While there is no dearth of travel planners for popular destinations, a segment that has long been marginalised is the backpacker, or flashpacker—backpackers with fat wallets. It was to tap this opportunity thatYogesh M Shah and his wife, Suchna, started The Backpacker Co, in 2004.
While Yogesh has been backpacking across India and the world ever since he got his licence, Suchna traversed the globe as a cabin attendant with Singapore Airlines, where she worked for five years.
So a travel venture seemed like an obvious calling for them. After graduating from HR College, Mumbai, in 1993, Yogesh joined his father's logistics company. Meanwhile, Suchna relocated to Singapore due to her job. After the couple got married in 2000, she took a year to wrap up her job and shift to Mumbai.
While she played housewife and Yogesh continued helping his father, the couple had an informal side job: helping friends hash out holiday plans.
"Eventually, the idea of offering travel advice on a professional basis dawned on us," says Yogesh. So, in end-2002, the duo started a 'kitchen table venture', as they put it, focused on helping people with their travel plans for a small fee. Suchna handled the consultation business on a full-time basis, while Yogesh continued with his day job.
A year later, they reported a revenue of Rs 1 lakh, which was not high, but proved to them that they were on right track. In January 2004, the Shahs set up The Backpacker Co as a proprietorship, claiming it is India's first backpacker-centric firm.
They started with Rs 1 lakh, culled from their savings, and used it to hire a few helpers and set up a small office in Yogesh's father's company. The one thing they did not have to worry about was clients since word-ofmouth publicity of their home consultancy had fetched a lot of enquiries. "There was no other forum for backpackers looking for budget holidays.
So, once we registered, we did good business," says Yogesh. The company focused on backpackers heading overseas. While travellers had to pay for air tickets and visas, Backpacker Co arranged accommodation in hostels to cut costs, while offering advice on places of interest and the time needed to visit these.
The fee depended on the duration of travel and the number of places, but they charge around 10% of the total cost on an average. They managed to break even in 2005.
Another milestone year was 2006, when the couple launched their website. "It not only made it easier to understand what we had to offer, but also contact us," says Yogesh. Like any savvy entrepreneur, the Shahs knew that they would have to innovate to take their company to the next level.
So, around end-2011, they decided to target the affluent. They registered their company as a private limited entity last year and called it Serendipity Travels. Then, in April 2012, they unveiled Villa Estate, a new vertical under the parent company (separate from The Backpacker Co), focusing on luxury trips. Think travelling in chauffeur-driven cars, staying in boutique or heritage hotels, and the like. Within a year of launch, Villa Estate is contributing nearly 40% to the total revenue; the company has clocked Rs 80 lakh this fiscal year.
Now, the Shahs are considering the venture capital route to fuel their growth. The latter is a given considering that the volume of travel queries received by the company has grown ten-fold in the past five years. On an average, the Serendipity Travels team tackles 40-50 queries a day from backpackers and flashpackers alike.