Lalit Sheth, the founder of Raj Travels was a rags to riches story. That story came to a sad end on Wednesday 1st August 2012, when Lalit Sheth jumped into the sea at Worli and ended his life.
Lalit Sheth built an empire that was the envy of many. In 1976, he came to Mumbai with just a few thousand rupees in his pocket and started Raj Travel World. The business boomed thanks to the prosperous middle class’ propensity to travel to foreign countries and Lalit Sheth’s innovative measures. His USP was to offer “Indian food” like Pav Bhaji and Batata Vada to the tourists in foreign countries. So, you could be on the Eiffel tower munching on batata vada or on the heights of the Alps, tucking into Poori Bhaji.
Lalit Sheth was very hard working and an innovator apart from being a great motivator. In its peak, Raj Travels was the leading travel and tour organisers in India with 79 offices across the country and over 500 employees.
However, the immense popularity of Raj Travels was also the reason for Lalit Sheth’s downfall. He started believing that everything that he touched would turn to gold and so he started borrowing heavily to fund his ventures. The turning point came when he invested heavily in Raj Air, an innovative concept, that was intended to transport pilgrims to tourist destinations like Tirupati. Lalit Sheth thought he would enjoy the first mover advantage and capture the market. On paper, the concept made sense. With so many thousands of pilgrims going to Tirupati, how difficult is to attract traffic. Sadly, there were no takers for the venture and Raj Air piled on huge debt and sank.
Raj Travels also started an inter-State bus service between cities like Mumbai – Pune and Mumbai – Ahmedabad. It bought fancy Volvo buses and furbished them with the latest gadgets and accoutrements at great cost. This again was a great concept on paper. After all, the millions of passengers fed up of being waitlisted for the trains would make a bee-line for the fancy bus service. However, here again, the passengers cold-shouldered the venture.
Towards the end, Lalit Sheth and Raj Travels were deep in debt. They owed several crores of rupees to banks, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and tour operators in the travel business value chain. They had reached a stage where people were refusing to give money and a bank had even put a recovery notice at his office at Sukh Sagar Building in Girgaum Chowpatty. The expenses were also mounting. Several full page advertisements were taken out at great cost but with no corresponding increase in revenue. To counter the falling volumes, Raj Travels started the unhealthy trend undercutting competitors and offering discounted prices.
The debt was mounting, the business was dwindling and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. So, instead of having to face the ignominy of a failed businessman, Lalit Sheth took the easy way out and ended his life.
Update: Lalit Sheth’s suicide note has been published by Mid-Day. It makes for very tragic reading