According to a 2012 Vacation Deprivation Study by travel company Expedia, out of 22 countries surveyed, India was the 4th most vacation-deprived country globally. Unlike the US, Europe and few other developed countries, very few in India take long breaks that last a fortnight to a month. This has been changing of course, with a seven to 10-day foreign vacation becoming an annual affair; holiday pictures festooning Facebook walls is evidence to this. There’s proof too. The same Expedia survey in 2013 showed that India had improved a good six places and came at 10th position.
The reasons for Indians not taking too many breaks are many. Not enough time for planning, high costs, deadline pressures, dog-eat-dog competition and vacations being considered more a luxury than a necessity. While they are averse to long breaks, they are quite open to short breaks of three to four days. This makes sense as India has many holidays that fall before or after weekends. But options for short breaks are limited and if available, difficult to find, considering a lot of short breaks are planned last minute, lack of information is a stumbling block.
A brother and sister duo from Bangalore was thinking the same thing in 2010 and set out to solve this problem.
Birth of LifeIsOutside:
Vipul and Yamini Kasera did not set out to start something in the travel space as they had no prior experience. Yamini is an engineer with an executive management program from IIM-Bangalore and has worked at Infosys, Goldman Sachs and Asklaila. Her brother, Vipul, is also an engineer with an MBA from Indian School of Business (ISB), who has worked at Thoughtworks and has also founded carpooling startup Commuteeasy. But after identifying the pain point in the short holiday space, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity. They knew that on the supply side, solutions existed, as there were plenty of exciting experiences a short drive away. “But what surprised us was the glaring lack of visibility for these getaways. At least a Google search on interesting weekend getaways from Bangalore or Mumbai certainly wouldn't get you to them! Given the size of this market, we saw a massive opportunity in curating and consolidating these experiences and presenting them in a manner that made the process of discovering and booking the getaway a breeze,” says Vipul. All that was needed was tying the two together.
While Vipul and Yamini officially launched LifeIsOutside (LIO) after the former graduated from ISB, they had tested waters before that by doing a couple of pilots. It also helped that LIO was selected for incubation at the Wadhwani Center in ISB early on, which helped them to firm up the big picture of the product roadmap, and also served as a sounding board while they were caught up in daily operations.
While there are other portals like TripAdvisor and HolidayIQ which offer information on short and weekend getaways, LIO’s strength is that they are exclusively a short break portal, and everything that they do is about becoming the market leader in this space.
This is how LIO works. “People looking for a quick getaway can just key in levers like the distance they are willing to travel and an approximate budget and we help them self-select from a curated list of getaways and plan their travel end to end. Unlike some other players, we do not offer a yellow pages approach to selection. You could think of us as a trusted friend who you would call upon for a great recommendation,” explains Vipul.
Building LIO, journey and challenges:
LIO has had a good run so far, and they have found acceptance for their offering. After the end of first year of operations, they sent close to a 1000 people on holidays, at present that number has risen to 10,000-12,000 people annually.
Vipul says that while LIO has had a very consistent growth curve, and like every startup, they have gone through their own fair share of highs and lows, but have been fortunate that none of the lows have been low enough to shake their belief.
There are many reasons for their success and the traction like the concept, the design of their website and they way they went about acquiring travel industry know-how and invested considerable time early on interacting with suppliers/providers and various stakeholders in the travel eco-system. “Very early into the game, we realized that being passionate about travel did not translate into an understanding of the travel business. Our understanding of both the customer behaviour and the travel industry has matured over the last few years. While this may have taken us a while to get to where we are, it has also helped us approach challenges faced by this industry in unique and unconventional ways, often leading to newer and better ways of solving them,” adds Vipul.
Products on offer and target customers:
LIO has many flavours of short breaks that are designed for different customer segments. Vipul claims that LIO has something for everybody; whether it’s a couple looking for a quick romantic break, a family looking to holiday with kids, corporate groups looking for a fun team outing, expats or business travellers looking to go off the beaten path or someone just seeking options for a family reunion or a bachelor party.
Since short breaks are taken three to four times a year, LIO has repeat customers and they also snag many new ones through referrals. “In addition to individuals and families, we also work with several corporates as offsite consolidators where we manage their team outing, outbound training and off-site requirements. We provide them an end-to-end integrated solution and work with them through every stage of planning the outing. In addition to providing unconventional and interesting choices for their team outings, our solution also ties in with their approval and order generation flows wherever required. This has been very well received and we are working towards aggressively expanding this offering to more corporates in other cities as well,” adds Vipul.
While every city has its own set of popular and sought after getaway destinations, one trend that’s emerging is that of customers wanting to explore options that go beyond the conventional. “While there is still patronage for popular resorts people today are a lot more experimental and there is a marked shift in the demand for resorts/stays that are off the beaten track. Of late, we are also seeing a sizeable market for pet-friendly and baby moon (both before and after a baby is born) holidays.”
Thanks to their early traction, LIO is not looking to raise any funding anytime soon, and will look to grow the business through internal accruals. But they haven't ruled it out completely, and are open to the right type of investors at a later stage, who will help accelerate growth Vipul says that his main focus will continue to improve the customer experience. LIO’s’ dream of becoming the market leader in the short break experience may still be in the making, but search giant Google already recognizes their prowess. Type ‘weekend getaways’ into Google’s search box and the first name that pops up is LIO.
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