India is rapidly growing and as urbanisation turns villages into towns and cities into metros, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell one city from the other. Only a few places have managed to retain the old-world charm and one of them is definitely Mysuru. Be it the royal aura, the signature masala dosas and silk sarees or being the cleanest city in India, Mysuru is definitely more than just a city; it is an emotion.
Vinay Parameswarappa and his friends were in Singapore, exploring the city in a unique tour by foot through ‘The Singapore Walks' when an idea struck him. Hailing from a city like Mysuru, Vinay realised the untapped potential that his city possessed, despite all the attention it had been receiving and the kind of tourism that was prevalent. He wanted the traveller to experience the sights, sounds, aromas and the true essence of this royal city in the style of a commoner, by foot. Thus The Royal Mysore Walks was born.
With people opening their homes to tourists in offbeat destinations, travel portals offering lucrative discounts and travel-inspired movies becoming blockbusters, travel has definitely been one of the buzzwords of 2015. But it was not merely a trend that prompted Vinay to start up; it was sheer love for the city and the passion, as he puts it, to show the world the 'real Mysuru'.
“It took some time to deliver conviction to the idea of experiential touring in a sightseeing dominated tourism base. However, with continued progress and constant reinvention of the experiences, we were able to deliver quality experiences.” he says.
The team overcame all the initial hiccups by garnering support from other ventures each of them was respectively involved with. Their walks gradually gained popularity and created a lot of buzz attracting reputed travel publications like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and National Geographic Traveller, and this slowly helped them build the brand. Today they are rated #1 activity in Mysuru by TripAdvisor and have been awarded the certificate of excellence third time in a row for their experiential tours.
Months of struggle followed by recognition and awards sounds quite dreamy. But how do you build upon an idea in a place so chock-a-block with tourism-related activities that have existed for as long as one can remember? How do you coax a tourist to ditch that grand-looking tonga and walk around the city instead? How do you startup and shine in a place with so many players?
“Our USP is in delivering tailor made experiences to each of our guests by identifying their interests, whether it is history, art, culture, architecture, food and so on,”says Vinay. Growing up in the royal city meant knowing its best secrets, ones no tour guide or portal will ever have access to and it was this side of the city that Vinay and his team have set out to offer. The Royal Mysore Walks have now established more than 25 varieties of tours and are continually working on introducing more aspects to make the experience more comprehensive. “Whatever be your area of interest, we have a tour,” Vinay says.
Living in a city which is as culturally rich as Mysuru and introducing the world to its real culture sounds like an incentive enough to keep doing what you are doing. But how financially viable has the venture been? What started as a one-member team in 2009 is now a full-fledged company with a team of ten members. “We have registered a constant growth of atleast 25per cent per annum. The business model has been fairly successful and has helped us be sustainable over the past six years,” says Vinay, adding that they plan to further expand within the city in the form of variety of tours and experiences.
The Royal Walks have been recognised by the Karnataka Tourism Vision Group Report, UNESCO, CII and various other organisations. They have been featured in popular national publications like The Hindu, Times of India, Deccan Herald, Outlook Traveller and NDTV Good Times. They have also been featured in international publications such as The Guardian UK, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Traveller, Blue Guide and the ABTA.
The success of ventures like these show us why some things are best enjoyed when there is no agenda. You discover the best of places when you take the wrong road. You meet the best people by utter coincidence. And, sometimes, you just need to take a walk because, you never know, in the process of discovering the place, you might just end up discovering yourself!