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Friday, February 23, 2007

Three men and The Wanderers

People who have close friends, who they don’t lose touch with on the long journey of life are truly blessed. But when friends team up to start a travel agency that specializes in offbeat holiday packages, then it’s going to be a fun-filled voyage, alright!

These three, Ashis K Das, Rajinder Singh Khalsa and Abhik Dutta are all directors of their travel agency, The Wanderers and they explain what made them want to start a travel agency, when there were established players like Thomas Cook and SOTC in the market.

All three confess to feeling bored with their existence at some point and decided to throw up whatever they were doing and go for their dream job. So, Abhik Dutta, a commerce graduate from Calcutta City College chucked up his job with Yellow Pages. Rajinder Singh Khalsa is a science graduate who had his own computers bsuiness but travelling was a passion with him.

Dutta told CNBC-TV18, "In my family, no one is a businessman. All of them are very highly educated and they are all doing great jobs everywhere. But the moment they heard that I was chucking up a job, they were all very skeptical initially. My parents were worried. But beyond a point, they said fine, if you want to do something, go ahead."

His family’s worry seemed justified because when they put out an ad for The Wanderers, there was no response! Rajinder Singh Khalsa recalls, "I think we placed a couple of ads and nothing really happened.. I think the first thing that took-off was a promo with Crossword. I was browsing in Crossword and I don't know how the idea came, that we can do something with them."

"So I spoke to Sriram and he immediately agreed. In fact, he went out of the way. He sent mailers to their database that we were offering some lobby discounted tours to their customers, and there was some in-house promo."

From then on, The Wanderers have not looked back. It is still as a much of a passion as it used to be, but with success comes responsibilities – for the people they are sending out on the tours. So there has never been a dull day and everything has been a learning experience.

To run the business well, responsibilities have been divided among the three. Dutta explains, "What we do is, Ashis takes care of the entire operations, finance, accounts etc and of course, helps a lot with the sales as well. Rajinder is taking care of the entire sales effort and what I do is, apart from the sales, I do a bit of marketing. I try to let them do all the work, so I can have all the fun!"

The Wanderers’ USP is that they believe that they are meant for the discerning traveler. They encourage their clients to discover a land and its people. With a loyal clientele that they have built over eight years, they customize each plan to their client's needs and usually wouldn't recommend any place that they haven't checked out themselves.

Dutta elaborates, "I think we are very different from most of the other operators. First, is the passion all of us share, not only the three of us but by every person in the organization. We sit with clients, we talk about the entire programme and we are available throughout."

"Most of our clients have been with us for the past 7-8 years and they come to us because they can call us at 10 in the night and talk to us because that's the time when they are free. They probably come to us again and again for the personal touch. We are passionate about travel as well, so they can kind of identify with us."

But they are one more travel operator in a sea of similar players. Apart from SOTC and Thomas Cook, there are others like Kuoni and Raj Travels, so how have they stayed afloat? Are they only putting together travel packages for the corporate sector?

Das says, "No, it's all a part of it. But first, all profits come from individual travellers and it's all for exotic destinations and that’s where we stand apart." But, now they are looking to expand their operations and will diversify into corporate travel, where team-building progammes and conferences will also provide lucrative business. Also, in the pipeline are incentives that will be offered to corporates.

With all of them and their wives being so fond of travelling and discovering new places, they also have some favourite destinations. Das loves Sikkim while Dutta is fond of the towering Himalayas. Khalsa finds New Zealand perfect. He calls it the "Himalayas with better infrastructure."

But apart from travelling, all of them have other interests as well. Dutta is an avid birdwatcher, even though he hasn't been able to identify any bird other than the lapwing. Khalsa is the more serious of the three, who does yoga and meditation to keep calm, while Das learnt fishing from his pal, Abhik and has now overtaken his teacher. He can be spotted at a lakeside on a day off, reeling his priceless catches in.

For more on The Wanderers travel packages:

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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