REEMA LOKESH – Mumbai
He was one person in the Indian travel and tourism industry who believed in the `never say die’ attitude. He was the perennial optimist whose early morning messages only spoke about positivity and hope to look into the future with a smile. As a novice journalist a decade ago, my first impression of late Lalit Sheth was that of a man who was ready to take up challenges, a forward looking businessman who was ever ready to experiment. From aviation to surface transport he made an effort to offer his clientele a host of new products and offers in the travel space.
In an exclusive with Express TravelWorld Sheth, mentioned that when be came to Mumbai from Kolkata in 1976, he had about Rs 2,250 in his wallet. This was meant to set up his chemist’s shop. “The business of a chemist always fascinated me and it is a profession that does not require bargaining with buyers,” said Sheth. So the travel industry seemed like a far-fetched idea. However, Sheth changed his mind after a careful assessment of the market and pursuing a career as a tour operator seemed like a more profitable option. So in August 1976, he began selling packaged tours to Kashmir, South India and Nepal from a tiny office with one computer in the Masjid Bunder area in Mumbai. It was tough competing with established players in the industry but within the first week of operations, his company had received 39 calls and in a month, 23 people had been sent out on Raj Travels maiden tour.
The Gujarati patrons were his loyalists as he offered them an experience of travel that was almost like `Home away from home.’ Ups and downs are a part of life and business, and never give up was a clear message that his persona reflected. He was one of my initial teachers who provided a reasonable orientation on the travel trade.
His spirit and enthusiasm was striking and I rarely recollect him complaining and cribbing about the situation and business travel trade in India. In most of his interviews he would always reiterate the fact that there is so much to achieve in the trade and what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. From a man who was always in sanguine state of mind, his decision to end it all has left the industry stunned.
We will miss the man and his spirit.
Industry colleagues share their thoughts
“It was a very shocking news for me as he and I shared a very special relationship. We used to be competing during the day and were the best of friends post working hours. He was a person who took lot of business risks and also specialised in getting into trouble and coming out of it successfully, which I used to keep telling him about. He had a strong relationship with the Gujarati community, knew their likes and dislikes and had a very good marketing skill. I invited him to meet over at the Willingdon Club on July 4 and we spoke at length and he mentioned of his problems and financial difficulties but at the end of the talk, Sheth told me in Gujarati “Hu thaki gayu chu’ (I am tired). This phrase coming from Sheth shocked me but I prayed that he would overcome his difficulties and emerge successfully like always. But when I got to know about his demise I was shattered. We shared a special relationship and he used to send me text messages and his last message from him read, ‘When writing the story of your life, do not let anyone else hold the pen’.”
– Pradip Madhavji, chairperson – Tourism committee, Indian Merchants Chamber & ex-president TAAI
“He was a pioneer in identifying niche segments and had a vast knowledge on each and every destination. His marketing abilities were outstanding and it is a very tragic news of his demise due to financial adversities. Our heart goes out to his family. I will always remember him as a very jovial person, very particular about his health and walks and his passion for food. This is also a wake up call for the industry that there is something beyond business.”
– Heena Munshaw, owner, Beacon Holidays
“With deep regret and sadness we bid farewell to Sheth, founder of Raj Travels whose untimely death has left a great sense of loss in his family, friends and the travel industry. Sheth was one of the pioneers of outbound vegetarian packaged tours in India. We lost a best friend, always energetic, well wisher and admirer of Kesari group and family. I did some FAM trips with him and it was nice experience to be with him and listen to his wide experience and share knowledge. May God give his near and dear ones the strength to cope with the great loss. May his soul rest in peace.
– Sudhir Patil, director, Kesari Tours
“It is a big shock for us. Sheth was a very resilient person and has bounced back from so many adversities in life. Even though not all his ventures were successful, he was an amazing entrepreneur and a pioneer with many innovative ideas. He also started the provision of the Indian food by taking an Indian cook referred as ‘Maharajas’ during the tours abroad. The man had an amasing personality. He was also the founding member of TAFI and we will miss him.”
– Ajay Prakash, president, TAFI
“Sheth was a very dynamic and innovative person. He has proved himself as a businessman and losing him is a great loss to the travel fraternity. I pray that his family has the strength to cope with his demise. May his soul rest in peace.”
– Iqbal Mulla, president, TAAI