We are focused on developing sustainable tourism in India: Vineet Rajan, ScoutMyTrip

In an exclusive interaction with Mumbai Live, the co-founder of ScoutMyTrip, Vineet Rajan, talks about how the company began, their vision and how they are making travelling better for people globally.

We are focused on developing sustainable tourism in India: Vineet Rajan, ScoutMyTrip

Everyone in the world loves to travel or exploring new places, experience new culture etc. Travelling opens minds and helps us understand people much better. With every trip, we bring memories and learn from places and people; and some tend to adopt those aspects to their life.

Over the last few years, the travel industry has seen a new wave, especially in India. With many previous unexplored places getting importance, travellers, mostly the youth and millennials are focusing on making the best use of their time and resources, travelling and seeking new experiences. One of the strongest players in the travel business industry today is ScoutMyTrip, which started as a road trip planning company, eventually taking shape as a travel companion. Today, the firm has become a market place of travel experts and has been helping people plan their holidays thereby offering solutions to explore our beautiful country.

In an exclusive interaction with Mumbai Live, Vineet Rajan, one of the co-founders of this award-winning company, share their journey, passion, vision, challenges and a lot more.

The founding stone of ScoutMyTrip...

Deepak Ananth and I loved travelling and we have already travelled half a million by road. We did research to understand travel options and search people go through before they travel, where we learned that people spend a lot of time to ensure the trip is planned well. There is a lot of research which goes through. People need planning and advice about the trip - regarding places. 

As far as road trips are concerned, we thought we need to address the issues through technology. There are google and other search options available, but we wanted to do better than that, which also would help us understand travellers. So we started off as a road trip planners primarily, but eventually, with time we understood that the market size was small. Hence last year, we switched from being just road trip planners to travel planning company, where we involved people living in the specific locality to help travellers with plans and suggestions. 

This model helped us identify the need, where people spend a lot of time doing the research about the place before making a concrete plan. A Google study suggests that most travellers go through 17 touchpoints by visiting websites or talking to friends or searching for suggestions online or offline. It is also said that almost a billion hours are spent on planning trips.

That's how we planned a 'scout program' through which we empower locals to become virtual travel guides. The idea is to ask locals to customise a plan, for a traveller (when in need) based on their interests. They can use their expertise to suggest the best options possible. Virtual travel guides help us take the load off the central planning teams as they directly get in touch with the travellers and also earn money just by using their knowledge about their place. 

Currently, 150 scouts are earning between ₹4,000-6,000 a month. The best part is that the plan made by these scouts is on our platform, which makes the website rich with content. In our ecosystem, we have different streams - scouts, technology and service desks. 

Our understanding said that the market need was big. People wanted offbeat experiences where alternative suggestions and options were requested. The market currently is quite asymmetric - which has either no information or too much information.

What is the Vision that keeps you going...

Our vision after two years is to have ScoutMyTrip as a subscription on the phone, where travellers can connect to a virtual guide and start communication. This at this point is technology-driven, but we want to make it human-driven, as it becomes more personal. Moreover, it creates job opportunities for many across the world. This was one reason why the government of India conferred us with the National Entrepreneurship Award last year. We are focused on developing sustainable tourism because what everyone misses out is the economics.

The idea to work with locals is to make sure that their economy gets a boost, which is missing today, as technology-driven companies have stepped into the market, driving heavy commissions and hampering the human experience.  Suggesting alternatives will promote smaller places, thereby driving job opportunities for local homestays, food vendors, etc. As a country, we need to travel to new places, thereby promoting economy and identifying new places in the country. 

We are bullish about making these scouts micro travel agents who will have access to travel agents, hotels, taxi drivers etc., which helps them earn extra. Our focus to make the locals become travel agents, making the potential to change the way we travel. Our idea is to push people to plan first before they travel.

Future prospects of developing business with Scouts...

This is an important part of our business going ahead. We are also keen to see if the scouts can help us identify camping grounds. It will have to go through a legal channel which will need additional funding, but we are sure that the opportunity will develop in the next 10 years. It will be a different movement we'll see in the travel industry. What needs to improve for this to happen is related to our civic sense. In India, many, even today, are reckless, as we throw garbage and litter in open places, making it dirty. Our awareness of those aspects needs to improve. It is a small and passionate ecosystem now, but we foresee people showing interest in 5 years. 

We have also invested in a campervan built on an SUV. It has all the amenities where one can live on it. Our driver is also a cook, who can travel with you. The problem we have faced is to find a parking spot where security is a concern outside the city.

How has the funding helped and what do you seek further...

Deepak and I funded initially spent our own money. Our first round of funding was in 2017, which was used on technology and marketing, which helped us develop to this level. 

We are looking at another round of funding of $500,000 (₹3.5 crores) which would be used heavily in technology, as it would go in supporting the scouts. They spend a couple of hours to make a plan, and the technology will help them reduce time. This can be resolved by developing better platforms, userbase etc.

Security of travellers and scouts...

The first part of onboarding a scout is to ensure they are locals. They have to go through an onboarding process which includes an interview. There are video conferences and other aspects we look at verification. India is a vast country, which gives them an option to choose multiple regions. 

If a traveller is going through different states, multiple scouts are involved, through our technology. This helps the traveller have a trip with ease, where experts from different places are participating. It also helps us ensure no misinformation is provided. The word of mouth has helped us as more scouts are applying. Some students, homestay owners, early job holders etc., are looking to collaborate.

Association with the government...

We have associated with the government by Maharastra. We won the Maharashtra startup week and are working alongside the eco-tourism board which is the body that brings homestays and ecotourism, especially at offbeat places. We are helping them promote lesser-known places. We'll have all the Maharashtra EcoTourism places soon under ScoutMyTrip. Their website will have our website as white-labelled product thereby promoting our scouts, itinerary and plans.

Final word...

The next two years would be done by the scouts. We want them to put their stories out, where we are building a system for them to share information about their regions. Once they use the platform to promote their regions more, it'll get them more business. The more they talk about their area, the more attraction it will get.

One of the exciting aspects of our next two-year plan is to expand to South East Asia. We are in talks with some partners in Indonesia and creating a joint venture to service SE Asia. We will then cater to other countries. It is high on the list and we want to make a presence there by the end of 2020.

We want students to play a big role in ScoutMyTrip. We want to offer income by solving employment problems if they wish to share the knowledge about their areas. Through technology we will improve offerings making it easy for travellers and scouts, thereby removing problems, especially related to languages. We may develop an inbuilt translator which could help both the entities. Our bigger plan is to make the platform accessible for travellers across the world.

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