Charting The Perfect Holiday With Yaathrika!

Geetika Sudip, Joint MD of Kerala Travels talks about the company’s journey thus far!

It’s been six decades since the company embarked on its voyage of crafting the perfect holiday for its guests. It has stood the test of time and today, the brand has become synonymous to trust, reliability and experiential holidays. With its third generation taking on the reigns, Kerala Travels has only become stronger, evolving with the times. Ritz is in conversation with Geetika Sudip, the Joint Managing Director of Kerala Travels Interserve Ltd, who talks about the brand’s journey thus far, Yaathrika, its outbound division and the company’s vision ahead.     

Interview: Riya Sonny Datson

How did the journey of Kerala Travels begin and how are you a part of this journey?

It began almost six decades ago when my grandfather, PGC Pillai, was working in Mumbai for Scandinavian Airlines. Colonel G V Raja of the royal family, who was a passionate sportsman and travel enthusiast, happened to meet my grandfather and he suggested that they start a reliable travel company to assist his friends and guests who wanted to travel to Kerala. My grandmother was more than delighted at the prospect of returning to her hometown and it didn’t take very long for her to convince her husband. Thus was born Kerala travels, a travel company headed by a group of like-minded people like my grandfather, Colonel GV Raja, Hassan Marikar and other partners. Their first office was set up at the famous Mascot hotel in Trivandrum and from then on, there has been no looking back. My father joined KT in the late 70s. Today, the Chairperson of the company is Princess Gowri Parvathy Bhai, who is the daughter of late Colonel G V Raja. Over the years, the reigns of the company have been handed down through generations and KT is one of the few companies that has the reputation of catering to clients over three generations. I worked as an intern with the company during one of my breaks before I joined for my post-graduation. It helped me to get hands on training in the tourism sector. After I completed MBA, I got back on the rolls and presently, I am the Joint Managing Director.

What makes Kerala Travels stand apart from its competitors?

The most important point would be our credibility – the fact that we have been around for 60 years is very reassuring for our clients. Whenever we try to venture into new markets, our track record speaks for itself. We have loyal clients who have travelled with us over generations and so our client relationship is very strong. We believe that travel is a personal experience. Our focus is to provide customised service for we believe that it is the people that make a destination, a holiday. Another important factor that sets us apart would be the fact that we offer niche tours. One of our tag lines say ‘Step on every continent, live every experience’. If a client wants to have a personalised tour or travel with a group or go shopping to Sri Lanka or go on a Singapore cruise or even visit Antarctica, we have the whole spread planned!

Tell us about Yaathrika…

Yaathrika is a relatively younger brand that was coined to spearhead the outbound travel division of Kerala Travels. While we are an established brand in South Kerala, while venturing to new areas or expanding our online presence, we didn’t want to limit ourselves because of the name ‘Kerala’. We felt the need to come up with a brand that had a wider appeal. So, that’s how we launched ‘Yaathrika’, a younger brand of the parent company.

What are the main challenges faced by the company today?

Online booking is definitely our no.1 competitor. While ticketing and travel documentation have been our primary source of business and continues to be our main source of revenue, we are realigning our approach. In terms of long term vision, our main focus would be on experiential tours. There needs to be value addition to a tour to make it an ‘experience’. To give you an example, a couple of years back, we came up with an idea called the Thekkady Tiger Trail, where in, we roped in rehabilitated poachers to be trained as travel guides. As they knew every inch of the forest, it was a new form of livelihood for them and the tourists got an authentic and exciting experience of the wild. This concept won the Kerala state, the Travel & Tourism award that year and it still continues to be very popular. We have spearheaded various such initiatives that have won us the state and National awards.  So we are focussing not just on travel related documentation but on creating an experience for our guests based on our history, network and rich experience.

Being one of the youngest directors on the board, was it a challenge to introduce new ideas and concepts?    

Well, the people I am working with now are the people who I have known through most of my life. To say the least, I report to my parents now, which is not easy always. We end up discussing work even at home and it is difficult to draw the line. Over the years, a lot of things have changed in the travel industry and even the travellers. The legacy becomes a bit of a stumbling block at times when we need to change with the times. I have tried to retain all the values of the company, while adapting to the current market. It was not easy foraying into Digital marketing or changing company policies but yes, we are moving with the times!

What inspires you?

After completing my degree in journalism, I worked in Mumbai before joining KT. I met a lot of women who were focussed on their careers and had decided not to get married or have kids. I have a lot of respect for them. But in Kerala, while there are working women, the balancing act is not easy at all and they are expected to manage work and home with ease. It is inspiring to see women balancing it all, fighting their battles bravely, starting with my grand mom who was a headmistress and had four children of her own to my mom. My strong faith in Jesus and my spiritual life also keeps me going and helps me to fight my battles.

How do you strike work-life balance?

It is definitely a challenge. Since I am my own boss, people perceive that I can take a day off whenever I want but it really doesn’t work that way! In fact, I don’t switch off my phone even on my day off as I can’t transfer responsibility. There are times when I feel there are more cons than pros! But it all works well finally.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy writing and used to write regularly for The Hindu but now I rarely get the time. My husband is into media, advertising and films and together, we made a documentary titled ‘Wat(ev)er’ on the topic of water scarcity which was showcased at many film festivals. Sudip and I also co-scripted Black Forest which won the National Award for Best Film about Environmental Preservation. I enjoy working on such projects whenever I get the time.
What are the future plans of KT?

We just opened our office in Kannur recently. We feel the new airport will be a game changer and see a lot of growth opportunities there. We are also heading for a Digital revamp. Since we are celebrating our diamond jubilee in 2019, there are expansion plans in the pipeline to tie up with partners abroad as well.