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Small but mighty

How Kandala Travel grew from strength to strength, and overcame COVID-19
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Customer: Kandala Travel
Channel: Travel agent
Product: Travelport Smartpoint

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At Travelport, we love to see an underdog come out on top. As a distribution partner, there’s little more rewarding than helping a small travel agency go from strength to strength — overcoming whatever obstacles our weird and wonderful industry throws at them. Kandala Travel could give a masterclass in both scaling a travel business and surviving when the chips are down.

Stellar Growth

Based in Scotland, Kandala started out over 15 years ago as a family-run, bricks-and-mortar travel agency. Managing Director Pramod Kandala saw a gap in the market and branched out into tours, and the company quickly become the country’s leading tour operator. Kandala Travel tours expanded rapidly into the rest of the UK, working with 128 tour operators in India to supply flights, hotel, coach services and luxury guides for Indian customers. Kandala then entered the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry.

Today, its mission is to provide the cheapest and best deals, with customized packages including budget planning, travel agenda management, and meal and activity bookings.

Kandala Travel partnered with Travelport in 2008 and  “haven’t looked back since”. Smartpoint has played a central role in its growth, with its fast onboarding process offering instant benefits in efficiency, speed, and agility. This is critical to fulfilling its promise to match/beat any competitor price within one hour of booking.

Fight or Flights?

In 2020 Kandala was faced with a real-life David and Goliath situation. COVID-19 posed colossal challenges to small travel agencies, and Kandala was no exception. As lockdowns happened, an avalanche of cancelations and postponed bookings ensued, while flight and holiday sales ground to a halt. Eventually Pramod had no choice but to pause operations and cut costs.

He recalls “By then we were seeing zero sales. But we also faced existential questions. We wondered: should we leave travel completely, and start something different?” But Pramod doesn’t give up easily (and that’s why we like him). He found a renewed sense of purpose by going back to basics with a GDS refresher training course, and upskilled on digital marketing. Then, it was time to call for backup.

The Travelport Toolbox

Kandala wanted to do right by its customers stranded in India. But the challenge was: with no international flights available, and only a few remaining staff, how can you get 120 people back to the UK? Pramod recounts; “There was no revenue to be made, we just wanted to support our customers. It was our responsibility.”

Travelport was there to help. “Travelport opened up special flight evacuation flights on the platform, and we had massive support through its airline policy tracker tool, which sent regular updates straight to our inboxes.” The agency also relied heavily on Travelport’s COVID-19 hub, which hosted useful information that could be passed on to customers. “Smartpoint’s multiple flight combination functionality is quick, accurate, and the system is great for the agent because everything is interactive. You can see live queue accessibility, seat-mapping, and layover times. Everything is easy to access, rather than remembering a bunch of commands.”

Pramod continued “Travelport’s automated ticket validation made things faster and simpler. Sometimes we would need to revalidate a ticket in the middle of the night — but we didn’t have to go back to the supplier and there were no delays.” This and the ticket exchanges feature were fast and efficient, while the Smartpoint plugin made understanding border policies easier.”

Through the Eye of the Storm

By July 2020, Kandala started to see a slow and steady recovery, rising from £0 revenue to £87,000 by October. The agency has since put travel guidelines in place and is working closely with airlines and multiple labs to provide preflight COVID-19 tests at a negotiated rate. And this approach is working, Pramod tells us “We’ve developed a new customer portfolio of 600 people, and we’re focusing on the future. Every day we’re growing again, and rebuilding confidence.”

He says that none of this would be possible without Travelport. “The partnership  has been key to our growth, survival, and bouncing back. Travelport’s products, solutions, and insights all helped to get the results we needed and recover sales volumes.” But equally, none of this would have been possible without Kandala’s determination to do right by their customers.

Small travel businesses continue to feel the pinch from COVID-19. But Kandala’s story shows that being the little guy can actually be an advantage. Smaller agencies can be more agile, expanding into new areas and adapting faster to change. They’re used to doing more with less. And they know how to build strong relationships with customers.

It’s times like these that we see the best of our industry. Businesses rally together, acts of kindness shine through, and people support each other. Kandala Travel is the epitome of this, with enduring resilience, admirable ethics, and unbeatable customer focus. And that means you can’t help but root for this agency as it gets back to business.

“Ever since we partnered with Travelport we haven’t looked back — we’ve even recommended it to a few other agents. They provide a personal touch, with an accessible, responsive, friendly account manager. That’s rare.”
Pramod Kandala Managing Director, Kandala Travel
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