A new entrant to the multi-billion dollar tours and activities ecosystem is Bangalore-based startup - Tourlandish.
The startup provides a global marketplace for tours and activities service providers to list products, and ultimately make them bookable online.
In the global context, as per PhoCusWright reports, the majority of tours and activities suppliers do not leverage technology.
Tourlandish is at present focusing on Asia Pacific as it believes the region lacks a strong tours and activities marketplace, and also the difficulty in discovering local tour operators for different activities and booking them online.
Currently, the company lists in-destination experience products for Singapore, Bangkok, Sydney and Barcelona.
Tourlandish has been signing up suppliers in the past few months, and in December 2013 it opened up the service for travellers to book activities online.
Q&A with Varun Khona, co-founder and CEO of Tourlandish:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
As a travel consultant, one of the most valuable services that I provided to clients was in making reservations for tours, adventure activities and other similar service. Hence, I was aware that the sector remained an unsolved puzzle in the online travel space.
This awareness became more acute when I was planning a trip to Europe to meet Suren (now my co-founder) and became very frustrated by the completely broken online experience when it came to discovering and booking amazing local things to do. As the cliché goes, we decided to overcome this frustration by solving the problem ourselves.
We pitched this idea at Startup Weekend Bangalore and ended up winning the competition. That gave us a lot of confidence to take that leap of faith.
We believe the time for tours and activities to go mainstream as a bookable online product has come. The majority of in-destination services will be bought online in the years to come and we are here to have a meaningful contribution in that shift.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
We are a small team of five members and prefer to maintain a lean operating structure. The founders and their roles are as follows:
- CEO Varun Khona - recently represented Tourlandish on the Bloomberg TV India show 'The Pitch' and was a finalist competing against some of India's top entrepreneurs.
- CTO Vikram Jit Singh - the man behind the 'magical' platform.
- COO Suren Sultania - brings operational and financial expertise to the company along with a keen understanding of international markets having lived in Europe for three years.
We are currently bootstrapped and are using our own funds. We will be looking at raising funds in the coming few months.
Estimation of market size?
Being avid Tnooz readers, we have read each and every piece of data made available by PhoCusWright. The studies indicate the market size to be upwards of $200 billion globally.
Our fundamental belief is that the biggest competition out there is not any other business but the general dynamics around the tours and activities segment in terms of lack of real-time inventory and absence of yield management.
While there are websites like Viator, Peek and GetYourGuide that allow travellers to book tours and activities, there is nobody who is adequately serving the APAC market as yet, both from an inbound and outbound perspective. This is where we believe we can make a difference.
Going forward, we are also very bullish on mobile and last-minute inventory. We look forward to working with everyone in the industry to solve these pressing problems for the advancement of the entire segment.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We earn a commission on all bookings that are made on our platform.
Our immediate goal is to expand our coverage in terms of cities, reach out to more customers and continue to improve the entire user experience.
The inherent business model and unit economics are strong and we are confident of reaching profitability at the appropriate scale.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
The idea started with our own need when we were creating itineraries and making travel arrangements for clients.
The biggest challenge that we faced was in identifying the best experiences for our clients and working with the local tour operators. We initially decided to make a list of the tour operators and tours in each city but soon realized that the information in itself would not solve the problem.
Bringing inventory online and allowing bookings was a must.
Once we were close to being live, we also decided to focus exclusively on the APAC market based on customer feedback. We too believe this is the market currently the most under-served.
As a company, we believe in constantly challenging ourselves and adapting to the needs of the market. We will continue to evolve in a manner most beneficial to the industry we operate in.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Tourlandish is a great way to easily discover all the best ‘things to do’ in a city in one single place and book them seamlessly ensuring a delightful experience.
Transparent marketplace, no service fee, verified and authentic tour operators, great prices, wide range and depth of experiences and our APAC focus will make us an extremely meaningful proposition for travellers visiting this region.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
- Launch in cities within Asia with high tourist arrival numbers, high density of local experiences and fragmented supply over the next 18 months
- Online sweepstakes and contests
- Free credit referral program
- Search Engine Marketing
- Partnerships with travel bloggers and trip planning experts
- Use existing social network’s distribution to reach potential users
- Distribution partnerships with travel intermediaries (online/offline)
- Distribution partnerships with hotels
- Word of mouth
In three years time, we hope Tourlandish has significantly contributed to the evolution of the online tours and activities market, especially in the APAC region and is a leader in the space.
Our hope, by then, is that the industry will have embraced real-time distribution and dynamic pricing. Allowing travellers to book tours and activities in-destination, making the experience more seamless and augmenting the actual experience are the challenges we will need to solve to reach that goal.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
We think the whole process of discovering and booking the best local experiences can be much better than it currently is today, especially for APAC customers. The big OTA players in the region don’t have the time, speed and focus to leverage the latest technologies to solve this problem and we believe we can.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
I think we’re a lot like Uber meets Airbnb.
We love Airbnb’s focus on design and user experience and that’s a key part of our philosophy as well. We admire how Uber’s business model is disrupting a static industry and bringing in new liquidity and dynamics to the marketplace and we hope to have a similar effect on the tours and activities industry as well.
Having seen Varun's various skills at all rounds of Bloomberg's startup fundraising event - The Pitch, and his understanding of the tours and activities marketplace, we can only hope that Tourlandish will expand to new destinations faster and accelerate the growth process.
The user interface of the site is neat, with an easy to understand page design.
Competitors of Tourlandish in Asia include Thrillophilia, Voyagin, Viator, BeMyGuest, Veltra, TravelToe, and VeloAsia. Also, all players who are into the business of providing local experiences are competitors as well.
As Tourlandish mentioned, discovery of travel agents is a big pain point in APAC. For example: In India, a large majority of activity suppliers are still offline, social media and word of mouth play an important role in discovering them.
One of the main challenges for Tourlandish will be the process of accepting payments online.
With the acquisition of Indiescapes by Singapore-based BeMyGuest, in the APAC market too, consolidation has started to happen among tours and activities marketplace services.