[2020 Outlook] 10 travel startups to help satiate your wanderlust this new year
There are more than 3,000 startups in India at the moment that are innovating, disrupting, and serving the travel-tech market.
Of these, a great many are bootstrapped while several others boast a war chest full of funding. And it’s not difficult to see why, in the light of AI and other tech-driven inventions flooding the travel industry coupled with millennials-led consumer behaviour, there is a sudden, new, but unmistakable allure to this sector.
“In a world of cookie-cutter hotel experiences, we wanted to celebrate the uncommon and the offbeat,” says Manish Sinha, who co-founded The Unhotel Co along with his wife and business partner Shilpi Singh in 2016. “We go beyond the destination and the itinerary, we focus on the authentic story of the place, people, monuments, culture, and food.”
Interestingly enough, there are many others like this husband-wife duo, who hold similar entrepreneurial goals and values when it comes to the Indian travel industry. A booming sector no doubt, which is all poised to cross the staggering $9 billion market size by 2025.
This breed of young founders and innovators does not believe in playing by the rules; they have already taken the industry by storm with their out-of-the-box ideas.
And going by the Indian traveltech report card, it looks like these young, fresh startups are here to stay. Take a look:
‘Incredible India’ stands for a great many things, often a confluence of traditions and technology. After all, ours is a country where every day a new innovative startup takes birth, and at the same time, where thousands flock to a temple in Hyderabad - the Chilkur Balaji Temple, also known as the ‘Visa Balaji Temple’ – to get their visa.
But thanks to Mumbai-based startup GetMyVisa, divine intervention may no longer be necessary. Launched in 2015 by friends and colleagues Apurva Mody, Ritesh Ved, Janak Mehta, Hemang Maniar, and Madhu Salainkar – all seasoned travellers – the online platform aims to provide the Indian traveller an easy, assisted, timely, and economical visa facilitation and submission solution.
“We aim to be the leader in online travel visas and smart travel essentials facilitation and processing in India, South Asia, South East Asia, GCC, and China,” says Apurva, Co-founder of GetMyVisa.
Believe it or not, but there is a host of opportunities brewing in the B2B segment of the Indian travel industry, lying untapped and full of potential.
Delhi-based B2B travel startup TravClan aims to bank on these very opportunities, bringing technology and innovation to the segment, which, more or less, is dominated by service providers like travel agents and suppliers who rely heavily on offline practices.
The startup, incepted in October 2018 by three seasoned professionals, Chirag Agrawal, Ashish Thapliyal, and Arun Bagaria, basically serves as a marketplace for travel agents and suppliers to buy-sell travel products, like holiday packages, hotels, activities, transfers etc.
So far, TravClan has on-boarded 7,000+ travel agents and suppliers on the platform, crossing Rs 100 crore in annual sales run rate within 14 months of starting up.
Like the B2B sector within the travel and tourism market, the space of business travel too desperately demanded disruption. After all, it is one space commanding huge operational costs for any company or organisation.
This is where Singapore-headquartered Travelstop comes into the picture. The AI-powered SaaS platform, aimed at simplifying business travel and expense management for corporates in Asia, provides easy-to-use tools that streamline the business travel booking process while automating expense reporting and providing meaningful insights.
Interestingly, the men behind this startup – Prashant Kirtane, Vijay Aggarwal, and Altaf Dhamani – are all former Yahoo executives, who had in 2014 founded Travelmob, which was acquired by travel startup HomeAway, which was in turn acquired by Expedia in 2015.
Imagine if you could research your next travel destination, book the flight tickets, finalise your hotel and stay, and yet keep within your set budget – all in a matter of a few minutes, that too without having to browse through a myriad of websites and blogs?
Sounds too good to be true, right? Thanks to MeTripping’s revolutionary travel search engine, however, this is possible.
Planning trips and your vacation itinerary is now a breeze because of the Bengaluru-based startup that helps users go “from desire to decision” in minutes.
Founder and CEO Varun Gupta explains, “At MeTripping, there are no static packages created by an ‘expert’, no ops or customer support or call centres to sell packages to you. We use the information from millions of travellers to understand the best fit for each traveller.”
