Founded by Maitreyee and Mahendra Vakharia, Pathfinders Holidays was concieved from the sheer need of providing highly personalised and refined tours for clients, especially during an era when the concept of group and coach tours ruled. A tete-a-tete with the couple reveals what keeps them going By Reema Lokesh
Founded by Maitreyee and Mahendra Vakharia, Pathfinders Holidays was concieved from the sheer need of providing highly personalised and refined tours for clients, especially during an era when the concept of group and coach tours ruled. A tete-a-tete with the couple reveals what keeps them going
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The journey of Pathfinders Holidays, headquartered in Ahmedabad, began in 1997. The name of the company was an inspiration for the Vakharias as they believed that whatever the situation or challenge, they will find a path and design a quality holiday for their customer. After working as tour directors for a substantial amount of time, especially on the European sector, Maitreyee and Mahendra Vakharia were pained to see how people would holiday on a group tour. They saw the entire discomfort rather closely – from the wake up call at 6 am, to the hop-on-hop off experience in each city, to long distance coach travel for 500-600 km at a stretch. This did not seem like a holiday to them.
Though there was undoubtedly a regular demand for group tours, they decided to go the FIT way almost 18 years ago. From then on itself, they promised to provide their clientele a highly personalised holiday offer with a team that is dedicated to meet the customer needs 24×7 especially on ground, with 100 per cent involvement from the founding members themselves. With expertise in both, the outbound and domestic space, the couple prefers to define the company as a catalyst, helping convert aspirations of clients into reality by using their knowledge and expertise of the destination, coupled with the support of network partners around the world. The couple and their team were guided by the four way test of a rotarian, before starting any business: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned? And this they feel makes them special.
The journey since the company’s inception has been interesting in more than many ways. What keeps them going are the small notes of gratitude and gestures of appreciation. “The sheer joy and pleasure of a client sending a two line email of appreciation or saying a thank you for recommending a particular hotel and room with a view to make their holiday memorable, makes our day,” says Maitreyee Vakharia. Elaborating on one of her experiences, she recalls, “We have made many special memories for our clients, but we would like to share our experience of one of our clients, Mihir Majumdar and his wife. Our company managed to organise 10 holiday trips for them and each holiday was to one international destination and for about 35 nights visiting only four towns/ cities. The only requirement of this client was that the town/place should be surrounded by nature, have a good library and away from a crowded touristic spot. Once while staying in Weggis (Switzerland) we organised a surprise birthday for the lady. Her son was visiting the destination for his official business trip, and he wanted to surprise his mother and wish her in person. We made this happen for him with a plan well crafted by our team. Our gift was her tears of joy and an overwhelming thank you note. What was touching was the fact that their personal diary (which Mihir Majumdar shared with us) and their travel memoirs had Mahendra and myself mentioned in it and how we made their holidays special with memories that did last their lifetime. Such incidents and clients make us believe that we are doing something right.”
The Gujarat market
Business has grown over the years and the nature and demand of the clientele has also refined with time. With globalisation came a new understanding in the travel space. The Gujarat market has a strong outbound focus as an inherent nature. Those living in the diaspora known as the global Gujarati are in favour of travel and tourism in general. Their business has witnessed a steady growth also due to references of satisfied clientele and the ‘word of mouth’ power does work for the company.
However, the company is also constantly working on product development as they feel the local market is extremely price sensitive and alert. He opines, “The market has a sound exposure to online deals and is also well travelled and informed. So if the agency is not updated with the correct sourcing, price and the knowledge of the product, it will be a failure.”
Meeting the business challenges of today
Mahendra Vakharia feels that the challenges are manifold in the business of travel and lists down, some of the biggest challenges he feels that needs attention.
Since there is no entry barrier to start a travel business, anybody and everybody can start one, whereas the fact remains that this business is highly technical/knowledge based and specialised. Time and again there are reports of fly by night operators who have duped customers of money and not delivered the services. Challenge is to educate the consumer to work with only reputed/ accredited agencies.
The online sphere is another challenge. There is no logic and parity in rates offered by the same seller (hotel, airline, resort ,etc) to its authorised distributors, retail rates and the rates offered on its own website to direct consumer, thereby undermining the strength of its own product/ price. Also there is no central agency to authenticate, verify and confirm if the content offered online is genuine and factually correct.
Many times reviews on various travel sites are more subjective than factual. The challenge for agencies like us is that clients expect our professional and knowledge based personalised service 24×7, but at the online price (which is without 24×7 backup and no human touch).
For those new in the business, complete product knowledge is a must and cannot be compromised upon. It is important to go through the grind. Understanding tourism also extends one’s knowledge of the geo-political situation of the world when recommending a destination for holiday. Due to the internet, the present day customer is well aware of the destination/product and sometimes don’t even need a holiday expert to help him with his holiday. In such a scenario, if the holiday expert agency staff is not updated with her/his knowledge of the product, it will be a complete disaster.
However, keeping all challenges in mind the team at Pathfinders Holidays has complete faith in their business. Their vision is to keep creating memorable and unique holiday experiences for their clients and strive to be the best in the business and expand into areas other than leisure holidays.