Manika Saraswat- How a Commercial Artist opened up her own Travel Agency!

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There is a quote by Robert Brault that best sums up Manika Saraswat’s story- “Try to discover the road to success and you’ll seek but never find, but blaze your own path and the road to success will trail right behind.”

Almost a decade back, Manika and her doctor husband moved to Haridwar to settle down with her in-laws. Since her childhood days, she had shown immense potential as an artist and therefore had chosen to study Commercial Arts in order to pursue a career therein. Destiny, however, had other plans. Manika tried looking for opportunities to showcase her talent as an artist in Haridwar but there were no professional assignments available and people often mistook an “artist” for a “painter”. At best she was seen as somebody who could paint/ decorate the interiors of an office. Our lady was not willing to compromise and finally with a heavy heart decided to pack away her paints, colours, and brushes. Meanwhile, she started helping out at her family-owned hospital as an Administrator and even did a 2-year course of Hospital Management. Manika however, was still not satisfied. She recalls- “The motivation to have a self-identity which was independent of my family kept on pushing me to find out what else I could do. My mind was set that I would do something different- something which my town lacked. My husband and I explored a lot of options which would match my line of interest.”

Finally in 2010, they concluded that her interest lay in exploring travel destinations along with specialty foods of different places. She also realised that there were no IATA qualified agents in the town of Haridwar back then and the answer came to her. She would start a travel agency. They thrashed out the details along with a friend who was already in the travel business and with the encouragement of her family, she was good to go. The rest, as they say, is history. Manika set up Vassa Holidays Pvt. Ltd. In Haridwar and even did one year long IATA studies thus becoming the only person in her city to have done so. In the beginning, she started working from her hospital desk itself. Soon she moved to her own independent office the interiors of which she has herself done- and very tastefully too!

What makes her agency different is that she aims to provide luxury in the desired budget rather than work for simple budget deals. She takes care of her clients’ travel arrangements starting right from their doorstep and ending there. Each holiday is planned and shaped as per the customer’s requirement making the trip luxurious and utterly enjoyable. “The facilities include air ticket, visa, hotels, transfers, sightseeing, meals, travel insurance, domestic as well as international packages and everything else that one needs for a good and satisfying holiday. It can be a honeymoon to family/group tours all over the world” she adds.

Gradually, the increase in the number of satisfied customers increased her confidence. “The journey of starting the business from a partnership firm to my own Pvt Ltd Company, opening up a second office at Dehradun under the same banner, learning and managing things at every step has indeed been a journey of joy!” Manika proudly declares.

She believes in living life king-size! She likes to live her day in its entirety- with all ups and downs and manages all her responsibilities of home and work simultaneously. “The first half of my day is spent running around with office work and second half involves settling things at home along with office work. I try to make sure to have exclusive evening time with my son. An overloaded day of work along with moments of infectious laughter, good food and quality family time makes me love every bit of it. I pray and sleep with the hope of the next day being more exciting.”

How does an exuberant entrepreneur like her handle the challenges that must surely be there? “A pre-planned day really helps me to maintain the balance between home and office and run the show.” It’s the age of online bookings and travel apps. When asked how that affects her business, Manika says, “Convincing the customer to book offline with us and winning against the online rates at times becomes a big issue. (sometimes customers don’t mind fighting for the smallest discount.) What works for me is that I explain to them the best I can offer and leave the decision to them. It’s really effective and customers return with a better clarity. Convincing your own friends is also at times difficult. Another challenge is managing the finance when there is a delay in receiving the payments from your known clients- they sometimes take it easy and we can’t be rude to them nor pressurise them. It becomes the biggest challenge to keep things rolling without any loan. I have been lucky enough to fight and overcome all this every time.”

Manika is convinced that quality speaks louder than words. One satisfied customer gets another, and word of mouth works the best. She has retained all her clients over the years and the list of new clients is increasing exponentially without any print media advertisements. Her wise words for other aspiring entrepreneurs are- “Keep yourself engaged to the fullest. Do not be afraid of the challenges that occur but face them through consistent hard work. Honesty and confidence must go hand in hand. Putting fine print like **terms & conditions apply is not a bright idea compared to transparency.” Her business philosophy is to listen to the customers and understand their need before concluding what to offer. Speaking of what motivates her, Manika reveals that a simple ‘thank you’ phone call from her customers acknowledging that the trip was well-arranged and they enjoyed feels like winning a trophy! She is driven by quotes like “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you find you’ve run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.” Another one she lives by is “I never dream about success, I work for it.”

She feels inspired by her “family and friends. Small things, timely guidance and simple words of encouragement inspire me a lot.” Her husband and her son both feel happy and proud of her achievements and are always ready to lend her a helping hand. Team storified. me wishes Manika sky-high success!

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Kritika Mansingh is a Business Management Graduate and a Post Graduate in Advertising & Communication. She started her career as a TV production executive at BAG Films and Interactive Television before joining Director Pradeep Sarkar’s Apocalypso Filmworks as production controller in the year 2000. Two years later, she gave up TV production altogether to start her family and discovered her calling as an Early Childhood Educator. She worked as facilitator cum co-ordinator of the Primary Wing at CSKM Public School, New Delhi (2004-2007). She then moved to her hometown Haridwar along with her husband (an educationist and photographer) to realize a long standing shared dream of setting up a quality education facility for small children and thus was born Roots Brightstart Early Learning Center. Kritika has been running the school since its inception in 2008. While guiding children to extend their boundaries, she herself has successfully completed her Masters in Sociology and is planning to enroll for another one in Education now. She loves to write, read and unwind with music. She also helps manage her husband’s photography exhibitions and sales.