Alhind Group: Travel Solutions Unlimited

Kozhikode: American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once observed: “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” Although it may not be true in the case of many, for Valsaraj P V and T Muhammed Haris, Managing Director and Director respectively of Alhind Group, it is more than just an observation; something which goes on to define them.

Close to 25 years ago, when the two had set out on an entrepreneurial journey from the tier III city of Kozhikode in Kerala with a dream unmatched by resources, little did the friends-turned-partners realise that they were taking baby steps towards building a highly successful enterprise by setting up a partnership firm. They have had ups and downs in their endeavour, ever since they started operations in 1993, but that never deterred them from going ahead with their plans. Hence, it is not a surprise that the venture they started from a single room has spread its wings over the years, establishing footprints in various sectors with nearly 80 associate establishments in India and across the world.

When Malabar lacked established travel agencies in the early 90s, they set out to fill that gap by starting a small enterprise in Kozhikode in 1993. Today, when the advancements in technology paint that era in sepia tones, the friends-turned-partners of that generation, Valsaraj P V and T Muhammed Haris, have not only managed to catch up with changing times but also established their Alhind Group as a colossus in the travel industry, offering a whole gamut of travel solutions suited for all types of travellers. Even as they are busy leading the Rs.4000-crore Group, they find time to speak to ‘Destination Kerala’ about their entrepreneurial journey

The two friends, armed with years of industry experience, began by identifying the potential of an established travel agency in Kozhikode and North Malabar, which to them was conspicuous by its absence. The duo’s concerted efforts in the subsequent years gave shape to Alhind Group, which is currently valued at Rs. 4000 crore. Valsaraj and Haris employ more than 1000 people under the umbrella of Alhind.

Though there are any number of travel houses and agents in Kerala, it is only Alhind that operates chartered flights from the State. In fact, the ‘twin engines’ of Alhind define the firm as the ‘one-stop solution for all travel needs’, giving it the tagline ‘your wings and wheels.’

“Over the years, Alhind has partnered with the best product and service suppliers in the world, providing a multi-product platform catering to all the needs of customers. We endeavour to keep on improving our portfolios and services by recognising and understanding the needs and demands of the market,” said M P M Mubashir, Executive Director of Alhind.

After the company was registered in 1999, Valsaraj and Haris managed to expand Alhind’s operations to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The prime motivation which drives the organisation, according to the founding directors, is the commitment to the people. Profit has never been our objective, affirm the directors in unison.

“We never bother about profit-making because more than 50 per cent of our profit is given for charity. First and foremost, we are working for the benefit of society and hence, whatever our profits are, we give it back to society,” says Haris Muhammad.

Needless to say, Alhind’s pilgrim packages subtly reveal the company’s policy on profit. According to studies conducted by the global analytical company S&P CRISIL, the company earns 75 per cent of its revenue from international ticketing and the rest from domestic ticketing. Also, majority of outbound pilgrims use the services of Alhind to fly to Middle-East countries. Foreign exchange services, visa processing, manpower recruitment, transport arrangement and construction services are just a few of the segments that the company had already forayed into.

As far as the flagship company of Alhind Group – Alhind Tours and Travels – is concerned, it enjoys a formidable market position. Tours and Travels division of the company has 80 branches, including 15 in the Middle-East. Alhind is recognised by International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Ministry of Tourism, Government of India as an approved travel agent.

Recently, the company has also started operations in Malaysia and Munich. Alhind has nearly 6000 sub-agents, making its market presence strong along the length and breadth of the country.

“The company has built its foundation on excellent customer relations and has IATA accreditation. Being an IATA-approved agent, Alhind has access to all global airlines,” Mubashir added.

In India, Alhind has branches in Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Coimbatore, Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Mangaluru. To exploit more opportunities in North India, the company has plans to open three new branch offices in Jalandhar, Ahmedabad and Lucknow.

In recognition of its operational efficiency, the ISO 9001:2008 certified company has received several awards in the past. Although the company is basking in the glory of its many achievements, the directors have set an example for the employees through their modest ways of living and leading. In an exclusive conversation with Destination Kerala, Valsaraj P V, MD and T Muhammed Haris, Director, shared the details of Alhind’s business and operations.

Excerpts from the interview:

Getting a business to succeed in Kerala in those times was relatively difficult, especially in the travel sector. How did you get the ball rolling?

