We talked to Niloy Nag, Founder and Managing Partner at Flying Squirrel Holidays, the new-age travel company, specializing in India & international tours..
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Niloy Nag: Covid-19 has been tough on the personal and business front. I work from two countries and this has its own challenges. The pandemic just made it harder when the family got separated for seven months due to the closure of international borders. Thankfully, we are all safe and things are slowly getting back on track with people getting vaccinated.
Most businesses have suffered due to Covid-19, but travel and tourism have been the worst hit. The choice for most travel companies was to either wait or watch for things to come back to normal and then restart or reinvent oneself. We chose the latter. Our focus area is tailor-made holidays to destinations across the world. However, with the pandemic upon us, we had to realign ourselves with the new realities.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Flying Squirrel Holidays.
Niloy Nag: I spent close to two decades in telecommunications in India and Dubai with national and global brands like Vodafone, Hutch, Reliance, and Du. In my last role with UAE’s second-largest telecommunication provider -du, I was working as Senior Director-Consumer Marketing. I bade goodbye to my corporate life and set up Flying Squirrel Holidays in Kolkata, India because I wanted to share my passion for travel with people in India. The concept of travel has changed over the years, and it’s now more of an experience where the journey is as valuable as the destination. Having personally traveled to many different countries and cities across Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia and experienced people, places, and cultures with open minds and curious eyes, we plan to travel differently for our audience. It is more of a quest to learn about diverse lands, people, cultures, and food. We don’t believe that travel can be boxed up into packages of 4 nights and 5 days. What we want people to see and experience in a destination is based on their interests and passion and hence every holiday needs to be personalized.
With that thought, Flying Squirrel Holidays was born. Now in our 7th year of operations, we have catered to more than 3000 travelers from multiple countries and nationalities- from India, UK, USA, Germany, Australia, UAE to name a few. We pride ourselves in offering best-in-class travel experiences and we are humbled by the love and appreciation shown by our clients- our review score is 4.9 on Facebook and 4.4 on Google.
How does Flying Squirrel Holidays innovate?
Niloy Nag: As a new age-travel management brand, we continuously innovate to give new experiences to consumers. Apart from tailor-made travel experiences to different destinations across the world, we have been offering sports holidays (tennis, golf, football), diving holidays, wellness retreats, tea tourism, wine holidays, and more.
During the early days of the pandemic, we realized that it’s going to be a long wait for people to get back to the international skies for holidays. With “Work From Home” becoming the new normal, we introduced the idea of “Work from a New Home”, whereby we presented the opportunity for people to drive in the safety and comfort of their own cars to locations closer home and spend a few days working from a new setting or even enjoying moments of leisure.
We worked with a few properties that are maintaining the highest standards of safety and hygiene to create special short-stay packages, offering meals and in some cases, a few activities too. The response was encouraging because our clients returned with a good experience.
We ran a survey among our clients during the lockdown and a couple of interesting facts emerged – 2/3rd of the people who responded said they would like to travel within 6 months of travel opening and a high percentage of respondents said they would expect a great deal when travel opens. We married both these findings and introduced our special Travel Vouchers, which if purchased now gives people the flexibility to travel until the end of 2021 to a destination of their choice. These vouchers offer substantial savings too as they give consumers 25% more value.
Soon after we launched our special travel vouchers, we realized that some of the big travel brands launched a similar proposition across the country. We are happy to see our offers being replicated. As a travel start-up, it gives us immense joy that we are able to introduce propositions that have been adopted by much older and established brands not only in our region but on a national level.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Niloy Nag: Revenue generation came to a grinding halt for over five months, clients who couldn’t travel wanted their refunds and the overhead costs had had to be borne to keep the brand alive. The pandemic indeed was a hard blow and we are still not out of the woods.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Niloy Nag: We tried our best for the first few months so that our people don’t get impacted. However, with the impact of the pandemic getting extended we did have to make a few difficult choices.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Niloy Nag: We stepped up our activities on the digital platforms. While the travel industry witnessed a drop in online traffic in the range of 60-80%, our traffic grew over 20 times since the onset of the pandemic. Even engagement on our social media platforms increased significantly. Apart from these, our relationship managers kept constant one-to-one touch with our clientele giving them updates from time-to-time.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Niloy Nag: Unfortunately, not.
Your final thoughts?
Niloy Nag: In 2020, as an outbound leisure travel company, we took the opportunity to introspect, deep dive, and look inwards.
We adapted and embraced the joy of local travel – Introduced staycations and driving holidays, pet-friendly vacations, signed exclusive deals with boutique and local heritage properties, and new experiences within India. Proud to say that during the pandemic we have had more than 500 travelers enjoying safe travels with us, from the shores of the Andaman Sea to the valleys of a white Kashmir! The pandemic gave us the opportunity to gain rich experience in the Indian holiday market. I can safely say we will come out of it as a strong player in the inbound/local holiday segment.
We also used the lockdown to dig deep into the digital platforms and it gives me great joy that we ended the year with our website traffic growing 20X since January 2020.
We are still not out of the woods, but these learnings make us confident of the future.