We caught up with Deepak Ananth, Co-Founder & CEO, and Vineet Rajan, Co-Founder and CMO of ScoutMyTrip, the feisty young travel planning startup that combines the strengths of Travel, Technology and Community, and has won several awards ever since its first soft steps in 2016
The intro to this piece is perhaps half the size of the interview QnAs, but in today’s day when participative, experiential travel is the new ‘go to’ for intrepid travelers, especially the youth who want to move beyond the clinical templated planning of mass packages and group hustles by travel agencies with an impersonal tour escort barking instructions like s/he were herding cattle, this travel planner’s offering is remarkably attractive. (Yes, crazily long sentence too, that).
That cattle bit may have been exaggeration to make a point, but today, more and more people are discovering the joy of travelling not to a travel destination but its localities, walking, hiking, driving through them, well… imbibing the place, its local food, experiencing local dwellings, culture, music and its people.
Enter – ScoutMyTrip. An all inclusive experiential subscription-based trip planner. Through this the traveller can experience local food suggestions, local activities to experience amongst other things, all of which is generally missed out while planning a trip. The local scouts from ScoutMyTrip help guide travellers with fresh and new suggestions bringing in the human AI.
ScoutMyTrip can help plan for your next trip across more than 40 destinations across India. They plan to add more destinations in 4-6 months from now.
Recently, ScoutMyTrip won the National entrepreneurship Award for 2019 in Travel and hospitality sector in A3 category.
ScoutMyTrip is one travel planning offering that offers traveller keen to mainline on authenticity and the experiential, with personalized holidays planned and curated by locals – a human guide familiar with the works along even the itinerary that is finalized in consultation with the traveler. And you can hire a scout, who will be your online travel buddy and planner and will be with you through the ScoutMyTrip app.
So your scout will not only plan your entire trip, but will also virtually assist you on your entire vacation. Super cool we think.
So you can get a customized trip planning experience for your dream holiday with ScoutMyTrip’s award winning Travel Planner, add off-beat places and attractions to explore, choose local cuisines — even toilets and routes.Right now, it’s available only for India, but Indians are loving the uniqueness and value delivery of the service.
I caught up with Deepak Ananth, Co-Founder & CEO, and Vineet Rajan, Co-Founder and CMO, of ScoutMyTrip, the feisty young travel planning startup that combines the strengths of Travel, Technology and Community, and has won several awards ever since its first soft steps in 2016.
Excerpts from the conversation.
Tell us about how ScoutMyTrip came to be
Both us Co-Founders of ScoutMyTrip, that is Deepak Ananth and I, have been avid travellers for the past 20-plus years. We have always preferred exploring by the seat of our pants and learning about new cultures and experiencing the local countryside of India.
During our travels, we would connect with a lot of people who wanted to do the same but were not able to get the required information to plan their travel. The information was either very scarce or too ‘touristy’. We ourselves would have to do a lot of research before we embarked on a journey.
To solve that prevailing problem, we started a journey planner that would connect the traveller with other experts — locals in each of the places the traveller wanted to explore — and enable information exchange.
So essentially, you were actually providing an information and facilitation service for those who wanted experiential, immersive travel — the sort that would help them not just visit a place or kind of place, but live it too — in an experiential kind of way. As a business, do you provide your service to consumers only or businesses too? B2B or B2C?
We are a mix of both. Our primary business has been B2C since our inception, but over time, our planning services have attracted a lot of businesses that are looking at getting their team to explore together and not just attend in-room conferences.
Their experiences have led them to believe that a team that travels together works better together too.
We have done B2B deals with large corporates like Honda, Mahindra and Mahindra, Milton, OYO rooms and many more. It’s been a very fulfilling journey thus far. Most of the places that we take our clients to vary from Lonavala near Mumbai to a trip through the beautiful Northeast to a conference nestled in nature in Bhutan.
Each of these has been extremely challenging but the team has been successful in getting the best experience out because of the vast Scout network we have in place.
How is ScoutMyTrip different from other trip planners?
Most travel companies specialize in Fulfillment and all other information given is to only aid the Fulfillment of hotel rooms and such.
ScoutMyTrip specializes in experiencing your travel. If a hotel room or a cab is required, we do cater to that need too, but we are one of the world’s first subscription-based travel services where travellers are connected to a scout, who is a local and expert in the places being explored.
