STIC Travel emerges as one of the rare names that summon a feeling of enduring transformation and unyielding resilience. With its 50th year on the horizon, this significant milestone stands as an irrefutable proof of the supremacy of adaptability, innovation, and an unwavering pursuit of progress.
– Vartik Sethi
In an exclusive interview with Travel Trade Journal, Dr. Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travel, shares profound insights into the company’s journey, the challenges it encountered, and the strategies that propelled it to thrive in the ever-changing travel market.
Founded in 1973, STIC Travel has not only become a pioneer in the Indian travel and tourism industry but has also become a model of success for other players in the field. As the travel industry continues to transform, the lessons gleaned from STIC Travel’s odyssey serve as a guiding light for businesses seeking to navigate change, pioneer innovation, and emerge victorious against all odds. Acknowledging the perpetual narrative of an enduring legacy and organisation, Subash Goyal stated, “Business, any business, is like cycling. The moment you stop paddling, you fall, right?” The 50-year mark in STIC Travel’s journey signifies not just the passage of time but a legacy of agility, grace, and unswerving triumph.
An Unstoppable Force
A trailblazer in every sense, Dr. Subhash Goyal’s journey from a student leader to the helm of STIC Travel is a testament to his determination, innovation, and commitment to the industry.
During his university years, Dr. Goyal’s innate entrepreneurial spirit became evident when he managed to organise a delegation of 15 students to an international conference in Japan, securing a free ticket for himself and earning a substantial commission. Recognising the potential of the travel business, Dr. Goyal’s journey in the industry began.
His initial forays involved organising trips to international destinations and, over time, he gained valuable insights into the travel market. In 1973, he was instrumental in launching Student Travel Information Center, a venture that would later remodelled into what we call today, STIC GSA Services Pvt. Ltd. The fledgling travel information centre initially operated out of a modest space in New Delhi’s India Coffee House, catering primarily to the young and adventurous has embarked on a 50-year journey to become one of the most successful travel corporates in India.
However, the company’s journey faced numerous challenges, including the tumultuous period of the Emergency in the late 1970s, which led to the sudden demolition of the building and along with that, their office. Reflecting on the challenging period, Dr. Goyal reminisced, “We were flourishing, and then suddenly, in ’77 or ’78, an emergency was declared.” Undeterred by adversity, Dr. Goyal’s resourcefulness led to a defining moment when he initiated student travel services from inside an ambassador car. This move resonated with the youth and tourists alike, sparking a new phase of growth for STIC Travel.
It was as if Dr. Goyal had waged a war against all adversities to emerge as an unstoppable force destined to carve his name into the Hall of Fame among the stalwarts of the travel industry. Highlighting his relentless zeal to keep rising against all odds, he exclaimed, “If you are not flexible, you will not survive. And you have to keep innovating. Innovation is the name of the game.”
Behind every successful enterprise lies the unwavering determination and focused efforts of its leaders. Dr. Goyal’s journey from humble beginnings to steering STIC Travel to its current position is a reflection of the power of determination and tireless work ethic. Dr. Goyal underlines that success is not a coincidence; it is the result of meticulous planning, dedicated execution, and the constant pursuit of excellence. His commitment to nurturing the company from its infancy, often performing tasks as humble as cleaning his own office and serving tea to his clients, exemplifies his hands-on approach to leadership.
The Birth of STIC Travel
The transformation from Student Travel Information Center to STIC GSA Services Pvt. Ltd. was indicative of the shift from being a primarily retail-focused entity to a formidable B2B player. The distinction came with strategic intentions to align with the aspirations of the travel agent community and establish a foundation built on professionalism, ethics, and trust.
Over the years, STIC Travel’s portfolio expanded to encompass an array of esteemed international brands, as the company’s relentless pursuit of excellence resonated with airline companies such as Sri Lankan Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Air China, United Airlines, and many more. Notably, STIC Travel’s close collaboration with Sri Lankan Airlines has spanned 47 years, nearly five decades from Air Ceylon to Air Lanka and now Sri Lankan Airlines, solidifying its reputation as one of the airline’s most steadfast partners.
Today, STIC Travel waltzes in the role of a GSA, providing its services to a splendid ensemble of 12 international airlines, a quartet of cruise companies, a trinity of rent-a-car organisations, and the grand opulence of Indian Railways’ Luxury Trains.
