“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it.” – Machiavelli

Well, welcome to the dog-eat-dog world. And say hello to WeAreHolidays v2.0

For the last more than 2 years (yes, we’ve been around for more than 2 years) we’ve been planning and selling holidays all over. From a small trip to Manesar, just outside Delhi, to a journey to Antarctica and thousands more in between them, we’ve planned it all under the sun. And almost all of them have been personalized trips (no group packages). Go through  Why We Love Group Travel to know more on what Group Travel is.

And in the process we’ve realized some potent truths, which also resonate with what Deepak & I experienced while working at MakeMyTrip.

To begin with, let’s first break up the holiday lifecycle which a typical consumer experiences.

It begins with the Inspiration or Discovery phase. Each one of us carries inspirations in our head all the time. We get inspired by the environment around us. For example, if you watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, you did take a mental note of Spain. Or if one of your colleagues in office recently came back from a vacation all gushing about the beauty of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh, you couldn’t help visualizing the closing scenes of 3 Idiots one more time and imagining yourself in the scene. Or you just saw your news feed on Facebook sprout with images, likes and comments from your friend’s holiday pictures to, say, South Goa. You just can’t ignore the pristine clean white sand beaches down there.

But we hardly do much with the inspirations we carry until we actually get moving towards our own holiday or getaway. The first step obviously is to start with a bit of background Research. And the obvious beginning point is to dip into the inspirations we carry. During Research, you would proactively seek out information online and offline. It may mean visiting Google multiple times, checking out hotels reviews on TripAdvisor, checking travel blogs / forums etc. In the offline world, you may reach out to that colleague of yours who had undertaken that getaway to Ladakh or ping your Facebook friend who was setting your news feed on fire from South Goa.

Once you’ve put some order to your thoughts, you’re much more clear in your head about what you want. It may mean ruling out Spain since it is way out of your budget or because your passport is expiring in 2 months, or shortlisting Maldives and Mauritius since both seem to fit your time window of a week’s getaway. This is when you actively start Planning your holiday. With the clarity you have from your own Research, you now start reaching out to different travel companies, agents, online sites to figure out an itinerary which may suit you. It could often be a labourious, time-consuming, and torturous ordeal in a world where everyone wants to sell you what he/she wants to sell rather than what might be the best for you. Further given that for a normal person, it is extremely difficult to compare a holiday itinerary apple-to-apple across different holiday companies / sites, it is no mean task if you finally get a holiday itinerary you’re happy with at a price which you can afford.

By the time you finish your Planning, you have one or more finalized itineraries you’re comfortable with, at a price you are okay with (or have forced yourself to be okay with!) and have a fairly good idea of the holiday companies / agents who are going to book the same for you. So as you enter Booking, you go ahead and shortlist that one company who is going to get your money! If you’re going overseas and require a Visa, your Visa applications may get underway alongside your holiday shopping and packing.

And finally, the fruits of your labour present themselves. You actually travel and get to experience all that you Researched & Planned for over the last few weeks (or months). If what you planned for meets your expectations, you’re going to be content, and if they exceed them, you’ll be delighted. And if a screw-up happens at any point (and considering there are multiple service providers involved on the ground across geographies, chances are pretty high), you’re going to be screaming fire.

Once you’re back from your holiday, you’re going to enter into a Sharing mode. It may be proactive if you’re either pleasantly delighted or extremely disappointed by your experience or reactive / passive if you’re just content or marginally disappointed or delighted. It could mean posting your pictures on Facebook or sharing your experience with your colleagues in office or the holiday company / agent reaching out to you for feedback. Whatever you share, in whatever form becomes Inspiration for someone else and kick starts another cycle.

This cycle may take a day if you’re going for a quick weekend getaway or may extend to up to a year if you’re planning your honeymoon. Typically, your reasons for going on a holiday, the complexity of your holiday itinerary, the duration and budget, and your travel companion determine how much time will be spent in this cycle. On an average it extends from a couple of weeks (2+) to a couple of months (2 – 3).

