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#Kesari Bhau...A visionary Dream Chaser...

Business Icon : Mr.Kesari Patil (Founder & Chairman, Kesari Tours)

Courage is the foundation of leadership. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed courage was the foundation of all human virtues, because it made the others possible. Our progress up the leadership stairway, as an individual or as an organization, is strongly determined by the extent of our courage. Are we continually stretching our comfort zone? Are we ready to address personal and professional obstacles blocking our growth?
The highly inspirational foundation and growth story of Kesari Tours and its iconic Founder & Chairman Mr. Kesari Patil, popularly known as Kesari bhau, proves that to truly lead we must listen to our inner voice and act on the courage of our convictions. Bhau quips, “If space travel becomes a reality, Kesari Tours will be the first to start offering tours to the moon”

In a freewheeling chat with Business Mantra’s correspondent, Kesari Bhau unveiled his life’s journey and his invaluable business secrets. It is indeed rare in the world of business to make your entrepreneurial debut at the age of 50, when most of your peers are planning their ‘Vanprasthashram’!

Kesari bhau started Kesari Tours in 1984, at the age of 50, with his better half Ms. Sunita Patil as his partner. He did not have enough capital. However, not having enough capital did not deter him. Kesari bhau avers that if entrepreneurs get de-motivated by various constraints and do not take their first step, they will never be able to embark on the most interesting journey of their lives.
Kesari bhau always had large dreams and wanted to create a legacy for his next generations. It was indeed a brave move for a geography teacher to start an enterprise that would help lakhs of people to realize their dream of exploring the world.

Even though Kesari bhau did not have enough capital, he had aspirations & self confidence in abundance. Right since his early days, Kesari bhau had won over hearts of a large number of clients by providing them with fantastic service and fabulous travel experience. Experience in travel sector was a solid asset that Kesari owned. He knew how to deal with people and how to tackle with situations. Another solid asset was the unflinching support he had from his wife Sunita and children Veena, Shailesh, Zelam & Himanshu.

Bhau made a very modest beginning from a 10X10 ft office in a chawl in Matunga. They had just one staff member, hired as a clerk, who continues to work with the company even after 30 years. In later years, Kesari bhau purchased that 10X10 office at INR 1.2 lacs by borrowing funds from relatives and friends. They also had to mortgage Ms. Sunita Patil’s jewellery with Saraswat bank to raise money to buy utensils and other things that needed to be carried along with the tours.

Kesari Tour’s first tour was to Rajasthan with 13 tourists. Number of 13 was below the critical mass. However, Kesari bhau and Ms. Sunita Patil decided not to look at profitability and decided to give in their best.

There were many large well established Mumbai based travel firms. However, Kesari bhau decided not to get discouraged by the competition and decided to be optimistic.

Kesari Tours arranged three tours, to Rajasthan, Kashmir and Nepal & Himachal, in the first year. Kesari bhau used to travel with the tour himself. Trips arranged by Kesari tours then had a unique selling pitch ‘swataha malak barobar’ (i.e. owner himself travels with the tour).

Kesari bhau realized that they cannot survive by doing just three trips a year. Kesari bhau’s daughter Ms. Veena Patil, age 22 then, suggested that Kesari bhau should handle Kashmir tours and Veena would handle tours to Nepal & Himachal. Gradually, Kesari Tours started arranging trips back to back with most family members traveling most of the time.

Kesari bhau’s son Mr. Shailesh Patil used to accompany tours up to Jammu and Kesari bhau used to lead the tour further from Jammu to Kashmir for a week. He used to get a batch back in a week to Jammu and then took another batch along. He used to do so non-stop for 2.5 months in summer without a break. He did so when he was 50-55 years of age despite being suffering from sciatica (doctor had advised him against travel and against sitting down)! Kesari bhau did this on sheer will power.

Kesari bhau specialized in arranging trips to Kashmir and knew Kashmir and its history like the back of his hand. In 1990s, Kashmir became inaccessible thus making their most lucrative location out of their reach. They decided to focus on Nainital. By that time, Kesari had developed an image that whichever place Kesari focuses on flourishes! People in Nainital were happy. Kesari started arranging back to back batches to Nainital.
Kesari bhau kept accompanying the tours until the age of 65. By mid to end 90s, Bhau realized that the next generation is ready and started transitioning to them.

