Travel and hospitality has been the hardest-hit sector in the Covid-19 pandemic. Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released its financial outlook for the global aviation industry, projecting a loss of over $84.3 Bn in 2020 with a net profit margin of -20.1%. Revenues are expected to fall 50% to $419 Bn from $838 Bn in 2019, and only a minor bump to $598 Bn in 2021.
On average, every day of this year will add $230 Mn to industry losses, the report said. In India, the total contribution by the travel and tourism sector to India’s GDP was expected to increase from $234 Bn in 2017 to $492.21 Bn in 2028, but the pandemic has put a halt to that growth trajectory.
However, many industry experts said that once the lockdown is relaxed across states and union territories, there will be a spurt in domestic tourism as people will continue to travel for leisure, but with a difference. For instance, people will prefer to travel using private vehicles, to the nearest travel destinations, trusted hotels, instead of public transport and shared spaces.
As customers are eagerly waiting for the crisis to end, travel companies are looking at innovative ways to offer people the experience to escape from the city’s mundane, lockdown life. Fitting right in the post-Covid reality is Goa-based B:Live. The e-bike travel and tourism startup believes in delivering fun and experiential travel in a sustainable way through its e-bike tours.
E-bikes are electric bicycles that are custom-fitted with electric motors that provide assistance to rider’s pedalling efforts and a heavier frame to compensate for the battery and motor’s weight and balance the ride. B:Live told Inc42 that all its e-bikes are customised by Indian OEMs and come with tubeless/puncture-resistant tyres, disk brakes, wider seat, and most importantly, detachable battery. On a full charge, the licence-less electric bike can run up to 50 Km, and can travel up to a speed of 25 Km per hour.
Focusing on sustainable, hygiene and safety aspects, B:Live, is uniquely positioned in the space, with no other competitors in the space. Besides B:Live, other electric bike rental platforms include Bounce, Yulu, eBikeGo and others.
Sustainable Tourism Is The Future
Founded in November 2018, B:Live was founded by ex-Microsoft, Nokia and IBM exec Sandeep Mukherjee and Samarth Kholkar. The duo left their plush corporate jobs in an endeavour to set up a sustainable, EV tourism startup with an idea of discovering beautiful places on electric vehicles.
“The population of Goa is around 15 Lakh, and there are about 15 Lakh ICE vehicles. That is one vehicle per person. Should we wait for all locations to become like Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai? It’s time we embraced the change and reduced the carbon emission,” says Mukherjee.
These days, under the Unlock 1.0 rules, it offers hygiene kits to its customers and its e-bikes which are regularly inspected, disinfected and sanitised on an everyday basis.
While such bicycles have been widely used for more than a decade now in European countries, however, it is an entirely new concept here in India. But, slowly the trend of e-bike tours and bike rental platforms are picking up as more and more people are looking at sustainable and eco-friendly ways to commute.
B:Live raised an initial seed fund of INR 1 Cr from Goan business tycoons Shrinivas V. Dempo, chairman of Dempo Group and Shivanand V Salgaocar, chairman and managing director of Vimson Group, followed by INR 4 Cr from DNA Entertainment Networks in 2019. The funds helped the company to scale their operations multifold. Till date, it has raised close to $1 Mn in funding, and in the coming months, it plans to raise more for further expansion and product development.
Today, B:Live works closely with the multiple state governments to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles across all tourist destinations in India. It has also signed a 20 year contract with Goa Tourism as EV tourism partners.
EV Tourism Takes Baby Steps
“Since the hotels were shut down due to lockdown, we have utilised the time to develop this platform for people to not only experience electric vehicle tourism when this crisis ends, but also experience the power of purchasing electric vehicles across brands,”
In a short span of time, B:Live has expanded its operations in seven states across popular tourist destinations, including Puducherry, Mysuru, Ooty, Coorg, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Kochi among others. It has tied up with premium hospitality chains like Radisson BLU, Hyatt, Hilton, Taj Group, Marriott and Club Mahindra among others to provide their guests the access to experiential travel on electric vehicles.
Guests arriving at these hotels can register for EV bike tours on the spot, through a designated hub or can do it online. Mukherjee said that a three-hour e-bike tourism involves a lot of storytelling, where people will get to explore hidden and offbeat places across India. “For example, we take our guests to a 200 year old Portugese house, Fisherman’s village, UNESCO heritage places, and submerged temples among others,” Mukherjee points out.
The three-hour experiential e-bike ride starts at a price of INR 1500, accompanied by a captain, where travellers can book the slot based on their preferences. Overall, B:Live has conducted close to 6000 tours in Goa, operating at a margin of approximately 40%. This year, with 10+ locations, the company plans to grow the tours volume by 4x. “We have an age range of 11 years to 75 years when it comes to the people participating in our EV tour. Now, people have found a completely new way to explore the city and the countryside.”
B:Live From Tourism To EV Stores
Initially started with just 50 bikes, B:Live today has a fleet of about 200+ electric bikes. Since its inception in 2018, the company claims to have completed close to 6000 tours till date and has reduced more than six tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Through its strategic partnership with premium hospitality chains, the company plans to expand into international locations, including Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
“Previously, we were buying all the e-bikes, but now we are taking them on lease, as it reduces the burden of investment. This, in a way, has helped us focus on further expansion and scaling our business. The present day generation loves experience, they just don’t want to do sightseeing. With electric vehicles in the picture, it becomes even more rewarding and meaningful,” the cofounder added.
B:Live has also received interest from tourists in buying the electric bikes. More than 65-70% of the people who do our tour ask if they can purchase the e-bike, the company claimed.
In a bid to offer an end-to-end experience of electric vehicles under one roof, B:Live will be launching an electric vehicle store soon. “The EV Store will have a wide range of electric vehicles to choose from, both local as well as international brands. That is the next phase,” said Mukherjee.