If you have not spun your business around the needs and demands of the millennial and Gen Z travellers, are you even doing it right? This emphasis is because of the demographic composition – millennials constitute 34 percent or one-third of the Indian population. And they love it when travelling is customised to their preferences.
Pallavi Agarwal and Pankaj Parwanda understood this behaviour pattern. The Delhi-based couple, in fact, went a step ahead, pulling out all the stops to offer hostel facilities across different locations in India with their startup goStops.
Simply put, goStops is a full-stack youth hostel company. It leases, manages, franchises real estate assets, which are then designed, transformed, marketed, sold, and operated as youth hostels in business and leisure locations preferred by millennials.
After realising the challenges involved in bringing standardisation to budget hotels, the founding trio behind Mumbai-based Vista Rooms changed their business model. From budget hotel aggregation, the startup – founded in 2015 by avid travellers Ankita Sheth, Pranav Maheshwari, and Amit Damani –switched to private home management.
Needless to say, the pivot has proven to be in their favour. The startup today operates a network of luxury holiday homes, with ‘premium’ and ‘comfort’ being the key USPs of its chain of 350+ deluxe properties spread across more than 30 cities in India and Sri Lanka.
“We chose to focus on holiday homeowners because they are people who have some sentimental value attached to their homes,” says Amit, Co-founder of Vista Rooms. “They do care about the quality on offer to those who choose to stay there. They also care about the overall long-term maintenance of the home.”
As alluring and adventurous the idea of travelling and exploring the world is, a pertinent question that surfaces is that of safety and security. Especially for women, aspiring to travel on their own.
Delhi-based entrepreneur Rashmi Chadha has been working tirelessly to solve this very issue with her women-centric travel platform, wovoyage. Started in 2016, the startup provides girl guides to solo women travellers, and even offers women-friendly accommodation, transportation, group departures, and much more.
For Rashmi, the love for travel, incidentally, was inspired by her own mother, Sunita Chadha. A passion which was only intensified after Rashmi lost her mother to a tragic incident of road rage.
“She was my life force, my mentor. I hope I can live up to her memory,” says the wovoyage founder.
The online travel business might be dominated by the likes of MakeMyTrip, Yatra, and Cleartrip, but there has been a surge of smaller players in recent times. Air ticketing platform HappyEasyGo is one of them.
Backed by Korean and Japanese investors, the Gurugram-based startup has been working to strengthen its air-ticketing business and develop its hotel division. It even claims that its B2C online air-ticketing sales are currently ranked second in the industry, with a user base of over 10 million.
“By the end of December, we expect our hotel business to be running over 3,000 bookings a day. India is the third largest air travelling country in the world and we are confident to utilise the fresh funds towards gaining a commanding position in the cluttered online travel market in India,” said Founder and CEO Boris Zha, following a recent fundraise.
Travelling for a break might be the millennial mantra, but this trend hasn’t taken away the sheen from medical tourism, a sector where India shines bright with its offering of various quality hospitals and healthcare centres.
However, there is just a tiny glitch. For the hordes of patients travelling to India from all over the world, there are very few single-point intermediaries who are reliable and could provide the right information. For this lot, IIT-Guwahati alumnus Harmeet Singh started Avocure in 2017. It is a medical travel startup that aims to connect patients from across the world with local hospitals.
The Gurugram-based startup also helps patients get a second opinion from expert doctors across the globe.
“One of the major advantages of using our dashboard is that we have the best turnaround time (TAT) in the industry. We provide a treatment plan from the hospital within three-to-four hours as compared to 24-48 hours TAT of other medical travel service providers,” Harmeet says.
The truth is the online travel space is getting gradually crowded and extremely competitive. This means that for a startup to survive in this field, it has to go beyond a bunch of tech-driven services. This is where Chennai-based Pickyourtrail comes in.
With its unique touch + tech model, the startup has built an enviable technology stack that has helped it scale while remaining profitable.
As Founder Hari Ganapathy says, “The capability to create, customise, and book international trips completely online and in under 10 minutes is what differentiates us from the rest of the pack.”
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)