The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the worst crisis to hit the Indian travel and tourism industry, according to Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). According to estimates, both inbound and outbound tourism has been affected 80-100 percent in the April-July period, and the travel sentiment is being expected to continue to drop the whole year.
In this situation, small business players operating in the segment have been the worst hit. One such company is Gurugram-based Journey Weavers. The company was started in 2015 by Shalini Raj after she took a sabbatical from her marketing job at Coca-Cola to look after her family. During this time, she decided to unleash her passion for offbeat travel, and started Journey Weavers.
“Initially, we wanted to curate offbeat destinations, and then we grew to become a one-stop company to provide all kinds of travel solutions,” says Shalini.
The startup offers customised and experiential trips for families, milestone occasions, employee incentive plan, and corporate offsite training.
Shalini recalls how the coronavirus pandemic made her clients cancel their international and domestic flights, and also asked their advance booking money and the money spent on flight tickets to be returned.
“Within days, we were helpless and shattered. We did not know how to give back money to them and how to sustain in the market,” she says.
“Thanks to the airlines which announced that for next one year flyers can save the PNR number and will not be charged extra money for postponing the travel. We have started convincing our customers to postpone their travel plans for next year so they can avail the offer. We have convinced more than 200 customers to postpone their travel, and 80 percent of our customers are convinced,” she adds.
Shalini says that seeing the downfall, she quickly used the lockdown period to revisit the brand strategy and business and decided to reinvent Journey Weavers into a wedding-focussed startup. The company has team of 25 people.
It now organises weddings, which includes services like taking necessary approvals from the government to go ahead with the gathering amidst the lockdown.
From invites to vidai
Shalini says Journey Weavers has now pivoted and organises end-to-end weddings, where it makes personalised invites, organises pre-wedding parties, occasional giveaways, mandap, honeymoon, makeup artists, gifts, managing guests, and everything else required till the last ritual of the wedding.
“I always had wedding services in mind, but due to my hectic travel business, I did not work on it. This was the best time to do so,” says Shalini. She adds the idea was to do small but personalised weddings, with not more than 50-60 people. So, organising weddings in corona times is just the same, but with some special offerings.
“These special offerings include taking permission from local authorities, seeing that not more than two guests are in one room, checking accommodation, making sure the lockdown rules are being followed, etc.,” Shalini says.
Journey Weavers recently organised one such wedding in Ranchi, and has three more in the pipeline.
Business model and plans ahead
Last year, the startup reported business of Rs 2 crore from its travel vertical. And with this pivot, Shalini hopes to at least make 50 percent of what it made last year as it is completely new, and it will take some time to settle before they start making profits.
Journey Weavers provided trips across budgets and in the wedding business, one wedding costs a few lakhs or more.
Besides curating corona-special weddings, Journey Weavers is also working on various other verticals such as corporate gifting to stay afloat in the difficult times.
Shalini says the company is also keeping its travel customers in touch so that as soon as the travel industry resumes, Journey Weavers can continue in that line of business as well.
“In order to figure out how to cope with upcoming downfall in the travel industry, we are trying various new strategies to have travel customers active. For example, we have curated a few travel online games that are going around Instagram these days,” she says.
Besides this, she says the team is constantly revisiting the brand strategy and business model, and is exploring newer models such as online workshops, sessions in categories such as financial advisors, makeup artists, stress management, life coach, etc.
In the wedding business, the company is looking forward to focus on destination weddings across India. Meanwhile, the founder also says that once the new business line picks up, Journey Weavers is also exploring opportunities like partnerships with clubs across the country.
“The idea is to connect with people who have an idle property and convert it into a home stay for travellers, giving them a cleaner, safer, yet affordable experience. Due to the adverse effect of coronavirus on top international destinations like Europe and America, people will avoid travelling to these destinations for some time even after the lockdown, and instead opt for domestic travel. The good days for domestic travel are foreseen,” hopes Shalini.
In the past five years, Journey Weavers has covered over 125 destinations. Shalini says, in a month the company would typically do around 55-65 trips, which may not happen this year.
Even though the revenues and viability of the renewed business model would be seen later in the year, Shalini is positive of her offering. She says that since the companies are going through layoffs and salary cuts, the online sessions will be less expensive and affordable for them.