From Lollipop Flights to Luxury Travel
With Somak Luxury Travel’s 55th Anniversary right around the corner, we took a moment to chat with some of the people who know this independent family-run business the best.
Somak, founded in 1968 by Suresh Sofat, now the company’s Chairman, aimed to fill the aviation gap with “Lollipop flights” connecting London and Nairobi for schoolchildren and their parents.
Somak grew over the next 55 years as a result of Mr. Sofat’s longing to share his love of Africa and its unforgettable experiences with travellers across the globe.
His elder son, Ash joined the company in 1986, followed in 1993 by his younger son, Anil.
Ash, now CEO of Somak Luxury Travel, said that as much as the company has developed, so too have its customers. “Nowadays, people are looking for experiences,” explained Ash. He said there is also an increased need for flexibility. “We are serving what we think people need when it comes to luxury,” he said, but also admitted, “luxury means a lot of different things to different people.”
What the customer wants
Somak’s head of sales, Nishma Gandhi described what her customers are after. “Things have changed in the last 10 years,” said Nishma. “In the past, people would typically book a short safari and a longer beach extension. Now we are seeing that safaris are for longer periods than beach breaks as people want things to do when it comes to activities rather than sitting on the beach.”
“Holidays are increasingly booked for special occasions. People are wanting time together in more special places,” said Ash.
“We rebranded to Somak Luxury Travel to meet this demand.”
Anil, who today is the company’s commercial director, said technology and updated methods of interfacing with customers through the means of social media have had an impact on the way business is done. “We have adapted our holidays and marketing in the ways agents and consumers expect us to,” he explained.
Anil said he has seen a change in the way families are purchasing holidays, saying that while they might not necessarily be buying as many holidays, they are going for bigger holidays. “We are also seeing more multi-generational holidays,” he said, describing how families comprising grandparents, parents, and children are choosing to spend time together on a holiday. “Spending power has increased – there are more big-value holidays,” he said.
Asked about some of the holidays she has curated over the years, Nishma described two in particular.
One involved a very large group who wished to meet up on Safari for a special occasion. “It was a group trip that a man was organising for his wife’s 50th birthday in Tanzania and Zanzibar. People were coming from different countries. Putting it all together was challenging but fun,” she said.
Another one that has stuck in her memory is when a group of people walked into an agent’s shop determined to book a safari in South Africa on the spot.
Nishma says she also loves curating trips to India because she learns so much about the country while she is working on it. said she has found that agents who are specifically looking at selling India as a destination are drawn by the county’s aesthetic appeal. “Incredible, beautiful landscapes, the heritage, culture, and wildlife are all very attractive,” said Nishma. “India also provides very good value for money,” she added.
Ash, who recently visited the subcontinent agreed. “When you see a tiger in India you are blown away. It is majestic,” he said.
Another thing that has changed at Somak is the global approach to doing business. Today teams of travel specialists span 3 continents with offices in London, Kenya, South Africa, and India, giving that extra level of specialisation to the packages Somak offers.
Nishma says the teams communicate well and work together almost as if they were all in the same place.
“It feels like we are all in one office and one team. The different team members can speak passionately to clients about their country, especially in India,” she said adding that it has been well received by customers who feel confident booking with people who know the places they are planning to visit.
Somak Luxury Travel is proud of its rich cultural heritage, and continued commitment to excellence – crafting bespoke itineraries to some of the world’s most inspiring places, using only the finest hotels, operators, and airlines, as well as a fleet of modern safari vehicles, fully kitted for our guest’s comfort. These have come a long way from the old-school minibuses used in the past!
Today we offer a comprehensive range of safaris, tours, self-drive holidays, beach holidays, and a full tailor-made service, plus weddings, honeymoons, and groups.
This cohesion also extends to Somak’s partners. “I have worked closely with our suppliers, and they feel like part of us rather than simply ground agents. It has made a massive difference as we can deliver on the ground on specialist trips,” said Nishma.
Ash said he is proud of the people he works with, both in and out of the company. “We are the same people. A multi-destination team can achieve elements of specialisation that set us apart, and we have been able to fine-tune itineraries and experiences. Our partners also have the same values as us. The same DNA of care and innovation.”
Anil says the key to retaining the attention of a diverse range of partners is providing accessibility. “What they want, when they want it,” he explained. He said when agents are showcasing at events Somak will supply curios and posters. He added that he has found that special content, especially animals, gains a lot of attention.
“We also create easy-to-sell safaris, and we do all the hard background work,” he added. “Word of mouth is our biggest asset.”
“We have built a fraternity with agents with loyalty and accessibility,” said Ash adding that one of the things agents appreciated was Somak’s reaction to Covid-19 “We were flexible during Covid,” he explained, “When they come to us we are dependable, flexible, competitive on price and good value for money,” he said adding that lines of communication are essential. “We keep in touch with them.”
What’s next for Somak?
According to Ash and Anil, Somak has many more exciting destinations to discover in the future.
“The world is a very big place,” said Anil. “More destinations!” said Ash.
“Our history is having destinations where touring and discovery are central to our offering. Watch this space,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.