Obviously, the different phases are not as distinctly broken and nor do they necessarily happen in this order. There are strong overlaps at multiple places and most people may not even consciously realize in what phase they are (for example, while travelling, a lot of people share updates through mobile / social networks etc. hence fusing the Experience phase and the Sharing phase; similarly there is usually no exact moment when Research ends and Planning begins). But on a theoretical level, this is how conceptually holidays work in the mind even though most people might subconsciously got through this cycle multiple times.

And it is pretty important to understand this cycle to be able to add any value to it. If you come to think of it, the Research and the Planning phase take up the most amount of time, and play the most crucial role in your holiday experience. It is not for nothing that we are so bullish on Research & Planning. The Booking piece is inefficient and inconsistent but it works. It is not broken. But the Research & Planning pieces are fundamentally broken.

To give an analogy, think of doctors & chemists. There are very few doctors as compared to chemists. And why so?

Because to become a doctor you need to study hard, very hard. You need to do an MBBS and then an MD to specialize further. This entails lakhs of rupees and nearly a decade of your life. Not everyone is cut out to fight out the intense competition for a few seats in medical colleges and put in insane amounts of hard work, social isolation, education loans, et all. And what does a good doctor do? He or she uses his/her medical knowledge and experience to diagnose your symptoms and provide a prescription to cure you of the ailment underlying the symptoms.

Let’s talk of chemists. To become a chemist you need to be a pharmacist, which is much easier to become than a doctor in every sense. Not to say that chemists don’t play a crucial role. They are needed to decipher the prescription and provide you with the medicines.

Both the doctor and the chemist make money. The doctor charges a flat consultation fee for the time he spends consulting you and providing you with a prescription. The chemist charges you for the medicines you buy and makes money from the commissions / margins the pharmaceutical companies provide him on the sale of those medicines.

Now getting back to holidays, think of the Holiday Planner as a Doctor. The Holiday Planner is adept at understanding who you are and what your requirements are, and creates a holiday itinerary for you (akin to a prescription a doctor writes for you). And the Travel Agent who actually books that holiday itinerary or package is like a Chemist who is selling those medicines basis the prescription. Both are important, but you can clearly see where the real value add happens.

So if the Holiday Planner is so crucial, then how come they don’t exist? Well they do. Just that you don’t get to notice them due to the skewed way in which holidays get sold. First of all, there are very few of them for the same reasons there are less doctors than chemists. It takes a lot of hard work to really know the destinations inside out – the transport options and various modes, the different types of accommodations to stay at, the various things to do, places to see, places to eat at and shop around, et all. Given the diversity and the sheer number of destinations, it’s a Herculean task. And then it takes a totally different kind of skill set to be able to understand a customer’s requirements. It requires umpteen sensitivity to be able to grasp the finer details, which may make a huge amount of difference to the itinerary and the various elements that go into it. And then it requires a different skill set to be able to put these two pools of knowledge in context and create an itinerary and then engage with the customer to iterate and refine it. Secondly, since these resources are scarce and expensive, most companies who have already figured out Group Travel as a shortcut to sale, leverage them to create these standardized group holiday itineraries in the background and thereafter use their marketing muscle and an army of sellers (aka chemists) to sell them masquerading as planners (or doctors).

As a side effect, since these Holiday Planners cost money and someone needs to pay for the itineraries they create, their cost is conveniently hidden in the cost of the holiday package (and this is another area where it helps to have an opaque price for the holiday package). So it is essentially like the doctor hiding his/her consultation fee in the cost of the medicines he/she sells. So a doctor in this case only makes money if you buy medicines from him/her. Hence, his/her incentive over time is to sell medicines to you (and medicines which earn him/her the most commission) than to provide accurate personalized prescriptions, since anyway no one is going to pay for them.

You see how dirty this tends to become. And you thought it was dirty enough with Group Travel.

p.s. – For those of you who are wondering what an itinerary or a holiday itinerary is – it is actually a day by day (timeline based) aggregation of all the components in your holiday – transport, accommodation, activities, ancillary things, etc. (To read up a bit on what all goes in a holiday, do read It’s Complicated & Planning is in the details). Hence, it lists out how you will travel to your destination, where you will stay there every night, your transfers, things you will do, etc. It requires some skill to create an itinerary which fits your constraints – time, budget, convenience, flexibility etc. and also ends up providing a memorable experience to you.


Harkirat – who has written posts on WAH Blog.