It all started in 2004 when the Indian travel trade and hospitality industry was oblivious of the ‘representation’ business. But even then, owner-driven boutique hotels from wildlife and nature lodges, palace hotels to luxury camps, spa and mountain retreats were on the lookout for someone who can be the marketing arm of their small, private and concept hotels away from the regular brick and mortar accommodation options. Both the Co-founders and Partners – Shoba Mohan and Sowmya R Vijaymohan shared a passion for travel, especially for the out-of-the-ordinary experiences. This led to the conception of RARE – Destinations and Experiences in March 2004 and the rest as they say is history.
Today RARE represents a diverse portfolio of 39 partners which vary from the House of Kotwara by film-maker Muzaffar Ali to a Wildlife Conversationalist Belinda Wright of Kipling Camp to the current King of Ladakh – Jigmed Namgyal of Stok Royal Palace, it’s all about bringing unique and niche personalities under one umbrella while addressing travellers around the globe, stated Vijaymohan. Currently, RARE works with tour operators such as Banyan Tours & Travels, Abercrombie and Kent, Le Passage to India, SITA, Kuoni India and boutique operators such as Quo Vadis, Periplus Travel and Travel Scope.
“Our experiences range from glamping and luxury camps, jungle lodges, boutique homestays, heritage forts and palaces, retreats and private hideaways, farms and plantation stays to walking trails, spa retreats, off-road dune driving, camping, excursions, jeep safari’s, treks and festivals, amongst others,” highlighted Vijaymohan.
Among the new kids on the block, RARE has added nine new this year and is newly promoting an experience at Laxmi Niwas in Haridwar for Ardhakumbha in 2016.
Vijaymohan said, “Both Shoba and me were fascinated to travel to offbeat destinations and hotels which offer a one-of-its-kind experience. These stood apart from the regular tourist hotspots chock-a-blocked with travellers who have no regard for nature, but instead promoted a sustainable way of life. We discovered such getaways and hideouts where we would like to travel with our family. Therefore, we realised that we would like to liaison with such owner-driven hotel partners which are nurturing niche and sustainable tourism. Like-minded properties promoting the same essence, appreciated the way we handled our portfolio of clients and have been approaching us since then.”
The representation business is still at a nascent stage and when we ventured in the business 11 years ago, it seemed challenging, averred Vijaymohan. RARE started off with four to five clients who were totally off-the-beaten-track and poles apart from the age-old and time-tested itineraries such as the Golden Triangle. During the initial days, tour operators believed that we may have a cut into their commissions, and moreover it was better to touch base directly with the hotel owners, she added. Thereafter, we left no stone unturned to bust the myth and nullify the invalid assumptions “We cleared the misconception that RARE is a competition to the tour operators. RARE doesn’t work on commission, but instead charges a fee from its hotel partners. We ensured complete transparency in our operations which in turn led to a boost in support from our hotel partners and tour operators alike,” said Vijaymohan.
In 2010, RARE – Destinations and Experiences established RARE Global. It aims to promote overseas offbeat hotels in the Indian market through outbound tour operators and travel agents. “The outbound travel from India is on a constant rise and thus we established RARE Global. Our domestic clientele also plans to travel overseas once or twice in a year, and through RARE Global we are able to offer them the niche experiences,” outlined Vijaymohan.
Most importantly, this hospitality representation platform has stayed loyal to their core philosophies of promoting unique and concept owner-driver properties following sustainable way of business. Vijaymohan asserted, “The owners of most of our hotel partners reside at the property itself which adds a different feel altogether. They interact with the guests about the destination, the hotel and its history with passion. We also make it mandatory for our hotel partners to support the local community and natural resources while adopting sustainable tourism practices. Over 60 per cent of the staff at the RARE-promoted hotels is local. We ensure that nature and activity, the two strong pillars, must revolve around our hotel partners.”
Moreover there is an annual audit that every partner of RARE has to go through. This assures RARE’s customers and operators of the quality standards their partners operate on and adds value to their experience. Today the tourism industry looks up to RARE with trust due to the legacy we have left behind us, exclaimed Vijaymohan.
The team at RARE also makes it a point to never take up a hotel brand which is a competition to the existing one. At any given point of time, RARE has over 30-40 hotel owners in the pipeline to appoint RARE as their marketing arm. But the team at RARE always undertakes a comprehensive research before handpicking a client. We never take up a hotel partner that is at the same destination and promoting the same concept, she said.
We see family travel, slow travel and kids-centric travel plans pushing a major part of our business, outlined Vijaymohan adding that even solo women travellers are on the rise. “Due to the hectic life schedule, travel is a priority for many these days. We receive more queries for tailor-made, relaxing and rejuvenating vacations rather than covering everything in one go,” she stated.
A major chunk of 80-85 per cent of the RARE’s business comes from inbound travellers to India, and about 15-20 per cent is the share of domestic travellers. Vijaymohan reveals that during long weekends, the rooms at majority of their partner hotels are sold out. Besides, aspirational travel has picked up in a big way. We see the size of domestic travellers growing at a good pace. Moreover, we do witness heavy fluctuations in inbound tourist arrivals due to natural calamities and other unforeseen situations, but domestic tourists have always been a saviour at such a point, she opined.
RARE aims to expand its presence in India. The regions in focus include newer partners in the North East region and Gujarat. Vijaymohan elaborated that there are a string of places which are on their mind and they intend to create a circuit comprising niche destinations and experiences offering experiential tourism. “We receive many queries from our RARE Circle (RARE’s travellers’ database) for ‘circuit-based travel plan’, wherein a traveller can visit a number of destinations in regions such as the North East. This would enable our loyalists to cover maybe one state at a time. Thus, we look forward to create such a circuit in prominent untapped regions of India such as the North East,” she added.
In addition, RARE is committed to adopt the digital technology and adopt an aggressive approach on the newer mediums of the social media. Going online is the call of the day and we are actively looking at reaching the end customer through newer mediums. Apart from the same, collaboration with corporate entities and RARE Circle members is a regular effort of the company along with sponsoring RARE-kind-of-events, she concluded.