How To Become a Desirable Travel Company : Keralavoyages
The investigator, Keralavoyages India Pvt Ltd was established in year 2000 as a tourist transport company and Accredited by Ministry Of Tourism, Govt Of India and Department of Tourism, Govt Of Kerala. As a transport supplier to major Inbound Tour Operators and Corporates, Keralavoyages had a simple business model to deliver services requested by their customers. In 2005, they gradually started packaging itineraries for domestic travellers, and from 2007, began attending international trade fairs to find foreign tour operators who were interested in South Indian products.
As a ground handling transport supplier, the investigator faced many challenges especially in the consistency and quality of service delivery due to the lack of proper communications between different levels of operations. Gradually the company developed connections with a few remarkable foreign tour operator partners, mainly in Europe, which helped them to stop the ground handling services to the domestic Indian market in 2010. Management was very keen on giving the best personal service to travellers, and this now became the company priority as well as building transparent communication systems throughout all operations. With the migration to only handling western travellers from their tour operator partners, Keralavoyages also had to follow strict financial discipline. This period of change was driven by a passion for delivering the best local experiences so that became the reason for the company to really focus on services in South India.
Price versus Expertise
As international travel was booming, Keralavoyages maintained a strict policy of reasonable profits in all their business deals, but this resulted in serious issues as many Indian tour operators started competing on price. As competition increased from 2015, the investigator could not acquire many new international tour operator partners but still one or two were added annually. The company management began to realise that new partners came because they were looking for special expertise service in South India. So, the investigator didn’t miss any opportunity to learn from experiences and they tried to improvise their products accordingly.
By 2018, the investigator had a clear migration towards an experience tour company which offered local experiences as a part of their programs. However, many of their existing tour partners were still offering ‘normal classical programs’ and business expansion not happening fast enough. While visiting travel trade fairs in Europe, the management became aware of the growing demand for sustainable tourism products. Though the company had many tours compiling local experiences and other stuffs related to sustainable tourism, they still could not pitch to that focused market. In 2020 March, one Travelife Partner Sustainable Tour Operator from Switzerland came into to contact with Keralavoyages in connection with a meeting at ITB 2020. Unfortunately, ITB got cancelled due to the Covid Pandemic, but they both continued the discussions for a future association.
Sustainability is a Pre-Condition
The Swiss company insisted on a partnership pre-condition – that Keralavoyages should become an acknowledged sustainable tourism tour operator. Their new partner introduced the investigator to Travelife, a GSTC accredited Certification body for Tour Operators. As everything was closed and disturbed by the Covid pandemic, they found this the best opportunity to complete the Certification process. The management requested all their team to make an effort towards fulfilling the Travelife criteria for becoming a Travelife Partner. The challenge was taken happily by everyone and the Managing Director, Mr George Scaria, took the lead. All the team members finished the master training module in a week, then followed by all the other training modules too. Parallelly, they started completing the baseline assessment by gathering all required documents to support every criteria.
There were more than 200 criteria to fulfil but they found it so easy as they could realise that the company was already following many sustainable practices. In three months, Keralavoyages became a Travelife Partner but they wanted a Certified status. Over the next four months the company completed all the Travelife Certified criteria becoming the first fully Certified Tour Operator in India in October 2020. While sharing his experiences of the entire process, Mr Scaria recollects that there was not a single bottleneck to complete the process.
Learning and Growth Combine
Mr Scaria believes that the achievement of being a Certified Sustainable Tour operator was possible due to the extensive training modules provided by Travelife. He himself was so motivated by the learning process that he took a step ahead to continue to upscale his knowledge on Sustainability. By April 2022, he had successfully passed a course on Becoming A Sustainable Business Change Agent from University Of Colorado, USA. He also completed the GSTC course on Sustainability and became a GSTC Certified Sustainable Tourism Professional. For Keralavoyages, the sustainable journey has become one of learning to identify problems and solutions together.
The Swiss tour operator who motivated the investigator towards sustainability, started working with the company and at present, three of their sustainable itineraries are showcased in their brochure. In 2021, the investigator was contacted by a Canadian experience tour operator who had met Mr Scaria in a trade fair before Covid but things stalled as they had sustainability requirements. However, now Keralavoyages satisfied all their criteria and two of their cycling and trekking programs are already showcased in their brochure.
Also in 2021, a Travelife Certified Wildlife Tour Operator from Netherlands was looking for a sustainable operator to introduce some new products in South India. They found Keralavoyages from Travelife website and after a few discussions the product manager visited to experience the Western Ghats Wildlife itinerary designed by the investigator. The product manager was so impressed that they immediately launched the product and have already made bookings. During the product manager visit, Mr Scaria noticed that he always had clear questions at hotels on their sustainability initiatives like support to the local community, human resources management, management of resources like water and electricity, waste management, alternative energy. It was then that Mr Scaria realised that his passion for improving his company was actually part of a much larger change in the global tourism industry and the movement towards sustainability.
