[Startup Bharat] This Assam-based travel-tech startup is promoting Northeast tourism, creating jobs

Founded by Prasurjya Talukdar and Prantika Sarma, travel-tech startup Oddessemania aims to promote travel in the Northeast, keeping in mind sustainability and current trends like backpacking and solo travel.
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Childhood friends Prasurjya Talukdar and Prantika Sarma shared a common interest: exploring the world. 

And, it was while they were on a trip – exploring Bomdila town in Arunachal Pradesh in January 2018 – that they thought of starting up. 

The duo realised that offbeat destinations like Bomdila were becoming more popular as compared to regular tourist magnets. However, lack of awareness and information often meant most people never explored these beautiful places. 

Prasurjya and Prantika, who both hail from the Northeast, decided they would showcase their region and culture. 

“Our region has such unique culture and cuisines, but people from outside are not aware of the Northeast’s charms. We wanted to promote this and show how different and welcoming our people are, how they are rooted to their culture,” Prasurjya says.

“The rest of India till now seems to think that our region is not safe, so we wanted to become the bridge that removes the misconceptions. We wanted to give the most local experience of Northeast India to the people of the rest of India,”  Prantika says.

In January 2019, the duo launched Guwahati-headquartered travel-tech startup Oddessemania to simplify travel needs, keeping in mind sustainability and current trends like backpacking and solo travel.

It functions as a guide booking platform where tourists can create their own itinerary with the help of Google Maps and book local guides on hourly or daily basis. It offers options for destinations in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, suggesting activities like treks and trips, and provides soft skills adventure training to school and college students.

“We are like the Ola/Uber for the travel industry. Just like one can book a cab in Ola and a room with OYO, one can book a guide via our platform,” Prasurjya says.

Prasurjya (CEO) handles the technical aspects and operations while Prantika (COO) handles business development and team management, and creates itineraries. The startup, launched with an initial investment of Rs 4 lakh, presently has a seven-member team. 

Creating job opportunities

The platform is helping local guides with employment opportunities on a daily or hourly basis and a chance to showcase the place’s diversity and culture.  A guide makes  Rs 1,500- 2,000 on a daily basis, depending on the number of trips and the state. 

On the guide onboarding process, Prasurjya says interested people can fill in a Google form available on their website, after which Oddessemania verifies the guide’s licence, experience, and conducts police verification.

“We hire them for a probationary period for  15 days and based on that we confirm them. If any person wants to be a guide and doesn't have the expertise and licence, we train them,”  he adds.

Prasurjya says a guide earns much like how an Ola or Uber driver does. Once a client books the guide, Oddessemania takes a commission and the guide fees is being transferred to his or her account. The guides are also offered an incentive system: the more bookings they get, the higher is the incentive. 

“There are platforms for hotel and car booking, but guides were mostly being exploited. This is our way of bettering their lives and recognising them. We are planning to add 200+ trained guides by this year end,” Prasurjya says.

The startup has more than 80 guides on its platform at present, and each is provided insurance as “their safety is also our priority”.

The next step 

Oddessemania plans to launch a web app in the next three months. 

Currently, most communication between the guide and the tourist happens via WhatsApp while users learn about the platform through their official website. The website gets 25k-30k visitors every month.

“We get calls daily because of our website and every year we get 60-65 percent repeat customers. Word of mouth has been a great thing for us. In 2021, we catered the highest number of batches to Dzukou Valley, all via word of mouth, which is a big thing for a startup,” Prasurjya says.

The founder says they don't want to launch an app in the Play Store and seek downloads. 

“Nowadays people don't download new apps easily because they don't know if it's important, they have less space, and they don’t want too many new apps and notifications. But the need for a guide app has been arising from our existing customer base and market research,” he says. 

“Once the traveller community uses the web app, we will get many details about customer psychology. We will then launch a downloadable version. Right now, our focus is the SaaS version that will be soon available to existing and new customers.”

The startup claims to have catered to 3,500+ clients from across India in the last 2.5 years. 

Market size and business model

According to  India Tourism figures, the northeastern area got approximately 77 lakh domestic visitors in 2016, accounting for only 0.47 percent of all domestic tourist trips within the Northeastern states.  

Although there has been an increase in the figures in recent years, NE regions have had a lower percentage of arrivals than in the pre-pandemic period. 

Prantika says, “We noticed that the international tourist footfall has decreased globally, which has impacted the tourism of NE India also. This was reported by UNWTO as well. There is a lot that can be done in improving adventure in the Northeast as well as uplift rural tourism if  the government participates  in promoting tourism in rural and undiscovered regions.”

The founders say this aspect is slowly coming into the spotlight. 

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“For example, we were called to a meeting organised by the DC of Kamrup district where we discussed how to bring Lumpi, a hidden yet pristine destination of Assam located near Boko, in the public eye and effectively develop it. We are happy that the Ministry of Tourism wants to focus on Northeast India.”

The startup started with the B2C revenue model but also uses the B2B business model since last year. Oddessemania has tied up with many schools and colleges in Assam and corporates. 

“In the B2C sector, we directly serve our clients with our guide booking platform. Once someone books a guide, we will take a commission from that booking and the client is good to go with the guides. For the stay, driver etc, you are paying directly to the owners. 

“In the B2B sector, we mostly provide experiential learning programmes to youngsters from schools and colleges. We provide experiential sessions to corporate teams too,” he adds.

The startup has generated a revenue close to Rs 35-40 lakh in 2.5 years despite COVID-19 and having to refund many bookings during the lockdown. 

Funding and the way ahead

Bootstrapped so far, Oddessemania is in talks with some angel investors and VC firms.  The startup has acquired a soft loan from Down Town Venture Lab and has garnered some investment from family and friends. 

It has also been recognised by Startup India, and honoured by Assam Startup.

Speaking of future plans, Prasurjya says the startup is targeting the backpacking community, which is estimated to be worth nearly Rs 150 crore in Northeast India and Rs 500 crore across India. 

“With this target, we are planning to generate revenue of about Rs 10-12 crore in the coming three to four years. Our future plan is to launch the SaaS model of the guide booking system and by the end of the year to launch the beta version of the app. We have already received the copyright of the app last year.”

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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