India Someday fills the gap between the ambiguity of a guide book and the rigidity of a package tour

Indeed they say, to truly enjoy a country like India, one has to let oneself bask in its characteristic ethnicities and admire its peculiar shades across the horizon at both sunset and sunrise. But for foreigners to travel to India could call for several worries and cultural shocks. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone took care of our guests, managed their bookings and counselled them when necessary without being too poky? Abbas Slatewala, Founder of India Someday, says ‘yes’. In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory, 26 year old Abbas tells us how he and co-founder Harsha Sonawala took up the responsibility to take people places- quite literally!

So Mr. Abbas, before you tell us how you help tourists, help us by sharing a little about your background.

I’m a 26 year old economics graduate from Jai Hind College. I had my hand at a couple of jobs, but with time, I decided to turn-down the corporate life for initiating my own start-up- India Someday.

Right. So what exactly is this India Someday?

Its often hard to explain what 'exactly' is India Someday. We are a travel consulting service placed somewhere between a lonely planet and a travel agency. India is often a difficult destination to plan a hassle-free holiday just by using a guide book. You need someone to advise you about your route of travel when you first arrive in the country and make a few travel bookings such as 'train tickets' or ‘hotel-room reservations’ beforehand.

At India Someday we help our guests plan a personalized and slightly assisted (not a package tour) trip to India. So, in a nutshell- India Someday fills the gap between the ambiguity of a guide book and the rigidity of a package tour.

And how did you come up with this idea?

My partner Harsh Sonawala and I travelled a fair bit across India when we were in college, often out of curiosity, to discover what India has to offer. We'd use guide books, or information on travel forums, often we’d just get to a destination and take it as it came.

Over the years we explored quite a few regions across India. Popular places to offbeat destinations to unknown gems- We walked across them all. As a result our friends and family would often turn to us for travel advice and we not only would help them with the information but at times also helped them with related reservations.

That is where the idea took form. We recognised that there is no 'in between service' for international tourists visiting India. (In between a guide-book and a package-tour). We knew the idea had both merit and market. Now we only had to figure out how to materialise it.

When did India Someday actually kick-start and how many of you have been engaged and how many do you intend to engage with your team?

November 2009 was when Harsh and I brought our website to existence. We are three members now based in Mumbai. Me, my partner and one other who manages the bookings. In addition we have a representative each in Germany, France and Dubai. They work on a commission basis and market our .de, .fr and .ae websites respectively.

Yes we are looking at hiring two full-time employees in the upcoming year- those who love to travel first and also enjoy planning travel for others. In the coming years that number might also increase.

So when you and Harsh got India Someday rolling- what were the initial challenges that you faced?

At first we were still piloting the idea and volumes were small so it was easy for us to handle along with our jobs. But the first real challenge was to quit my fixed-annual-income and do this full-time without the certainty of returns. I looked at it as, 'hey if it works out- It is a lifetime of doing the job of my dreams and if not lets just get back to another desk job!’

The next big challenge was the initial marketing. Any new business is hard to market initially, but even more difficult when your audience is abroad. Furthermore, we were funding India Someday from our savings. We did not wish to dilute stake in the company at such an initial stage and raise funds. The challenge was to find different ‘below the belt’ marketing mediums.

We tried a few alternatives, travel forums, using Facebook and spreading the word virally. The challenge in working within these given limitations is what gives us the real ecstasy.

So did the fear of restricted monetary backups govern your modus operandi? Did you have to restrict your expansion accordingly?

Yes and No. It is a restraint, working with a limited marketing budget; we need to be careful and selective how we spend our money. However, I do not necessarily think having a bigger marketing budget would translate to greater revenue. For example, I could spend more money on google ads, but most other travel agents are there. So I would be competing in the same space. At the moment it is important that we innovate in how we reach our audience.

And whom are you aiming as your target audience?

Our primary target audience is young professionals 24 - 32 year olds. They seem to be more open to visiting India- willing to experiment and wish to travel on their own terms with a little help.

