Kuoni targets smooth transition in India

MD Rajeev Wagle promises to lead from the front

Kuoni targets smooth transition in India

Swiss travel major Kuoni was recently in the news for its decision to globally exit its tour operating business. It is not every day that a multinational company abruptly decides to exit the very unit providing its biggest chunk of revenues.

As the parent company kicks off the global exercise to find a new suitor for the businesses it is divesting, Kuoni’s India leadership does not want to be found wanting in reassuring employees.

Kuoni India Managing Director Rajeev Wagle knows that he has to perform a delicate balancing act. For one, he has to maintain employee morale as the businesses which the company is divesting employs 1,146 of the nearly 1,500 staff at Kuoni India.

Two, he has to ensure that Kuoni continues its lead in the outbound tour business in India even as the Switzerland-based parent seeks new partners. Three, he has to see the transaction through, which may take most of this year to complete, and ensure a smooth integration.

According to Kuoni’s announcement last week, the company — to be renamed as Kuoni Group — will henceforth focus on only the business to business (B2B) segment comprising the global travel distribution unit known as GTD (wholesalers of hotel stays), global travel services or GTS (services to inbound group travel), and the visa processing unit VFS Global.

Inbound to stay Kuoni

But in India, Kuoni is a leading player in the outbound travel business, though during a telephonic conversation with Deccan Herald, Wagle refused to divulge revenue or market share numbers.

The divestment means that in India, the Kuoni Group would henceforth be focused on inbound and group travel experts with brands like SITA and Distant Frontiers, the GTD or backend suppliers, and VFS activities.

Along with outbound travel with brands like SOTC, the flagship stores — 20 run by the company and 100 odd by franchisees — will also be part of the divestment. Wagle said that already the Kuoni Academy with its six centres has found a strategic partner in Mercury Travel. He said Kuoni’s India outbound business is an attractive draw for both global as well as regional buyers.

Wagle, the MD since the past 30 months, said he will be leading the transition from the front. For one, he himself is part of the outbound business which the parent is exiting. So he claims to be fully mindful of employee concerns and committed to ensure it is “business as usual with all services on as before” until a new owner is found, and oversee a smooth integration in the same role.

Mumbai, Delhi town halls

He said that following last week’s announcement, a mail went out to all employees from the parent company’s chairman Heinz Karrer and CEO Peter Meier, informing them about the decision, the reasons, and about seeking assurances from the new owners about continuation of existing locations and staff employment.

The Kuoni India Managing Director also said that separate mails were sent to customers, partners, and suppliers in India, and that he was “overwhelmed by the support received”.

Wagle said Kuoni India’s five-member managing council, headed by the MD, has already held four town halls in Mumbai and three in New Delhi to address employee apprehensions.

More are planned in Chennai and Bengaluru next week, he said. The MD assured that the management will keep employees updated at all stages.

Wagle, who had joined Kuoni as its chief financial officer in 2000, can also lay claim to the credentials to handle such transitions.

His resumé boasts of involvement in the integration of SITA, which Kuoni bought in 2000, besides a role in the cross-border merger of two listed companies, while serving as the CFO of UTV Software Communications. But the forthcoming divestment should be his toughest assignment yet.

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