How travel entrepreneur Rashmi Chadha is building online communities during the pandemic
The travel and hospitality sector has been hit the worst by the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for Delhi-based women-friendly travel startup Wovoyage, whose core operations lied in organising tours for international tourists, stayed afloat during this turmoil; thanks to its years of expertise in brand building and marketing.
“For three months, we had nothing to do but evolve as a branding and media company as I was already working on bigger branding projects for the European airline companies,” Rashmi Chadha, Founder of Wovoyage, tells HerStory.
The entrepreneur says the COVID-19-led lockdown helped her tap into the influencer and brand marketing space, catering to bigger brands through word-of-mouth.
At present, Wovoyage is a registered agency with Instagram to promote young creators on the platform. It has created a niche in aggregating creators and influencers to execute branding strategies and spread the message.
All this while, the startup has strengthened its social media game. From a mere 18,000 followers on Instagram before the outbreak, it has grown to a whopping 97,000 at the moment. In fact, Rashmi ramped up engagement on her personal account as well.
“For most brands, it is all about acing marketing on social media platforms, and we are leveraging our relationship with influencers. Today, people spend more time on these platforms, and rarely take action by watching television ads,” she explains.
Being vocal for local
Nearly a year into the pandemic, Rashmi says the emerging trend of “staycation” is bringing newer opportunities for the domestic tourism sector — people are opting for longer periods of stay by working from different places instead of travelling for merely three or four days.
Rashmi, too, stayed in Goa for a while and noticed that smaller accommodation services in the state are suffering due to the lack of online presence.
She would often visit such places, interview the owner, and use Wovoyage to amplify their services. For instance, the Josborn Guest House on Agonda Beach Road in south Goa run by a woman named Inacinha Fernandes.
“It was a wonderful and affordable place for Rs 600 to Rs 800 per room right next to a beach but empty, while the cottages and other properties in front of her cost around Rs 8000. The problem is she doesn't know how to market and does not even have a presence on Google Maps,” Rashmi shares.
Rashmi promotes many such small businesses, homestays, and government-owned properties for free, and hopes to develop communities and empower them digitally. At the same time, the seed-stage startup charges bigger businesses and luxury properties for such promotions.
Within the website, the “Wovoyage media segment,” showcases several travel-related blogs on topics, including offbeat places to explore in different Indian cities, top religious sites, and more.
As part of the Google Internet Saathi programme, Rashmi mentors about 16 women entrepreneurs, hailing from rural areas.
Additionally, she teamed up with fellow entrepreneurs like Anna Alaman, Nisha and Zinal Doshi, to start SheInTourism — a platform to help Asian women entrepreneurs in the tourism industry sail through the impacts of the pandemic. In five workshops conducted so far, it has been able to reach to about 90 women entrepreneurs per session.
“We felt that a lot of women-led companies were facing challenges in handling businesses during the pandemic, and we started conducting workshops (five, so far) in areas of leveraging digital platforms and leadership for free,” she adds.
The story so far, and the next step
When asked if her startup would resume operations in the tourism sector, Rashmi replies in the affirmative. She says, “Of course, Wovoyage will be back soon, but it will be different.”
Founded in 2016, the startup was Rashmi’s way to make women travellers – especially those travelling solo – feel safe and worth their time and money.
The startup organises everything from women-friendly accommodation, transportation, group departures, and guided or private tours. Through a partnership with language schools, she recruits female guides to accompany women tourists.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wovoyage used to serve around 1,000 customers per month.
Rashmi says emphasising on the personal connection will be a key for tours Wovoyage would be organising soon. For instance, if a traveller signs up for a homestay and tour in Sikkim, the person will be informed about the owner, as well as the culture of the place.
She explains, “Customers and the communities they visit are our focal point. It is not just about the itinerary and time anymore but also the feelings connected, and living the experience they have been briefed about with the community.”
Rashmi and a pool of other influencers are exploring properties across India and sharing the experience on their respective social media platforms.
To date, the entrepreneur keeps receiving 60 to 70 enquiries about trips on WhatsApp, which makes her an optimist about organising tours yet again very soon.
Edited by Suman Singh