Experiential Travel

Travel is becoming a big money spinner across the world. While India is just waking up to its untapped potential in tourism sector, there are a lot of new concepts are being experimented in this space. Enabled by Internet, there are lots of new concepts coming up in the travel space. Experiential travel is the new trend in travel space after the site seeing ind of travelling has been exhausted. People want to travel for experiencing a new space and not just looking at the landmark monuments. They want to see how the locals live, what they eat and how they are different or similar to their own cultures.

About a decade ago, couchsurfing started a trend by providing travelers an opportunity to stay with locals – and their model involved no commerce, so it was the goodwill of a host to accommodate guest in their homes. Since guests paid nothing, there was no expectation whatsoever they could have from the hosts – they had to take whatever the hosts offered. Then came the concepts like AirBnB, where people could rent out extra spaces in their home and since there was a fee – the expectations were set accordingly. Hosts would end up sharing a bit of their day to day lives with the guests, but it primarily became an alternative to hotels.

Withlocals – a Netherlands based company has just launched a new paradigm for travelers, by giving them options to choose smaller activities with the hosts. They are currently present in 8 Asian countries and soon planning to launch in India – though I think put together India may be bigger than all these 8 countries. They have activities under three categories:

  1. Eat with Locals
  2. Tours with Locals
  3. Activities with Locals

While I am sure Eat with Locals is their most popular category – as most travelers crave to eat the local food, and just about anyone in the destination can provide that experience. It is also a no-brainer, no stress activity that all of us invariably enjoy doing. What I am excited about this is the other two activities – a knowledgeable local person can really enhance your experience of visiting a place. they usually end up showing you what is not mentioned in the guide books – like small eatery where the locals go or some festivals or rituals that usually remain out of bound for visitors.

The third category – Activities with Locals looks the most promising – I checked few activities on their website and found some very interesting results like Fruit & Vegetable Carving  or a Jewelry course in Thailand, Vintage Treasure Hunt in Singapore, Rock Climbing in Malaysia, Music Jam Sessions in Nepal, Plucking tea leaves in or visiting a Snake House in Sri Lanka.

You can search activities based on various parameters like the location, price, time required or the number of people involved. I am sure these selection parameters would grow as the concept takes off. They also employ local ambassadors to curate & verify the hosts and the experiences. I think it is a great model as this does not alienate the locals and also helps them gain some employment. The prices seem reasonable. Withlocal takes a 20% commission on the fee from the guests, and I think it is a reasonable revenue model for both the platform and the hosts.

I am keen to see the kind of unique experiences India is going to add to this list.

Knowledge Connect – A citizen’s initiative

Books Initiative by CII

A few weeks back I got in touch with the trustees of Panaji first – an initiative by CII and some eminent citizens of Panaji in Goa. They were curating quality books for the Goa State Library and I played a small part by recommending some. What I liked about this initiative, besides the fact that it is led by citizens is that the focus is not on donating books, focus is not on any books – but on ensuring that good books are chosen so that they are read. Now I know to an extent what is a good book is subjective, but they have applied a few objective parameters to ensure quality including rating systems of portals like Goodreads.

Sharing this – as I think this can be replicated across cities by its citizens and organizations.

Here is their formal Note on the initiative:

About Knowledge Conect Project

The Knowledge Connect Project is an initiative of Panaji First, a Trust formed by CI Goa State Council with an aim of launching the city of Panaji and its denizens into 21st century. The current century needs a new kind of a learner; not a learner who churns out answers by rote but someone who can think expansively and solve problems resourcefully. The traditionally academic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic must be augmented by curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, cooperation and communication skills. This project aims to use The Central Library, Panaji as a focal point for connecting with the stakeholders in Panaji. In a nutshell, the Knowledge Connect Project is not a book donation project. The book donation is only the starting phase.

