Mumbai-based The Blueberry Trails was founded in 2010. SupportBiz spoke with Sanyal, about her entrepreneurial journey and her major learnings. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about how The Blueberry Trails was conceptualised and operationalised...
Travel is love for me. I learnt to travel very early on in my life - to not just visit places as a tourist, but to be a local, adapt to their life and move out in a couple of years. Prior to starting The Blueberry Trails, I worked with Pantaloons, the retail store of Future Group, in marketing and branding. I am based out of Mumbai, and in the course of my work, I usually used to travel to different parts of Maharashtra on the weekends. This made me realize that there are so many places beyond the obvious tourist spots which people just do not know about. I thought that if people did know about such off-beat places, they would certainly go here for their sheer beauty. So, I started blogging about my travels. A business model slowly emerged, and thus, The Blueberry Trails was born.
What was the initial investment required to start The Blueberry Trails?
We started with an initial investment of Rs.5 lakh, most of which was spent in travelling to explore places. For every location that we organise tours to, the spots have been visited and systematic plans have been drawn up by me and our team.
How big is your team, presently?
We currently have two full-time members, three freelancing travellers and travel research associates.
What was your first trip? Which places do you conduct tours to now?
Our first trip was to the Dang forest in Gujarat. Presently, we offer off-beat weekend getaways from Mumbai to varied destinations like Harihareshwar, Bhandardhara, Bordi, Kolad, Karjat and Panchgani. We also design longer trips to places like Ladakh, Hampi, Konkan Maharashtra and Rajasthan, as well as wildlife trips to lesser-known reserves.
What is your USP? How are you different from other tour providers?
There are several differences between us and other tour providers. We design trips to locations which are carefully selected, and the trips include experiences which are intrinsic to the place - local culture, art, heritage, cuisine, and natural beauty is what we focus on. Our stays are never in run-of-the-mill hotels or resorts - they are in homestays or bungalows owned by locals, heritage stays, camp sites or boutique stays carefully selected by our team. We are also advocators of slow travel – our trips are not a scurry to see sights and capture loads of photographs to fill your hard drives. If you travel with us, it will be the experiences that you take home, which will be your memories for a long time to come.
Our travel groups are an eclectic mix of people. We refuse people who do not follow or believe in our principle of travel - for the simple reason that their expectation from a trip will be completely different from what we provide. Most of the travel operators in our space specialize in a particular genre - say adventure or culture. We are different in the sense that we offer a gamut of experiences, catering to all these genres.
How do you deal with competition?
There are several factors, as I said earlier, that set us apart from our competition. Mainly, the degree of personalization that we bring to our trips is the key to our model. Our clients get to speak to members of our core team while designing a trip and not some call-centre executive who is randomly churning out trip plans. This ensures that our customers have great experiences while travelling with us, and that they keep coming back to us. This is our way of dealing with competition.
Tell us about the milestones you have crossed in your entrepreneurial journey....
We started off designing weekend trails, and then went on to longer trips within six months of operations. Our first long trip was to Ladakh, and then, there was no looking back. That was our first milestone. After that, we have ventured into personalized trips and corporate getaways, too. Each addition to our product line and its acceptance is a milestone in itself. These milestones have instilled in us the confidence to keep at it and get better every day.
What are the major challenges you face?
Some perceptions of clients can be quite a barrier. For instance, experiential travel is quite new in India, and people think that it comes cheap. It is quite a task to convince customers otherwise.
Homestays are looked down upon, but they would be amazed at many of the boutique stays or homestays that we have on board. It is a challenge to convince customers that the experience is as good (if not better) than a hotel, with the added advantage of a personal touch to it.
What have been your major learnings from business?
Perseverance and persistence are very important.
Honesty is the best policy for us - we are very transparent about our trips: we clearly declare before our trips things such as where we will be staying, whether the journey would be suitable for kids and such things.
Feedback has played a huge role in the growth of The Blueberry Trails. We listen very carefully, and make alterations to our trips’ plans too, if required.
Also, we believe that we make our own luck every day. We work hard, and the rest is up to the universe to give back to us.
What are your expansion plans?
We plan to expand our team by getting two more full-time members soon. Also, we want to focus on more corporate off-beat getaways, something that we do not actively market yet. Expanding our product line is something we are looking forward to.
What are your thoughts on India’s tourism industry?
The tourism industry in India is growing at a CAGR of 13 percent, and things are looking very bright. Globalisation is eminent, and people no longer talk about just the locations they visit but also the activities and experiences they have had. Most dinner-table conversations revolve around travel. Experiential travel is growing at 15-20 percent year-on-year, which is a great thing for organizations like us. However, the sector is much fragmented and there are not many organized players.
Tourism is one of the few industries looking up even in this economic slump. In most of the advertising spends, visibility is garnered by travel companies these days – it is an industry which will continue to grow in leaps and bounds, with some dramatic changes in the way people perceive travel in India.