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The travel agent's new destination

April 16, 2003 13:28 IST

Did you know what the former chief operating officer of Sita World Travel, Arjun Sharma, has been up to in the last three years?

Having sold off his thriving travel agency for a cool Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) to the Swiss travel industry giant, Kuoni Travel Holding, Sharma has often been spotted on the greens, swinging to get his handicap down.

He's also trekked to Mount Kailash in Tibet and now writing a book on 'What I learnt in school'.

Though Sharma has been restricted from entering any travel-related business till April 2004, thanks to his strategic contract with $ 2.3-billion Kuoni, it has not deterred him from exploring new lines of businesses, including an investment company and real estate in the form of service apartments.

"Yes, I have bought 25 per cent equity in a foreign investment company, but I cannot name the partner just yet."

Sharma, who currently heads the Rs 12-crore (Rs 120-million) Select Holidays, operating two resort properties -- Heritage Village Club, Goa and Heritage Village, Manesar in Haryana, says the company's name will be announced soon.

For the time being, Sharma is busy preparing to get into the service apartment business. He has earmarked Rs 64 crore (Rs 640 million) to build two 16-room service apartments in Delhi and Mumbai and is currently identifying land in both the cities.

Targeted at expatriates and short-stay customers, Sharma says, "The market shows there is a latent demand for service apartments for short and medium stay of two to three months.

"There is an acute shortage of such places and customers end up staying in hotels. But for half the price they can rent these apartments."

Sharma is looking for land in areas like Golf Link, Jor Bagh and Panscheel Park in Delhi and a sea-facing bungalow in Mumbai.

Outlining the details of the service apartments, Sharma points out that the apartment project will be built keeping in mind the fact that people of different backgrounds will stay under the same roof.

"There will at least be 16 fully-furnished apartments of 900-1,000 sq feet area each, backed by a common drawing room and entertainment zone," he says.

Sharma's other new real estate venture is developing a five-acre property overlooking the Arrosim beach in Goa, next to his Heritage Village Club.

"We plan to build 30 cottages of 1,800 sq feet with two bedrooms and a study. Each of these will have a swimming pool and will be sold for Rs 50-60 lakh (5-6 million)."

The owner has the option of renting out his property when not in use. "We offer him the option of marketing the place for him both in India and abroad when he's not using it. This helps the owner get a return on investment," says Sharma.

"We are confident of getting 6-8 per cent return on investment on capital," he adds.

The land in Goa has already been bought for Rs 2.5 crore (Rs 25 million) and another Rs 2 -3 crore (Rs 20-30 million) will be spent on developing the cottages.

"We will develop them as we sell the properties," says Sharma, who is also revamping his two properties in Manesar and Goa into boutique hotels.

So, is Sharma moving away from the travel industry and getting into hardcore real estate business? "I'm not sure if I want to enter the travel business at all. As far as real estate is concerned, I am still not into buying and selling of it. In a way it's connected with tourism," he says.

Maitreyee Handique