How fresh ideas drive business?

There is nothing wrong with offering run-of-the-mill itineraries to the new traveller, but one needs to keep innovating, fashioning something unique to create fresh demand. TRAVTALK speaks to a few agents creating a niche with their own ideas.

Hazel Jain

‘It is better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation,’ said Herman Melville, the famous novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. The Indian travel industry does boast of agents and destinations that are trying to do something different from the rest. Manish Sharma, Chairman, Akshar Travels & Tourism Development Society, Gujarat, introduced a new concept, Election Tourism, way back in 2012. This was during the Assembly elections in Gujarat where Narendra Modi, the then CM, encouraged this project. “We invited more than 300 tourists from all over the world and India, and we explored elections in Gujarat. This project was a huge success. After that, in 2014, we did this again at the Lok Sabha elections. That was again a huge success and we attracted more than 2,000 tourists from around the world,” said Sharma.

His idea was to showcase the world’s biggest democracy to the world and get tourists from the USA, the UK, Japan, France, Germany, Africa, and the Middle East. This specially appeals to those living in countries with other forms of governance. “People choose their political leaders by vote. For other countries, this is a totally new concept. And they want to know how the system works up close and how people choose their political leaders. We organise rallies, participation in sabhas, as well as one-on-one meetings with political leaders,” Sharma adds. He includes day trips to the leaders’ hometown, as well as heritage spots in the package.

Slow travel
Anshu Tejuja, Managing Director, Ashoka Dream Holidays, is a big believer in slow travel. She has created an activity for her clients that includes experiencing night skies in Japan’s Achi Village, as well as astronomical tours. “This village is famous for its stunning night skies. Due to its location, it has a high altitude with minimal light pollution—ideal for stargazing. I wanted to offer clients a unique experience that connects them with the beauty of the cosmos. We believe that observing the stars can be a transformative experience, allowing people to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life,” she says.

It has become popular among her domestic and international visitors, particularly families, couples, and astronomy enthusiasts. For her astronomical tours, she provides telescopes and expert guides to help clients understand the constellations, planets, and other celestial phenomena. The tours often include storytelling and educational elements to make the experience both engaging and informative.

Gazing at the stars
Astronomy has found more takers than one would imagine. Starscapes has been working closely with Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to host several astronomy related camps besides promoting the same through its chain of experience centres and observatories in the state. Ramashish Ray, Founder, Starscapes, says, “We have received an overwhelming response for each of our earlier events, and that is when we decided to curate an annual Astro tourism campaign that can be conducted on a much larger scale. This was the genesis for ‘Nakshatra Sabha’. The campaign has been conceptualised with a twofold goal in mind; one, to position Uttarakhand as the ideal astro tourism destination, and secondly, to institutionalise the same through building of grassroot competencies and communities with some stake in it. Astro tourism has started gaining popularity only recently. Anyone interested in experiencing Astro-tourism can walk into our observatories.”

Starscapes has observatories in Kausani, Mukteshwar and Bhimtal, and mobile observatories in Jaipur, and Coorg. It also partners with hospitality chains to offer stargazing experiences to their guests. Similarly, Madhya Pradesh has also implemented a new Star Gazing project in tourist places to promote astronomy tourism. The stargazing adventure is offered at five places: Pachmarhi, Mandu, Orchha, Khajuraho and Madhai. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, Principal Secretary, Tourism & Culture Department, Madhya Pradesh and Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, says, “Stargazing tourism in Madhya Pradesh is a fresh and promising initiative due to multiple factors, which include minimal light pollution and the rich astronomical heritage. Many areas, especially outside major cities, offer pristine night skies perfect for stargazing. Apart from this, Madhya Pradesh is home to ancient observatories like the one at Ujjain, showcasing India’s long history with astronomy. Madhya Pradesh offers some of the best stargazing experiences during festivals, including Kuno forest retreat. The board has also been working to develop stargazing camps and workshops.”

A moment for seniors
Another interesting product is for senior citizens and differently-abled – something India doesn’t do very well. Arun Iyer, Managing Director, Super Holidays – A division of Maa Air Ticket Centre, saw a growth in seniors booking three-four holidays in a year. “They expressed a desire to visit pilgrimage places provided they are customised and assisted as these places are generally crowded. We hit the plan to develop a product, Divine Destinations, which would offer seniors with assisted escorts for helping them like boarding boat rides at the riverbanks, climbing up temple stairs and coordinating with local priests,” he explains.

Iyer says there are no ramps at riverbanks to bring seniors down. “I did recces to various places to understand the needs of seniors. There is a demand for it. It works through word of mouth and through community groups and seniors WhatsApp groups. Most of the requirements come from NRIs who want to arrange this for their parents, as they are not able to accompany them personally,” Iyer adds.

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