Again in 2021 and 2022, Keralavoyages attracted three more new tour operator partners from Europe just because of the Sustainability acknowledgement of Travelife Certification. This achievement is made without doing a single marketing visit. Mr Scaria is overjoyed to attract new partners without making expensive marketing visits abroad. He remembers one example of a WhatsApp message from an Australian Operator on 12 May 2022 requesting an itinerary in South India. After replying offering the willingness to assist them, Keralavoyages he gently asked how they got his contact and WhatsApp number because the investigator had no market base in Australia. The answer was so quick and clear, they were searching on the internet for a sustainable tour operator in South India and a social media post about the Travelife Certification had his name and number. Later when they found Keralavoyages website with detailed sustainability content, they had no reason to contact someone else.
Visitor Behaviour Management
According Mr Scaria, one of the greatest achievements from his learning on Sustainability in Tourism from various platforms, Visitor Behaviour Management was something unique. This is an area most of us become a bit hesitant as we don’t want to disappoint our clients. Mr Scaria recollects a situation he could manage just because of his training on visitor behaviour management. In 2022 Keralavoyages had a request from a reputed Culinary College for European pastry in Mumbai for organising a study tour for 45 students in Kerala to learn about Cocoa farming and chocolate making. Mr Scaria and his Naturalist colleague were supposed to be the Tour leaders. As Keralavoyages tried to bring down the usage of single use plastic, they have sent some behavioural guidelines to the institute for the students to follow. Priority was on avoiding bottled water during travel strictly. Instead water cans with pumps were fitted in the coach and the students were asked to bring their own bottles. There was an initial inhibition which would have been a threat to the company if the sustainability impact was not mentioned in the communication. The tour went well and Keralavoyages team received one of the best testimonials from the group after the tour. Sustainability, if communicated well, will work well too.
The biggest surprise came to Keralavoyages in June 2022, when one of their major tour operator partner from Germany with an advice for creating a Sustainable itinerary to be promoted by them in their brochure. Normally this Agency was doing only classical tours until now. Keralavoyages made a good experience program involving many local community experiences as a part of their Responsible Tourism project. The program got approved and even the partner took an extra step on asking the investigator to advise them the CO2 emissions towards the ground arrangements as they wanted to include a compensation to make the program a completely green itinerary. Thanks to the learning through Travelife and other additional courses on sustainability Keralavoyages could assist the partner immediately and the program will be promoted from September 2022.The investigator is now confident that they will have a better sustainable business future in tourism.
The investigator estimates at least 25% of their upcoming turn over for 2022-23 will be from new partners they got just because of the Tavelife Certification as many global tour operators are becoming a part of such GSTC accredited third party audited certifications. They also think that regional/local accreditations may not help to attract a global tour operator community as any system must have international recognition.
Going Beyond Tourism
Keralavoyages think they were really lucky to begin the Travelife Certification process in the very beginning of the pandemic. The entire team could be kept motivated throughout the pandemic and the company had no second thought on sustaining all members. The sustainability education availed by Travelife made them feel that human resources are to be treated as a priority and they are happy on their decision as now when the tourism restarts, the company has no worries on managing the queries because the team is same as pre pandemic. Also, the team was really enlightened by the training modules and each one of them are contributing great sustainability tips in their operations. For example, a strict switch-off policy which brought down the power usage at office and even at homes, completely stopped issuing paper vouchers and itineraries and started issuing such documents digitally.
Another great inspiration came from the team resulted in the beginning of Nature To Homes, an Eco-Community store in Cochin. The idea of such a store came from Keralavoyages team members as they had a lot of free time during the Covid time. The Company fine tuned the idea and in October 2021, they opened their first physical store in Cochin. This is a unique store where they promote natural and healthy products from local social entrepreneurs and small farmers. They give a special focus to women entrepreneurs who lost their jobs in tourism during the pandemic. Nature To Homes helps many small entrepreneurs to brand and showcase their products to a larger audience as well as to Keralavoyages clients! They have a fully-fledged E-Commerce platform to supply unique products across India. There are many such inspiring results come up daily all because of the sustainability education.
Keralavoyages is now getting ready to renew their Travelife Certification and look forward to building a stronger and more sustainable business in the future. Mr Scaria has confidence and happiness in his voice when he talks about how Travelife guided his company to become future ready!