Jaal Shah, Group Managing Director, Travel Designer Group, founded RezLive.com in 2007, with the determination to build the organisation on a strong financial foundation. With a vision to be profitable from the first year, debt-free and cash-rich, the company leaders analysed all the risks associated with their business model such as currency exchange, credit and business disruptions and strategically worked on strengthening the organisation on all these aspects. These efforts paid off when the cash flows came to a grinding halt during the pandemic. They had no trouble in refunding their clients and hence are now able to plan diligently for the post-COVID-19 market.
The travel industry is one of the worst impacted industries because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Travel Designer Group was not immune to it. As an organisation, they went through one of the most challenging times throughout their existence since 1999 and their business impact is similar to all other organisations in the industry.
So, with leisure, business and MICE restrictions, the only business left was from stranded travellers and quarantine requirements. “Fortunately for us, we started tracking the developments of COVID-19 as early as January. When some parts of the world started going into lockdowns, we started preparing, in early March, for a similar scenario in the countries where we operate. This ensured that we did not face any major issues in our operations and helped us to settle seamlessly to work from home. It is all behind us now and we are seeing green shoots in some of our major markets. We should see more recovery in the coming months,” says Jaal.
The freeze in cash flow was so sudden and so deep that the pandemic has tested the immunity of all travel companies. In the early stage of the pandemic, there was an expectation of a V-shaped recovery to the economy. While many industries bounced back significantly after the lockdowns, travel and tourism is still facing the brunt of movement restrictions between countries and in many cases within a country. It was clear that the industry was in for a slow recovery.
While assessing the recovery route, Jaal adds, “We also had to restructure our organisation set-up to reduce our cost, align it to current business levels and strengthen it for sustainable business. We had to make some tough decisions and let go of some wonderful talent we had. However, we ensured that we were transparent right from the start and tried to minimize the impact in all possible ways. Earlier this year, we earmarked 2020 as a year of innovation. We kept our promise of launching a completely redesigned booking platform REZ2020 in March and since then we have rolled out several first-of-its-kind innovative features that can help our travel agent clients to build a sustainable business model.”
From an industry perspective, according to Jaal, sector-specific relief measures from governments will help. Examples can be taken from countries such as the UK and Thailand. The recent VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sector in the UK has spurred an increase in customer spending; the Thailand government subsidises domestic travel up to fifty per cent for its citizens. Such measures will remove the fear of travelling and encourage people to take a holiday.
From an organisation’s perspective, there is no easy medicine. “The market size has shrunk, and it is going to take considerable time to recover. Pro-activeness will be the key. Taking action in the current situation with proactive goals is essential to be viable in business in the future. As we speak, we have many clients who are getting substantial volumes of business in domestic tourism and staycations. In our interactions with them, we are thrilled to know how these companies are leveraging social media and innovative modes of communication to reach out to their target audience, present them with up-to-date travel advisories and promote exciting domestic holidays,” shares Jaal.
Speaking about his staff and keeping them motivated during these difficult times, Jaal shares, “Our biggest strength is our people. When we noticed lockdowns being implemented in many countries, we asked our team to be ready for such an eventuality. We were well prepared to announce work from home even before lockdowns were announced in many countries where we operate. When the refund requests started pouring in, our sales, operations and accounts team worked hand-in-hand to ensure that every query was closed and refunded within an acceptable timeframe. Now as we look to recover, I am confident that our team will step up to the challenge and take our organisation forward. I believe that motivation comes from a sense of purpose. Our objective to help our clients build a sustainable business model in the post-COVID recovery phase will drive our people.”