Plan of Implementation for 2014-15

a) For the current year the project aims to enhance the collection of books at The Central Library. The selection in the current year would be books and videos in the areas of Popular Sciences followed by Social Sciences, Innovation and Children books. Our target is to ad between 5,00 and 10,00 books of international quality by March 2015.

b) The selection has ben benchmarked to the most read books in leading libraries around the World. The books have ben chosen from the bestseller in the New York Times, most read books in New York Public Library, Pulitzer prize winers and finalists for the last 10 years, the awardees and the long lists of books of Royal Society, London, Booker prize winers, awardees of Goldman Sachs/FT and books with average ratings exceeding 4 on godreads.com and a wide selection of books on Indian history and books written by Indian writers.

c) We have already printed and mailed attractive brochures on Popular Science selections to the Headmasters at Panaji schools and colleges. We now plan to have short presentations in these schools and colleges to popularise reading as a habit. We are also contemplating to make available e-books on kindles for reference section. This will complement the hard print copies. Once we reach a target of 5,00 books, we will initiate a project for Central Library to lend the books to Panaji schools and colleges on long term basis. Our object is to bring the library to the readers instead of the traditional efforts of getting the readers to the library.

d) The Knowledge Connect would initiate steps to get eminent writers to speak to Panaji citizens and students at The Central Library on periodic basis. A comprehensive calendar is being drawn up for a period of 12 months.

e) During the current year, the Panaji First also plans to initiate a science experiment competition. The students will compete to build a scientific concept through a model. This will be learning by

f) Panaji First also plans to organise field trips for the school and college children so that they get connected with business and non-business organisations early in life.

The initiative is therefore to create a repository of knowledge and create a connect using al five senses. Currently the project is driven by business organisations and individuals excited at he idea of creating a knowledgeable Panaji. Those interested are requested to connect [email protected] either with recommendations of books or with their willingness to contribute.

Selecting the Ideas

Freek Vermeulen in her S&B article How to Let 999 Flowers Die talks about variation in business Innovation and the process to select ideas. I always said that inviting ideas is a simple thing, it is more important to manage the ideas that you receive. Having unlimited ideas does not really help as many organizations like to believe. It always helps to put boundaries to where you need ideas so that you get ideas that fit into your strategic direction or in the space where you need them. Just like Sheena Iyenger says in her book Art of Choosing, we need choices, but limited choices.

Freek makes another important point about selection of ideas – that should not be done only by the top management, but should involve everyone. They bring in the angle of wisdom of crowds, and I would add to that organizations should give importance to those who are on the ground and understand the need of the new ideas. They also understand the challenges that current situations give and how the new ideas can help.

Read the article for examples that they share to substantiate their points.

Leveraging the power of Data

While most urban startups are focussed on two things – venture capitalists who can potentially give them money to setup and run their businesses and on getting a word out in the media – online and offline, I came across this very interesting venture that focusses on generating databases of information about rural India and sells this information to those want to look at rural India as a market and it employs locals youngsters to run the operations ensuring that it eventually benefits the communities in the villages.

Pradeep Lokhande’s RuralRelations has compiled data of about 40000 villages across 8 states in the country. They sell this data to the companies and brands that want to target these villages while also giving them access to the talent that is available in the villages.

As per this TOI article Pradeep started collecting data on villages by sending  postcards to the village elders like Sarpanch or School principal asking them for provide the basic data on the village. After initial struggle, they could go down to the extent of collecting information about the products used by the villagers across age groups. He even conducted opinion survey for the political parties.

I loved his concept of non resident villagers who are helping him setup libraries in villages. He created a channel for donation of used computers to village schools.

I need to study this venture in detail.

Money Making Content

Strategy & Business article The Digital Commerce Revolution talks about interesting examples of content that directly generates money. As a blogger, I know that many businesses have started tapping the power if content generators, from placing their text link ads in online content, to matched ads much like Google Ads, to expert reviews, pretty much anything to get the word out about themselves.

They site the beautiful Falling For you Target Videos or films within places merchandise that can be purchased instantly from a sidebar. The mug shot of the items is shown in the sidebar, as the items appear in the film, and with one click you can put the items in your shopping cart. I think it is a brilliant example of tapping into the instant interest generated by the film stars and models for lifestyle products. I also found it to be very innovative yet a simple way to reach out to the target audience, and I am keen to know how well are these performing.

