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We are in the process of developing our own mid-office and B2B solution’ – Richa Goyal Sikri, Director, STIC Travel
Working with STIC Travel for more than a decade as the Director, Richa Goyal Sikri has been instrumental in launching international premium travel brands in India; conceptualising and managing their establishment, strategising and planning marketing activities along with monitoring sales and revenue targets for all the products throughout the network. Richa Goyal Sikri, Director, STIC Travel talks to P Krishna Kumar on the evolution of the company and future plans.
TBM: How has STIC Travel evolved over the years?
RS: Traditionally, if you look at STIC Travel, our business portfolio through the 80’s and 90’s has primarily been servicing as a GSA for airlines. However, after liberalisation of the economy in mid-90s, we consciously started looking at non-air brands.  Although, even today, almost 60 per cent of our portfolio comprises of airlines, a significant part of our business is non-air brands. Having said that, STIC Group, at no point of time changed its focus from the core business, i.e., representation and sales and marketing at a B2B level. New segments and brands have been added to our portfolio from time to time, but the core business hasn’t changed.  

Among the non-air brands, we represent Wyndham Hotels, the largest hotel group with over 7,000 hotels around the world.  We distribute Wyndham Hotels through GDS to travel agents in India.  We are, probably, the only representation company which facilitates tripartite corporate deals for Wyndham.  While corporates get special rates, travel agents also get commission for every booking they get. Although Wyndham as a group is not much popular in India, the 12-odd brands in their portfolio are diverse and hence popular.  

In the cruise segment, we represent Holland America Lines, and Winstar Cruises in the Indian market.  While Winstar is niche, Holland America Lines is mainstream and has comprehensive portfolio of destinations to their credit.  Although travel has reduced drastically during the last three to four years due to different reasons, Holland America posted almost 60 to 70 per cent growth in 2009 over 2008.  We expect the trend to continue even in this year.  For Holland America, the highest demand is for Alaska followed by Europe, South America, and Antarctica.  Antarctica is an emerging destination for international cruise, especially for experienced cruise travellers.  

The Indian cruise market is evolving rapidly. Cruise as a travel product is gaining acceptance among FIT, family and customised groups. It is important to note that compared to these segments, fix departure groups are not showing much growth in the Indian market.

Today, we are the only private company having an air charter division.  The division is doing well. We invariably arrange for a charter service every second day during the tourist season, and in the lean season, we provide the service once a week. Our customers include international celebrities, corporates from the diamond and IT industry, etc. Even families have started engaging air charters for weddings and other important family functions.
TBM: Modern technology and new age solutions have changed the way travel business is conducted.  How do you look at the role of technology in the travel domain?

RS: One cannot deny the fact that new age technological solutions have changed the way business is conducted in the travel domain. However, what I personally feel is that in spite of the onslaught of these technological solutions, conventional methods still have its relevance at a certain level. You could have best of the portals, good pricing, swanky e-mailers going out to the market on a regular basis, etc., but I am a firm believer that nothing works better than the good old fashion of doing field sales.

As a representation company, we are also in the process of developing our own mid-office and B2B solution.  We will be completing the integration process of the mid-office solution in our offices spread across the country soon. The next step will be to take that solution to our B2B distribution network. All those GSA distribution will be made accessible online to our associates in the second stage.  We are hopeful of concluding the process by the end of this financial year.   

TBM: What are your future plans in terms of diversification and launching new products and services?
RS: It’s difficult to make predictions about the future. But I can say for sure that our core business will remain the same. Probably, we might enter the travel education in near future, and that does not mean that STIC Travel will set up its own educational institutions. We might probably help others develop course content or collaborate with people and institutes to run specific programmes, etc.

We will also continue to expand our portfolio of clients whenever an opportunity comes our way. On the airline side, we are open to new partnerships. However, we are not a company which would add a GSA for the sake of adding one.   Commercial viability is paramount when we select a GSA
TBM: The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is a unique product of STIC Travel? What are your plans in terms of making the product more popular?
RS: STIC Travel is the sole distributor of ISIC in India. If you recall, STIC stands for Students Travel Information Centre.  The company was established primarily to facilitate students travelling among countries of the SouthAsia region in the 70’s.  The focus was on facilitating students travel in the beginning, before we got our first GSA business of Air Ceylon, the predecessor of Sri Lankan Airlines, in 1976.  

ISIC is being handled by a special division in our organisation.  The card gives the holder special discounts on their purchases. These cards are sold through travel agents who deal in students travel at a nominal price. Unfortunately, we were not able to market the product properly for sometime now. But we have decided to appoint distributors for this product to expand its reach.  
TBM: As a representation and distribution company for air and non-air brands, what kind of opportunities do you see in the market?
RS: India is an emerging economic power, and hence it’s potential as a travel market is being recognised by travel and tourism stakeholders’ world over.  All travel technology providers, car rental companies, hotels, airlines, etc. are eager to have their stakes in the market. The spotlight is literally on India.  STIC Travel as a company with proven track record is perfectly placed to offer access to this market for those global players who are looking for genuine representation and sales and distribution tie ups. We may not be the biggest player, but we have a good reputation in the market. Other than GSA relationships, we also offer contracted wholesale relationships for foreign partners.  We have such relationships with Hong Kong Disneyland, Sri Lankan Holidays, etc. 
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