This Rajasthan travel startup is putting Indian sporting culture on the map, quite literally
The global tourism industry has seen an incredible rebound this year, after nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic that saw international and domestic travel grind to a complete halt. After a stuttering start in 2021, the industry is well and truly on its way back in India too, with the World Travel & Tourism Council’s latest Economic Impact Report projecting tourism to contribute Rs 15.9 trillion to the Indian economy by the end of 2022 — followed by an average annual growth rate of 7.8 percent over the next 10 years to reach nearly Rs 33.8 trillion.
It’s no surprise then, that travelOsports — a Jaipur-based sports travel company — is optimistic about the future. Showcasing their company at the recently-held Rajasthan DigiFest 2022 in Jaipur, co-founders Narendra Singh and Vikram Singh believe their focus on promoting India as a sports tourism destination gives them a unique opportunity. “Just like the various forms of tourism growing in the country, such as rural tourism, sports tourism is a domain that we believe will be extremely fruitful in the coming years,” Vikram says, while Narendra adds, “It’s a challenge and an advantage for us, as we’re the first to promote India as a sports destination.”
The back story
Describing travelOsports as a travel and event planner for sportspersons and sports lovers, Narendra explains that the startup focuses on bringing in international, non-professional sporting teams to tour the country and play competitive games with local teams on a similar skill level.
The company also organises league competitions, mainly in cricket for the youth teams and corporates.
travelOsports was conceived in late 2018, with Narendra’s 15 years of experience as a sportsperson and Vikram’s knowledge of the travel industry over 10 years inspiring the childhood friends to join forces. “It was September 2, 2018 when Vikram had come to Jaipur for a job interview. I had already given up my last job and was looking at government opportunities, but I wanted to start something in the field of sports, while he wanted to do something in travel,” recalls Narendra.
Vikram continues, “I had a freelance opportunity with a travel firm who were organising a trip for an Australian team. But I felt the planning could have been done in a better way. We have so much cricketing infrastructure here — in India, we have a lot of diversity and culture around cricket that we can show people. After that I had a conversation with Narendra and we decided to build on that and start up.”
Getting the big break
While travelOsports took to organising corporate cricket leagues in the first few months of their formation, the company’s first major project came around in December 2019, bringing eight county youth teams from the UK to tour Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, playing with local Indian teams at international and club stadiums.
Vikram says, “In Europe, there’s a great culture and a lot of tourism around football. So we thought that could be something we could do here with cricket,” adding that while some teams do visit India for games, it’s mainly through coaching networks and connections where there’s no real experience of travel and tourism.
As the pandemic struck, the company tried pivoting towards online sports and team building activities, but nothing seemed to work out, hitting pause on their growth.
However, being mentored under the purview of Rajasthan's startup ecosystem program in 2019 helped them through this phase, through its sustenance allowance and access to mentorship from in-house mentors. “We had some great mentors who guided us throughout the process, and that was a great opportunity we got through iStart,” Narendra says.
The duo began organising corporate sports once again in April 2021, and managed to organise more than 35 leagues in Jaipur last year. Narendra adds that the company has been able to organise more than 15 corporate leagues in the first three months of this financial year, with another 15 events slated to be completed by the end of September, 2022.
Areas of focus
With the focus now turning back towards outbound and inbound tourism, the company also began expanding their team again. About their leagues model, Vikram says that their focus on hyperlocal and city-based leagues for corporate and youth in Jaipur and Delhi will soon expand to Mumbai and Bengaluru, with around six to seven leagues being organised per month.
Narendra explains, “The youth leagues currently in India are like an unorganised sector. Whoever has their own academy or ground organises their own leagues. There’s no real competitive experience as such you can get from those. So what we’re doing is creating a professional look and feel for our leagues. For example, at the club level, we give the top performers a chance to get featured in the media such as Dainik Bhaskar and Rajasthan Patrika. Thanks to those platforms they get visibility from selectors which helps advance their professional career,” adding they have their own camera setup for the league, and even the smallest leagues get live commentary, online scoring, stats for every player, live streaming, and interviews with the players too.
With a claimed repeat client rate of 70 percent, Narendra also says that teams that have played in their leagues once come back to play at least three to four times in a year, such as former Indian cricket Pankaj Singh’s academy, that started out with one team but now sends three teams of same age group.
Bringing their main goal back into their crosshairs, Vikram says that the company has started creating marketing content, pushing for India as a sports destination for teams from UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa for cricket. “We’re trying to liaise with the government and the Ministry of Tourism. India is now competing with Dubai and Sri Lanka for cricket tourism. But places like Dubai have higher rates, and we’re able to offer competitive prices for good sporting facilities,” he says, adding that their short-term goals include adding hockey and polo to their gaming roster.
A long-term goal for the duo, however, is to organise a youth tournament for cricket, inspired by the Gothia Cup in Sweden. “It’s a national level tourism project around football. This year more than 1,800 teams from 75 nations participated at the event. That’s exactly what we want to do for cricket, and want to achieve in 2-3 years,” Vikram signs off.