“The world is a book, those who don’t travel read only one page,” once said Roman philosopher Augustine of Hippo, who saw life as an opportunity to travel across the world. Novelist and MIT professor Anita Desai decoded the fun part of the journey when she said, “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
For a place to become a part of you, you must embrace it in its totality — its culture, people, cuisine, landscapes, et al. This, however, depends on how well you plan your trip in alignment with your interests, what experiences you incorporate in your itinerary, and the overall quality of the time you spend at a holiday destination.
Which brings us to the basic question asked by most travellers — how do you plan for a trip in a way that it becomes a part of you?
This was precisely the question that led Mohit Saxena, traveller, co-founder and former CTO of India’s first unicorn, Inmobi, to start a new luxury vacation marketplace called Rizort. The startup is looking to bridge the gap between travel planning and the actual experience at the destination.
It’s not as if other online travel aggregators (OTA)s don’t offer experiences — they do, or at least they try to. But, with competition tough in the segment, the “experience” often ends up playing second fiddle to concerns of keeping costs down and offering low-priced rooms and experiences.
“Thanks to existing OTAs, I always felt there was a lot missing in my vacation trips, in terms of experiences,” says Saxena, who recently shifted to the US to start up his new company.
Sachin Kanodia, former senior vice-president at Inmobi, joined him on this new journey along with Nishant Sameer, then a GM at Samsung Electronics.
In a conversation with Inc42, Mohit explains that the offerings of existing OTAs are generic and limited. Most marketplaces deal with competition by offering rooms at cheap prices, which is why when you book a room, you will see messages like ‘two rooms left at this price’ etc. “No matter where you go and what’s your purpose for the trip, the OTAs’ selling methodology doesn’t change,” he says.
“In the last five-six years, there has been an entire paradigm shift in the OTA space. Experience is fast becoming the core objective of travel. For instance, take Airbnb: though budget hotels have always been there, the platform is about providing a home-like experience,” adds Saxena.
The Huge Gap Between Demand And Supply
The online travel market is estimated to touch $1,091 Bn, globally, by 2022. According to a Google-BCG report, in India, the sector is set to hit the $45 Bn mark by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 11-11.5%.
However, there remains a huge gap in terms of demand and supply. This is precisely the reason a number of OTAs are differentiating themselves by offering curated, customised and experiential vacations.
While Airbnb offers curated experiences, Yatra(.com) recently launched Yatra Journeys, which provides themed experiences led by experts. Cleartrip offers ‘Local Experiences’ — typically short-duration activities ranging from a couple of hours to half a day. Then there’s Thrillophilia, a travel curator and a marketplace for operators of experiential tours in India, and PickMyTrail, which hand-crafts itineraries keeping traveller preferences in mind. There are many smaller players such as Trip38, We Are Holidays, Tripoto, Beyond Travel, and many more.
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But, does the existing OTA even care about your very purpose of travelling — the intent and the experience, asks Saxena.
“When you select a travel destination, there’s usually something about the place that inspires you, around which you plan your trip. People either ask their friends or start researching the place and the experiences it offers. However, it’s a cumbersome process and doesn’t offer guaranteed satisfaction during the trip, irrespective of how well you planned it,” says Saxena.
So, while the demand side, OTAs have generic offerings irrespective of travellers’ intent of visiting a place, most of the marketplace doesn’t even meet the supply requirements.
Saxena argues that OTAs club together luxury hotels and resorts and budget hotels on the same list. This dilutes their brands completely. Also, existing OTAs drastically fail to address the demand for offbeat, luxury experiences as the selection parameters remain the same for both budget and luxury hotels.
This is precisely the reason upmarket hotels and resorts such as Four Seasons and St Regis are now actually moving away from the OTA space, explains Saxena. “We realised this big gap — that’s how the idea of Rizort was born,” he says.
So, what does Rizort do differently from existing OTAs?
Having identified the gap from both the ends, what strategy and business model has Rizort adopted to bridge the gap? Saxena responds, “We have created one of the most unique luxury vacation marketplaces, which, instead of simply showing the user dates, rooms, and prices, starts with the very basic question we’re trying to address — What’s your intent to visit the place?”
