Straight Talk with Ankush Nijhawan, Co-founder, TBO Group & MD, Nijhawan Group

A focused interview on Reemarkabl – for stories of Sense and not Sensationalism…

1) Transparency and ethics, is the key and this is what the Nijhawan Group demonstrated during the last 14 months.

2) We are looking at some acquisitions in the international markets, primarily looking at the bed banks.

3) Alliances will happen, collaborations will happen. Egos put aside, people need to get together, to synergise together to further win this battle. 

4) By 2022 every hotelier, every tourism board will look into India as one of the top 3 markets.

5) Watch your margins, own your customers and have collaborations with people you believe in. 

What’s your remarkable journey?

Thanks, Reema for your time and as always, I love talking to you because I find you a very very experienced and a very logical journalist in our industry and thank you very much. So, I think, what is remarkable for us is from where we have been growing and the most important pillars for our growth has been the ethics, what we bring to the industry, to all our partners and stakeholders and I am very proud to say, 99 percent will say the same feelings I have. I think service levels, your sales can go up and down, but your services should never suffer. I think that’s something we totally believe in. Third is obviously the tech, which has happened for the last 15 years, keeps evolving and we will continue to innovate to make sure we are above the curve. Fourth is humility, which starts from me and my team. The relationship that we have built over the years, with our partners, whether it’s the airlines, whether it’s the travel partners, tourism boards etc. it’s phenomenal and I think, that is something today we are reaping benefits out of. Transparency and ethics, is the most that we demonstrated in the last 14 months when Covid happened.  We held hands with everybody, including our employees and our travel partners. We made sure everyone is comfortable during the toughest time probably one has ever faced in the industry, be it the refunds, be it the cancellations etc. I think that 14 months is something which is behind us and I am sure going forward and I can already see, numbers are Reema, bouncing back to almost 70 percent of per Covid levels, especially for a company like ours, at a very high pace. This is the journey.

The way forward – Acquisitions and more…

Going forward, exciting times and I can tell you, we are looking at some acquisitions in the international markets, primarily looking at the bed banks, as that’s something we further want to consolidate our strengths. So we are looking at a company in Europe, we are looking at a company in the Middle East, which I think will bring a lot of mass for us, to further negotiate supply, which will further aid our travel partners. Second, we did two acquisitions this year, we did Gemini, which used to be the number two player and we also bought Island Hopper in 2019. Very proud to say that we became 4 times the size when we bought them. Now, with Gemini, further coming to us, it is a very unique thing that the number one player from Maldives, bought the number two. We control around 38 percent of the market today and I am sure, going forward it will only get better and bigger for us and further give great pricing to our partners not only for Maldives but also for Seychelles, Bali, Mauritius, which I think should be opening around 1st of October (2021) for the double vaccinated Indian passenger.

 Future travel temperaments and trends

One change that I am seeing is, sense is prevailing in the industry. I think people realised during Covid that the cash flows, the incomes is something, which is extremely important. There is something that I strongly believe that there will be a lot of margin improvement. There will be people who will believe in quality serving with the right margin. Alliances will happen, collaborations will happen. Egos put aside, people need to get together, to synergise together, to further win this battle. Third, which is the most important learning for me personally as I think for the market as well, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Since the last one year, we opened our marine business, serving merchant navy, seafarers, which never stopped during Covid.

Cargo, which is very different from what we do, which is very exciting. I realised that cargo, during world war, 9/11, SARS, never ever stopped. India’s exports are only growing. If you noticed, in July, India had the highest exports ever in history on the export side. What does that mean? There will be exports both in ocean and air. We are a very unique company today that is filling the belly of both the aircraft as well as the top. So the supply is common and the demand is different. We will further educate our partners to sell marine, we will request them to sell cargo, so that they make more revenue for themselves, and G-D for bid if something like Covid happens again, at least you are not stuck with one business. It will help you to survive the next 18 months, to ensure that you keep running your business, holding your staff and ensuring the money, which you make or you will make, will make you survive the pandemic and I really wish and pray this does not happen at least in my lifetime.

Future plans in the world of hospitality. 

So the Nijhawan group will continue to work on the representation/GSA model for the hotels. A lot of things were at pause for the 14 months. I think as the market opens up, by 2022 every hotelier, every tourism board will look into India as one of the top 3 markets. That’s something India will enjoy the most. India will become a very important market going forward for all these hotels and tourism boards. Obviously we will dipstick and I sure we will get our right share our rightful share and I sure other colleagues will also benefit out of it.

Your sound words for the SME players?

Watch your margins, own your customers and have collaborations with people you believe in. Work with partners who have stood by you during Covid in the toughest times. They have also burnt the midnight oil to ensure you are happy and satisfied. A margin here and there doesn’t matter. Trust and transparency you witnessed during the 15 months should work both ways as a supply and demand. That is something, which is my learning over the last 15 months.

 It’s a proud moment for me to open our third office in Mumbai. Nariman Point will continue to operate for the airline business. Anything which is a non-air and representation business will operate out of Andheri, Mumbai.

About author
a senior journalist, clarity coach, classical dancer, panel moderator and an eternal optimist.
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