How a bunch of tech startups is looking to disrupt luxury travel
Raghav Belavadi, CEO and Founder of Hype

Ludhiana-based Amit Mittal is a tycoon of sorts, with business interests ranging from hosiery to sugar mills to auto parts manufacturing. Not a week goes by when he doesn't travel, and he feels the long-drawn process of checking in, security check and waiting before take-off is a colossal waste of time. For his ilk, time is way more valuable than money.

Mittal is just one among the thousands of millionaires willing to shell out seemingly crazy money for speed and comfort. According to the Asia Pacific 2016 Wealth Report by Capgemini, India houses over 2.36 lakh high-net-worth individuals (HNIs), that is, people with total assets of more than $1 million. Another report by property consultant Knight Frank says the number of ultra-HNIs in India, or those with net worth over $30 million, grew the sixth-fastest globally between 2015 and 2016.

Though the country is yet to witness a dominant online player catering to this swelling customer base, a few business-to-consumer startups have sprung up in the travel space. Luxury car rental app HYPE, heli-tourism startup GoChoppers, and aircraft charter firms BookMyCharters, JetSmart, and JetSetGo are some of the new-age companies attempting to bring a sense of order and transparency to the segment.

“There are a lot of unreported millionaires as well... Typically, an HNI couple spends Rs 2.5 lakh to even Rs 10-20 lakh, depending on the trip. They look for customisation and cultural experiences. They may not want to engage with an offline agent,” says Anup Jain, managing partner at consumer and retail consulting firm Redback Advisory Services.

Up in the air

BookMyCharters, a private jet-aggregation firm from Baron Aviation group, claims to run a model akin to cab-hailing firm Uber's. "We offer real-time fare information, and a user can book a private jet in 60 seconds," says Sachit Wadhwa, its co-founder.

“The booking processes is tedious across offline charters, and it takes days to get confirmation and complete the transaction. We want to offer a personalised flying experience to customers and simplify the process,” he adds.

Founded by the father-son duo of Rajeev and Sachit Wadhwa, the aggregator enables online booking across 150 airports in the country, covering 22,000 routes. The pricing is per-hour, with costs ranging between Rs 60,000 and Rs 6 lakh. The average ticket size is Rs 8-10 lakh.

The company has already rolled out an Android app, and an iOS app is in the works. It is also planning to take its helicopter and yacht services online.

“In the last few years, we see a lot of aspirational, even non-business flyers trying to figure out the cost structures,” says Sachit. “With online players coming in, we expect the demand to grow multi-fold. The inventory is quite under-utilised in the private sector,” he adds.

While BookMyCharters’ key customers are either celebrities or from the corporate segment, GoChoppers, which provides luxury helicopter services, mainly targets pilgrims. It also offers luxury jet services to corporate clients and diplomats, though. The company has tied up with 25 business jets and 40 helicopter operators for its chartering business, its founder Puneet Bakshi said.

GoChoppers charges Rs 1.3 lakh per person for a single-day helicopter tour around Taj Mahal in Agra, and Rs 1.6 lakh per person for a single-day helicopter tour of Jaipur.

According to Bakshi, a former Indian Air Force pilot, the company is slowly transitioning to an Internet-first business—it is building a mobile app to enable helicopter, jet and hotel booking on a single platform. Besides, it is venturing into high-end luxury tourism, wherein it will target international tourists and expats.

GoChoppers had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Rivergate Capital earlier this year.

Bakshi feels the sector faces a few challenges. "First, the number of international tourists coming to India is smaller compared to other markets like Singapore. Second, tourists consider India as an economic destination, a place where they won't have to spend too much. Finally, luxury tourism also lacks investment from private firms as well as government agencies,” he says.

In the chartered jet segment, JetSetGo, which claims to be India’s first online marketplace for private planes, works with non-scheduled aircraft operators to improve utilisation and drive operational and cost synergies. Launched by Kanika Tekriwal and Sudheer Perla in 2014, the company claims to control the country’s largest private jet fleet, and operate at least one flight every hour of the day. It had raised $1.9 million from investors led by Puneet Dalmia, managing director of Dalmia Bharat, in 2015.

Luxury on wheels

The concept of luxury travel might have made some inroads with chartered planes and concierge services, but luxury road travel has always been on the fringes. HYPE, India’s first super-luxury car rental app, is looking to address that.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Raghav Belavadi, HYPE allows users to book luxury cars and manage payments digitally. It offers both chauffeur-driven and self-drive luxury cars for rent. The company claims to have exclusive tie-ups with luxury car agents.

“On an average in India, the number of luxury cars is increasing 16% year-on-year, but a lot of them are stuck in garages due to traffic jams and bad roads. People wish to use such cars for their daily commute but the non-transparent [booking] models and the trouble of dealing with agents stop them. We simplified that by using technology and remodelled the fare structures so that people can use luxury cars regularly and not look at it as a once-in-a-lifetime event,” says Belavadi.

HYPE's pricing ranges from Rs 1,500 to Rs 50,000 per day, which, Belavadi claims, is 60-70% less than prevailing car rentals.

HYPE operates in 16 cities across the country and has over 3,000 luxury cars on board, including Rolls-Royce, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and other convertibles, limousines, and SUVs. The app has been downloaded 20,000 times so far, and has a repeat rate of about 30%. The company averages 10-15 bookings per day.

“The number of luxury cars sold in India in the first nine months of 2017 exceeds FY2016 sales. The market is growing in double digits... As other components of luxury travel shape up, high-end car rental will be an important element,” says Jain.

These ventures offer a peek into how the advent of technology will change the very contours of India's luxury travel market, which is set to grow 12.8% annually between 2015 and 2025, outpacing other BRICS nations, according to Spanish travel technology firm Amadeus.

“The model here is going to be heavily service-oriented, extensively customisable and largely tech-enabled,” Jain adds.

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