Startups
From Artificial Intelligence to challenging seasons, the business is getting tougher.

Paraphrasing Steve Jobs, any kind of entrepreneurship requires a certain kind of foolishness. A travel entrepreneur probably has a little more of it than others of his ilk. You may well ask why? The travel industry just like the food industry is one of the most crowded spaces today in India. Tellingly, it attracts a lot of first time entrepreneurs as the idea of starting something in travel draws newbies like flies to the honeypot. The low entry barrier and nominal capital investment makes it easy to do so.

I was very much like what I described above and it has been quite a roller-coaster ride, now up, suddenly down. But at the end of the ride, you want to climb on again. Because the ‘high’ is a sight to behold. If you plan to bootstrap a travel startup, read this first.

This is a minor downside but a big irritant in the life of a travel entrepreneur. Many of my friends think my job is all about swanning around exotic destinations. I might be in a gorgeous palace hotel in Jodhpur but I have spent the entire day on my feet absorbing details and information coming at me from all sides. This is usually followed by hectic sightseeing, not for its own pleasure but to make sure I can advise clients correctly. It definitely isn’t a holiday. My Instagram page might tell a different story but they don’t capture my swollen feet and throbbing head.

A downside that is far more challenging is the seasonality of the travel business. Being an India specialist, a lot of my clients come from Europe and USA, as they are interested in Indian culture and heritage. The catch is that most overseas travelers visit India from September - April. That leaves a gap of half a year. I offset this dip in demand by offering curated holiday planning to international business travelers who don’t follow the seasonal trend, as they are not on holiday. I also create offbeat monsoon holidays for Indian travelers. So, you need to be constantly innovating and looking for newer avenues of revenue if you are to run the business 12 months of the year.

Artificial intelligence on the other hand is a mixed bag. This trend points towards even more consolidation in the travel industry in the future leaving lesser rooms for smaller agencies and startups. While it might sound daunting that bots could take over my job, I look at it another way. If I am good with learning and adopting new technologies, I might be better off in the new playing field than my competition.

Target audience is a gray muddy area with lots of travel entrepreneurs. It takes guts to identify and stick to a genre. You stand for something. Most start off with an idea but get swayed along the way by the possibility of making quick one time revenues and end up diluting their brand. Creating a brand that your core target audience identifies with is key to the success of your company in the long run. The sooner you identify it, the sooner you will be on your way to success.

The upsides

If I have been sounding all gloom and doom until this point, let me talk about the upsides. There are few other businesses where you make friends so easily while doing business. In my case, it is more so as my curated holidays featured very special accommodation run by amazing folks. I came away from every destination recce with wonderful memories of the people that I meet as strangers but part as friends.

A great joy in this journey has been the opportunity to discover my country in a much deeper way than I could have dreamed of. I have been shown around a 350-year-old Namboodiri illam by the head of the family, heard family stories from Rajputs who trace their roots back to the14th century and seen baby goats cuddled up in bed with village children. Knowing that my work in getting guests to experience the hidden gems in India helps to preserve our heritage makes me work harder to reach more people.

One of the biggest positives about the life that I lead is that ultimately it brings me a lot of work satisfaction as I am following my passion. I get to do what I love most and run a business based on it.

But the absolute best thing about running a holiday company is that no matter how bad your mood is when you sit at your desk, it doesn’t stay that way for long when your product is about creating and delivering happiness. Our guests go back with minds filled with memories of colorful India. Happy faces and delighted messages fuel my entrepreneurial zeal every single day.

The writer is the founder of Seek and Hide.