- Varsha Bhargavi, a young entrepreneur from Hyderabad, scaled new heights in her travel and tourism venture
- With a start-up investment of Rs 25,000 the firm currently has a turnover of `1 crore
What made you to choose the beaten track as your family members are into engineering?
My father was a scientist in National Remote Sensing Agency and my brother is a mechanical engineer. I enrolled into polytechnic to study computer engineering in Medak. But those three years away from home gave me enough time to reconsider my career options. When HCL offered me an internship, I requested them if I could work in their market research department. However, they referred me to their associate. I was barely 18 years old then. I was happy to take it up though it involved lot of travelling around twin cities collecting data. The job honed my communication skills. My reports were much appreciated and used by sales and marketing team. That was the first lesson I learnt about the importance of market research for any business.
How did you land up in travel and tourism sector?
I took up a sales job in Dubai where I worked for an e-commerce firm. I was put on a product team where we designed a B2B travel reservation system. The system had several complex modules. I did the end user documentation and accompanied the sales team to do product demonstrations. Eventually I was made the marketing manager and presented the system to travel trade in Europe and Asia. Later, a business house bought the firm and I was offered a job in London. But I had the urge to start something on my own. So I headed back to India.
How did you start your venture in Hyderabad?
I did market research on travel and tourism sector in Hyderabad. I found that most agents were busy with the flight tickets and did not have non-air products. I found my entry. I had little money with me to take up a fancy retail office to start my business in 2003. All I had was a computer, a telephone line and an internet connection to start. My total investment was Rs 25,000 to start Concept Voyages. I travelled by bus and auto to meet agents and sold them the packages. Things worked well when I started retail operations weaning out B2B business and focussed on my direct clients. I had a choice to suggest new destinations and started using my website and social media to promote sales.
What is your company's USP?
I started with leisure travel products and stayed put with it. I did not bother getting into ticketing business. I knew the technology used behind airline reservations and my experience in Dubai, it was only a matter of time for airlines to go completely online for sales. And my perception was right. With low-cost airlines foraying all over the world and international airlines gunning for zero commissions, I knew selling holiday packages is more lucrative.
How tourist’s itinerary planned?
Preparing a holiday package is complex and varies from destination to destination. It involves presence of mind in drafting an itinerary keeping the time frame, client’s preferences, places to be covered, budget, duration, climatic conditions distances etc. Apart from that a tour operator should also have a thorough knowledge of political conditions which influence the decisions of the travellers. Recently, we stopped all our confirmations for Hong Kong owing to the democratic protests.
How you handle crisis while customers are on vacation?
Like in any business, there are challengers and crises. But thankfully we could address them in time and gained the confidence and trust of our clients. The biggest challenge was when some of our clients were in Singapore and Thailand in December 2004. Luckily, they were not in the directly affected areas where the tsunami struck. We made calls at late hours to ensure that they are safe and rerouted their trips so that they could go home safely. In 2006, a honeymooner had a fracture while skiing in Himachal, we arranged for a doctor and a trip to the local hospital and brought the couple back home.
What are your other interests apart from travel?
Being an entrepreneur gives me enough time to pursue my passion in arts. I am student of Andhra Natyam, an ancient temple dance tradition followed by Devadasis in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. I am writing a book on the temple dance traditions of our state which will be ready for publishing next year.