By Raadia Mukadam
There are numerous women working in the travel and tourism industry in India, but sadly, there are very few at the helm of the pyramid. However, with the growing trend of ‘women only tours’, we have witnessed a growing number of female leaders in travel as well. In a heart-to-heart talk with three dynamic, ambitious and inspiring women entrepreneurs in Bangalore, Ranjini Nambiar, CEO, Footloose Yatra, Loveleen Multani Arun, Founder Director, Panache World, and Mildred Noronha-Smith, proprietor, All About Travel, Tourism India finds out what drives these amazing women and their companies.
Being a woman entrepreneur in Bangalore’s travel trade, what are the challenges you faced getting established and are there any advantages you enjoy over your male counterparts?
RanjiniNambiar: Tourism is a diverse industry that is open to new innovations and practices to cater to the versatile demands of tourists from both the domestic and international markets. Women play a very important role, especially in the hospitality and tourism industry. Right from early years of this industry we have seen larger numbers of women employees; by the millennium we had seen them actively involving in business and entrepreneurship. Challenges are stepping stones to success. Fortunately, we launched at the time when the IT Industry was at its peak & MICE & Customized Vacation being our focus, we managed to mark our stamp on the market. On the bright side, being a women-centric organisation, clients are generally not overtly pushy or demanding when it comes to planning or negotiating their holiday itinerary.
LoveleenMultaniArun: I started my company about 18 years ago and Bangalore has been a wonderful place to set up a company and work in. Colleagues, suppliers, employees, clients and the whole eco-system have been very supportive and it has been a great journey. The challenges that I faced initially are common to any travel company that wants to establish itself and did not particularly have anything to do with me being a woman. It is not always a man’s world and success is not gender-specific. Similarly, you only have an advantage over any other colleagues if you are a hard-worker and a diligent professional. The advantage I had, in particular, was that I had a very encouraging atmosphere at home. My husband, my mother-in-law and later my daughter were always proud of my work and my success.
Mildred Noronha-Smith: Entrepreneurship is a challenge for anyone. My years of being in the travel trade before I decided to venture out on my own helped me substantially. In fact, being a woman aided in the start-up process as I was able to get permissions and tie-ups done almost immediately and dive into the thick of business from the word ‘Go’. Often, being a woman in the business of tourism is an asset, as you are able to stand out among the crowd.
Has the increasing number of women-only tours in India been responsible for more women entrepreneurs entering the tourism sector?
Ranjini Nambiar: The ‘Women only Tours’ trend started around the beginning of the millennium when the IT Industry boom gave way to several independent thinking solo travelers. With the increasing amount of disposable time and income, travel now is not a status symbol, but a necessity. Women intrinsically adapt at multi-tasking and were quick to identify a great career option in the tourism industry, where one has the flexibility of work timings, high income and the added benefit of luxury travel.
Loveleen Multani Arun: Yes, I agree that women-only tours in India augmented women entrepreneurs in the trade as women professionals understand why women want to travel in closed groups and what they are seeking out of their adventures. This helps them design better and apter itineraries for women. A few companies have been pioneers in this field and they have opened the avenues for many women to travel and seek new frontiers. They should be given their due respect. However, I hear of many bloggers or avid travellers turning entrepreneurs in this field. This is both good and bad. It is great if the person in question has done her diligent homework and handles the clients professionally. A badly managed trip can give the whole industry a bad name as anyone can turn into a “travel organizer” these days.
Mildred Noronha-Smith: Yes, with the advent of women solo travel and group travel tours, a lot more women have entered this segment of the travel trade. Women are inclined to support women; it results in a chain of benefits. Women love to travel in all-women groups and are comfortable with a woman curating such a trip. Truth is a woman can understand the typical woman’s psychology and needs and address them more effectively.
In a highly competitive environment, how have you carved a niche for yourself and your company?
Ranjini Nambiar: The opportunities for entrepreneurship in the tourism industry are unlimited. Clients change their travel patterns frequently in a highly competitive market, Online travel portals start a price war and various types of tourist demands open the arena of business opportunities. Being a lady with a creative mind has always been that dimension of my persona that encourages me to undertake or practice something new. With the arrival of the millennial generation, our SME marketing has been at the forefront, ensuring that we are at the ‘right place at the right time’.
Loveleen Multani Arun: As a sustained effort, Panache World has always tried to stay just a little bit ahead of the curve. We have not been afraid of learning, unlearning and quickly re-inventing ourselves when the market conditions have demanded it. We changed from domestic to outbound to outbound luxury holidays very early on. We also educated ourselves on the global trends sooner than the others and therefore were delivering ‘experiences’ while travelling as long as five years back. We are proud to say that 95% of our clients are repeats or references and that itself is a very enviable niche we are in.
Mildred Noronha-Smith: Networking is the key to good accounts, but in this highly competitive environment, the only way to distinguish your company from competition is to give personal attention to every case. This, of course, takes a lot more time but ultimately brings great results with repeat clientele and referral business.
Being a woman, how do you manage to strike a work-life balance?
Ranjini Nambiar: Having a support system is important for a woman entrepreneur. Hence, taking short family holidays and setting a time frame regarding the work hours will create a balance between the two. Being best at multi-tasking and an avid foodie, who loves to cook, made my daily chores at home simpler. Allotting time for my hobbies and passion, kept my work pressure under check. I have always believed in my favorite quote by Edmund Lee, ‘Surround yourself with the dreamers, doers, believers, and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself. This has stood me in good stead.”
Loveleen Multani Arun: As clichéd as it may sound, my work is my life and my life is my work. I completely enjoy designing itineraries for my clients. So much that sometimes I do that for relaxation on Sundays. I travel for work and I enjoy it. I go on family holidays and that is also work in a way. I don’t stress about work in a way where I need to demarcate leisure and work time. At Panache World, we have always chosen quality work over quantity of work. That leaves me with a lot of creative bandwidth and I am a happier person this way. I am able to give quality attention to my family, friends and loved ones.
Mildred Noronha-Smith: Women are great at multi-tasking; we can do 10 things at one time. In this business, you have to keep up with various time zones, but taking work home is more of an exception than a rule. Also, technology has made it easier to juggle work and home.
Tourism India, India’s Travel & Tourism Magazine.