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In India, we were the first company to offer branded domestic holidays: Peter Kerkar

As Cox & Kings, the world's oldest established travel company completes 260 years in the industry, Peter Kerkar, Group CEO, Cox&Kings, recalls the journey so far and the roadmap ahead.

As Cox & Kings, the world’s oldest established travel company completes 260 years in the industry, Peter Kerkar, Group CEO, Cox&Kings, recalls the journey so far and the roadmap ahead. By Steena Joy

Cox & Kings is celebrating 260 years in the travel industry.  How has the company evolved in this journey?

Cox & Kings traces its origins to 1758, when Richard Cox’s career took off when Lord Ligonier led the Flanders campaign of the War of Austrian Succession. In one letter sent back to London, Richard Cox makes a demand that “suitable winter provisions and housing should be made available for the three English companies” and he became entwined with logistics and the general welfare of the troops. Ligonier made Cox his private secretary in the late 1740s, went on to become the colonel of the First Foot Guards in 1757, and rewarded Cox with the post of ‘military agent’ after the incumbent died in May 1758. Thus was born Cox & Co.

There were about a dozen main agents working for the army at the time and each regimental colonel chose one to serve their troops. These agents arranged the payment of officers and men, organised the provision of clothing, acted as intermediaries for the buying and selling of officers’ commissions and acted on any special requests from the regimental adjutant.

Historically, Cox & Kings has been an army agent, a travel agent, a printer and publisher. It has also worked as a news agent, cargo agent, ship-owner, banker, insurance agent, and dealer of several travel-related activities. Its core activities now include the sale of packaged holidays for leisure travel.

In 2009, it listed on the stock exchanges in India and was the first Indian travel multinational company. In 2011, it acquired HolidayBreak in the UK. Today, the company has operations spread across 22 countries and four continents.

How has C&K reinvented itself for the new age Indian traveller?

The travel industry is constantly evolving and that’s the nature of our industry. One has to adapt, innovate and capture the trends that prevail in the market and offer it to the clientele. In India, we were the first company to offer branded domestic holidays under the Bharat Deko brand in 2001, at a time when domestic travel market was looked down upon and the five-star hotel chains scoffed at our initiative. Today, all the hotel chains are making a beeline for the Indian domestic travel. Similarly, we were the first ever private company to run four luxury carriages in a train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Today, we operate the Deccan Odyssey, the one-of-its-kind luxury train in India, that boasts of a Pan-India itinerary. All this has been made possible due to our innovative efforts in understanding the demands of the traveller.

In another innovative effort, we are marketing a product called The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC), this is super luxury and we have set up our camps in Ladakh, Nubra, Kohima and Dudhwa. These cater to a market which has been unexplored.

Cox & Kings’ tremendous contribution to the country’s travel industry is known to all. With innovations like ‘Enable Travel’ – unique holidays for the disabled travellers to specialist brands such as ‘ Trip 360’ for adventure enthusiasts, ‘Getaway Goddess’ for women travellers and ‘Self Drive 365’ that is set to change the realm of self-drive tours in India and elsewhere, Cox & Kings has reinvented the space.

A successful company must focus on continuous customer engagement. Comments.

Our target market is the entire spectrum of travellers. We engage differently with different target groups. We take part in roadshows across the country and also market online. We do not limit ourselves to a particular vehicle or channel, it’s the entire spectrum we engage with through innovative campaigns.

Anushka Sharma as brand ambassador. How can celebrities add value to an already established brand?

Aspirational Indians have a good connect with influencers that represent them. Celebrities have immense value and can help us create a differentiated connect with Indian travellers.

What has been the response to the Enable Travel initiative?

The response has been positive so far. Since we launched in 2017, we have facilitated travel for over 200 disabled people in domestic, inbound and outbound segment. We see a huge scope in the inbound space. Apart from curating customised itineraries for the disabled, Enable travel has designed unique digital and onground campaigns that works towards changing mind-sets of people and making them believe there is nothing one can’t do.

When will Self Drive 365 hit the roads in India? Which regions will it cover?

Self Drive 365 has already hit the roads in India. With some tempting road journeys from across the world, Self Drive 365 is the country’s one of the first road-trip specialists. The new vertical covers the entire country with unimaginable customised itineraries. Those passionate to explore the Indian wonders through road, SD365 offers you the beauty and cultural marvels of Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Leh-Ladakh and Karnataka. Besides, riders interested to explore any other part of India, a custom trip can be designed.

India is a promising destination for Self Drive 365. In view of the long run, we have all witnessed a growth in the number of kilometres of new roads in the country. Besides, the existing infrastructure well suits self-drive journeys.

2018 has been declared as the Year of Adventure Travel. Is Trip 360 indicative of India’s adventure tourism potential?

Adventure tourism is witnessing an impressive growth in India. One of the indicators being, the inbound travel in the adventure space which is growing at an estimated rate of five per cent to seven per cent per year. The statistics indicate there is growing interest among the international community of enthusiasts in exploring the adventure side of India. India has a vast coastline and about 73 per cent of the Himalayas waiting to be explored with the right infrastructure. Indian adventure tourism is yet at a nascent stage that is charting its own growth path.The sector is growing faster than any other segment in the tourism industry. With appropriate regulations, the Indian adventure sector can mark its space globally.

We haven’t even scraped the tip of adventure travel opportunities available in India. With the record number of coasts, the river bodies running through the entire length and breadth of the country and the beautiful mountain ranges in the north and south, the national parks we have in the country, we can in the next 10 years be the top destination for Adventure Tourism.

Your comments on the UDAAN scheme.

The government’s UDAAN (regional connectivity scheme), initiative is a step in the right direction. Existing airlines have invested in aircraft to connect to the new airports and routes that were not deemed profitable. Many of them are now commercially viable. This demonstrates that the government is the catalyst in the growth of Indian aviation.