Community travel to niche experiences: these travel startups have you covered
The travel industry is growing at an unprecedented pace. In 2016, the industry contributed close to $7.6 trillion to the global economy and was a source of employment for over 290 million people across the world. In India too, the urban middle class is quickly taking to every kind of travel – from run-of-the-mill package tours to independent itineraries. Low-cost airlines and higher disposable incomes have ensured that Indians are travelling more than ever before.
The Indian tourism industry is the fastest growing among the G20 countries. Ease of access through online portals and hassle-free bookings and accessible pricing will play a pivotal role in ensuring that India’s travel sector grows to a $48 billion market opportunity by 2020.
According to data reported by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the Indian travel and tourism industry generated Rs 14.1 trillion (over $200 billion) revenue in 2016, ranking 7th in the world in terms of absolute volumes. Only 12% of this came from foreign travellers. That’s roughly 10% of India’s GDP.
As more and more Indians look to off-beat destinations, multiple startups have emerged to capitalise on the opportunity the tourism sector has to offer. Each trying to offer something different.
From customization to specific demographics to social good through travel and lifestyle, we look at some of the most interesting new trends and travel startups in the offbeat travel segment in recent years.
Gone are the days when Indians would spend their entire lives in one city, growing roots and social circles for years to come. As young, urban Indians become more open to shifting base for new job opportunities, looking to incorporate a more bohemian lifestyle, this shift in trend also reflects on their travel patterns.
Taking note of the trend, the travel sector in the recent years has been carving out deeply personalized and customized travel alternatives, which allow for socializing opportunities for specific demographics, interests, and even life stages.
Founded by Vikram Ahuja in 2014, Byond Travel is one of the well-known names in community travel in India at the moment. Based on the premise of discovering memorable experiences and sharing them with like-minded fellow travellers, Byond does both domestic and international tours. Customized around activities as well as demographics, the company organizes women-only, mixed group, biking, adventure trips throughout the year.
Founded by Sumitra Senapaty, a seasoned traveller herself, the WOW Club calls itself a travel club designed exclusively for women. It has been organizing customized itineraries to destinations around the world. Accompanied by a WOW Buddy, or a well-travelled woman tour leader, solo women, groups of girlfriends and all-women families have been travelling with the WOW Club since 2005.
Adventures and niche experiences
Fulfilling a newfound need for new experiences, these startups are bringing innovative activities and brand new forms of travel to India.
Founded by husband-wife team Chitra Gurnani and Abhishek Daga in 2011, Thrillophillia is a Bengaluru-based travel portal that curates travel stories and offbeat travel packages and experiences. The company has raised two rounds of funding from Mu Sigma, Nu Ventures, Navlok Ventures, Hyderabad Angels, iLabs, Peepul Capital, and several others. Six years since its inception, Thrillophilia has 8,000-plus activities listed from a large pool of operators across 200 plus cities in India and more than 15 countries abroad.
Adventures Overland was founded by off-roading expert Sanjay Madan and travel writer Tushar Agarwal. The idea for the startup found fruition after the duo's epic Great Indian World Trip, a roadtrip through six continents driving 90,000 km in 50 countries. What started out as an experiment won them a travel show on Discovery, a Guinness World Record for driving the longest distance in a single country. Today, Adventures Overland organizes several forms of road travel for travellers around the world, including long-term overlanding to offbeat destinations and routes like Iceland, Russia, Alaska, South America, to Lahaul and Spiti closer home. It also has customized self-drive itineraries on offer, to Bhutan, Myanmar, Ladakh, Kutch, Rajasthan, and Spiti Valley.
In fact, long-term road travel (overlanding) and self-drive itineraries are catching on fast in India. In recent years there has been a rise in several new startups in this space. These include Scout My Trip (a comprehensive road trip planner for routes, accommodations, dhabas, and tourism hotspots along Indian highways), Rentrip (onlinemotorbike rental), Overland Expeditions India (long-term overlanding) and several others.
Another recent entrant in the niche travel scene, Bengaluru-based Campmonk is based on the premise of building a community of nature-loving campers and giving them access to gorgeous campsites around India. Founded by ardent campers Amit Shetty and Shashi Kiran, Campmonk currently has sites listings from Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.
With increasing awareness around issues like climate change and poverty, responsible tourism has become a global phenomenon today. It combines the pursuit of travel with social good and advocates community work and eco-friendly, sustainable choices on the go. India has become quite the hotspot for responsible tourism, thanks to its many opportunities for social work and skill development in remote villages, and environmental and social concerns in its many national parks, forests, and mountains.
India Untravelled is founder Sifti Dhillon’s effort in helping travellers discover a side of India that remains sheltered from popular travel and lifestyle discourse. It is a rural tourism company that lets travellers not only discover gorgeous remote villages of India but allows customers to participate in local rituals, living with locals in home-stays and farm stays.
The Blue Yonder
Founded by Gopinath Parayil as part of his river valley conservation project for Nila in Kerala (Bharatapuzha), The Blue Yonder has transformed into a travel company that focuses on social and environmental impact through travel.
Since 2004, the company has been creating experiences that actively engage local communities in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. It is interesting to note that The Blue Yonder comes through on its promise as a social enterprise because it helps its staff to dual incomes. For example, a TBY electrician could also moonlight as a vocalist in the village music group. According to TBY, this helps protect communities’ earnings, a challenge that comes from travel being a seasonal enterprise.
Inspired by a community travel enterprise in coastal Kenya, Kipepeo now organizes offbeat travels through the Northeastern states and generates employment for local communities while safeguarding their local cultures, rituals, and environment. It all started when founder Piran Elavia, a seasoned traveller and mountaineer, decided to work with an NGO in Sikkim during his sabbatical. Since its inception, Kipepeo has been organizing fixed departure and customized trips around locations where the social enterprise is engaged in conservation, development, and livelihood related activities.
Getaways and more
As lives get busier and highways get better, short getaways are becoming the order of the day. Take to any highway on a long weekend to see the market opportunity for resort- or activity-based short getaways. City-dwellers love them! It is, therefore, no surprise that getaway-centric travel companies are cropping up all around and becoming popular.
An early mover on the getaway scene, Rushikesh Kulkarni started Breakfree Journeys in 2009, when he was just 19. Eight years later, the company enjoys a cult status among Mumbai travellers.
Breakfree Journey organizes camp-outs, birding trips, hikes, roadtrips, and backpacking journeys through remote corners of India, most significantly in and around Mumbai. As a native Mumbaikar and lover of the city, Rushikesh personally leads Breakfree Journey’s signature heritage walks through the city.
Founded by ISB graduates Aditi Kedia and Felix Jamestin, Myoki is an online platform that curates offbeat getaways and short vacations around India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. The company specializes in experiential accommodations like palace hotels, heritage villas, rustic cottages, and colonial bungalows.
Myoki’s differentiator is that the team personally travels to these locations and handpicks its accommodation listings and getaways.
Life Is Outside
Founded by brother-sister duo Vipul and Yamini Kasera, Life Is Outside (LIO) fills the visibility gap for India’s beautiful getaways. Different from accommodation and destination listing sites like TripAdvisor, Life Is Outside is focused entirely on short getaways. Starting off with India in 2013, LIO now helps travellers plan getaways across 12 countries including Jordan, New Zealand, and the United States.
The company caters to a diverse budget range and interests, and its website allows filters like the number of hours you are willing to drive or fly, specific preferences like mountains, beaches, wildlife, and heritage.
This list is far from comprehensive, as niche travel is now the perfect antidote to the crowd and clutter of urban living. But as the year ends and you plan your vacation do give these travel startups a try.