They then present the concept of Curated content, where what you see is based on what you are likely to like and buy and not bombard you with everything under the sun. Now I see a bit if risk here, as algorithms, may not have yet matured enough ti understand the behaviors as well and they certainly can not sense the changes in behavior that can be because of the changed circumstances. Most important data that they are going to rely on is past purchases, like the recommendation engines of sites like Netflix. Having said that I can think of many other areas where curated content can be a powerful content, like high-end fashion, customized furniture, art collections etc.

They then talk about insights generated during a roundtable on this topic that talks about Mobile Engagement, New Technologies, Integrating Deals with social sentiments, Data & Analytics and Strategy.

Ideas: Hold them or Share them

Nilofer Merchant in her HBR article Let Your Ideas Go makes case for sharing the ideas rather than holding on to them.

When you have an idea, you make a choice whether to hold it close to your heart or to share it with few people who can help you take it further or evaluate it or share it in open space for anyone to look at it, take it, use it, modify it, critique it and thrash it.

Most ideas held close to one person may remain only with him. Practically speaking to make an idea a reality, you would need help from many people who would help you realize it. So the real choice is between sharing it with select few with a confidentiality clause between you or to share it publicly with anyone.

Traditional business sense would say one must keep an idea under wraps till it is ready to be released with a big bang, or till it has proven itself. Primary motive being protecting the idea from potential copying by competition or a fear that they might actually come up with something better than us with the same idea. You want to reap the benefits of the idea that you assume was born in your head, or at least emerged first in your head. You want to protect it using various laws available.

Think of a scenario where you let your idea be available to anyone like the ‘Ideas to Explore’ on this website and see them bloom in some other gardens. In the age of social media, you can leverage the wisdom of crowds to fine tune your idea, to get more ideas surrounding your ideas, to get a critical appraisal of the idea or find partners to work with on it. If you are someone who gets lots of ideas, you may not have the bandwidth to work on all your ideas but may still want to see them happen. Sharing your ideas, you may help you find the perfect pot for your ideas to grow.

Better Brainstorming

This Mckinsey article talks about brain-steering instead of brainstorming.
Basically, what it suggests is to have a focusses brainstorming rather than an open ended that leads you nowhere. You seek answers to the questions that you know or have prepared in advance. You do not throw open the questions to a big group, but spread the questions amongst smaller groups and then let them share their best ideas with the bigger group. It also suggests that you do not pick winning ideas in a hurry as the participants usually do not have a overall view of the problem and ideas need an executive level vetting.
Though I would avoid giving brainstorming a new name, but I agree with most of what the article says. To get the relevant answers you must ask the right questions.

Disney Method of Brainstorming

Paul Sloane in his latest newsletter talks about Disney Method for Brainstorming, which is a variation of 6 thinking hats technique of Edward De Bono. It is a 4 step process instead of De Bono’s 6 step.
Four steps are:
  1. Spectator’s View
  2. Dreamer’s View
  3. Relaizer’s View
  4. Critic’s View
You look at the problem from these 4 perspectives and then reach a potential solution.
He argues that this is a more productive method than 6 thinking hats as it not only generates ideas, but also helps you evaluate the ideas. I like the spectator’s part as most of the times we tend to see the problem from our perspective, and we fail to see it from outsider’s perspective say that of out customers, our sales force or our consultants. If we can see the problems from their point of view, we would have a more rounded view of the problem and the solutions would reflect that. After all solutions come out of the right definition of the problem.

Niche Professions

For the last couple of years lot of people, especially youngsters have been venturing into Niche professions, which either did not exist till now, or they were at least not easy to get established into. The other way to look at this is that being an entrepreneur with what is close to your heart has become much easier than it was a few years ago, and the fact that there is enough market for these guys to flourish. Here are few people who I know, who are involved in Niche professions, some of them have chosen this path to follow their heart and some of them saw a smart business opportunity.

1. Xtreme Zone, founded by Praveen Krishnaiah. They are the first extreme sports company in India, they introduced sports like Bungee Jumping, Reverse Bungee Jumping in India. Apart from this, they also do wall climbing, paintball, rap ball and obstacle course. Apart from this they also do regular adventure sports like camping, water sports, terrestrial sports and aero sports. They do a lot of sports events for the corporate world or with corporate sponsorship. Praveen is one of the most enterprising people I have known.

