We talked to Manjunath Gowda of WildTrails about Indian wildlife and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Manjunath Gowda: All fine so far. Thank you for asking.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded WildTrails.
Manjunath Gowda: Wildlife was our passion of all co-founders, and we always felt that package is the right way to deal with a wildlife vacation as there are too many variable points here (especially in India) like the resort, the safari, the type & mode of safari, the safari gate, the expert naturalist/tracker, etc. and an ordinary OTA just helps you book a resort which is one of the many variables. So we started this to make a wildlife trip booking extremely convenient.
How does WildTrails innovate?
Manjunath Gowda: Even though it’s just a package booking site, we took on the problem in a totally new way. Two major issues – one was apparent, and the other was hidden were; 1. there was no automating package booking site where you can customize all of the variables I mentioned above. We did that, and is an instant success. People love it. The second one was more a hidden issue, which was no one knew where which park, which safari zone was doing well w.r.t sightings especially for tiger and black panther too and we collected sightings info across all major national parks (total 12) and ran machine learning algorithms to see if any patterns exist, and indeed it existed. We published many research articles about it, and we also provide sightings insight and packages that help the booking customer to a great extent. Unlike in Africa, sightings are rare in India, especially of tigers, and you can go for a week without spotting a tiger and months without spotting a black panther.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Manjunath Gowda: Very badly. We are part of the hospitality sector, and most of our customers were from the US or UK, or EU, and HNI Indians. They had to do air travel to get to these forests, and the whole industry got wiped out. We had to let go a few people, especially under temporary stay, and I myself had to take a break and join another firm for work while waiting for the travel to come back to 2019 levels. Also, we had to cancel many software subscriptions, too, including reducing google ads.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Manjunath Gowda: Yes, I had to. I had mentioned the same in the previous query, but for the sake of completeness will repeat it here.
We had to let go a few people under temporary stay, and I had to take a break and join another firm for work while waiting for the travel to come back to 2019 levels. Also, we had to cancel many software subscriptions, too, including reducing google ads.
Lesson learned – digitizing as much process as we can and also may be salaried should be tied to the revenue rather than fixed salaries irrespective of the kind of position (engineer, sales, Accounts, HR, etc.) and also the team learned that you can do all of the processes without coming to the office. All you need is Zoom and a good internet connection.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Manjunath Gowda: We were using Pipedrive but now no leads, we got rid of it as we can’t afford to pay those license fees, and interestingly none of the software vendors were willing to reduce prices due to Covid. The same happened with Mailchimp too. Also, the govt gave zero dollar help. They were talks about giving loans at a low-interest rate, but what will you do with a loan when there is no demand for the services?
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Manjunath Gowda: Nope. There was zero help from the govt other talks about offering loans at a low-interest rate. Not sure whether it was executed at all, but what will you do with a loan when there is no demand for the services?
Your final thoughts?
Manjunath Gowda: What can you do? Just bad luck that our industry got hit the most. I just hope that business picks up after vaccinations, and we are looking at 2022 timeframe for business to pick up and then may regroup and start the business again. Most reports are coming out, and they say that travel will change completely, and it will be more slow-tourism (just one place as opposed to many places in one go) and people will prefer nature and wildlife more where crowds are less. Also, they are more sustainable travels, too, and preferred. Many reports ranked Wildlife Travel as #1 (EuroTarvel etc.). So there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s see