Open­ing a win­dow to the world, the STIC way

It all started with a stu­dent want­ing a ticket to fly to Japan

The Hindu Business Line - - FLIGHTPLAN - ASHWINI PHADNIS

Sub­hash Goyal, owner-founder of the 46-year old STIC Travel Group — one of the largest travel groups in In­dia rep­re­sent­ing about 20 of the world’s travel, avi­a­tion, tourism, cruise and ho­tel brands ex­clu­sively — en­tered the travel busi­ness by ac­ci­dent.

As a Delhi Univer­sity stu­dent leader, Goyal got an in­vi­ta­tion to visit Japan but he was short on cash. He was as­sured that if he man­aged to con­vince 15 peo­ple to travel with him, his ticket would be free.

Goyal man­aged to get the 15 peo­ple and at­tended the con­fer­ence some­time in the early 1970s.

The ex­pe­ri­ence made Goyal de­cide that his fu­ture was go­ing to be in the travel in­dus­try. He set up the Stu­dent Travel In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre or STIC in 1973.

Of course, the young Goyal did not re­alise then that there would be chal­lenges that he would have to face through­out his ca­reer.

The first came in 1975 when Emer­gency was de­clared and his of­fice in the Theatre Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Building in Delhi was razed to the ground by bull­doz­ers in the mid­dle of the night.

“We de­cided that we will sell tick­ets from an Am­bas­sador car which we had at that time from among the ru­ins of the building which was our of­fice,” re­calls Goyal, sit­ting in his new of­fice, a stone’s throw from where it all started.

STIC started by sell­ing dis­counted air tick­ets on a va­ri­ety of in­ter­na­tional air­lines, in­clud­ing Royal Nepal Air­lines Cor­po­ra­tion, Thai Air­ways In­ter­na­tional Air­lines and Cathay Pa­cific, and also helped stu­dents find cheap ac­com­mo­da­tion by pro­vid­ing a list of youth hos­tels and bud­get ho­tels across the world.

At that time In­dia wel­comed a num­ber of for­eign­ers, es­pe­cially stu­dents, who ar­rived by bus (the land route was open). “They would take spe­cial char­ter flights to Bangkok. We started giv­ing stu­dents dis­counted air tick­ets to Bangkok via Kath­mandu. They trav­elled Delhi-Varanasi-Kath­mandu on In­dian Air­lines and then boarded a Thai Air­ways flight in Kath­mandu. The flight stopped in Ran­goon be­fore reach­ing Bangkok,” Goyal re­calls. In an at­tempt to di­ver­sify, in 1976 STIC be­came a Gen­eral Sales Agent for Air Cey­lon, the first of the sev­eral air­lines it would rep­re­sent later.

“The ma­jor sell­ing point of Air Cey­lon was that it would con­nect to Sin­ga­pore and would tempt pas­sen­gers to stop off in the is­land state and en­joy its beaches, peo­ple and gems,” he says.

The next big break

The next big break came when STIC started sell­ing tick­ets for Con­ti­nen­tal Air­lines, a USbased car­rier. For ev­ery ticket sold on the US air­line, STIC got a com­mis­sion of $3 in for­eign ex­change.

From then on Goyal’s jour­ney had a smooth run for a while. In 2000, STIC was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting Vir­gin At­lantic Air­ways (VAA) to start flights from London to Delhi. The air­line started three times a week ser­vice on code share with Air In­dia. This news­pa­per was wit­ness to the man­ner in which Goyal was at the side of VAA’s Richard Bran­son as he waved a flag from the Bri­tish air­craft cock­pit dressed in tra­di­tional Pun­jabi at­tire.

Goyal was also be­side Bran­son as he rode an ele­phant for a press con­fer­ence and when he drove an au­torick­shaw in the cap­i­tal.

To­day, STIC rep­re­sents air­lines like SriLankan, United Air­lines and Ethiopian, in In­dia. Among the cruises that STIC rep­re­sents are Wind­star and Se­abourn.

Strad­dling tech­nol­ogy

How­ever, the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury brought in a num­ber of changes. Tech­nol­ogy meant that the way travel com­pa­nies did busi­ness evolved to a new level and the in­creased exposure changed cus­tomers’ fly­ing habits. Goyal ad­mits as much when he says that the GSA (Gen­eral Sales Agents) busi­ness has be­come tough com­pe­ti­tion.

“The GSA now is ef­fec­tively mar­ket­ing a prod­uct,” he says. In an at­tempt to stay rel­e­vant, Goyal who is helped by one of his two daugh­ters to run his busi­ness, has di­ver­si­fied into sell­ing cruises, car rentals and other prod­ucts.

But clearly the change is a chal­leng­ing one, as the 70-yearold Goyal and his wife found dur­ing a re­cent visit to Scot­land. They had flown in busi­ness class be­tween Delhi and London but for the short flight be­tween London and Scot­land they de­cided to fly low cost.

“We even­tu­ally paid for checked-in bags and food on board, which meant that the flight be­came ex­pen­sive. On the re­turn, we flew a full-ser­vice car­rier,” he laughs, hav­ing learnt yet another les­son in a travel jour­ney which has lasted close to five decades since he made his first over­seas trip to Japan. with on­line

Sub­hash Goyal

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