When a group of travelers recently visited Srinagar, tourism expert Shamika Joshi took them away to explore Dal Lake by motorized boat. Instead, she put them on a hand-rowed shikara to see one of the most famous bodies of water in the world.
Sure, it was slow, but the group had time to talk to the boatman about his generational occupation, Kashmir’s socio-political situation, and the sights hidden from outsiders.
“Around the world, the trend has shifted towards people opting for personalized experiences and creating memories rather than crowding into famous places. India also has a large demanding clientele but few experts to guide them. It is this gap that we are trying to fill with our selection of offbeat locations and ideas for customizing visits to familiar sites,” says Joshi, whose travel startup Meraki Itineraries was created in 2018 with his personal savings of Rs 10,000 and counted foreign language institutes among its first clients. The company is now worth Rs 100 crore.
On June 27, International MSME Day, Joshi received an award “recognizing women entrepreneurs who are chasing their dreams and redefining business today” from Tally Solutions, a technology and innovation company.
The travel and tourism industry in India was one of the hardest hit during the Covid pandemic. It has also recovered quickly, with the economic survey 2023 showing sustained growth in 2022-23. Meraki Itineraries is one of the companies driving the recovery. Meraki covers the usual destinations such as the US, glamorous movie locations in Prague, Miami or Switzerland. One of Meraki’s first trips was for a group of elderly people to Sri Lanka, where they visited all the places mentioned in the Ramayana.
Joshi, one of the few domestically trained tourism experts, went to the University of Greenwich, London, to graduate in tourism management because she could not find a suitable course in India. “I was the first in my family to travel abroad and there was no one to guide me through the visa paperwork. I was barely 17 years old. Today, I act as an expert adviser for students like me who are going abroad,” says Joshi. Since last year, she has started training travel professionals on Indian industry realities and global trends.
Meraki has successfully tapped into the market of busy professionals with no time to search for documents and dates for foreign travel visas and the hidden sector of seniors who want to visit their children abroad but are not tech-savvy. “Increasingly, the protocol for travel abroad is becoming technology-driven. We also have to be technically efficient to stay in the market and serve those who are not comfortable with websites and online forms,” says Joshi.
Meraki’s biggest challenges will likely be climate change and a fluctuating economy. Melting glaciers, shrinking coral reefs and endangered species have already resulted in a practice called “last chance tourism,” which means a chance to see dying phenomena before they’re lost forever. . Meraki is adapting by popularizing farm tours where urban groups can feel the touch of the land and get a taste of the work that goes into growing produce.
“Ecotourism is in its infancy in India, but I am giving travelers the option to stay with local homestays, travel slowly and eat traditional food. Many travelers will choose sustainability if given the choice,” says Joshi, who drives an electric vehicle.