Ethical Values and Innovation
STIC Travel’s remarkable success attributes to its steadfast dedication to ethical business practices and a relentless pursuit of innovation. The company’s decision to exclusively serve the B2B market stemmed from a strategic move to prioritise travel agents and operators, ensuring their success remained at the forefront. A steadfast believer in the adage that there is no substitute for hard work, Dr. Goyal always possessed a go-getter attitude. He stated, “You have to deliver what your principles want! For example, if an airline appoints you as a general sales agent, you have to fill up the plane!”
The company’s journey was punctuated by strategic alliances, innovative marketing campaigns, and a strong focus on delivering exceptional customer service. For instance, STIC Travel’s ‘Visit Colombo Free on Your Way to Singapore & South East Asia’ campaign highlighted the allure of Srilanka, capitalising on the trend of travellers transiting through the region. While these benefits were never passed on to their customers by contemporary travel companies, STIC Travel broke the trend by passing on the benefits and keeping their customers first.
Weathering the Storms of Change
Over five decades, the travel industry has transmuted into a complex ecosystem buffeted by myriad factors, from technological revolutions to geopolitical shifts. Dr. Goyal reflects on the enduring journey of STIC Travel, highlighting the company’s ability to embrace change. Drawing parallels with Darwinian principles, he emphasises that entities capable of adaptation endure, while those that resist face extinction. He vividly narrates STIC Travel’s evolution from a niche focus on student travel to the establishment of STIC Travels, marking the first of many transformative steps taken in response to the ever-evolving market landscape.
Surviving and excelling in the dynamic travel industry demands strategic focus. Dr. Goyal underlines the pivotal shift from retail to B2B operations, a strategic maneuver undertaken to address the transformation in the airline sector characterised by zero commissions. This strategic pivot marked a turning point in STIC Travel’s journey, reinforcing the importance of recognising market trends and adjusting business strategies accordingly. The emphasis on specialisation, exemplified by the diversification into non-air products such as cruises, air charters, and rental cars, reinforces the significance of targeted offerings to cater to specific segments.
Throughout its five-decade journey, innovation has been the cornerstone of STIC Travel’s success. The company’s resilience through challenges such as the aftermath of 9/11 on travel businesses, cash flow constraints, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic speaks volumes about its knack for creative problem-solving. STIC Travel highlights the value of proactive exploration of new revenue streams and judicious diversification decisions as testaments to staying agile in an ever-changing landscape.
A United Family
STIC Travel’s unwavering dedication to its workforce stands as a shining example in the business world. By placing the utmost importance on the welfare of its employees, STIC Travel has crafted a narrative of resilience and unity.
The company always tries to go beyond conventional norms to ensure its employees’ satisfaction and work-life balance. This strategic approach has not only boosted employee morale but has also reinforced the sense of a closely-knit family within the organisation. Even in the face of challenges that would have otherwise seemed insurmountable, STIC Travel’s employees have displayed an unmatched level of collective strength, upholding the company’s values and driving it forward.
In times of adversity, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, STIC Travel has shown its commitment to its employees in even more impactful ways. By providing vital support, the company has proven that its dedication extends far beyond the business realm. This tangible support during tough times undoubtedly created a sense of security and loyalty among the workforce, fostering an environment of trust and reciprocation.
The Genesis of Reputation
A recurring theme in Dr. Goyal’s narrative of STIC Travel’s success is the importance of reputation and trust. Drawing a parallel between the gradual construction of Rome and the establishment of a company’s reputation. STIC Travel’s philosophy, rooted in customer-centricity, was built on providing valuable advice, unparalleled service, and a deep understanding of the travellers’ needs. This approach not only cultivated a loyal customer base but also solidified the company’s status as a trusted and reliable player in the industry.
Guiding Principles for the Future
Peering ahead, STIC Travel envisions leading the way through innovation and adaptability. As the industry shifts, the company acknowledges the resurgence of domestic travel and the new frontier of MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions), along with luxury train tourism. Dr. Goyal’s insights reinforced the company’s commitment to foresight and seizing uncharted opportunities.
As STIC Travel marks its 50th year, Dr. Goyal’s reflections on the past naturally extend to the future. He recognises the role of the succeeding generation, led by his daughter Isha Goyal, CEO, STIC Travel. Dr. Goyal’s vision for the future involves passing the torch to capable hands while continuing to contribute to society and the nation. He expresses confidence in the company’s growth under the guidance of a capable leader, highlighting Isha’s professionalism, strategic acumen, and dedication to maintaining STIC Travel’s legacy.