It’s rare to find a man who is not just doing his business right, but also has a clear understanding of the industry and market that he is operating in and is not shy of voicing his opinions – good or bad. Sanjay Narula, Founder, Apex Travel Tours and Vice President, TAAI, is a stalwart in the travel industry who is not just known for his bold voice but is widely appreciated and respected for his in-depth knowledge of the various aspects of the travel trade. Spending time in his august company is indeed an enriching experience as one gets exhaustive information on almost any topic you decide to discuss with him. Read on to know all that we discussed as he got candid with us in BOTT Spotlight.
Priyanka Saxena Ray
A complete ‘Dilliwala’, who tried to follow his father’s footsteps in becoming a banker but realised soon enough that that was not his calling, Sanjay Narula, with little experience acquired from a friend’s family business, floated Apex Travel & Tours in July 1989 and had the knack of selling what few could dare to at that time – luxury and focussed on the meetings business which was a niche few had explored. His focus was always on promoting outbound tours which back in the day was very difficult keeping in mind the non availability of options, and so he started with Nepal but sans the Casino deals, selling culture heritage instead and the natural beauty of the landscape along with trekking and adventure tours, which almost no one was doing at that time. He curated personalized experiences and holidays. “I was fortunate to send a senior official from NIIT ltd to Nepal on a family holiday and he came back so impressed that he decided to give me the contract for hosting an entire conference for their company in Nepal, which was the break I was looking for,” he reminisces. The rest, as they say, is history as he led the segment from 2001 to 2005.
But, his real calling was elsewhere. Spotted while having an argument with an airline, Sanjay was introduced to TAAI by another industry leader and veteran – Shri Rajinder Rai (the former President of TAAI), who was then the Secretary of the Northern Region in the association. “When I entered TAAI I realised it was a little non-structured. I had worked with big companies while hosting their events at Apex and felt that the association could be a little better-structured. This was the time when the travel agents were fighting with the airlines for their rightful remuneration and what was lacking within the association was ‘unity’,” he shares and luckily for him when Mr. Rajinder Rai or Rajji as he fondly known became the Chairman, Mr. Narula became his Honorary Secretary and his journey in TAAI began.
While part of the association, Sanjay worked relentlessly on strengthening relations with the government, spreading knowledge on matters that affected the travel industry such as taxation, on bringing in more tourism boards to India and maintaining good relations with them, on marketing Indian products effectively in the international markets and creating new stream of businesses for the TAAI members so that they could benefit from it. So has he been successful in doing all of that? “See, change is the only constant thing and with rapid advancements in technology we do need to change and cope with it. Most people want things to happen their way, which is not possible always. We need to create a significant value preposition for the services we offer and what we are selling should create a lasting memory,” says the passionate VP, who feels he still has a long way to go in learning and sharing with the industry in the travel trade.
After all, he was the first to hold a first ever seminar for the travel trade at The Grand (New Delhi) when service tax was introduced wherein government officials were invited to clear the doubts of the industry. His work on Service to right a wrong in the method of application of the Service was a long one but was rewarded with success to a pint that now under the GST regime the same method as he propagated and worked for is the norm.
Sanjay joined the TAAI MC as the Airline Council Chairman in 2006 and this time around he revived APJC in India. He requested and was made the Convention Chairman in 2007, wherein TAAI hosted one of its most successful conventions till date in London. The turnout, of both the speakers and people from the fraternity was something that those who attended still remember for being meticulous and outstanding (I was one of them).
In 2017, he contested the TAAI elections for the post of Vice President and won handsomely. Since coming back in action, he has hosted two successful conventions – in Srinagar and China, which were though small in size (due to limitations of quality hotel rooms), were much enriched in quality content and participation. While he does plan to continue to serve the members and given the opportunity and if the members and the committee so wills he may contest and continue to work for TAAI which without a doubt the members who I have spoken to feel that he is perhaps among the very best assets and office bearers TAAI has ever had .
“When I had joined the industry, we had books that enabled us to calculate fares and travel schedules were printed like newspapers. Travel industry has come a long way. My vision as part of TAAI is to help every travel agent to cope with this change in the industry. From books we went to computers and now everything is fast shifting to your mobile phones. For many, this transition is scary and they need hand holding to be able to cope with this digital explosion. I want to be able to make a shift to this transition smooth for my fellow travel colleagues and TAAI members,” Sanjay shares.
A doting father who has the picture of his son Tushar saved as his screensaver and smiles fondly at the holiday memory of some quality time spent with him, Sanjay Narula is a man on a mission. While his experience in the industry spans three decades, he feels there is a lot still left to be done and he, with his vigour, intelligence, zeal and dedication will surely ensure that the travel industry moves forward in a positive direction, united and educated.