Interview: Peter Kerkar, Cox and Kings by Edward Robertson - Travel Weekly. 22nd, May 2008
Cox and Kings global chief executive Peter Kerkar regales Edward Robertson with how he has developed the company over two decades and how it stands today.
When you took over Cox and Kings there was very little else apart from the brand name. Was that a help or a hindrance? It was a real trial and a test, especially as I also didn’t know much about travel.
Cox and Kings’ historical links with India go back more than 200 years, when it worked with the military there. Did that influence your decision to launch your first programme in the country? It helped. Cox and Kings has always had a strong presence in India as we’ve operated out there since 1758 and had offices in the country – the itinerary was a natural extension of our product range.
In 1989, with our shipping interests and business travel we had about 500 members of staff out in India – the first thing I did after taking over was to cut the number of people in the company to 28. These employees became primarily responsible for handling our clients when they travelled out to India.
India was a destination that attracted a certain class of people – a class that has always had very strong links with the country. It wasn’t a big charter destination – charter flights to India only started in 1993, so we had thousands of people as opposed to hundreds of thousands.
What were your other key objectives once you’d taken on the business? There were three core things to do as the new owner. First off I wanted to computerise the business and have good technology – this has helped us work fairly efficiently.
Good technology also helps you to control the scale of your business, and expand it without necessarily having to take on extra personnel and downsize the operation depending on how your business is doing.
I also needed to expand the product base and create a company that would offer what I believe travel should be like. I always wanted to go for the best and I wanted to offer a seven-star experience but with five-star prices.
The next programmes you launched were in South America. Why did you make the decision to go there and not stay focused on the east? We were tempted into going to Latin America because it wasn’t very developed. We are trying to give our customers a cultural experience in an area that they cannot contemplate visiting by themselves.
We want to take customers’ hands and create a bubble around them that can still be permeated by the sights and sounds. However, we had to educate our clients and tell them that the accommodation they were staying in was the best available in Latin America at that time.
How involved has Cox and Kings been with responsible tourism? Very. We launched our Environmental Journey programme in 1990 and we were the first company to start offering responsible tours. Although it did take off it didn’t really expand the way we wanted it to.
We really believed in green issues and were selling on so many fronts. We were thinking about the impact travel was having on the destinations.
However, our enthusiasm did not carry forward into the customer’s pocket – they wanted the best value holiday rather than making donations, so we changed tack. We informed the client about the charities we supported and then let them send their own money accordingly.
For the 250 years Cox and Kings has been in business, it has retained its independence. Would your company be the same if you had been the subject of an acquisition? A lot of the bigger companies tend to acquire brands and their flaw is to take away the feel of the brand once they have done so. There are few companies that have been successful in retaining their individuality and identity as brands once they’ve been bought.
New owners must ask themselves: are we sensitive enough to allow the company the space to do what it does best or do the men in suits come in, close the back office and centralise operations elsewhere – ultimately destroying the company’s ethos?
Interview by Edward Robertson Note Cox and Kings (India) Limited is proposing, subject to market conditions and other considerations, a public issue of its equity shares and has filed its Draft Red Herring Prospectus ("DRHP") with the Securities & Exchange Board of India ("SEBI"). The DRHP is available on the website of SEBI at www.sebi.gov.in and on websites of the BRLM at www.enam.com.
This press release does not constitute or form part of any offer or invitation to sell or issue, or any solicitation of any offer to purchase or subscribe for, any equity shares, nor shall it or any part of it nor the fact of its distribution form the basis of, or be relied on in connection with, any contract or investment decision. Any potential investor should note that investment in equity shares involves a high degree of risk. For details, potential investors should refer to the DRHP filed with the SEBI including the section titled “Risk Factors”. The Equity Shares of the Company have not been and will not be registered under the U.S. Securities Act 1933, as amended or any state securities laws in the United States. This announcement has been prepared for publication in India and may not be released in the United States. This announcement does not constitute an offer of securities for sale in any jurisdiction, including the United States, and any securities described in this announcement may not be offered or sold in the United States, except pursuant to an exemption from, or in a transaction not subject to, the registration requirements of the U.S. Securities Act.