The company has broadly classified the “intent” into eight categories and has accordingly curated its location-based experiences. For instance, if someone is planning for a honeymoon trip to Bali, the platform, once it learns of the intent, will instantly curate experiences and resort preferences accordingly. Instead of blindly showing anything and everything, it will show resorts which offer candlelight dinners or other romantic experiences.
“There is no other online platform that exists today which can actually talk about their opulence as well as users’ intent,” claims Saxena.
Besides, the travel packages offered by most OTAs are static in nature. The stay and services remain the same irrespective of the traveller’s profile, interests, and intent. For instance, most OTA offers packages with a fixed number of days and nights with some popular experiences at that destination thrown in. This doesn’t allow travellers much freedom to curate experiences as per their choice.
Rizort claims to help travellers curate not only the right destinations and resorts aligned with their interests, but also the right experiences aligned with their intent.
“We bring alive all the beautiful experiences that these places offer,” says Saxena.
Rizort: Crafting Intent-Based, Opulent Travel Experiences
With a view to leveraging the hype around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), some online travel marketplaces use these technologies to show a 360-degree view of available hotels. However, Saxena claims that these are not really in sync with actual experience on offer.
He explains that Rizort not only uses immersive technologies such as AR and VR to showcase the opulence and experience that its curated resorts offer, but has also created immersive content around places such as Bali, Thailand and Maldives, to provide travellers with a larger context of the destination.
This, he says, bridges the “intent” and “experience” gap, giving travellers an exact idea about what experiences the resorts and destinations at large offer.
He adds that the startup selects its partners and vendors “very carefully” and works only with luxury hotels to ensure that standards and services levels are maintained.
Rizort claims to have it all sorted out, right down to the minutest detail. For instance, all transportation is WiFi enabled. “In Bali, local vendors are likely to charge you two-three times the normal rate for everything. We take care of these concerns as well so the guest doesn’t end up paying excess in such scenarios,” adds Saxena.
It has planned for redundancy within the system as well. For instance, if one taxi driver doesn’t show up in time, there is a system in place to instantly find an alternate one.
Further, every customer is given the contact of a Rizort representative who can be reached out to at all times in case of any requirement or emergency. There is also a mobile companion app called Rizort Concierge. Once a trip is booked, the customer can access the entire itinerary on it and connect with the Rizort contact either by mobile, WhatsApp, or chat.
“We make dynamic arrangements as well. Suppose you’re in Bali and, on the third day of your trip, you want to party at the fanciest nightclub there. All you need to do is just put it on the Rizort app, and we will take care of the booking process and arrangements. You can get to the nightclub within 5-10 mins,” says Saxena.
Rizort has also come up with a number of add-on services for its users. For instance, It claims to offer guaranteed priority immigration for every user who books on the platform. Users will also be escorted from the airport to the hotel in a BMW/Mercedes.
In the first phase, Rizort has zeroed in on three curated destinations — Bali, Thailand and Maldives — for its customers. While Bali is already live, the remaining two will soon be available for booking.
“In Thailand, we will be providing services to all the top islands — Koh Samui, Ko Tapu, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Koh Chang, Koh Phangan, Bangkok, and so on,” says Saxena. In Phase II, Rizort will cover India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Mauritius. Phase II will be ready by Q3 this year.
Are Rizort’s ‘Opulent Experiences’ Too Costly?
All this talk of “luxury”, “opulence” and “curated experiences” makes it seem like such holidays would be steeply priced and unaffordable for most middle-class people and Millennials. Rizort, however, claims that its experiences-cum-stay are not that expensive.
Saxena explains that the entire cost of the trip must be put in context, in perspective. Of course, the resorts on offer on the Rizort platform are not on par with budget accommodation such as OYO or Airbnb. But, while making a comparison, one must also look at other factors such as the frequency of the visit as well as the value-added experience of the trip, he says.
“The cost of these experiences on our platform is actually much lesser than those offered by other players. Our experience is priceless and, most importantly, it is designed around you. Also, nothing can really go wrong as it is you who shortlists the experiences after we provide you with enough information in the form of visualisation, experience, and everything you need to decide,” he says.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said — “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Rizort appears to have been following his advice by taking all possible steps to woo travellers with an intent looking for experiences. The startup hopes that one perfect trip will help it forge a bond with its customers for thousands of miles in the future.