He retired from the travel industry when Gullivers Travel Associates (GTA) was sold to Cendant for US$1.1 billion in 2005, but the former Asia-Pacific CEO of GTA, Bernard Bialylew, is returning to the industry with the creation of a new travel company.
“I was missing the buzz (of the travel industry); I wanted to rejoin the battle,” said Bialylew, who established New Concept Travel last month as a regional wholesaler to capitalise on the influx of Asian travellers to Europe, with Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Indonesia earmarked as focus markets.
Although the travel and tourism business has changed tremendously since his self-imposed retirement, with newer entrants like OTAs joining the fray and becoming key players, the “market has also grown 10 times since”, Bialylew noted.
Said Bialylew: “There are still many people in Asia who want to travel in groups and do traditional itineraries. There are some markets which are not confident of travelling on their own, and some which want to cover as many destinations as possible.”
And as Asia’s middle-class markets expand, Bialylew projects demand for niche experiences and returnees seeking in-depth tours in Europe to continue growing.
In Europe, New Concept Travel has established a partnership with AC Group for travel into the UK, Ireland, France and Benelux to target the leisure and corporate markets.
Bialylew is also leveraging the extensive network he has built up in Asia since the 1970s. “The owners of these agencies are from my generation. I saw them grow from infancy to where they’re today,” he said. “Asia is all about guanxi, even among the young ones.”
Even before its official launch in September, New Concept Travel already has US$1.5 million of business in the books, Bialylew told TTG Asia.
Meanwhile, he has his sights set on linking up small agencies which are not connected to the global bedbanks. “I want to connect local bedbanks, which often have thousands of good hotels, to compete with global bedbanks. Right now consolidation (in the bedbank sector) happens only at the global level.”
The company has an office in Jakarta, and representatives in Thailand and South Korea. India and Japan are next on his radar, as well as “small but interesting markets” like Myanmar and Cambodia.
He is hopeful of reaching US$300-400 million in turnover – figures achieved during his days as GTA’s regional chief – within the next 10 years. “Then I’ll retire a second time,” Bialylew quipped.