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by Special to Kalamalama by Lavesh Dhawan

Just ask Rohit Lakhani, an HPU alum who founded Cheap Travel Hawai‘i LLC (www.cheaptravelhawaii.com). After graduating with a BSBA in International Business in 1999 from HPU, Rohit worked for a Honolulu-based travel and tour company for six years. With the necessary experience under his belt, he decided to go solo and fulfill his entrepreneurial dream of starting his own company. With less than $4,000 in his pocket and a state of the art laptop, he was able to do that in mid-September of this year. And the best part is that he’s operating the business out of India even though the company is registered in Hawai‘i.

Cheaptravelhawaii.com specializes in discounted vacation packages from the mainland to Hawai‘i and interisland and discounted airfares from Hawai‘i to the mainland. How does he do it? Since it is a completely Web-based company, and all transactions take place online, he does not have a physical office. However, he has partnered with a wholesaler in Hawai‘i who has a customer service office to handle all queries once a ticket has been purchased.

I recently had the opportunity to interview him and ask him about his new venture.
Hello Rohit. First of all, congratulations on starting your Web-based travel company. After dealing with you in person, I have no doubts that you will succeed in this venture. I have a few questions that I would like to ask you in regards to your current business.

L.D. Why did you start an online travel company?

R.L. My love for travel and personal interest in commercial aviation. I was also looking for an opportunity that would allow me to work for myself and this presented itself. Secondly, with the outsourcing facilities available today, you do not need to hire full-time staff for certain tasks. You can outsource them to specialty companies when and as you need for a lesser cost. For instance, to date, all the Web designing done for cheaptravelhawaii.com has been outsourced. I also decided to go online as I see the Internet as the future for buying and selling.

L.D. What advice would you give to anybody looking to go into the travel field?

R.L. The Internet is the future. You need to incorporate that into your business model. Also, look to new destinations and theme-based travel.

L.D. What do you think was the hardest part of your transition from a “physical” travel agent to an “online” travel company?

R.L. Well, it’s almost a totally different type of business. My business is almost 100 percent online, which means that I rarely interact with the customer as potential customers can just log onto the site, check availability, and make a payment. So my job description has changed from interacting with the customer face to face to Internet marketing. The change in job description and learning how to do business differently have been the biggest challenge so far.

L.D. Do you think that your current knowledge and experience are enough to enable you to succeed in this new business, or do you require additional knowledge?

R.L. My current knowledge is definitely not enough to see me through. What I learned working in a traditional travel agency has given me an insight into how travelers think. However, now, I spend a good part of my work day learning new marketing techniques, especially Internet marketing techniques. After all, my main job is to make sure that www.cheaptravelhawaii.com gets noticed as the site is fully functional. And Internet trends are changing at a rapid pace, so one needs to be updated on the latest techniques for doing business online. For instance, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is becoming a vital part of online companies.

L.D. How long have you been up and running?

R.L. About two months.

L.D. what services do you offer to potential customers?

R.L. Discounted tickets from Hawai‘i to the main-land, interisland packages with activities, air/room/car packages from the mainland to Hawai‘i. Our speciality is Hawai‘i.

L.D. Many people are saying that online travel companies will spell the end of the generic travel agencies. Do you agree?

R.L. To a certain extent. There is always the consumer who feels more comfortable walking into an office and speaking face to face with someone. But the market size for this type of consumer is gradually shrinking except for travelers looking for high-end, tailor-made packages to international destinations who may still have to go to traditional travel agencies.

L.D. How are you able to be in India and still service clients in the United States?

R.L. Well, our site is live 24 hours a day, so all the prices are up to date. Therefore the customer can be serviced by the information he receives on the site. It’s sort of like purchasing a book from Amazon. You need not speak to a representative as you can do everything yourself.

If someone does want to speak with me, I do have a U.S. phone number. With Voice Over IP (VOIP), I was able to get a U.S. phone number in India for less than $5 a month.

And as you may know, for Web design work, India offers just as good service as the United States but for a fraction of the cost, so being here allows me to interact with the Web designers and Internet marketing specialists face to face.

L.D. You say it is easy to start an online travel shop? How so?

Yes it’s not so hard to start, but it’s very challenging to grow it. Nowadays, you can find ready-made Web templates on the net. Also, you can find inexpensive Web-hosting companies and logo design companies. And one of the most important aspects, the credit card payment system, is also available online for less than $120 per month. It’s a great way to put an idea into reality.

Go online if you think your idea or product can be sold online. You can test it with a fairly limited budget, and it’s not going to work, then you haven’t lost much.




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