CEO Richard Brouwer and Growing Khiri Travel
During the 1990s, your former employer Diethelm Travel expanded rapidly into many different countries in the region. As the new CEO of Khiri Travel, your stated goal is to double the business. How do you plan to achieve this goal?
We will expand our biggest customer base in Western Europe. We are also looking at expanding our marketing in the USA and North America, Scandinavia and even South America.
As for destinations in our region, Indonesia and Vietnam have the largest growth potential. In Thailand, the focus will be on the repeat business. 20% growth in Thailand is equivalent to 50% growth in other markets. Sri Lanka is up and coming as an effective stepping-stone to Asia for travelers from Europe. We also have a unique product in Indochina, three countries in one destination.
What about China, the largest outbound travel sector in Asia? Yunnan Province as a destination is so similar to SE Asia?
China is a big dragon to tame! Yunnan as a destination has too much competition. Outbound clientele from China have different needs from what we can offer. Khiri Travel only works with extremely high-end customers from China.
How will you grow the DMC business without compromising on sustainability?
Khiri Travel’s strength is in product development. We have a goal to constantly seek new products not offered by other DMCs. These are our signature tours. They may last as unique for about 18 months before others discover the novelty and learn how to do for themselves.
We have a hands-on approach to develop new products. We work closely with our partners and third parties such as the hotels. We want to understand people, their challenges and how they want to do business. To remain true to our values in sustainability and responsible travel, we will continue using corporate governance to implement our successful business model. Khiri as a DMC has set up house with a good team of staff and excellent IT. Additional staff is trained very carefully.
One common criticism in the travel industry is that SE Asian governments and their hospitality industry do not work aggressively enough to educate and train people to improve customer service standards. How can Khiri Travel help their destination countries elevate their standards?
Thailand tourist arrivals have gone from 2.5 million in 1987 to 28 million in 2015. All around our region, lots of new people are needed to work in the hospitality industry.
Governments should invest in their people by providing schools for tourism and hotel management. They have some schools but not enough. For example, the northeast of Thailand has lots of young people that need education and jobs. The people have a desire to serve if they were offered free education.
There are plenty of retired foreigners who would act as professors. They live in Thailand and want to give back. Our Khiri parent company is leading the way with our private sector initiative at Anurak Community Lodge. Our employee-training program is a small but an effective example on how to accomplish this effort.
How do you plan to handle sensitive issues in responsible tourism with regards to animal welfare and remote communities?
The travel industry can help raise awareness. Regarding animals, we have our policies and also have to listen to our client’s wishes. For example, some European guests to Thailand want to ride elephants, others specifically do not. For places like the Tiger Temples, Khiri Travel has to say no and promptly suggests better alternatives.
Khiri Travel is also selective about products involving remote communities. We schedule tours on their timing such as during the offseason and are sensitive to their needs.
Khiri Group has programs that serve the people of remote communities. We ask the community leaders and help them identify sustainable development projects through GROUND, our business that promotes educational travel and community service in underserved communities. If we find out they need water, the charity arm of our business, Khiri Reach, can help them build a well.