2. Ankur Aras Fingers and Feet is a photographer who specializes in child photography. Though have met Ankur, but have not spoken to him in detail about his work, but am impressed by what the media has to say about him.

3. Nandini’s Marrygold Matrimonial Services, the criteria say ‘anyone over 25 years of age, broad-minded, sensitive, intelligent and looking to settle down in a marriage’; they do not entertain considerations of caste and creed in matchmaking, which is a brave step. I am not too sure if they have a website as they do not want it to become just another online matrimonial site. Nandini is a great person to talk to, though I am yet to meet her.

4. Sumitra Senapaty, she runs a travel company especially for women, it’s called Women on Wonderlust. What differentiates her from usual tour operators is not only that she is focused on one segment which is women, but also the fact that she tries and creates a bond with her customers and potential customers. She is equally smart at marketing herself, by being in media at constant intervals, be it print or visual. I have to do at least one trip with her.

5. Arun Verma’s Creativegarh the byline says’ Where creative minds meet, work and play, it’s a community of amateur and professional creatives who have explored their creativity through a variety of mediums. I have been a part of this community for a few years now, have made a few good friends through this, have introduced some creative friends to this community, though have been a passive member most of the times. Arun runs Creativegarh Art and Craft Gallery in Delhi, where he not only showcases his work but promotes and mentors a lot of upcoming creative artists. He is also authoring a book on creativity.

6. Arun Pai, Bangalore Walks, is someone who has traveled the world and is trying to get the walking culture in Bangalore and is doing it pretty successfully. The fact that he has spent time in the corporate world helps him connect well with his target audience. He organizes three regular walks every weekend, two on MG Road and one in Lalbagh, and for groups, he conducts customized walks, which are a combination of walk n ride. He tries to put a lot of Innovation into his offerings just like Sumitra tries to strike a connection with his walkers.

All I want to tell all these people is that ‘All of you inspire me’, and hopefully one day I would be able to write about myself in the same league as you guys.

Spiritual Guru: A new profession

Spiritual gurus have already existed in through the ages. They held their own place in society in any period of history. They had been agents of change and they had been the guiding force behind the kingdoms and empires. People used to go to them when they could not take their own decisions, when they needed direction and when they were trying to find answers to their questions.

In last few years, a new breed of spiritual gurus have evolved, most of whom have evolved their own cults and huge fan following. The way these so called ‘Gurus’ manage their organization is like running any ‘for profit’ organization, and most of the times the profits their organizations manage are far better than the so called ‘professionally run’ organizations, probably with far better operating margins.

Today, who is a spiritual Guru –

Excellent leaders, they are usually first generation leaders, most of the times have no legacy to bank upon, but over a short period of time manage a big fan following and ardent followers who will anything for them, who will travel miles to have a glimpse of them

Great Orators, the basic core skill and ability to communicate intimately and effectively with anyone they come in contact with, mesmerize them. They also have an immense capability to deal with all kinds of criticism and still live on.

A brand, a big brand that signifies someone who has more wisdom than most of the people around, can tell people what to do and what not to do. In fact if you really look at these people they themselves has not really done anything in life, so they got into the job of advising people what to do. Their model is like Coca-Cola, they manage the brand and have the basic controls in place, and the rest is left to the franchise operations.

Advantages of being in this profession are luxury to live a tax free life, while enjoying best of everything that one can dream of, get anything done with mere movement of eyes, and have so many people ready to do anything for you anytime.

Investments required to be in such a position are generally be well read, you should be able to quote from religious scriptures of major religions and compare them if needed. Manage yourself as a brand (you can not afford to loose this if you have to be successful). Network and build relationships with celebrities, the who’s who of the society and make them follow you. They are going to be your best ambassadors.

Getting into this profession needs as much planning and execution ability as any other profession, you need to differentiate yourself from others in the same profession. You probably do need to work as hard to build your brand, manage it and the returns are just as high. You need as much energy to be high flying, as most of the new age Gurus are as global as any other professional. Is it not like any other profession, just that there are no formal institutes offering you degrees to get into this one (actually some of them do offer formal courses in spiritualism).