A visit from an overseas client goes way beyond boardroom meetings.
Someone has to burn the midnight oil to ensure a seamless airport transfer, a comfortable hotel stay, the right blend of local and international cuisine, local sightseeing and shopping, suitable gifts, a quick weekend getaway…the works.
And in all likelihood, at Indian IT companies, that ‘someone’ is the project manager.
As it turns out, that’s a major pain point for project managers in India, who get saddled with responsibilities they didn’t sign up for.
“Every year a company hosts at least a couple of overseas client visits, and normally it is the project manager who is entrusted with the entire client visit experience,” says Samrat Patnaik, who served as a project manager at Infosys and Capgemini.
Samrat brainstormed with Sagar Kumar Parida, a communication consultant and former Tracxn employee, on solving the problem. They ran their idea past 50 plus project managers in different companies, and found it made perfect sense.
So what was this idea? “To ensure that overseas client visits are managed by a professional company, and save the valuable time of project managers, so they could focus on their core work,” Samrat tells Tech in Asia.
In August this year, Samrat and Sagar launched TripExploria as a travel and vacation planning website specializing in creating personalized itineraries for business and leisure.
In a short span, the Bangalore-based #startup has organized private business-to-consumer (B2C) trips for 50 individuals and executed 10 business-to-business (B2B) travel projects. Enquiries are pouring in, too – they have received at least 90 so far.
Customization is king
On the TripExploria home page, I found a breathtaking picture of a man lying on a rock and soaking in the vast expanse of green mountains. Then there’s one of a sampan floating on a tranquil sea under a pink-orange sky; a man standing on the edge of scenic blue waters, a plush swimming pool at a luxury resort… A catchphrase runs through these pictures: “Personalizing your travel imagination.”
The key word here is personalize. An American Express study suggests that 70 percent of Millennials would prefer to create their own trip rather than book a pre-packaged trip. Additionally, nearly 60 percent agree they would pay more for an agent’s expertise
That’s exactly what TripExploria does.
“We provide end-to-end personalization, starting from local/inter-state transfer (the kind of vehicle you require), cuisine, activities, sightseeing, and even gifting,” says Sagar, who has in the past managed PR for hospitality brands like Taj Hotels and Plantation Trails by Tata Coffee Limited.
“Today, we have myriad options available on the internet. The idea is to eliminate what we term as ‘decision-paralysis’ experienced by consumers while choosing from the said options.”
While the initial plan was to serve the B2B space, the startup extended its services to the B2C segment “as the execution process remains the same,” says Sagar.
To get started, customers log into the website and fill out the ‘Plan’ section, or email the company. The startup analyzes the requirement, creates a personalized itinerary, and gets it ratified by the customer. Once confirmed, it activates partner vendors.
But Indian vendors are notorious for their lack of professionalism, aren’t they?
I mean, small-time hotels can turn around and say breakfast is not included in your package, or give you pool-facing rooms when you wanted sea-facing ones! I remember the founder of travel startup PickYourTrail saying they avoid organizing India tours because of these very reasons.
“Well, this is exactly where we come in,” says Sagar. “We are personally in touch with all our partners, be it hotels or car rentals. We are an execution-led company, so the possibility of a discrepancy is ruled out unless it is an exceptional situation.”
Experience (in terms of number of years, clients, reputation in the market) is one of the key factors they look for in a vendor, he says.
Mixing business with pleasure
India is expected to be the sixth-largest business travel market in the world by the end of 2019. TripExploria estimates that the ‘overseas client visit experience’ market alone is worth US$5 billion.
So which are the destinations people seek out via TripExploria? The picturesque Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lush green Coorg in Karnataka, coastal Kerala and Goa, and the desert state of Rajasthan. Sagar says their clients are also keen on Bali (Indonesia) and Sri Lanka.
TripExploria’s consultancy fee varies from 12 to 18 percent of the cost, depending on the nature of the project. “The idea is to create a potential win-win situation between the customer and us.”
Win-win it seems like to me too. Though I’d like it very much if they had more pictures of women travelers on the website, especially sharpshooting businesswomen who also make up the overseas client visit market!