Swipe right to go places: Travel apps to the rescue

Runa Mukherjee Parikh | Updated on July 26, 2019 Published on July 26, 2019

Alone together: An Indian family at Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert   -  JUHI BANSAL

Tired of tagging along with big groups to fixed destinations in packed coaches? A host of apps and websites can help you choose a customised itinerary

Maya remembers a time when her parents holidayed exactly how the local travel agent instructed them to. Visit Mall Road, eat at this hotel, stay at that lodge with a mountain view and return home with memories captured by a sturdy Kodak camera. Today, Maya has chosen to spend two of her seven nights in Iceland at Hofn, a snowed-in village with a population of just four. Her itinerary was planned entirely online, with little help from travel agents or relatives.

Package tours for large groups travelling in coaches to fixed destinations and time schedules are passé. Today’s traveller wants to explore more, and in ways better than before. Social media sharing is pushing people, especially the young, to seek out off-beat destinations. With spending power and a host of online assistance at hand, the world is indeed their oyster.

And for those worried about navigating their way in strange new lands, there are apps that connect them to experienced travellers who have been there and done that. Rahul Singh, CEO and co-founder of the Ithaka Travel app, says the idea of bringing the two together hit him when he found that travellers wanted to find out more about a place directly from someone who knew it well. “There is a lot of information available on the web but, even after hours of research, there is a feeling of uncertainty. These are things that can be covered quickly by talking to someone,” he says.

So Ithaka currently has a community of over 120 ‘travel influencers’. When new users sign up on the app, they get connected with a travel influencer who helps them plan the trip the way they want it.

Dream holiday: Techie Vansant Rangslang used a ‘travel influencer’ to plan his vacation   -  VANSANT RANGSLANG


Vansant Rangslang, a 27-year-old software developer based in Bengaluru, recently took the help of a travel influencer for a trip. “Everything including hotels, transfers, activities, even the timely pickups and efficient operators were booked within the app itself. The influencer also helped us with alternative choices if we didn’t like something, so it was customised. Plus, the app categorises activities and attractions under different tags like adventure and nature, so it’s easy to use as well,” says the Bengaluru resident.

The influencers, in turn, get rated by the travellers. These ratings work as ‘travel credits’ that the influencers can redeem to make bookings for their own trips. Many of them earn close to ₹80,000 a month this way.

Aakanksha Sharma, a self-proclaimed ‘Fauji brat’ (army kid) for whom travel has been an intrinsic part of life from a young age, says the role of a travel influencer comes easily to her. “I talk about my adventures and experiences while sharing information related to the country, people and food. It gives me a rush when I know that they will be heading to the places I enjoyed,” says the freelance marketing and content professional, who is particular about being truthful with her information.

Pickyourtrail, a Chennai-based travel app, does exactly what the name suggests. “Our self-serve customers can create, customise and book international trips completely online in less than 10 minutes,” says Hari Ganapathy, who co-founded the venture with Srinath Shankar.

Kochi resident Sunu Kurian and her husband used the app for their Australia trip in April to meet her pen pal of a few decades. “The entire trip, right from the enquiry stage till the actual visit to three places (Sydney, Cairns and Gold Coast), hotels, flight transfers, local transfers were very well planned. The detailed online list of the day’s programme outlined the pick-up points, destinations, time of departure of flights and coaches, where we were to wait and all things that made us breathe easy,” says the 63-year-old.

Yet another travel app, MeTripping, runs on the principle that if no two needs are the same, itineraries should not be either. Says its founder, Varun Gupta, “Travellers have their own way of discovering the world. We enable that.” Working as a search engine based on artificial intelligence, MeTripping pulls together online content ranging from reviews, routes, visa regulations to destinations, flights, hotels and activities. It then organises the data in a user-friendly way, says Gupta, adding that the platform has 2 million users in India.

Using digital technology, Amit Damani discovered yet another sweet spot for the Indian traveller — the option of staying in a home away from home during vacations. He co-founded Vista Rooms, a website offering a choice of exclusive private holiday homes across India.

“High-end hotels, however luxurious, lack exclusivity and privacy. A homestay offers guests amenities such as infinity pools, jacuzzis, spas exclusively for them,” he says.

Many of these properties belong to families that use them for their own holidays or weekend getaways, and are willing to rent it out at other times of the year. Companies such as Vista Rooms manage the entire listing and booking process, right from check-in to check-out.

Mumbaikar Shubha Vaid loved her homestay in one such property she found through Vista Rooms for the many unique experiences it brought with it. “I have eaten at restaurants across the world, but some of my best meals were at Ekam Villa in Chail, Himachal Pradesh. The caretaker welcomed us with a freshly baked cake and cooked meals of our choice — including wood-fired oven pizzas and a delicious khow suey — and all with a smile. I will definitely be going back to that homestay for the food,” she says.

Runa Mukherjee Parikh is a journalist based in Ahmedabad and the author of Your Truth, My Truth

Published on July 26, 2019
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