If you could just take me through the growth of your company in the last few years?
EbixCash is a consortium of companies which acquired 26 companies, invested upwards of $750 million in India between 2017 to 2019 and centralised virtually everything at the core and created what you see now. We do four large businesses but you can see the functionalities of finance, insurance, fintech, B2C, travel all put together under EbixCash which was profitable from day one and has continued to be profitable and has consistently kept growing.
For instance, take our Payments business, in which we do remittances, gift cards, inward remittances, outward remittances etc. In inward remittances segment, we are the market leaders in India because we are in exclusive tie-up with Money Gram and we control about 80 to 90 per cent share of Western Union and about 70 per cent share of Ria Money Transfer. In Foreign Exchange vertical, we are the largest in the country. We are at 26 airports in India.
Coming to travel, the idea was to be in the entire landscape of travel so we bought Via.com, Mercury, Leisure Corporation, Sastiticket, and several more with the objective to have both strong online and offline presence. So we are probably the only company of its kind in Asia as we cover every aspect of the landscape of travel from online, to offline, to inbound, to outbound, to domestic, to cruises, to MICE, to corporate travel, to visa, everything. We do it all. We are the largest in Indonesia and the Philippines. We have a very strong presence in Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia and most parts of this region.
So would it be wrong to say that you are the leader of Indian tourism at the moment?
That’s probably a statement I will not make. But yes, we are growing very fast. If you understand our business model, there isn’t a company in Asia which is doing every aspect of business as we do. We may not be very large in the B2C business because we don’t believe in burning money. We don’t want to throw money. We are an investment driven company. We have shareholders, so we want to drive shareholder value.
A lot changed in the last two years. How did you sustain those two years? And what kind of change have you seen in the travel trends?
Well, I will first and foremost say that if you see this booth ( at SATTE) today and see my team here, you will realise how happy they are. Because one thing we did is we kept everybody in the business, right? So the first priority was to save my people, save my company. We did that and we knew that the Pandemic was going to get over sooner or later. It may take longer than usual, but it’ll get over. All we had to do was to stay focused, stay committed and navigate the company through the tough times. And that’s what leadership is. We did that and we are now back into the business. Business is going through the roof. And if you say what has changed, I would say nothing much has changed except for the fact that yes, the behaviour of the tourists have changed or the passengers have changed. A lot of businesses may not happen, but a lot of other businesses will happen. For instance, Corporate business is back. MICE is back. Leisure is back. As we speak, we have about 6000 people around the world traveling with us. In this quarter we will probably close 100 crores of miles. Equally, we may close corporate travel to that level.
And what about Leisure Travel?
Leisure was always happening. Whenever there would be a wave, leisure would go down. But leisure would bounce back.
Which aspect of travel (inbound or outbound) is going to bounce back faster?
Every sector is going to come back strongly. In fact, it’s already back. If I tell you we have already started receiving passengers just from countries like Spain and UK and even from America. We’ve already started sending people out for holidays. Domestic tourism was always there. So according to me everything is back. Yeah, but we still don’t know how Covid behaves. And if the way it is going presently, it’s going to be an unprecedented growth of tourism over the next few years. People would not have seen the growth that tourism is going to come in between 2022 to 2025. These years will become the new benchmark of travel.
What will be the impact of external factors like the Russia-Ukraine war, apprehensions about the next Covid wave etc?
Look, there’s always an impact. But I don’t see it’s not going to play on the people’s sentiments. As we know, a lot of work has been done on Covid, we have about nine vaccines, we have good protocols, the medical fraternity largely knows what to do and people have realised that the world has to coexist with this virus. The positive part is hospitalisation and death rates have gone down and a lot of research is still going on.
The second part is the Ukraine war. War is a loss to everybody, but more so to the two countries which are involved. But it is not going to affect the overall travelling sentiments. Yes there is an impact on costs because airfares have gone up, US dollar is up, oil rates are high but these are periodic occurrences and all this will soon settle down. As I said, we are quite optimistic about the travel and tourism growth in the next two to three years.
List three things that you want the government to do to make the growth trajectory even better than what it is right now.
First, the government should make tourism a priority sector. Two, bring down ATF taxes and ATF rates which are the air turbine fuel taxes. Bring down GST, bring down taxation on tourism business that directly impacts the passenger. Third, offer a rebate on a corporate tax rate to travel companies so that they can spend more money on their business development which in terms means that they will be passing on that benefit to the clients.
When tourism happens, the economy flourishes because there’s more consumption. As it is, the industry has gone through a tough phase in the last 2 years. I am really surprised that the government has not made it a priority sector as yet. We can understand their reservations about outbound tourism because money is going out. But for domestic and inbound tourism, they should take effective steps to boost it. If we compare the long haul holidays costs of coming to India, it is much higher in comparison to other countries.
It is time to make tourism a priority sector in India.