SITA World Tours dates back to 1933 at the pit of The Great Depression, the same year Boeing produced the 247, its first commercial airliner. It is one of the largest and oldest tour operators in America, offering tours to Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the South Pacific, Asia, India, South America, Central America and Europe.
SITA was founded as the Student International Travel Association by Jack Dengler and his wife Helen. Dengler had discovered the joy of travel in the Navy and wanted to share it with others. SITA started with bicycle tours of Ireland, Germany and England for students.
After World War II, SITA introduced travel programs to South Africa and India and charter packages to the Philippines and Hawaii. By then the company had expanded its target market beyond students and changed its name to SITA World Tours.
With the birth of international air travel and Pan Am Airlines’ around-the-world service, SITA introduced packages for destinations along Pan Am Airline’s routes in Europe, India, Africa, China, Japan and Hawaii. By the late 1950s SITA had 22 branch offices around the world.
In the early '60s the Denglers sold SITA to the travel division of Diners Club, where it remained until 1982 when it was put up for sale and came to the attention of Roger Mahal and Mok Singh. Both men were born in India. Mahal had earned a Master’s degree in engineering in England and moved to the U.S. in 1971. He settled in Kansas City, where he met Singh, who was working at that time at a travel agency called Wilson Travel.
After three years working at Wilson Travel, Singh relocated to Los Angeles and took a job with Patson Travel as director of sales. He worked his way up to vice president of sales and marketing. In 1981 he decided to go into business on his own and called on his friend Roger Mahal to go into partnership. Mahal was working as chief engineer for a Houston-based petrochemical company, but with his multi-country life experience and education he wanted to move into something more expansive.
Singh and Mahal started Travel Promotions, Inc., in Los Angeles in 1981 and the next year SITA went up for sale. Singh and Mahal knew of the company from dealing with travel agents who had worked with SITA.
“I would go visit travel agents,” says Mahal. “People had a very good impression about it. SITA had earned a great name for service, integrity and the packages they were offering.”
Mahal and Singh decided to buy SITA. “When we took over SITA, we concentrated on the tour products we have now,” says Mahal, “including India, Africa, Asia and China. Then we added Australia and New Zealand, South America, Greece and European river cruising.”
Singh and Mahal, along with trusted compatriots Max Ali, director of operations, and Laudie Hanou, president - tours division, have continued to grow the company and expand its offerings year by year, always staying on top of the trends in the evolving tours marketplace. No matter how far the company expands, it keeps a sharp focus on its core value: service.
“The attention to detail, the expert destination experience, and our 'Yes we can' attitude- are all key hallmarks of the type of service SITA provides” says Mahal.
Today SITA is based in Encino, Calif., with offices in New York, Chicago, Houston, Vancouver, Toronto and India. The company offers tours all over the world. Most of the principal team members have been with the company for decades.
“Our staff at SITA maintains very consistent service,” says Laudie Hanou, vice president, tours division. “Our specialists have been with SITA 10, 15, 18 years. They have a lot of experience. They are very loyal and knowledgeable. We work hard to maintain work that is consistent with that tradition. We make sure everything we do, from speaking to agents to providing proposals, conducting seminars and producing brochures is well done and well received.”
Always moving ahead and staying on top of trends in the marketplace, in 2014 SITA introduced a line of multigenerational tours called Family Friendly Journeys in response to increasing demand for programs for travelers of all ages traveling together. The programs were designed with a sharp focus on creating authentic experiences that reflect the true character of destinations, and on bonding among family and friends.
The company keeps its business robust by supporting the network of travel agents it works with throughout the country with educational programs, familiarization tours and partnership marketing initiatives. Its efforts have paid off with a loyal agent following, many of whom voted SITA as the top operator in the highly competitive Pacific Asia destination market.