VALSARAJ: We started in a very small way with just 12 employees in Kozhikode. We decided that our headquarters should be in Kerala even at a time when most travel agencies preferred to have their headquarters located in cities like Mumbai or Delhi. In the subsequent years, we spread our operations to other parts of the country and abroad. We are already present in most of the major cities in the Middle-East except Muscat. We will soon set up shop there as well. In fact, it was through the Middle-East countries that we expanded our business to Europe. Recently, we started our operations in East-Asian countries. We have major divisions to look after travel, tour, foreign exchange, recruitment, cargo and other miscellaneous activities.

Travel industry witnesses a lot of competition, especially with the onset of web-based disruptive technologies. How do you deal with this?

VALSARAJ: We never view it as competition, but something which complements our business. That is because we update ourselves constantly. To cite an example, we are not travel agents anymore. Instead, we are travel consultants. Alhind is a one-stop solution for all travel requirements. People have been travelling for quite long and they need all sorts of help which include both personal and indirect ones like assistance for ticketing and hotel booking, and other advice. We look after such needs of the people. All we can say is we are aware of the developments on the technology front and moving ahead fast which ensures we are not left behind in the race.

HARIS: Take our ticketing website for example. We have developed our own technology and that has taken us this far in the business. Alhind’s ticketing website is one of the 20 best travel booking sites in the country.

Now we are aiming to introduce Artificial Intelligence for two reasons; to match the changing technological requirements and deliver best-in-industry services to our customers.

You have 17 associates under the parent entity of Alhind. Which one do you focus on the most?

HARIS: Ticketing and allied services are the most focused among the lot. Ticketing is one of the services which has a huge demand in the industry. Alhind has the maximum client base in the ticketing segment. We have been undertaking bulk purchase of tickets and selling them domestically at lowest possible prices.

What is Alhind’s technology strategy to stay ahead in the highly competitive business environment of web ticketing?

VALSARAJ: Alhind is already offering web ticketing solutions through www.alhind.com. We have launched our website developed by our in-house IT team to compete in the market. Now we are competent enough to provide localised solutions to the clients in any of the cities in the country. Marketing our specialised private fares exclusively through alhind.com has raised the demand for our service. Instead of providing solutions from a distant call centre, we have our own branches across India offering personalised solutions.

What is the USP of Alhind’s web services?

HARIS: The capacity to challenge the fares offered by any of our competitors is our USP.

What are the expansion plans of Alhind?

VALSARAJ: As an established company with an annual turnover of Rs. 4000 crore and a 1000-strong employee base, we definitely have expansion plans. We want to operate in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. Another major activity is the development of a portal for tour bookings. We intend to take forward our expansion plans in a big way from this financial year onwards. We have plans to operate tours and enter the flight charter segment in a big way. We are already into the charter  domain in Kerala but we want to expand it to other metro cities of the country.

All successful businessmen will have a success mantra? How do you both like to view it?

VALSARAJ: Our success is the result of teamwork. The credit for that goes to our staff who preferred to stay with us in our ups and downs. Besides, we have never worked for profit, it flows in automatically. Our policy is to serve society, help our staff and serve them, and in that process, automatically we will get our due profit. Another strategy which always resulted in growth has been our effort to minimise debts by not borrowing from banks. It was systematic planning at right time which always helped us to get out of tricky situations.

HARIS: Our mission is to provide our services to the people of this country at lowest possible rates. And this vision has invariably worked for us.

Is it easy to do business in Kerala?

VALSARAJ: Compared to other states and cities, it is slightly difficult to do business in Kerala. However, one can’t help mentioning that Kerala is highly promising when it comes to the prospects of companies in the travel sector.

HARIS: Speaking about the sector, there are not many hassles caused by human resources because we recruit employees by paying them good pay packets. Hence, we enjoy the goodwill and cooperation of our employees, making delivery of services easier.

Introduction of GST seems to have received mixed responses from various business quarters. How do you see it?

HARIS: Yes, it did affect people who resort to malpractices in business. Unlike them, all our businesses are transparent and done legitimately. Speaking as early-bird entrepreneurs in this sector, we would say that the introduction of GST has not brought about any visible changes. It neither harmed nor benefited us in any way.

VALSARAJ: As far as we are concerned, just the name of the tax has changed.

What should a newbie entrepreneur do now to succeed in this domain?

VALSARAJ: These are times when we see more startups in every sector. When you mean success, I would say there is just one way of achieving it, through dedication. A budding entrepreneur should be wise enough to accept changes. Replenish technology arsenal and stay up to date. And the rest will follow.

HARIS: The beginners should be willing to work round the clock.