A family of navy officers and a knack for film-making and theatre could have been the possible driving forces behind serial entrepreneur Vikram Ahuja starting Byond Travel.
Founded in 2015, Byond Travel is an experiential travel platform which creates personal travel journeys which focus on very unique experiences and immersive local interactions, which include food, local activities, culture and anecdotes.
Creating Byond Travel
Travel is very personal to me, I am very passionate about travel. My parents were in the Indian Navy, so I grew up travelling as a kid, so I guess that’s where the travel bug sort of hit me.
Vikram was a co-founder at Triperna, an online travel company in the Middle-East, where he led the Product & Technology teams and oversaw partnerships with international brands in the region. Byond Travel helps travellers live a story while they are on-board rather than taking them through a typical to-do list at their destination.
Every trip has a story
According to Vikram, nobody goes to a travel and comes back without a story. Vikram recalls this one incident where his team had organized a lunch at a local guide’s house in Jordan, where the traveller had the opportunity to understand and interact with local people and understand their culture and perspective. That’s the kind of travel experience Vikram and his team aim to create for their clients.
“I never travel because I want to stay in a hotel room”
At my previous companies I realized that travel was soon becoming the largest segment within the category of deals and purchases. There is also a greater sort of awareness of different variety of culture, different destinations due to content created on social media. Companies like Uber and Airbnb have created that new sort of traveller who is looking out for experiences rather than deals and if you look at conventional travel companies like MakeMyTrip, ClearTrip, they have been playing in the largely commoditized travel space, which is hotel rooms, packages. But I think what is missing is a real focus on the traveller itself and the traveller’s motivation of wanting to travel. So I never travel because I want to stay in a hotel room, I travel because I have got a larger motivation to travel.
Three favourite destinations
Cuba, is like no place in the world. It’s a country that is 30 years behind any other country because it has been so closed. If you go to Cuba you feel you are in the 1950s and the reason why I suggest Cuba is because it is as a very historic juncture now. Once the country opens up to the Americans, it opens up to the world and the whole face of the country will change. So if you want to go see the country, now is the time to see it. You also want to go now while Fidel Castro is still alive and you will see the culture and evolution.
Second is Ladakh, which is now opening up to different types of experiences depending on the kind of traveller you are. You can do everything In Ladakh, from riding a bullet, to cycle, to trekking up and tracking a snow leopard with a naturalist for 10 days, which I plan to try.
Brazil, as 2016 is going to be a very important year for the country. It started off very badly due to the Zika virus scare but it is going to end very well because of the Olympics. Brazil is an interesting place to go especially for Indians because of the similarity in culture and the people are very warm, like us. I never felt as much as home as I felt in Brazil.
Where does the Indian Traveller go wrong ?
There are two kinds of travellers; people who want to travel and there are people who want to show other people. And today you’ll see more of the second category. You’ll find a lot of people spending money because they have seen someone else doing the same. And there is also the problem that Indian consumers are very easily influenced by our social networks. We don’t make decisions until people tell us. There is inertia in making decisions amongst Indians. That’s why for the longest time there was a concept of asking people for advice before making decisions because we don’t take decisions unless we know someone else has done the same thing.
India’s fetish for Bollywood locations
There has to be a greater awareness amongst the Indian traveller about what travel is and what travel should be. There is a lot of “me too” happening. This year Shah Rukh Khan did a film in Iceland, along those lines few years back Hrithik Roshan’s movie was shot in Spain, after that film the number of Indian tourists travelling to Spain went up by 250 percent in just one year! It’s okay to get inspired by Bollywood. But the fact remains that a lot of them are going there with completely zero preparation with what to expect and zero appreciation for what they’ll see. Which is why our role is also to drive awareness about different destinations, cultures and food! Some Indian travelers still insist on eating only Indian food wherever they might be and this to me is a sign of someone who is not open to new experiences. If you don’t have that openness, then you are missing out on the real essence of travel.
Difference between start up culture in Middle-East and India
I think maturity of ecosystem wise, India is far ahead of the Middle-East because it’s a much more mature market and has been around for a longer time. There is also a lot more hunger here, a lot more competition, more structure and there has been a lot more success stories coming out of here. The Middle-East is still finding its feet, it’s still a bit unsure how it needs to grow. Also as a market India is a much bigger market, the Middle-east is fragmented into the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and all of these are very different markets politically, society and culture.
Vikram and his team are trying to do more in the virtual reality space of story-telling.