Growing interest in experiential holidaying is going beyond merely engaging in activities and more travelers are keen on sampling home-stays to better absorb local flavours, feels Nitin Aggarwal, Co-founder Funstay. He feels that home-stay and experiential-stay segments are likely to grow in coming years and he wishes to make the best use of this interesting development. Excerpts of the interview:
How are you managing to bring in investments? A number of start-ups are mushrooming, increasingly making it difficult to attract investors. How are you managing to bring in much needed cash?
Well, as of now we are managing on our own money. Anyways, bringing in good investments, especially in the travel and tourism space is a challenge. Everyone is coming up with a new idea and setting up a commercial venture. You have a travel agency, literally, at every nook and corner of the country.
But, that is a good development, is not it?
Yes, it is true to a certain extent. But no one is really focusing on pain-points, which are many. Talking about our segment i.e. home stay segment is a vastly unorganized sector. In hotels, you have a set parameter, a standard room and a fixed tariff. None of it exists in the home-stay space.
Then how do you manage and intend to manage consumer experience? The element of surprise always lurks.
Exactly! It is the biggest challenge that we face on a daily basis. Perhaps, that is why we took a conscious decision from the very first day of operations that we will not venture into budget-stays, focusing our energies solely on experiential accommodation. Our aim is to cater experiences not facilitate budget-stays. If a consumer wants a budget stay, we try to provide him an experience in the budget of his liking.
How big is the experiential tourism market in India? What scope do you see for growth?
Everyone is looking for an experience. When you travel you seek certain components like sampling local cuisines, meeting with local people and understanding local culture and tradition. All of it comes at a cost. People are increasingly willing to shell out more for a better experience. The days of second-hand holidaying are passé. Travellers want to be in the middle of the action, and I see this trend only catching on from here on.
Sounds like a very brave move for someone just starting out, without much investment back-up. Instead of going for the tried and tested scale and market-segmentation, you are nitpicking at a very early stage.
True. What we do is we talk to our clientele on the kind of experience they wish to seek. We have a well-attended customer care centre that looks into consumer complaints and requests. It is a very crucial component of running a business in India. A lot of multinational operators are bereft of human contact. I believe it is very difficult to automate an experience. Guests have queries like the quality of rooms, behavior of hosts and information of how to get there. It is just not possible to automate all of these queries through software. Satisfying consumer needs is crucial to success of any venture, but, thankfully, we have been successful in this regard.
How many properties do you have under your belt?
Currently, we have around two thousand properties registered with us from across India.
Looking at your website, we see that you have picked up key tourist destinations like Varanasi, Coorg and Manali. What was the reason behind choosing destinations like Chikmagalur and Coorg?
Most of our customer base stems out of age group 23-35 years, who are mostly professionals. They seek a vacation that gives them a break from their monotonous routine; they yearn for an experience of different environment from where they are coming. It is exactly the kind of consumer profile we wish to engage with. That explains why we chose these destinations, because they have plenty of experiences to offer.
How difficult is it to bring home-owners on board for opening a commercial establishment? What are some issues therein?
Well, if you get them booking and business, it is not that difficult actually. It is difficult for us when we hand-pick them. For instance, if I look at top ten properties in Coorg, it will be difficult for me to pick them. Firstly, their occupancy rates are on the higher side and secondly, they have a completely different perspective. So, we hand-pick properties that are not yet on tourist radar and famous, but are equally good in their offerings.