An interaction with Caesars Travel Group CEO P N J Kumar
KUWAIT: In an industry where biggest is not always the best, Caesars Travel Group incorporated in the year 1992 started with a small profile is heading to become a competitive as well as innovative company at par with the key players in the aviation industry in Kuwait. Business in every industry is dealing with increased competition and travel agencies are no exception, therefore, it’s always a curiosity to know more about Caesars Travel Group that within the span of these 25 years, how they have managed to grow to the current levels apart from the many turbulences happening in the aviation industry at the moment. In an interview with Kuwait Times, CEO of Caesars Travel Group, P.N.J. Kumar, who is working with the industry for the last 25 years in a dignified position and is the backbone of the steady growth of Caesars Travel Group, spoke about how the group has grown as one of the biggest travel services providers, dealing with many diversified activities under one travel platform. Excerpts:
KT: How did you manage to develop your company as one of the leading travel companies with rapid expansions that we have noticing now?
A: Caesars Travel Group’s aim is to become one of the key supporters of our valued clients and keeping this aim in mind, my first vision was to give them maximum accessibility for approaching our offices, that’s the result why we have opened these many number of offices with a slogan of “interior to interior”, means, offices in residential areas to give the privilege for our passengers to visit our offices without depending on transport
Q: How Caesars can play a key role in supporting the passengers?
A: The concept of a travel office is not just issuing tickets to passengers but there are many information/supports that a travel agent has to give to the passengers, especially in this confused situation where there are many sorts of advanced technology is in practice now. This needs academically qualified staff that has got the interacting skills with passengers which is one of the main visions of our company. Secondly, we are trying our level best to cater to all sorts of services, starting from ticketing to holidays, ground services and many more, which is available under one roof of Caesars, that’s the other tool which are trying to support passengers other than running a mere ticketing office
Q: Currently, passengers always complain about the travel agency fares with airline website fares as travel agency fares are always high, why?
A: There is always a science behind it which we find it very difficult to convince the passengers. In brief, I have to say that airlines are taking an upper-hand over travel agents now and trying to reach the passengers directly which is causing lots of bad name to travel agents, tarnishing our image in the industry. If a passenger directly accessing through an airline web site, mostly getting better fares than the travel agency offers to them, the reason being an airline is going to save lots of middlemen expenses, especially the charges they are supposed to pay for the reservation system (it is technically called us Global Distribution System-GDS) and this will give them an advantage of putting lower fares in their web sites. As a travel agent, I have to say that they are trying to avoid the travel agents where once upon a time, these airlines were established in the market due to the same travel agent support. Yes, I agree that passengers are getting lower fares when purchasing tickets through airline websites but at the same time, you have to understand that how many of them losing their money when trying to change their reservations as it’s always a trap that the rules and regulations put in the website of airlines are so tough that many of them never go through it, just only looking at the fares and later, losing their entire money paid to the airlines which will never happen when they are purchasing their tickets through travel agents as we are always responsible to them.
Q: How you count the Low Cost Carriers, offering competitive fares than the full serviced carriers?
A: At this point in time, I don’t believe there is much difference between Low Cost Carriers with Commercial Carriers. You will not be surprised when I have to say that sometimes, commercial carriers are offering more competitive fares than Low Cost Carriers, having the privilege of food and other facilities on board which the Low Cost Carriers are not offering. There are certain Low Cost Carriers which has started serving food on board. Based on this conflicting situation, it’s my assumption that within few years, the terminology between LLC and full-fledged carriers will totally vanish from the aviation field and everyone will follow the same practice of following the rules of low cost carriers such as buying the services such as food, seat selection, baggage etc. which has already started by the commercial carriers at the moment.
Q: It’s a common complaint during these days from passengers that for the same sector and class of travel on a particular day on the same aircraft, passengers have to pay different prices for purchasing their tickets and many of them are upset with the travel agents, blaming that you are the culprits behind it?
A: it’s a very good question as this is really affecting the goodwill of travel agents, passengers cursing us and there are many occasions that the passengers are coming to the travel offices to make issues about it. The new science of airline is that whoever buying the ticket in advance will get the maximum competitive fare and that too, there are many classes for the best bargain prices among these competitive fares. If the passenger purchases a ticket few hours before the journey, the cost will be double compared to those who have purchased in advance and it is no surprise that the money paid by the passengers occupying the next seat in the same aircraft may have paid different prices for the same seat and ultimately, it’s the usual discussion among passengers that the travel agent is taking advantage out of it. We always educate the passengers to take the tickets in advance to avail of the benefit of cheaper prices, but in Middle East, it’s not possible for every passenger to plan their travel dates in advance as there are many personal problems and professional limitations. Many of the passengers still have the wrong notion that travel agents are fixing the cost of air tickets whereas we are only the silent spectators to the airline fixing the prices who escape from dealing with these hassles. Otherwise, they should come forward to make awareness in the market which very seldom few airlines are doing at the moment.
Q: Do you think, airlines are taking advantage of passengers by charging different rates as per their whims and fancies?
A: In the passenger’s perspective, you are right and the travel agent’s credibility has also affected due to this price wars among airlines. If an airline can operate with the fares by slashing down, which means they are able to run the airline by meeting their expenses with these fares, why are they then increasing the fares without any logic during seasonal times, which means to a passenger, trying to utilize the situation at maximum. In this situation, travel agents are also finding it very difficult to convince the passengers as they used to see us always as an airline office and the enmity is targeted towards the travel agents. According to me, let the airline adjust their fares based on the seasons but only reasonably and not exorbitant increase, the reason being passengers can easily understand that when they introduce the low fares, at which they can operate without any interruptions and by increasing the same, they are really cheating the passengers by collecting huge amounts, giving the impression to the passengers that it’s a game to gain more money. Airline managements should understand that the passengers are their revenue grosser and to play with their sentiments is not at all advisable as in this industry, once the trust is lost, everything is lost and that’s what is going on now.
Q: Missing baggage is very common with airlines now and most of the airlines are not giving compensation to passengers, how do you see about it?
A: This is mainly happening due to the disorganized way of airline booking procedures by overbooking the flights, resulting in offloading the baggage, sometimes, offloading the passengers even. As per the rules of IATA convention, airline has to compensate the passengers in such occasions but unfortunately, the rules are in the log book only, very few of them are taking care of such situations. Yes, the passengers can lodge the complaint but there are cases that these airlines will not respond to them for months and years! These days the passengers are also to be blamed because there is no proper identification on the baggage. Once the new generation bags are introduced to the market, it seems to me that most of the passengers are very reluctant to put these details on their bag which is one of the reasons, it is difficult for an airline to identify it. Therefore, it’s my suggestion to all passengers that you should strictly put some identification on your bags as this will help the airline to find out your baggage easily from any location wherever if it is misplaced.
(To be concluded)
By Jins M Jose