If you ever thought travel was simply about destination swapping, think again. Travel professionals burn the midnight oil to drive tourism. Beginning a series for those keen on knowing what happens behind the scenes, here’s a short interview with a dynamic lady who has been in the business for quite a while now.
Trained in journalism, Shikha Mishra has worked with eminent media houses in India including the Hindustan Times and The Times of India. She has also written for and edited publications in the UAE and the US. With learning from the world around her and interviews with stakeholders for her stories, Mishra developed a keen understanding of the society and its changing needs. And with this knowledge, she drives the branding initiatives and develops strategies at Think Strawberries, a Delhi-based travel representation company in India. She is also responsible for internal communications and external media relations. In a candid chat, Mishra reveals what the business is all about:
What is the driving principle at Think Strawberries?
We promote ‘global travel products’ in the Indian market and Middle East and North Africa region. The firm works in close partnership with the main travel distribution channels and stakeholders, including outbound tour operators–online and offline, incentive houses, special interest operators, high-end travel providers and corporate houses.
What is exactly the role of a travel representation company?
For instance, tourism boards want to promote their countries/cities/attractions in India. And we help them with media plans, marketing strategies and sales. The requirement varies from client to client. We have an active business development, sales and research team.
Is it easy to get the representation for a country?
No, it is not as glitzy as it seems on the surface. It depends on their needs, budgets and many other global economic factors. These could relate to flight connectivity, ease of visa and the key business drivers, just to give examples.
What are the company’s strengths?
It is a professionally structured organisation making it systematic and growth-oriented. We have a CRM system, database management and then there is tracking. It is a transparent company and our partners have appreciated this.
Do you feel online travel aggregators are going to finish off the traditional travel agents?
I don’t think so. There is room for both. While the digital is here to stay, the personalized touch will never vanish. In the smaller towns, people like working through travel agents.
As journalists/bloggers/writers, the word ‘FAM’ means exploring new destinations. It also means freedom from the four walls and cacophony of daily life. But what does it mean for the firm?
The word is self explanatory—FAM means familiarization. And it is our work as a travel representative to familiarize people with the attractions of the country we represent in India. So our strategies are based on giving a complete perspective on the country/destination as per the client’s needs.
When we are making plans for FAMs, we try to bring together a group with similar agenda. For instance, foodies would like to explore more food trails, travel writers more places of attractions and fashion writers would want more those options. We do try to include a bit of everything in a trip as nothing is ever in isolation, though the focus might be more on the core area of interest.
How did you personally like the transition from journalism to PR?
This was seven years back. I was covering the three pillars of feature writing—travel, food and fashion. The tourism industry was changing. And I thought it was the right time to make the move. I knew the market, I knew the people and I also knew the trends. My experience helps in understanding the requirements. This was the initial stages, but later, of course, it is one’s own skills, ability and training which takes you forward.
What about influencers?
They are certainly an important part of the industry. And the digital world is only going to get smarter and savvier. But only quality will flourish.
What are the things you keep in mind when sending out invites for FAMs? How do you handle tricky situations, for instance, non-deliveries?
It would depend on the client’s requirements. We obviously check the credentials of the writer and the publication’s audience. The requirement and target audience must match. We send out a 6-page sheet on the destination before the trip begins. And this also has all the terms and conditions. We believe in transparency to avoid all confusion.
On tricky situations connected to deliveries, everyone wants a positive outcome. We try to talk it out. We also have ready content with us and if anyone would like to use that, we provide that. Sour relationships are never the desired outcome and we like to keep them as smooth as possible.
From the pro to the personal–your favorite city is…
London! It has quirky architecture and is so beautiful. At every corner one can enjoy a beer, find a cool café, or go shopping at Oxford Street, sit in the London eye and just keep walking around.
What are the things that can one find in your travel bag?
The usual–charger, phone, hat, sunglasses, one nice sari for formal wear—you are sure to get all the attention you need when abroad.
The future holds…
Lots more travel. As the company grows, I also get to travel more. There are some exciting announcements that we will be making in 2018.