Over the years, his venture which started as a domestic tour operator with just 13 tourists, transformed into one of India’s leading travel companies, handling millions of tourists internationally. In January 2012, Kesari organized its first trip to Antarctica, thus covering all the seven continents. Currently, Kesari Tours has 26 branches in India, more than 792 office staff and more than 350 tour leaders spread across India.
Once you are in a market leadership position, you have to keep innovating to sustain your position. The entire Kesari management always had to keep thinking on “what’s new?”

Kesari bhau’s mantra has always been ‘value for money’. He always guided his team to keep thinking on ‘what more can be given’ rather ‘what less can be given’ (to increase profits).

Kesari team launched ‘Honeymoon Tours’. The idea was received extremely well. One particular year, Kesari Tours took a batch of 75 couples along!

One of Kesari Tours most successful programs has been ‘My Fair Lady’, an exclusive ladies tour. They seriously questioned whether this can succeed. An article in newspaper spoke about this idea. In first two days from the article, there were 50 bookings. They realized that this is what ladies were eagerly waiting for. First tour had 320 ladies! They realized that no one in the world had arranged such a large all-ladies tour. They proved to be pioneers in this space.

My Fair Lady was not just an all-ladies tour. They had many features which made the program successful. They made the ladies laugh a lot through many games and activities. They made them do what they never did in their lives. E.g. they made a 70 year old lady wear denims. That lady later boasted that she wore her grand-daughter’s denims.

On similar lines, they arrange exclusive tours for senior citizens called ‘Second Innings’, ‘Marigold’ for spiritual tours, ‘Chota Break’ for quick getaways, interesting MICE offerings for business travelers and special tours for students.

Kesari’s unique concept called ‘carry zero money’ which addressed many pain points of a tourist, became an instant hit giving Kesari a serious edge over compeition.

Kesari management realized that such new concepts work very well and that they need to keep innovating.

Kesari Bhau is a strong admirer of the former President of India and scientist late Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam. Quoting him, Kesari Bhau says, “When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.”

Bhau observes, “Miracles do happen if a dream is chased with complete determination, dedication and hard work.”

For his unique and inspirational journey and contribution, Kesari Bhau has won many prestigious awards including the life time achievement award from The Galileo Bird

Travel World Awards. A few of his accolades and awards as follows:
  • The Best Family Group Tour Operator in Gujarat supported by Gujarat Tourism 2017
  • India's Most Valuable Travel Destination Company 2017 at 08th Annual India Leadership Conclave
  • Indian Affairs Business Leadership Awards 2017
  • Most Popular Brand 2017 by Artha Sanket-Maharashtra
  • Preferred Partner Award 2016 by Sentosa-the State of Fun (Singapore)
  • Brand Of the Year 2016-17 by Process and Research Evaluators ibrands 360
  • Best Domestic Tour Operator by Today's Traveller Awards
  • Gallery of Legends Award by West India Travel Award
  • Go Achievers Awards by GoAir
  • India's Top 100 Travel Producers award by OTM
  • National Tourism Award (Best Domestic Tour Operator-Kashmir) for the years 2013-14 and 2014-15
  • Best Domestic Tour Operator by Today's Traveler Award 2015
  • National Tourism Award – 2013-14 for Domestic tour operator- Rest of India

  • A die hard patriot, Kesari Bhau has been giving back to the society through ‘Kesari Foundation’.

    Bhau’s biography ‘Pravas Eka Pravasacha’, forms a compelling read for every entrepreneur and traveler.

    Bhau has given his sweat & blood and heart & soul to make Kesari Tours a highly respected travel powerhouse in India. It is through his relentless and untiring effort and dedication that Kesari Tours enjoys an envious position in the international tourism & hospitality industry. The iconic entrepreneur has now successfully developed his successors and transitioned the business to them. Kesari Tours now continues to grow leaps and bounds under Bhau’s able guidance and the capable leadership of his successors.

    Bhau, salute to your vigour!
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