However, we have served from 18 year old backpackers to couples in their late 60’s. But most of our marketing is currently targeted towards the young professional age group.

You mean strictly for foreigners or regardless of that?

Regardless. We did start off thinking that only foreigners would be willing to pay a consultation fee to plan their holiday. Hence, most of our marketing has been targeted towards them. However, we have had Indians use our services too and as we grow we plan to offer them international destinations. We want to offer, for instance, Turkey to Indians on a similar model or even take a back packing/skiing trip to Czech Republic ('come ski and Czech it out!') for instance.

But I’m assuming there might be other players in the market doing similar things. How do you think you cut an edge above them? What is your USP?

Oh, there are tonnes of travel agencies that sell packaged tours to international travellers. However, I do not know of any that does it at a similar granular level that we do. That itself is our USP- the fact that we let you travel your way with just a little bit (of much required) help. And our trips work out to be extremely economical. Since we charge a nominal consultation fee and then if we book hotels or trains or flights they are all at cost.

We are easily the most personalized and cost effective travel service on offer.

Hereon where and how do you see yourself going ‘bout this? How to you plan in making it bigger?

Well that is where all the fun rests. Making this bigger, getting richer (believe me every entrepreneur dreams of that).

For India Someday we will keep marketing ourselves relentlessly and innovatively. Thankfully, Harsh did an MBA abroad so has a network he can reach out to. I was extremely active with AIESEC during my college years and did an internship in Belgium. So I have my network that I could leverage.

In addition we see ourselves catering to the domestic market to and also helping people travel to Sri Lanka (Someday) and Nepal (Someday). This will in a way help us repeat customers as we have had extremely satisfied 'India Somedayers'.

Talking about extremely satisfied clients, as the creator of India Someday, how has the journey thus far been? What has been your ultimate thrill in catering to more of ‘India Somedayers’?

The journey has been filled with highs and lows. Each time we secure a new guest and they use our services, it is a high. When we meet them in Mumbai and often they tell us about how splendid their holiday was, it is a high. Receiving a testimonial, with such kind words and praises, is a high.

Starting a month with no leads, knowing you have to plan 8-10 trips this month, is a low. As I mentioned, it is hard to reach your audience placed abroad with limitations of funds. Losing a client because they just will not trust a company on the internet, is a low.

At the same time the greatest joys lie in the challenges we accept to achieve our goals. We need to attain significantly higher numbers to turn this into a truly sustainable company. Getting those numbers is one challenge, serving that many trips and still being as personalized as we are is yet another challenge. But then again, knowing we have to realise this dream is the ultimate thrill.

Clearly, for someone who is a travel-freak himself, the job-profile speaks volumes of the fun you’d have. But, and if you could, tell us distinctly- What is that you love most about your Job?

Well, just like you said, I often get to 'live what I sell'. So in the coming months I have a two week trip planned to Kerela and then another to Kashmir. I actually have to go there and 'vacation' there. The idea is to indulge in activities, explore destinations, sample different hotels and then reflect on those experiences while recommending them to guests.

In addition we've had some wonderful boutique hotels in Goa like our idea and offer us a free stay at their hotel so that we can recommend it to our guests. Also we are treated with that little extra bit of care.

Oh, that extra attention is pretty much a lot of what most travellers seek for, isn’t it Mr. Abbas? Thank you for your insights. This has been a wonderful interview. So for the closing question, allow me to ask you this: Knowing the obstacles that come in way of an entrepreneur who chooses to make his own path, are you happy you chose to walk this road?

To be honest, we have been fairly fortunate thus far. They have been hurdles, but it could have been tougher. Like not breaking even for multiple years and having to go back to a desk job while juggling the act of India Someday.

At the same time, the journey, which we have only just started, has been extremely satisfying. Showing our country, one that we immensely love, to people from different continents and having them going back loving and appreciating India, is a kick, always.

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