Wed, 30 May 2018
Travel mogul Mushtak D is a prototype for how a dream and humble beginnings can be nurtured into giant, multinational trade that has changed the face of Bahrain’s travel industry.
A small-town commerce graduate from India, Mushtak came to Bahrain in 1996, following in the footsteps of his father – his friend, philosopher and guide. Expanding on his experience from back home, he worked at the front office of top hotels in Bahrain until he switched paths to realise his long-time ambition in 2007.
“Checking in and out guests every day, I harboured the dream of being at the other side of the reception counter, travelling the world and experiencing the best hospitality myself,” says Mushtak. “I knew this would be possible only if I started my own business. I used to interact with international travel agents and saw the potential for destination management in Bahrain. Except for one or two travel agencies, there was no one dealing in wholesale inbound tourism here. The major chunk of this business was taken by companies in the UK, UAE and Spain, who conducted business with hotels in Bahrain through their online booking systems.”
With trust in himself and unwavering determination, he opened Farhat International Tours & Travels WLL. In its nascent stages, the company rode solely on Mushtak’s shoulders. “I would take tourists around for sightseeing tours, and do their airport transfers myself,” he says. “It was a one-man show, and my leap of faith.”
Signing up with the best hotels in Bahrain back then was a struggle, given that his venture was new. “If I could not purchase the stipulated number of room-nights from each hotel, I could not get wholesale rates from them,” he explains.
His dedication and perseverance paid off when he struck a deal with a Russian cargo company for accommodation for its crew. Mushtak says: “That’s when all the hoteliers started to recognise me, as 10 room-nights daily was big business. There was no looking back from thereon. I purchased two vehicles and hired an assistant in 2007. Today, I have 82 staff in Bahrain and over 100 employees in India, with a presence in 14 states, including all the big metros.”
Having gained stupendous momentum in inbound tourism (making end-to-end arrangements for visitors to Bahrain), Mushtak turned his sights to the outbound service sector. “I learnt the ropes of the trade and ventured into B2B transactions with travel agents,” he says. “However, our shortcoming lay in not having our own online platform. So, in 2010, I booked a domain called 24x7rooms.com to operate from an online portal. We contracted largely with hotels within the Middle East and a few other countries.
“The first day we went online, we got seven room bookings. Today we see 1,000 to 1,500 bookings per day and are looking to cross the 2,000-booking mark per day by the second half of this year. Our system integrated more than 30 wholesalers worldwide under one umbrella, and we enabled travel agents in Bahrain, then in Doha, Muscat and Dubai, to access the portal. It is an extensive network with multiple suppliers throughout the European markets.”
Going from strength to strength, the wholesale room-booking site has landed in the big league. “Earlier, we used to purchase rooms from the world’s biggest hotel room traders,” he explains. “Now we do reciprocal business, where they buy a large volume of rooms from us. At present, over 7,000 travel professionals look to 24x7rooms.com to provide the best value for money to their individual customers.”
The popular website has recently been enhanced to offer comprehensive travel products, including car rentals. “Registered travel agents can sell dynamic packages [including a range of hotels, transfers and several sightseeing tour options] from a real-time inventory at the click of a button to an individual client at once,” he adds.
No doubt, the journey has been challenging, but Mushtak has emerged triumphant thanks to his keen instinct and inherent business acumen. He relates an incident in which his spontaneity paid big dividends. “During a management meeting, we came across the World Travel Mart, a prestigious global exposition, taking place in Cape Town within a week’s time from then,” he says. “Feeling the importance to participate, we registered with them, received our visas just a day before departure, and flew to Cape Town knowing nobody there.”
All the last-minute uncertainties and arrangements paid off. “On doing our groundwork, we realised it was a terrific market to tap into,” he adds. With his can-do attitude, in the course of his short stay there, he established a company in South Africa, bought office space and set up bank accounts to kick-start a new branch of business that has been roaring ever since.
The 42-year-old has proven that one doesn’t need lofty academic degrees to make a mark in the entrepreneurial world. Everything he has learnt is through hands-on experience and making smart commercial choices. He is extremely proud to have achieved all this on his own, with no legacy passed down to him.
When asked his mantra for rapid success, he says: “To grow fast. You can’t be everywhere, but you need to forge strategic partnerships. In the last 18 months, we have successfully spread our wings to 14 countries using this business model and will continue to do so.”
Another nugget of wisdom that he shares is to get off the beaten path. “No one goes to Bangladesh, but we participated in exhibitions there and realised what a rich market it is,” he says. “Similarly, with countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where our commercial graph is only rising upward. Very few travel agencies, which have been around for many decades, tend to think outside the box and progress into new ventures.”
To describe his life’s journey in a nutshell, Mushtak chooses the word “blessed”. He says: “I am ever grateful to the Kingdom of Bahrain for allowing me to fulfil my ambitions. I have met some amazing people so far, some of which shared my vision and joined hands, to further fuel this steam engine.
“I firmly believe that success is all about finding respect in your co-workers’ eyes. If I am able to appreciate my team members’ efforts and reward them with what they are deserving of, I consider it true success.”
He deems his company’s highly regarded reputation and brand value to be his most important achievements. Of course, he’s received a few irresistible offers to sell his brand, but he laughs them off, saying: “This is my own baby, I’m not going to part with it!”
His hunger for knowledge and success knows no bounds. Currently, Mushtak and his team are involved in setting up a destination management company in South Africa to invite inbound tourism business, and plans are under way to establish a similar set-up in Paris, France, and then in Malaysia.
The dynamic businessman is on a constant learning curve and is setting his sights on a restaurant enterprise in the near future. That’s not surprising, given the business tycoon’s love for fine, gourmet food, along with long drives with his wife in his time off.