Online travel startups encash on Activity and Experiential based Holidays in 2013

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Nupur Jain, a young accountant based in Patna, is all set to experience an adventurous vacation this holiday season. “I am so excited to experience the thrill of scuba diving because all my earlier holidays were plain and dull (usual sightseeing with family). This time I wanted to go for an altogether different holiday,” says Nupur. And she thanks the emergence of a new breed of travel startups which are focused on itineraries, adventure, destination selection and offer customized options.

Online travel space in 2013 has witnessed a strong leaning towards domestic travellers interested in activity and experiential holiday. Activity and experiential travels are the fastest growing commodities in the travel space. Globally it has been growing at an average of 17% and is around $100 billion worth industry. In India, the marketsize of such travellers is roughly $2 billion. “The adventure travel in India has been quite big from years but most of it is offline. Even today 99% of the transactionshappen offline,” says Abhishek Daga, co-founder Thrillophilia.

Domestic travellers take to activity and experiential holidays

“The biggest change that one can notice is that people have become more aware about travelling and leisure traveling is picking up in a big way,” says Rohit Shroff, co-founder Holidify. Due to rapid urbanization, weekend trips are increasing at an alarming rate and people are looking for a lot of travel options to relax and stay fresh.

Capitalizing on this, a lot of new travel startups have emerged in the last one year catering to the newer needs of relatively more aware travellers who demand more customizable options, newer destinations and also something different than regular travelling. “This led to the rise of startups which are focused on one of the four major aspects – newer destinations, itineraries, experiential holidays and inspiring experience,” adds Rohit. At present, Holidify helps users to discover little-known places, however soon it’s looking to include unique experiential travel options.

The major reason for shifting focus of domestic travellers towards activity and experiential holidays is  easier availability of information. With startups like Thrillophilia taking the lead, they are making the whole planning  look simpler and also safer and reasonable.

Unlike traditional holiday experiences (sight-seeing like Taj Mahal, Elephanta Caves etc.),  people now want to take up local activities on a trip, and are looking for such experiences at a destination. Started in 2009, Thrillophilia’s business grew by 200% in 2013, and has a traffic of about 300,000 unique visitors a month which is growing at roughly 12% on a monthly basis.

Rise of itinerary-focused startups

Besides a spate in activity and experiential centric startups like Thrillophilia, iExperience and Tushky, a lot of new websites have come up to help users create a more informed itinerary for their trips. Sites like Mygola had pivoted its business model to focus on itinerary, “We went back to the drawing board in June 2012 and did one-on-one interviews with probably 200 plus travellers across the globe. During interaction with them we noticed that the word ‘itineraries’ kept coming up,” says Anshuman Bapna, co-founder, Mygola. Later, Mygola pivoted completely to become the world’s largest collection of itineraries.

“People are bored of packaged tours with the same rushed itineraries. They are now more inclined to try something new and out-of-the-box  and then come back with an interesting story to tell everyone,” says Anirudh Gupta, co-founder of itinerary- focused startup, Tripoto. The Delhi-based startup is building a collection of offbeat travel itineraries from ‘hitchhiking in Iran’ to ‘a four year journey across Africa’.

Monetizing itinerary a challenge for startups

Crowd-sourced itineraries or even itinerary planning platforms simplify the way people plan their vacations. At present, this sector is at a very nascent stage and given the market size we will see more startups cropping. But how each startup chooses to monetize from itineraries will be interesting to watch. “The space is perhaps global in nature rather than just India focused. The market in India is at a nascent  stage and global approach might be the way to go,” adds Anirudh.

Mobile will be  big for online travel startups in 2014

Mobile generates a lot of traffic but startups like Thrillophilia hasn’t seen much of bookings happening on mobile so far. Venture or angel backed startups are spending considerable amount of funds to make customer purchase from mobile and embrace the platform for transaction. “In 2014, we will see lot of mobile transactions happening. We have been talking on mobile from last five years, 2014 will be the year when lot of travel transactions will happen on mobile and the companies who are mobile centric will get boosted up,” points out Abhishek.

Outlook and road ahead

In 2014, we expect more players to join experiential and activity based holidays. New players like Thrillophilia and Holidify are expected to start consolidating in the market with a better and broader product. With rising interest from domestic travellers startups in this space are also expected to raise significant chunk of VCs and angel funds.

“The share of online travel agents will increase  especially in hotels and packages as the confidence among domestic travellers is  high,” says Rohit. Investors and bigger travel companies (MakeMyTrip, Yatra, Goibibo etc.) can think of acquiring smaller players and keep a track of their movements and trends.

Jai Vardhan

Jai Vardhan

Starting his career as a crime reporter with 'The Indian Express', Jai Vardhan is a storyteller, erstwhile entrepreneur and a habitual prankster. He is inclined towards entrepreneurship, philosophy and startups, not necessarily in that order. He likes connecting the dots, breaking news, nose and beliefs - ‘To wake up in life one must fall asleep’.