I look back on the past year, and express my sincere gratitude for all your collective efforts. I truly believe – “What a Comeback” 2023 has been!
I would like to begin by remembering the colleagues we lost – Tour Managers T. Jaishankar and Ramesh Kumar. We specially pray for their families.
During 2023, we honoured our people who have retired post their loyal service: Sangita Chandorkar who after 16 years, continues to work with us.
Special congratulations to our longest serving member – Zarine Wadia – for an amazing and continued innings of 42 years in managing our in-house magazine Tidings/Pulse.
2023 was a year of multiple celebrations starting with TCI SITA‘s 60th birthday. Congratulations again to Dipak Deva and the team at SITA/Distant Frontiers. In 2024, SOTC will celebrate its 75th birthday, and Asian Trails its 25th. Another celebration was the Roll of Honour trip for our top performers to Istanbul.
A noteworthy event was the G20 meeting in India, the host Country in 2023. The Thomas Cook MICE Team provided exceptional coordination, with meet & assist services for multiple meetings – led by Rajeev Kale, Meera Charnalia, and very ably executed by the MICE Team. A special shout out to Amulya Ratan, our dedicated team of Tour Managers, and Pallavi Chib, whose services were recognized by several Government officials. Our MICE Teams and Tour Managers have also successfully managed both the National Games, and Khelo India on a humongous scale. A stellar performance indeed!
I would also like to celebrate the high degree of collaboration between our Group Companies post the disruption. I am particularly proud of this, and I am confident we will sustain this, going forward.
Several Companies in the Group registered their return to profitability with a bang: Thomas Cook India, SOTC, Sterling Holidays, DEI, SITA, Asian Trails, ATP, Private Safaris SA, Private Safaris EA, and Desert Adventures. And I look forward to TCI Hong Kong, Asian Trails China and ATM seeing their big bang return in 2024.
All of this played a part in the upward movement in the share price of Thomas Cook on the stock markets in India. I am also pleased to inform you that the Thomas Cook India Limited share was added to the Morgan Stanley Capital International Small Cap Index (MSCI) for Emerging Markets, giving greater visibility to global institutional investors.
As we came out of the pandemic, we noticed several changes. Average customer ages in leisure dropped by nearly ten years. The emergence of FITs across all our businesses, retail rebound in the FX business, more so in the prepaid card and student segments, was substantial. DEI witnessed a strong rebound in Disney Shanghai and Universal Beijing. Higher margins across most businesses was noticeable. More corporates gravitated to us in MICE, Business Travel and Foreign Exchange. During the year, the Foreign Exchange Business became the largest distributor of prepaid cards, displacing two of India’s largest Private Banks.
I would also highlight the transformation stories we witnessed in the Group such as Sterling Holidays, Asian Trails Thailand, Private Safaris Namibia, Desert Adventures aided by reengineered costs, improved productivity and upgraded technology, which consequently resulted in improved profitability. Sterling Holidays under the leadership of Vikram Lalwani had another remarkable year by taking on the challenge of opening a new resort every month, and transforming the Company into a strong Hospitality player.
As you are aware, Fairfax injected $60 million to support us through the disruption. I am pleased to inform you that they sold a little over a third for approximately $67 million, a gain of 2.5x.
During 2024, Mahesh Iyer was elevated to Managing Director & CEO of the Thomas Cook India businesses, and I stepped up to the position of Executive Chairperson for the Group. Please join me in congratulating Mahesh.
On a personal note, we had an addition to the family with the birth of our second grandchild, Ray Menon Paranjpey in June 2024.
I would personally like to thank each one of you for your support, cooperation, and confidence in the management of the Company, through the most difficult period in our long history.
I would like to thank the respective MDs, namely Laurent Kuenzle, Maria NG, Mahesh Iyer, Dipak Deva, Vishal Suri, Peter Payet, K.S Ramakrishnan, Alex Spiro, Virginia Barnard, Mark Morello, Vikram Lalwani, and Bee & Teh for all their support, guidance and standing by me through the tough times. I would also like to thank them for leading from the front in steering their respective Companies through this tough period as true Leaders.
Lastly, I would like to thank Fairfax Financial Holdings, Prem Watsa, Chandran Ratnaswami and Gopalakrishnan for their confidence in our ability to recover from the disruption of the pandemic.
Lili, Pooja & Rohan, Nina & Ray, Devika & Shankar and Zia & Zoya join me in wishing you a wonderful, properous and exciting 2024.
Let us continue rocking in 2024 as we did in 2023!