Naveen Kundu confident of domestic appetite; first priority is to open up the travel sector, prefers industry to lead the recovery

Amid the doom and gloom comes heartening news for the industry. EbixCash Travels has inked a significant deal to provide travel (charter), on-ground and forex services to a majority of the IPL franchises. The agreement is the brainchild of Naveen Kundu, MD, Tours & Travels, EbixCash, and is expected to conservatively add close to US$3-5 million to the company’s kitty. We recently spoke to him to understand what went behind the making of the deal, besides seeking his views on how the tourism sector was expected to fare in the near-term. Here are some edited excerpts from the telephonic conversation.

Driving the deal

Mr Kundu professed his “love” for sports tourism, while he self-admittedly wore several hats during his career in the business of tourism. He shared that, the last year, he was distributing the ICC Cricket World Cup in India and the T20 Cricket World Cup. “But I was certain that the ICC World Cup was not going to happen in 2020, with the onset of the coronavirus,” he said, giving us a prelude to how he inked the prestigious deal amid the slowdown. 

He believed that the IPL would go-ahead, irrespective of the venue. Sensing an opportunity, he immediately swung into action, knowing that the teams were going to need significant logistical support, he shared. He contacted the CEOs of most franchises, and offered detailed digital presentations, chalking out the contours of the proposal. He said that the company managed to ink deals with four teams, for their entire boarding and lodging arrangements. “We are offering charter service to the Kings Ⅺ Punjab, Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings. We have made the entire travel arrangements for Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Kings Ⅺ Punjab, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals,” he informed. He also shared that the company was arranging some other local charter arrangements. “We are doing several things with the IPL teams, and also handling the on-ground arrangements for them,” he said. 

Photos of his resort in Jim Corbett National Park.

The company was also sponsoring teams. “We are sponsoring the front chest of the Kings Ⅺ Punjab’s jersey and the back of the jersey for the Delhi Capitals. We are the exclusive distributing partners for MoneyGram India – it is a partnership agreement. We are also doing sponsorship deals with the KKR on the same. But these have no bearing on the travel deal. The idea of the travel deal was purely conceived by me,” he detailed. 

The company presented details on the insurance and foreign exchange aspects, he said, adding that while everyone else was waiting for travel to revive, “I said, I will not wait for it to revive but revive it.” Bills for the services rendered were going to be presented after the IPL, but the company was already envisaging a total revenue of about US$3-5 million, shared Kundu. 

Setting the example with his resort at Jim Corbett National Park

Everything had to revive; a complete unlocking was already underway the world over, he said. His resort in the Jim Corbett National Park was an example of how the consumer demand was slowly trudging back to normal. He was keen on creating an IPL Park in the resort’s green spaces, and the management was getting multiple enquires from discerning consumers on the timelines in which it was going to be functional. 

Unlock to revive tourism and the economy

Kundu vehemently advocated creating a standard operating protocol for travel and tourism across India, by the GoI, which seemed missing. He explained by pointing out how various state governments had acted in starkly different ways – while some had offered complete easing of lockdown, others were favouring a far more conservative approach on the subject. “Goa has completely unlocked; there is no need for any tests or government-issued travelling passes. Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have followed suit. Unfortunately, Uttarakhand has not done the same – people must get tested before entering the territory, he said (the state has since relaxed some of the requirements).

He believed that tourism-critical states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Kerala needed to open up fully for tourism to revive. Such an action was going to trigger travel as substantial fatigue had set in among people, forced to work from their homes, owing to the corona-induced infection, asserted Kundu.  

He underlined that the revival of the Indian economy and tourism were intrinsically linked. He insisted his first priority was not in government’s intervention in the form of economic recovery packages or doles, and preferred the route towards lifting of restrictions for the sector to find its way out of the chaos.

“I know we are registering more cases of coronavirus but that is also because we are testing much more. The fatality rate has come down and recovery rates have improved. Let there be business as usual. Let us not talk about economic packages and stimulus. It has to be simultaneous process wherein you have to test more and unlock more,” he suggested. The country’s GST would “soar up” with travel and tourism happening again, he said. Mr Kundu noted that tourism was a considerably inclusive mechanism, capable of boosting any nation’s coffers. 

He believed that such measures could augment the government’s GST earnings, as all stakeholders in the ecosystem were going to earn valuable taxes. “You don’t have to reduce the GST rates. Simply remove the restrictions and let travel happen,” he said. 

What could the industry do more

“I am not part of any industry association and don’t really know what they are doing,” he said when asked about whether appropriate steps were being taken to reach out to the government and appraise them of the industry’s concerns. He did concede that stakeholders “were trying.” 

He had a word of advice for the policymakers. He suggested the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Tourism, to reach out to every state chief minister with a “letter of request” to open up their states. He said that it was a mutually beneficial proposition as states could earn more revenue and GST from such a move, reducing the burden on the Centre. He referred to the MoCA minister’s assertion of air passenger count reaching the pre-COVID levels by Diwali, noting that such a benchmark could only be achieved if we acted fast, without wasting any more time.

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