Your earliest memories of travel are most likely rooted in family holidays over the summer. Even if nostalgia glosses over much of the experience, as happy vacation images glide past like a mental slideshow set to mellifluous acoustic-guitar ditties, don’t forget the actual kicking, screaming and hassle involved in transporting the whole family from point A (your house) to point B (your grandparents’ house) without flinging an annoying sibling off the train.
But if the process of planning a vacation two decades ago was an absolute nightmare, things today are markedly different. A while ago, a former J-school colleague mentioned in her article, quoting a PhocusWright report, that online gross bookings alone were forecasted to be up a whopping 80 per cent this year from 2012. And as always, there’s a deluge of start-up activity at the epicentre. I chatted with one of the founders of travel start-up Nirvana Nomads, Chirag Jain, about his experiences at the frontlines. Jain pointed out that we’re seeing the first strains of a fourth stage in the travel business. Initially, all travel was utilitarian (like the aforementioned visit to “your native”), and then came the pilgrimages. Next up, there was popular sightseeing; “but now that everyone’s seen the Taj Mahal”, as Jain quipped, vacationers are drawn to the idea of offbeat travel. And that’s what start-ups like Nirvana Nomads, Black Swan Journeys and White Collar Hippie look to provide: an experience. Their credo is to get likeminded people to different destinations and interact with the local environment and culture, while going rafting, hiking, or camping.
Technology has been the biggest enabler of experiential travel. The proliferation of urging listicles on travelogues (5-places-to-see-before-you-die and their ilk) have, as Jain rightly points out, created a romantic air around experiential travel. He concedes that takers for offbeat travel are from the young, working professional demographic: almost 90 per cent of their customer base is between the ages 18-28, (“the older folks would still expect brownies and towels delivered in the morning…”). Sure, greater disposable incomes have helped, but the decision to spend on regular travel—once seen as an annual luxury—is what’s new. As an overarching forecast of the offbeat travel sector though, Jain believes it’s “only time before you have what Ola did to cabs”: reinvention of an idea through one startup that takes it from niche to the mainstream.