If Your Innovation Can Help People Dream Of Doing The Seemingly Impossible, Then It Will Surely Succeed: Gaurav Kumar
In an exclusive interaction with BW Disrupt, Gaurav Kumar, Founder, tourHQ, talked about the firm and more.
Brief us about your business model like how did the idea came to start and how does it work (step by step procedure)?
tourHQ is a marketplace that connects travellers to tour guides around the world. Clients find this a great way to plan and book their in-destination activities directly with the local service providers. tourHQ currently has around 35,000 tour guides and small mom and pop tour operators registered from all over the world, with about 4,000 from India itself.
The way that the website works is that clients put in their travel request giving the details of their upcoming trip and what they would like to do. Local guides that fit the requirements respond to the traveller giving their tour plan and price. The traveller and guide can interact with each other to fine-tune the plan. Once the traveller is happy, he would go ahead and book the services online through tourHQ.
Once the pandemic hit, travel completely froze, as did the income-earning potential for our guides. Unfortunately, most of these guides slipped through any local social safety net and therefore did not have any backup source of income.
tourHQ believed that local lockdowns will be lifted long before international travel is allowed. Therefore, tour guides will be able to go around their local attractions, but travellers will not be able to go there. Therefore, while a guide may theoretically be able to escort travellers, there will hardly be any travellers there to escort.
Therefore, tourHQ came up with the concept of online tours, wherein tour guides will provide online live streaming, real-time, interactive tours via video chat so that clients from all over the world can still experience the joys of travelling from the comfort and safety of their home.
For example, if you book a tour of Jerusalem on tourHQ, the local guide will walk through the town, and tell you about its history. You will see what the guide sees and you could even ask the guide to stop in between so that you can talk to the locals around him. He would even take you to the wailing wall so that you can pay your respects virtually if you wanted to do so. Therefore, this is a unique, immersive and interactive experience.
What are the unique key points of your company?
Innovation has also been received well. These online tours allow our guides a means to make a living even under global lockdown. tourHQ has around 175 online tours in all continents (except Antarctica).
tourHQ works closely with its guides to perfect these tours for online delivery. Guides are typically used to giving half-day or full-day tours when they provide their regular in-person tours. These tours need to be adapted to 1-1.5 hours as anything longer will no longer be interesting over a video streaming call. Additionally, tourHQ helps curate the itineraries, and also checks for internet quality. The guides are taught on the proper usage of both the software and also the hardware- such as image stabilizing gimbals or windshields for the mikes.
Therefore, these are unique, highly curated tours, that our travellers find extremely engaging.
How are you different from the existing competitors?
There are very few organizations who have attempted such live tours. Many people are trying to put in place virtual pre-recorded tours, delivered in the format of a presentation from their computers. tourHQ has pioneered live interactive tours that are delivered from the streets of the city. These tours have a completely different feel and are the next best thing to actually travelling to a new place in person.
Not only are there city walks and safaris, but there are also tours related to cooking, dancing and other cultural activities that allow a client to get a local feel of the place.
What is the funding status and monetization model?
tourHQ has not as yet raised any external funding. tourHQ keeps a commission from any tours sold - be it offline or online. While the bread and butter business has historically been the offline tours, these online tours have been put in more to provide work to our guides all over the world and potentially prepare for a world where widespread travel will take time to pick up.
What challenges are you facing in running your business?
The main challenges right now for online tours is that this is completely a new model. People do not know that such a concept is even possible. Once a traveller tries these tours, then repeat purchase is very high. It is important to educate the travellers about these tours- something that is not easy for a bootstrapped travel company in the middle of a pandemic.
How has been the people`s response so far?
The user feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The repeat purchase numbers tend to be high. We have also received excellent response from the media. We have received good coverage on TV.
What are the traction details (like users, app downloads and other achievements of the company)?
Clients are finding new ways to use our service. The different use cases are as follows:
These are booked often as social events, with family members who are in lockdown in different cities or countries. This allows our clients to have a shared activity across borders.
Often, these activities are booked by clients to celebrate landmark birthdays or events. Whereas the people would have looked to go on a holiday together- they now like to book these activities to enjoy together even under lockdown.
People book these activities to plan future travel. If they were planning to go to a city, it is quite economical to book these virtual tours to see how much time to spend in a city and what to do there.
People in the high-risk category are booking our tours as they should not travel even when the borders open up.
tourHQ has recently tied up with Makemytrip to bring these experiences to the Indian market. This has provided a big boost to this business model and has helped bring it more mainstream.
How do you look at expansion?
tourHQ has already tied up with Makemytrip to bring these online experiences to the Indian market. tourHQ will also look to tie up with other players in a similar manner to expand our reach.
We are in the process of tying up with some industry groups, societies and clubs for providing these tours to their members under lockdown. We have also received interest from some senior citizen groups for hosting these tours for their members.
Some educational institutions have also asked tourHQ to develop online tours for children who cannot go on field trips any more. We will therefore shortly be launching an educational portal with tours specially tailored for the schools and colleges.
Therefore, the use cases are expanding quite fast, and we believe that these online tours will be there for the long haul and will co-exist with regular travel. Therefore, we are quite excited about the future business potential for these online tours.
What are your marketing plans?
Since marketing is expensive, our plans are to focus on coming up with partnerships. Many online travel operators have seen an almost freeze in new business - online tours is something that they can sell to their clients even today, that too in a socially responsible manner. Therefore, we are looking to partner with organizations who see the potential in these tours. Our goal is to develop high-quality tours, and we believe our tours will automatically sell well!
What has been the biggest learning’s so far?
Think outside the box - If your innovation can help people dream of doing the seemingly impossible, then it will surely succeed.
What is the market size and opportunity?
The market size is immense - almost as big as the overall tourism market. In fact, this opens up overseas tourism to a completely new set of people over and above the people who by force are under lockdown:
Those whose health may not have allowed them to otherwise travel.
Those who are unable to afford the cost of international travel.
Those who may not have the time to travel to far away destinations.
People who would like to spend some time together online with loved ones, rather than being able to make a physical trip across borders.
People who like planning in-depth for future travel. Instead of just reading up trip advisor, they can now take an online tour before landing up in person.
Educational institutes who may want to provide some online tours as a part of their curriculum instead of making a physical field trip.
These tours in many instances cost less than an evening out with the family to the movies. Given the varied use cases for these tours, there is significant potential to develop the market further.
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