Past life

Like hundreds of other engineering graduates, Arjun Bhat, 30, found himself in a large multinational technology firm—at Freescale Semiconductor Ltd in Delhi—as a software engineer after graduating from the Manipal Institute of Technology in 2005.

However, Bhat’s heart was set on a different path careerwise: travel. That set the foundation for his travel services start-up Travspire.com, a tourism-focused company he founded with other first-time entrepreneurs—Ami Naik, 29, who has done her master’s in business administration from The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania, US, and Satya Tammareddy, 28, who met Naik at Wharton.

Eureka moment

“When we travel, it’s hard to really get the feel of a local destination. That’s where the idea of Travspire started from," says Bhat, who runs the company from his apartment in Bangalore’s Richmond Town.

Genesis

Before launching Travspire, the three co-founders enrolled in Wharton’s incubation programme for start-ups called the Venture Initiation Programme. Travspire has signed partnerships with seven vendors in Kerala and two in Karnataka, with plans to expand operations in states such as Goa and Rajasthan. The company, which was started without any early-stage funding from investors, is currently in talks with angel investors to raise capital.

Reality check

It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for the three founders. For one, convincing local tour operators to partner them took a long while. The co-founders approached hundreds of tour operators, but only a handful thought the idea had potential.

Also, they are still trying to get investor backing—something Bhat hopes will happen soon.

Plan B

Neither of them has a Plan B in mind. Bhat says, “We just want to learn and keep adapting as we go."

“We concentrate on tours rather than hotels. The market is lopsided towards packaged tours and accommodation. If you want a unique experience, you end up getting a unique location or a boutique hotel. If you want a good experience, you have to spend money. What we’re trying to do is disrupt that," says Bhat.

India’s tourism industry offers niche growth opportunities to first-time entrepreneurs. “We haven’t reached our potential at all. I wish more people would take the plunge to challenge traditional notions of packaged tours," says Bhat.

In Kerala, for example, Travspire focuses on activities that include observing temple elephants—an important symbol of Kerala’s local culture. “You don’t go to a place where tourists are lining up to climb an elephant for a safari. What we do instead is take you to a place where they house, feed and bathe temple elephants. You get to be a part of a daily ritual, see people who make decorations that go on top of the elephant and understand why they’ve been doing it."

Previous Cool Ideas issues: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012

Close