If you are looking for a holiday to relax as well as taste local culture and connect with the locals, Explore just may be your guide. The app, launched a month ago, puts you in touch with homestays in your destination.
Startups have been part of the tourism industry for a while, with most providing easier access to transportation facilities and hotels, resorts etc. “But you understand a place better from the local’s perspective. Vikram P. Kumar, Founder and CEO, says, “Hotels do not provide the same experience; they provide pretty much the same feel in all destinations.” He believes that bonding with the native people always makes the experience better. A globetrotter himself, Vikram travels to about ten countries in a year.
Vikram’s partner in this venture is another California-based software engineer, Rohit Suri.
A software architect and alumni of University of Texas, US, Vikram came back to his hometown in early 2015 after spending a decade in the US working with Cisco as well as MobileIron, a startup. He had felt that although India’s tourism sector is quite famous, reliable accommodation is the one factor stopping Indians, especially youngsters and women, from travelling to the beautiful places inside the country. “Whether it is Ladakh or Madikeri, there are beautiful homestays everywhere in India. But how many of us know about them,” he asks. This is what led him to the idea of Explore.
While the likes of Makemytrip and Stayzilla include hotels, resort etc., Explore is only for offbeat accommodations. Vikram claims that no online/app platform today covers the end-to-end experience of travel. “Current platforms are online aggregators of homestays, once you have booked a place it is left to the host and end user. They aren't involved in helping the host provide a better experience, nor provide support or experiences during the user's visit to the homestay,” he tells YourStory.
Besides, he believes that what one will never forget from a journey is the bond developed with the people. “We are now seeing the world in a very superficial way; but you see it for real only when you interact with the local people,” Vikram says.
Explore was decided to be app-only since India is a mobile-first country. Since many homestay owners are not tech-savvy or fluent in English, the ecosystem needed to be redesigned. Explore has put a comprehensive system in place: once you choose a homestay on your app, the host can choose to respond, and the booking can be confirmed within two hours.
Since unverified data might end up fooling guests, Explore has a research team to find out the properties to be acquired for the platform. “Our blogger takes photographs of these properties to ensure credibility. Our community manager who establishes a relationship with these hosts act as buffer between guests and hosts, and is available to chat via app for the customer,” Vikram explains. Explore arranges for transportation for the customer on request, by Uber, jeeps etc., and the community manager pays weekly visits to the homestays to ensure standards.
Homestay owners are open to going beyond word-of-mouth publicity, and have been part of some aggregators for a while. Since it is a competitive market where trends are changing, they are now reaching out to different business models.
A prominent homestay owner in Bengaluru whom YourStory talked to said that although platforms like Makemytrip, Goibibo and Booking.com have helped in getting more guests, there is confusion about payments. The owner said that it is often unclear when and where to collect payment from guests. Explore ensures that the host is paid the full amount at the time of booking itself, guaranteeing clarity to the customer as well.
Explore is not an aggregator, and charges the host only for providing services like cleaning at a cheaper rate. However, they take 10 per cent of the rent as commission from the customer.
In 2014, the tourism industry contributed Rs 7.64 trillion to the Indian economy. The country’s spending on domestic leisure travel generated 83.5 per cent of direct Travel & Tourism GDP in 2014 ($84 billion or Rs 5502.3 billion).
The homestay industry is definitely growing in India, with new players as well as biggies like Yatra venturing into the sector. HolidayIQ research finds a total of 1,663 homestays across 207 destinations in the country. Karnataka has the highest concentration of homestays. Explore, headquartered out of Bengaluru, has got 25 homestays listed in and outside the city in its pilot. “We want to go all over India. But we will set a yearly target only when we start generating revenue,” Vikram adds. Goa is their next destination, with Sunburn Festival expecting millions in the beach city.
Find the Explore app here.