions apply—it’s my job to point out to the customers what those conditions are. I have to build trust so they come back to me for bookings.”
Skills set: Good communication skills. And a thorough knowledge about the business which comes from reading magazines, looking up websites and maps regularly.
What she loves about her job: “That I have learnt so much about other places, their cultures and their geographies.”
One thing she would change: “People at my level in ticketing don’t get to travel much. That’s sad.”
While planning a holiday: “Try and plan your travel to destinations just before full season or just after to get better hotel discounts and catch a few sales. For instance, plan travel to Europe in April and early May, or then in October, to get better rates on hotel rooms and cheaper airline fares. Research your destinations thoroughly, either on websites or through travel books and magazines.
Compensation range:Rs.2.5-3.5 lakh a year.
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