The scout helps to build up an itinerary in tandem with the customer taking into account the likes and dislikes of the customer and also the way they’d like to travel. Once the itinerary is built, our local travel agent network bids for the fulfillment of the same and a quote for the hotels and other ancillary services is provided to the customer. This is a 360-degree approach to addressing all the travel needs of the customer.
The scout is virtual and is with the customer from the time of planning till the day he comes back home, guiding and customizing every leg of the holiday. With more than 150 scouts and more than 300 travel agents in every state of India, plus Nepal and Bhutan, we help give the customer the true India experience.
How have Indians’ travel priorities and interests been? When do they travel with their familites, and when do they travel alone or with friends?
For the customer, a lot of time has been saved that would have otherwise gone into planning; also, the uncertainties have been removed. These would be the main deterrent for exploring new places. With such a service the traveler is now able to see more of the countryside and experience India in a true sense rather than just go to the touristy places promoted on social media.
One of the first customers that we planned for was a lady from Mumbai who wanted to take her kids and drive through the Himachal region in north India.
A solo woman traveler, especially with kids, allowed us no margin for error. The team meticulously planned a 15-day trip for the family which was completed like clockwork. The words of appreciation that we got from the family and the pictures of happy kids playing in the snow was enough to give us a deep sense of satisfaction.
Each customer is different. While travelling with families the requirements are varied, with kids needing separate attention and older people needing a different approach. Our scouts are able to marry the expectation to reality and plan an all-encompassing itinerary for the team.
Which are the most popular destinations?
Travel is very seasonal. June heralds the season of travel to the mountains up north and Leh and Ladakh journeys are very popular at that time. The rains make the nature trails of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu very enticing. Winters are special for Kutch, wildlife tours in Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Through the year places like Goa, Kerala, etc are always in demand.
What is your business model?
Our business model is such that every deal we make is on a revenue-sharing basis. With either the scout or the travel agent being an active partner, we believe that we can only grow together.
On the B2C front, we have a subscription-based scout model that you can purchase for the days that you want to travel. This gives you access to a local expert for the entire journey to plan your trip! In case you need suggestions and help in booking hotels and vehicles, we have a very robust network of around 300 + travel agents in our network that can fulfill this for you at very competitive rates!
We work on a commission basis for hotel and vehicle bookings.
How do you market ScoutMyTrip ?
Our marketing on social media and our PR team works around the clock to ensure that we get a lot of inquiries.
The team also ensures that we are ranked very high on SEO and SEM for the keywords that define journey planners.
We also participate in a lot of events that help us grow the ECO system and also spread the word about our unique business model to the potential customer.
Do you provide your services to both – tourists and service providers?
Yes. Tourists are our main customers. We also have received a few queries from inbound foreign travel planners to fulfill the requirements of their customers. We work on these on a case to case basis too.
We also list a lot of service providers on our platform for Fulfillment from our side too. Therefore it is a win-win partnership that we work along with service providers from around the world.
What is your marketing mix like? What media mix do you use, for which TGs, and why?
Our main marketing has been social media with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter leading the charge.
We are also very active in the blogosphere and have a very updated blog section on our platform. For the listeners out there, we also release podcasts that are travel-related on a very frequent basis. All details are available on our platform.
Our TG has been the young traveller who wants to move away from just the normal hotel-based destination travel. A traveller who wants to explore a bit more rather than just tick the box of having been to a destination.
Our current customer data shows us that most of our customers are between the ages of 27- 45 with family. We also get a lot of queries from large families with a mix of people to help plan their trips efficiently.
How comfortable are you on your opex? What’s your tech like?
Today we are happy to say that we are operationally sustainable and all our expenses are taken out of the revenues we generate on a monthly basis.
As we add newer scouts and newer experiences, we use a lot of algorithms to make it easier to predict user behaviour.
Our technology team is in-house and works with cutting edge tech to make the travel planning seamless and extremely simple to execute. The infrastructure we have created will hold us in good stead for at least 2-3 times the current customer flow that we handle currently. In addition, we are actively looking at investments to be brought in to scale up in newer markets for inbound travel into India.
What other travel destinations do you plan to add?
The next travel destination that we hope to reach out to is the Southeast Asian market starting with Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. We hope to start this in the next 4-6 months from now.