Growing AirLink set to achieve $100 million TTV by end of year, says Mukesh Maan

Issues & Trends – April 2013

Growing AirLink set to achieve $100 million TTV by end of year,
says Mukesh Maan

Mukesh MannWHEN Mukesh Maan arrived in Australia from London in 2006 he had an MBA and a background in technology but no travel industry experience.

In 2007, with wife Shweta, he opened a retail travel agency, Mann Travel, in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton.

That year the agency’s total transaction value (TTV) amounted to a mere $100,000. By last financial year this had grown to $40 million and the agency had opened additional offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide with plans to open in Brisbane and Perth.

Now he has put Mann Travel under the control of his wife, working with co-director Santhosh while he sets out to grow a separate, independent consolidation business, AirLink Services Group.

He expects to achieve a TTV of $100 million by the end of this calendar year.

This is not unrealistic, he says, pointing out that AirLink will do the ticketing for Mann Travel (which, he stresses, will operate as a separate business) as well as other travel agents. And he is confident that AirLink has the technology and the service levels to attract a growing number of other agents.
Beyond 2013? Does Maan see AirLink ever challenging the consolidation giants?

“Every big company was once a small company,” he says. “We have a vision to grow and once we achieve one milestone we will move to the next level.”

His confidence is based partly on his own hands-on experience as a retail agent when “I realised there were a lot of limitations with consolidators and I have tried to eliminate those problems.”

At the same time, he says: “I recog-nised that it (setting up a consolidation business) would not be easy. There are IATA bank guarantee requirements, margins are low and the competition is fierce.”

He believes his background in tech-nology can give AirLink an edge.

He began developing technology for a consolidation operation in April 2011, testing it at Mann Travel, before launching it with AirLink in February 2012.

He stresses that this is “a continuous process … we are still developing features”.

The back office is based in India where, he says, his company employs 100 people (working on inbound travel arrangements as well as technology). There are 20 people working in another company, Travel Technology Laboratories, developing new technology.

At this stage AirLink has developed technology that it calls “My Easy Booking”, “Easy Tickets” and “Easy Fares”.

Maan says he is open to sharing this technology with other travel groups – for example a home-based agency group.

He asserts AirLink technology can deliver better reporting outcomes for agents in areas such as invoice verification. But, above all, he stresses customer service will be the key to success for the fledgling consolidator.

From start-up in February 2012 AirLink has operated a 24/7 call centre complemented by a 24/7 chat service enabling agents to log in and chat to the company’s consultants at any time.

While he has ambitious long term goals, Mann also says he is currently taking “very slow steps” to ensure customer service is not compromised.

“It’s a case of slowly, slowly,” he says.

“We are raising awareness but not going aggressively into the market so whoever comes on board we can service them with care.

“As other agents have seen we exist, I have been surprised by how many calls we are getting from across Australia.

“Word is spreading and I am very optimistic about the volumes we can achieve.”

He has no doubt that AirLink can couple customer service with competitive deals.

“We are here to make money but we don’t have big overheads. We can run with low overheads and low margins” he says.

He is predicting that the travel industry is headed for major changes with “a lot of agents going independent from the big groups. They’re getting smarter: they’re not going to pay fees to get less commission than the agent next door.

“We think a very different industry will emerge over the next five years as a lot of new, young people come on board.”

Describing his three-pronged approach to business, Maan says his first precept is honesty. “If I am wrong, if I make a mistake, I admit it,” he says.

“Second is behaviour. If you treat your customers and your employees well, the business will, to a large extent, look after itself.

“And number three is the drive for technology to streamline and improve business processes.”


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