Since last autumn, travel agent Naveen Reddy has been a busy man once again as many people decided to travel for the first time after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in March 2020.
“Even though flying overseas is expensive, people are willing to spend, especially students traveling for higher education,” said Reddy, owner of ShinyGo Online, a Tirupati-based travel firm, which has been in business for 13 years.
Many expect the younger generations, especially the digitally-native Gen Z, would prefer to book trips online themselves to get the best fares.
“But, they prefer working with a living, breathing human being to access travel information such as finding flights in the right price range; discovering new travel guidelines as every destination has different rules and regulations regarding vaccine or testing requirements; as opposed to using a device,” he smiles.
Reddy is a happy man once more. “It’s tough to navigate everything, but I am thrilled to be this busy again after experiencing the worst year of my career.”
Reddy was expecting his biggest month ever in March 2020. Then the pandemic struck. Cancellations poured in. Few people dared to leave their self-imposed quarantines.
With no bookings, holidays being canceled or rearranged, and no road map for a resumption of travel, the first 12 months of the pandemic were a “living nightmare” for Reddy.
“For a whole year, I had no sales,” he said.
For every air ticket he sells, Reddy gets a commission of 1-2% from the airlines, while for every holiday package, he gets a commission of 5-10% from destination management companies.
“In normal times, I’d sell over 30 air tickets each day, and in a month, the sales turnover would be anywhere between Rs 30-Rs 40 lakh, on which I will get a commission.” he said, adding that his earnings from selling air tickets and holiday packages were completely wiped out during the period.
Reddy’s travel agency also provides taxi services, but that too remained shut for nearly two months during the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25.
With nothing to live off, Reddy, who is an MBA, combined his work as an agent with another career. He became a Paytm distributor. “The digital payment service distributor is actually really, really good. It’s helped take my mind off things especially when you see your bank balance at almost zero.”
In the initial months, he recalled, that instead of helping his clients plan a long-awaited trip or a vacation of a lifetime, he worked overtime trying to sort through myriad cancellations, spending all his time repaying the money back to clients and negotiating refunds with airlines for trips that were canceled.
“When a booking is canceled, so is the revenue,” said Reddy, adding, “Navigating refunds for canceled travel plans in COVID-19 times was a headache. But in the process, I created customers for a lifetime who now don’t think twice before recommending me to others.”
According to Reddy, forced cancellations of travel plans have shown the value in booking through a travel agent, “as they chase up refunds on behalf of clients and have their own access to booking systems”.
The small business owner, who started his agency with an investment of Rs 1 lakh in 2008, even dug into his own pocket to refund money to his customers.
“I took a loan of Rs 13 lakh from family and friends to refund my customers for journeys or holidays that never went ahead,” he said. Reddy has paid back Rs 7 lakh and hopes to settle the remaining amount once he gets the refunds from the airlines.
Reddy’s wife, who works for the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), was the only earning member in the family of four during the period. “She supported me in every way, and was my strength.”
Reddy is also thankful to Khatabook, the bookkeeping app that he’s been using for the last two and a half years.
Since commissioning from airlines or DMCs is often only received a few months, and sometimes weeks or days, after the client travels, Reddy does not extend credit to his clients and insists the payment is upfront via debit cards, credit cards, Paytm, UPI Bhim, etc.
“I am straightforward with my clients while communicating that the payment has to be upfront.”
As Khatabook allows Reddy to process payments from customers on the spot, instant access to his hard-earned money is one of the features that draws him to the app.
Since using Khatabook, having instant access has been huge. “When travel plans were being canceled at the start of the pandemic, Khatabook saved my day and I could survive for a whole year. Thanks to the app’s instant money transfer feature,” he said.
Explaining how quick the payments are, he said, “Just last week I billed a client and within 10 minutes of sending the invoice they paid me and the funds were immediately deposited into my account!”
Khatabook’s online payment options also make it easy for clients to pay him directly from the invoice. “They feel secure using the platform.”
Another Khatabook feature that Reddy loves is the app’s ability to monitor income and expenses. In other words, cash flow.
“The Khatabook app tells me where my business stands at any given time. So there never is large outstanding sums of money.”
Earlier, the 45-year-old small business owner had had a bad experience with another bookkeeping app. “The payments were never instant and took weeks and months to show in my account. Not just that, it’s been almost three years that I stopped using the app, but they still owe me Rs 18,000.” I contacted their customer service many times, but the executives are just as bad as the app.
“Khatabook is an amazing platform where I do not have to worry about my payments, and if there ever is an issue, the customer support is stellar. It is a difference-maker.”
He adds that Khatabook customer support executives are humans, not robots, who go above and beyond for all their customers, “and tailor their service to the client on the line”.
Now that travel is picking back up, Reddy is focussing on marketing his business on social media. The social media enthusiast has a lot of work to do to make his business stand out from the crowd. He says he finds the time to focus on his business because of Khatabook. “The ability to have a lot of different functions at your fingertips, all kinds of financial reports I can run at any time, saves me so much time.”
With Khatabook, Reddy can “focus on clients and give them the best experience while growing the business.
His advice to fellow business owners looking to get a better handle on their finances: Go for Khatabook. It’s a high-value solution to all your accounting needs.