One of Cox & Kings’ top-selling agents, Joseph Rajkovic, offers his top tips on booking trips to India. He is managing partner at independent agency 2J’s Travel in Somerset, where he specialises in tailor-made Asia holidays
SELL THE DREAM
India is an experience rather than just a holiday – that’s the key thing to remember. It’s busy and hectic but you’ll just fall in love with it.
India’s got history, colour, and the most vibrant sights, smells and sounds. You can go trekking in the Himalayas, see the old forts and palaces or relax in fantastic hotels. And you could encompass every style of holiday, from beach and group tours to ultra-luxury.
In the north, it’s all about cities and vibrancy. I would definitely start with the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Jaipur and Agra – which includes major sights like the Taj Mahal and the Fort in Agra. It can be done quite easily in a week and gives you a good taste of the country.
You fly into Delhi which is a good starting point and a really nice, cosmopolitan city as well – even the most inexperienced traveller could happily take a cab and go to a local market or a nice restaurant. You can also add on Ranthambore to see the tigers.
If it’s a second visit, clients tend to be more interested in getting a feel for what’s going on under the surface of India than being on the go all the time. They’ll probably spend longer in each area, and that’s where places like Shimla come in, especially when it’s hot because the temperatures up there are cooler. There are lovely properties like the Oberoi Hotel Wildflower Hall in Shimla, which has rooms looking over the Himalayas.
If you’re prepared to explore a bit more, places like Rajasthan are good. It’s a really vibrant region, with lots of fabrics and colour. Or if you’re in the northwest, see the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
You should definitely recommend your clients go to Varanasi just to experience the Ganges. Visitors can take part in the religious ritual of Aarti by buying little tea lights and floating them on the Ganges.
Goa and Kerala in the southwest offer a different feel because of their Portuguese influence. They cater more for the western market and there’s a vast range of accommodation, from little three-star properties to the Leela Goa. Going to Goa won’t give you the same experience as the north, but it’s a different kind of holiday. There are plenty of cruises you can do in the Keralan backwaters too.
Then you’ve got Mumbai, which is quite fashionable and hip – it’s a financial centre so you get bars and restaurants. Chennai is more like traditional India, while Pondicherry has a French heritage. There’s a lot of history. In the south you’ve got Portuguese and French influences, while Kolkata has Victorian colonial history, giving a feel of old-world England.
From our point of view, escorted tours are still the way people are going. If someone’s not sure about a group tour, check the price for a private journey as it’s often not much more expensive and it gives the customers a bit more flexibility – and helps your earning potential as an agent.
Don’t write off independent holidays either. They’re becoming a lot more popular, especially for people who have been before.
There are some things to bear in mind though. India is a vast country and the roads aren’t great. Railway is king but flying internally is becoming more common. Visit the Indian Railways website to look up train journeys between cities and get to know what’s feasible (indianrail.gov.in).
India has also seen an explosion of airlines – Kingfisher, Air India, Jet Airways, Jet Konnect, spiceJet and IndiGo are all available – so a bit of knowledge about where you can go helps. Jet Airways has really modern aircraft and their business-class service is amazing.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with India – it’s a massive country so no operator will mind you calling to put together a package. Cox & Kings knows the place inside and out, with real in-depth knowledge, and we work with Audley Travel and Kuoni as well. If it’s a package to Goa, Tui and Thomas Cook have options as well.
Get to know the hotel chains and what sort of budget they’re aimed at. Oberoi Hotels is the key chain we use – you could almost do a whole tour of India just staying in their hotels. They’ve all got individual features: the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra has uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal, for example, while the Oberoi Vanyavilas in Ranthambore has more of a game lodge feel.
Taj is adding more properties, particularly to its Vivanta by Taj brand; the Lake Palace Udaipur is just amazing.We’re also seeing a lot more homestays for people who want to experience more of rural life. They’re a very good standard and you learn about culture by spending time with the family.
HOW TO SELL INDIA
Forget any preconceived idea you have of India. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I went but I totally changed my perception.
You’ve got to like the destination to sell it more, so read brochures, look at where the most popular tours go and look online. Make sure you know where places are so you’ve got a starting point if a customer comes in asking for India, and try and get yourself on a fam trip to visit it for yourself.
India is certainly not cheap, but that also means the earning potential is very good. Just having that little bit of information to throw in – like suggesting clients add a two or three-night extension on a beach or to see a particular attraction, or excursions like cooking classes – can mean your earnings really go up.
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