Flight Plan

Opening a window to the world, the STIC way

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on June 11, 2019

Subhash Goyal   -  THE HINDU

It all started with a student wanting a ticket to fly to Japan

Subhash Goyal, owner-founder of the 46-year old STIC Travel Group — one of the largest travel groups in India representing about 20 of the world’s travel, aviation, tourism, cruise and hotel brands exclusively — entered the travel business by accident.

As a Delhi University student leader, Goyal got an invitation to visit Japan but he was short on cash. He was assured that if he managed to convince 15 people to travel with him, his ticket would be free.

Goyal managed to get the 15 people and attended the conference sometime in the early 1970s.

The experience made Goyal decide that his future was going to be in the travel industry. He set up the Student Travel Information Centre or STIC in 1973.

Of course, the young Goyal did not realise then that there would be challenges that he would have to face throughout his career.

The first came in 1975 when Emergency was declared and his office in the Theatre Communication Building in Delhi was razed to the ground by bulldozers in the middle of the night.

“We decided that we will sell tickets from an Ambassador car which we had at that time from among the ruins of the building which was our office,” recalls Goyal, sitting in his new office, a stone’s throw from where it all started.

STIC started by selling discounted air tickets on a variety of international airlines, including Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation, Thai Airways International Airlines and Cathay Pacific, and also helped students find cheap accommodation by providing a list of youth hostels and budget hotels across the world.

At that time India welcomed a number of foreigners, especially students, who arrived by bus (the land route was open).

“They would take special charter flights to Bangkok. We started giving students discounted air tickets to Bangkok via Kathmandu. They travelled Delhi-Varanasi-Kathmandu on Indian Airlines and then boarded a Thai Airways flight in Kathmandu. The flight stopped in Rangoon before reaching Bangkok,” Goyal recalls.

In an attempt to diversify, in 1976 STIC became a General Sales Agent for Air Ceylon, the first of the several airlines it would represent later.

“The major selling point of Air Ceylon was that it would connect to Singapore and would tempt passengers to stop off in the island state and enjoy its beaches, people and gems,” he says.

The next big break

The next big break came when STIC started selling tickets for Continental Airlines, a US-based carrier. For every ticket sold on the US airline, STIC got a commission of $3 in foreign exchange.

From then on Goyal’s journey had a smooth run for a while. In 2000, STIC was instrumental in getting Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA) to start flights from London to Delhi. The airline started three times a week service on code share with Air India. This newspaper was witness to the manner in which Goyal was at the side of VAA’s Richard Branson as he waved a flag from the British aircraft cockpit dressed in traditional Punjabi attire.

Goyal was also beside Branson as he rode an elephant for a press conference and when he drove an autorickshaw in the capital.

Today, STIC represents airlines like SriLankan, United Airlines and Ethiopian, in India. Among the cruises that STIC represents are Windstar and Seabourn.

Straddling technology

However, the beginning of this century brought in a number of changes. Technology meant that the way travel companies did business evolved to a new level and the increased exposure changed customers’ flying habits. Goyal admits as much when he says that the GSA (General Sales Agents) business has become tough with online competition.

“The GSA now is effectively marketing a product,” he says. In an attempt to stay relevant, Goyal who is helped by one of his two daughters to run his business, has diversified into selling cruises, car rentals and other products.

But clearly the change is a challenging one, as the 70-year-old Goyal and his wife found during a recent visit to Scotland. They had flown in business class between Delhi and London but for the short flight between London and Scotland they decided to fly low cost.

“We eventually paid for checked-in bags and food on board, which meant that the flight became expensive. On the return, we flew a full-service carrier,” he laughs, having learnt yet another lesson in a travel journey which has lasted close to five decades since he made his first overseas trip to Japan.

Published on June 11, 2019

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