India connectivity drives short break demand

Ramesh Ramanathan, the managing director of Sterling Holidays, a vacation ownership company in India with 24 resorts across the country, which is in the process of merging with Thomas Cook India, talks about this alternative market to holiday homes.

What has been driving demand for your resorts in India?

In the last four or five years, shorter breaks have become popular. So we have also moved our resorts to being closer to cities or within drive-to distances. I would say that has also made a difference and that has added to our growth. We have been offering different types of holidays. Initially, we started out with holidays which are all similar but we have added jungle holidays and so on. That’s become attractive.

What factors are causing Indians to take regular short breaks?

One is of course the airlines; the number and the sort of fares that they give. Another factor is the vast improvement in roads and the connectivity. We’ve had an explosion in terms of cars. The car population has gone up and a lot more people are driving and going for their holidays, so all of these have contributed to this rise in short getaways.

Are you looking at expanding abroad?

We have recently established a representative office in the UAE, which is primarily to service our clients in the UAE – people who have bought membership in India and then moved to the UAE. We won’t do actual sales in the UAE. Until such a time that we establish a resort in the UAE, we are not allowed to do so. But the UAE is part of our plan and we are planning to open a resort in Dubai, so once we do that we would think of selling there.

How close are you to opening a resort in Dubai?

We have started looking at areas.

Do you have a lot of clients in the UAE?

We don’t have a lot. These are earlier members who are with us. We probably have about 800 to 1,000 members there.

What difference has the merger with Thomas Cook India made to your company?

While we are owned through Thomas Cook, we operate independently. The brand has a lot of credibility, which should help us. Fairfax Financial Holdings [the $38 billion Canadian investment company which owns Thomas Cook India] is a fairly large corporation, so it gives us financial strength and muscle to expand. We could do acquisitions, for example, or we own a lot of land in the country, so we could build faster there.

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