The Enchanting-Travels Story

Parik Laxminarayan, Founder of Enchanting-Travels, talks to The Cultural Voyager about how he built his company which offers travellers unique cultural experiences

It was a cold, dreary winter day in Buenos Aires, Argentina where I had just landed with my wife and 8-month old baby. Having been pre warned, we expected chaos outside the airport but this paled in comparison to what we were used to in India and we boarded the taxi with a sense of excitement. I was about to embark on the next phase of a thrilling entrepreneurial journey to build Enchanting-South America and my mind was filled with the same fears and questions: how would I build a team, how would I find an office, how would I incorporate the company, would I be able to replicate our business model in South America, would we go bankrupt with this project, would I be able to manage the daunting task of doing this all over again? Of course, I had done all of this before – twice: once in 2004 to set up Enchanting-India with my partner and friend from business school, Alex Metzler and again in 2006 when we set up Enchanting-Africa in partnership with Florian Keller, a man who I call the “walking encyclopaedia on Africa.” Only this time was different – I was alone and didn’t speak a word of Spanish!

Inspirations
As I faced this daunting task, I reminded myself of the journey and start-up phase of our company, Enchanting-Travels. Like many entrepreneurs, I was born with a competitive streak, and a strong desire to forge my own way in the world. This really took off when I was nine years old and picked up a tennis racket for the first time. Tennis taught me that hard work and determination are essential for victory. By the time I was 19, my tennis had helped me to win a scholarship to go to college in America. On graduating, I made the decision to enter into consultancy in Washington DC, rather than taking on my father’s successful publishing and distributing business, which was subsequently acquired by Time Warner. That crucial decision meant that I had to build my own path and the adrenaline and rush of an entrepreneurial dream and the foolishness of youth, kept me going. At the end of my consulting phase and experience in corporate America, all I knew was that I had no desire to work for anyone else and that I had four things:

  1. a passion for India
  2. a dream of success that would be self-made through entrepreneurship
  3. an obsession with travel to exotic parts of the world
  4. a highly supportive wife and family

Without any clarity on how to use these, I joined INSEAD’s MBA programme, an ideal place for people without a clue about what they wanted to do next!

The birth of the idea
During my time at INSEAD, I returned to India on a trip with several classmates when one of them casually mentioned that what he’d experienced in India was significantly different from what he’d expected of the country. He thought India would be hot, poor, dry, dusty and shabby (which it is in many parts), but where we were was cool, green, misty, clean and pristine. I saw a gap between travellers’ perceptions and what a visit to India can really be when it’s managed properly. What I saw was a business opportunity, and a new model for the travel industry that would start in India. With the seed planted in my head, I returned to INSEAD and pulled an all-nighter brainstorming various business ideas with my friend and classmate, Alex, who was equally crazy and bold enough to pass up on six figure post MBA salaries for the exciting and daunting world of entrepreneurship. In typical Germanic fashion, Alex structured our abstract ideas from the night to present a one-page summary that would become Enchanting-India, a travel company through which we aimed at redefining the way people travelled to exotic destinations.

The business model and our culture
The Enchanting model was different for many reasons. Besides the fact that we had no professional training or background in the space of travel, we saw five main problems and gaps in the business of offering trips to exotic destinations:

  1. The industry was crowded with either low quality, cheap and unprofessional operators or very high-end white-glove expensive companies that used destination management partners to execute trips
  2. The value chain had many players (travel agents, foreign tour operators, destination management companies, local operators, ground handlers), most of which weren’t adding value any more with the growth of the internet
  3. There seemed to be huge gaps between the people who sold trips, their understanding of the destinations and the execution of those trips
  4. Very few companies were able to offer truly tailor-made travel experiences at an affordable cost and backed by high quality in execution
  5. The increase in competition and online travel companies led to extreme pressure on tour operators’ pricing, which was artificially supported by unethical practices of shopping and other undisclosed commission-based income. This all-too common story of guides pressuring travellers into carpet or artefact shops tainted the quality of high-end travel in destinations which could otherwise be amazing and life-changing travel experiences

With an understanding of high-end customers and the confidence of being able to execute hassle-free trips, we weren’t afraid of embracing a more labour-intensive process in order to deliver excellence. Leveraging online marketing, an understanding of the luxury traveller’s mindset, destination presence and knowledge, we manage the entire process from the first interaction to the last farewell. This gives our customers the freedom to experience customised global travel within the context of a flexible, quality-assured network of travel consultants, hospitality providers, guides, and travel professionals. Without middlemen and a strong presence in the destination, our processes and the equation between quality and price became innovative factors that enabled us to offer compelling value to
customers. We also embrace a progressive view of globalisation, fully integrating not only the value chain but also our workforce. An internal culture of equality and camaraderie pervades throughout all of our offices is one of our biggest strengths. In
fact it’s typical of Enchanting to have a British employee sitting in India, discussing a South American itinerary with a guest from the U.S.! Our offices in India and around the world resemble an INSEAD classroom with numerous nationalities, cultures, languages and backgrounds.

Today and beyond
What started with India expanded into Africa, South America, and last year, Asia. With a presence and reach in four continents, our offering has now grown to 28 countries under the various brands of Enchanting-Travels. The numbers have changed, but our values remain the same. Instead of 2 people, we are now over 150 from 13 nationalities spread across four continents with the common thread of sharing the joy of travel, the high from overcoming challenges and building something successful against industry norms, a passion for and thrill of being different through entrepreneurship and a thirst of exploring new exotic destinations around the world.

For further information, visit www.enchanting-travels.com

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