How this woman entrepreneur is showing the other side of Goa to tourists with Make It Happen
Maria Victor, who earlier worked with HP and Tesco, moved back to Goa to start Make It Happen. The experiential travel company aims to showcase the state's culture and heritage, and give tourists a chance to connect with locals.
Goa’s sun, sand, and narrative tends to overshadow its rich history and culture. It was to showcase her hometown’s history and culture that Maria Victor decided to launch Make It Happen.
The 34-year-old started Make It Happen in 2014 while she was based out of Bengaluru. She later moved back to Goa. It is an experiential travel company specialising in curating heritage trails and cultural experiences conducted by presenters who are acutely aware of the essence of real Goa, being locals.
A management accountant by profession, Maria moved out of Goa and to Bengaluru after her graduation in 2005. Then, she went to work in Mumbai and Dubai. When she returned to Bengaluru in 2014, she decided to start up full time.
"Working in Mumbai gave me an opportunity to travel, backed by a stable income and time on my hands. I used this to explore India. I started going on treks and short weekend getaways around India. My travels got me connected to various communities and cultures, and within a year, I knew this is where I belong. This is what I wanted to do and make it happen for others too."
Make It Happen started as a travel club out of Bengaluru in 2011 to connect like-minded travellers and curate thematic tours across India such as an immersive trip to the Nilgiris. This was when Maria was doing it as a hobby. But in 2014, she dived into it full time and, a year later, started her Goa project. Since then, her focus has solely been on Goa and on offering great experiences to tourists.
“Being from Goa, I wasn’t happy with the image it had as a tourist destination and hence began curating experiences in Goa. The state receives travellers who research on the internet, book their travel, and accommodation online, and then look for things to do. We identified the gap and started operating on a different model – an ‘experiences’ model where travellers could choose an experience based on their interests. Each experience is for two to six hours and gives an insight into the different facets of Goa’s heritage.”
Maria has worked with Hewlett-Packard and Tesco, and had planned to do an MBA because her family was keen that she take it up. But her innate love for travel was more exciting than anything else.
Like most parents, her family was skeptical about her leaving a well-paying, stable job and starting up, but she has had their support.
Her mom, she says, “has been the one believing in me, even in difficult times, confident that I will find my way through. My dad, on the other hand, wasn’t too happy at the start but he, too, came around. His expertise and experience in running his own business came in handy and shaped my initiative too. From registering the business to accompanying me for meetings and helping me network, his meticulous approach helped me at every step".
Make It Happen started with three experiences in Goa -the Fontainhas Heritage Walk, Old Goa Heritage Walk, and Chronicles and Echoes of Divar.
What is different? For example, one of the highlights of the Fontainhas Heritage Walk is a visit to the house of a renowned musician, Chico Fonseca, who serenades visitors with melodious tunes in Latin, Konkani, and soulful Fado (a Portuguese style of music).
One of the newest additions is the Cravings and Haatgun Culinary tour, which takes guests around the busy lanes of Mapusa Market and then to a Goan kitchen to explore delicious delights that go beyond the fish curry and rice staple.
The experiences cost Rs 700-3,500 per person, and typically last for a duration of two to six hours. The tours are presented by locals passionate about sharing their culture, giving way for a raw and real experience of the community.
“We approached retired professionals to lead our walks. With their various experiences in life, they organically become very good storytellers. To add to this, the availability of time in conjunction with personal touch takes their passion to another level. It was the idea of giving tourism in Goa a new narrative, as seen and lived by Goans, that got them interested in working with us.”
Today the startup operates over 14 unique experiences and has presenters from all age groups. “Let’s just say, we have never looked back,” says Maria, who now leads a team of 15 hosts/presenters who are all trained to conduct these tours.
“Calling them just guides is a little unfair. In fact, they are friendly, reliable people who host, while showcasing the culture and heritage of a place, a home-cooked meal, a music performance, and/or other arts.”
Making It Happen
Maria shares that they have had over 5,000 bookings so far. When the team launched a pilot, it received around 15,000 bookings over a span of three months and that’s all the encouragement she needed to start building on her dream.
“We adopted a collaborative scaling method. Recently, we tied up with a startup to offer e-bike tours. While the company brings in the technology required - e-bikes - and infrastructure, we curate and conduct the tours. We are looking at such collaborations to expand our offerings and reach,” she says.
Listed on online travel platforms like Airbnb, Cleartrip, Viator, and others, Make It Happen has also collaborated with various hotels and restaurants who offer experiences to the guests.
“Yes, there is competition and there are a number of organisations venturing into this space since we started in 2014. This is an indication that the market for experiences is opening and the future holds big business and growth opportunities,” says Maria.
Marketing has been mostly through word of mouth and social media platforms, and the entrepreneur claims that they have received a lot of traction.
Their audience is a healthy mix of Indian travellers and international tourists. According to Maria, the rising interest in her work from domestic tourists is a big boon. She adds,
"Audience from Indian metropolitan states and European countries are usually the ones looking for such experiences. European tourists thrive on travels that offer more than just stereotypical tourist attractions, and this is where we come in."
Making it count
As a founder, Maria focuses on community-driven initiatives. “Every initiative requires its own operating model as challenges and opportunities vary, based on geography, occupation and ethos of the community. This business is based on trust and relationship. Hence, engaging with communities, meeting artists, and identifying storytellers is a critical part of my work. There is a humane approach to this line of work, and the concept of profit is secondary.”
Going forward, Maria aims to make tourism more about people, stories, culture, and heritage. “We aim to change the face of travel, not only for travellers but also for the communities involved. The travel industry is growing at a fast pace and places are being visited and revisited. Travellers now need a different outlook and interesting journeys and experiences, and in our own way we are Making It Happen!”
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)