How India Assist is Set to Reshape Travel in 2020
Can a travel assistance app help foreigners travel smarter? This was the question founders Harish Khatri and Moqierish Tak asked before zeroing in on the idea of India Assist.
As the travel market grows further in India so does issues of security and safety of foreigners travelling to India every year. Though government is doing its bit, there is no direct mechanism to help foreigners in distress. As avid travellers, India Assist founder Harish Khatri and co-founder MoqierishTak identified a serious gap in the current tourism scenario — how lack of security and active assistance restricted tourists from enjoying their travel within the country. They also recognized that there is a lack of centralized system for foreigners that would provide them with verified information or assistance. “We are bridging this gap by providing assistance in medical emergencies, theft, baggage loss, altercation, transit or any other verified information they may need time to time. Tourists are quite vulnerable when they are outside of their home country essentially due to language and culture barriers. This issue has to be addressed seriously. This is where we come in,” shares Khatri.
The founders left their successful careers in managing big-ticket sport events to provide tourists in India a unique yet convenient experience. While Tak is excellent with micromanagement, technology and has a keen eye for detail, Khatri addresses the other day-to-day concerns such as having a bird’s eye view and vision of where the company is heading towards, necessary requirements and offering solutions. “I focus on enhancing our product, that’s how we balance the scales in terms of who looks after what,” Tak is quick to mention. “We are never at loggerheads. We go by each other’s conviction as there is not much that we disagree on,” Khatri reveals. Entrepreneurship, according to him, entails focusing on both internal and external changes.
Delhi-based India Assist has received seed funding directly from a Silicon Valley-based investor. “Soon we will be looking for our next round of funding as we plan our expansion into international markets. Over a period of time, we will be opening for the domestic market too but the market currently is a 100-crore people market and we don’t want to cater to that kind of huge market without testing a model. We want to do that once we understand and have become matured in providing assistance to foreigners,” explains Khatri.
The app is a subscription-based business model. Foreign tourists can download the app and purchase it for $10 per day, along with other value-added services. The start-up’s app provides online services in all major cities across the country.
The ground assistance services are currently available only in New Delhi but the company is in the process of finalizing the channel partners in different cities. India Assist plans to be functional in 20 Indian cities in the next six months.
MYRIAD TALES OF TECH
The start-up took almost two years to develop its technology. Tak elaborates, “Having started from scratch, we wanted to get a copyright and patent on our technology because it involved human intervention. Figuring out how to go back to technology after human assistance interference was a major challenge. This is why we took a long time to build the technology. Now we are ready with a Google Playstore and an Apple version. Our backend is completely created in-house through a lot of national and international talent.”
The core product offering is that of assistance and distress management service. While touring in India, if you face distress and need any kind of assistance, the app sends a representative by tracking your live location. During your travel, you can click the ‘assistance’ button to connect with the call centre for any information, suggestion or assistance that you require. A support staff is then assigned to run you through all the information and research work. The company also provides a ‘meet and greet’ service, which is a value added service.
DOWN MEMORY LANE
As the co-founder of India Assist, Tak takes care of the product end completely — right from technology to the service end. Recalling her journey of association with Khatri, she shares, “When I joined Harish in 2015, he hadn’t disclosed his idea to me perhaps because he was trying to gauge if I would be capable enough to stand up to the task and the opportunity he had envisioned. Taken aback by his idea later, I was immediately hands-onboard. That’s when my journey with India Assist commenced.”
She went on to share, “At the time when we first met, both of us were working in the events industry. I was working in sports events while he owned an events agency. I had initially joined him for events and eventually after a few months, Harish told me about India Assist and what he wanted to do, and we’ve been working ever since.”
Khatri is fairly relaxed about promoting his app. “My customers are coming through a funnel — most of who are entering through airports. If we miss them at the airport, we can always find them at tourist spots. I only need to concentrate on focus marketing at airports and tourist spots,” he says.
India Assist has about 10 people in its core team and 15 people in its service team.
THE COUNTRY NAVIGATOR
How the travel map is set to change in the eyes of India Assist founder, Harish Khatri.
Was there any particular incident which made you think about starting India Assist?
While traveling in the USA, I interacted with many people who were extremely intrigued and excited about visiting India. However, they were very concerned about the experiences they would have while traveling in the country. While advocating during these interactions of how amazing our country is to travel in and about our culture of Athithi Devo Bhava, I couldn’t find any structured mechanism of help in case something was to go haywire. The lack of such a professional service, resonating with empathetic values, led me to the initiation of the idea that has now become ‘India Assist’.
What is the revenue stream for India Assist?
Though our App is free to download, we run on a subscription-based revenue model. The subscription will be based on the number of days and number of travellers traveling together in India.
Going forward, how do you plan to enhance the user experience?
We intend to add a variety of hyperlocal services on a city level, that showcase the unique flavour and the offerings of the city itself.
With travel to Ayodhya and Kashmir expected to increase now, are there any special security measures you are bringing?
We will develop a more close working relationship with authorities there so that whenever we need any support from them, the working relationship would already be existing with them. The idea is to be available to tourists and connect them to solutions without wasting time.
After Delhi, what are the key cities you have in mind to launch the ground assistance services?
We are looking forward to being in cities such as Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Mumbai, Panjim (Goa), Bangalore, Varanasi, Lucknow, Kochi, Hyderabad,Kolkata and a few more.
Any stumbling block you came across while starting up? What has been your key learning from it?
The journey has been quite challenging as there was not any template we could follow while creating the app and service end. We made empathy our criteria and made it a point that every decision that we would take needs to making their life easy while they travel. That enabled us to create a world class product, a product which we would want to use ourselves as travellers. Without having an investor support while developing the technology, taking this kind of stand was not easy and we kept struggling to meet our expectations versus cost. We were determined that we will not compromise and give a half baked product to our customers. Thankfully, once investors started believing in our vision and product, things eased out. It took us almost two years to perfect the technology that we now work with, and are constantly upgrading it for better user experience. benefit the tourist in terms of Now as a part of journey, we are looking forward to support from within the industry since we are clearly not in competition with any stakeholders. All stake holders such as airlines, hotels, travel agents, OTAs, government authorities, media et all need to support the cause of assistance to travellers and we are more than willing to partner with them to take care of their customers whenever they need any assistance.
Do you have plans to widen your portfolio/product line?
We want to create an eco-system for foreigners arriving in India and become a most reliable information and assistance platform for them while they travel within India. They should be able to enjoy the better side of India and just in case they get into any distress, we are there to help them and make their trip stress-free. At micro level, we want the states to adopt this model (UP Assist, Rajasthan Assist etc) and at a macro level we want to venture into other countries as well.
(This article was first published in the December 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)