In 2015, Abhishek Daga, the founder of Indian adventure and activities platform Thrillophilia, made a pitch to a venture capital (VC) investor. Daga explained that the company was creating a platform for people to book activities and experiences online. Thirty minutes later, the investor was unmoved. Daga recalls being shocked at his poor understanding of the concept—dismissing the company outright, the investor said Daga was just building a knock off of event booking platform “BookMyShow”.
In the VC’s defence, this was a time when India’s experiences and activities market—everything from sightseeing tours to local experiences and niche adventure sports—had not yet taken off.
Today, however, money has come flooding into the space. The likes of activities and experiences aggregator Deyor Camps—which offers trekking and adventure activities—has already raised $500,000 and is seeking to raise a further $15 million. Headout, one of the few Indian-origin experiences and activities booking platforms, has raised $15 million in total from a clutch of investors including Nexus Venture Partners and Version One Partners. Thrillophilia itself has raised $1.2 million to date. Activities and experiences have well and truly come of age.
India’s online travel agencies (OTAs), too, have taken notice. In 2018 October, MakeMyTrip (MMT), India’s largest OTA, launched “Experiences”. It lets both travellers and locals book activities ranging from amusement parks to food walks. Airbnb, the world’s largest homestay platform, had already entered the space in 2017 with its own Experiences during co-founder Brian Chesky’s visit to India. Yatra, which was recently acquired by Ebix, entered the activities space in 2016.
While India-specific data on the activities space is sparse, a Google and Bain report offers insight into why these companies are getting serious about it. According to the report, Indian travellers spend 47% of their budget on three broad heads—recreation, food and shopping. Essentially, a sizeable spend on “things to do” during a trip—from exploring activities at a particular location, seeking more intriguing gastronomical experiences or simply shopping.
Crucially, this consumption spending has grown at a CAGR of 8%. Daga, for his part, pegs the size of the Indian activities market at $2 billion.
With experiences and activities emerging as the newest frontier in the travel space, OTAs are hoping to supercharge the segment. Much like they did with both hotels and flights. Industry executives, however, say that the hotel and flights playbook will not work here. The experiences and activities space in India is riddled with unique challenges and will require solutions to match. Simply throwing marketing dollars at the problem will not be enough.
Global phenomenon, local issues
The rise of experiences and activities isn’t unique to India.