Vasim Shaikh founded The Q Experiences, a luxury expedition company catering to affluent travelers looking for curated experiences, in 2012. His 70-people trip to the white continent Antarctica last December, that had Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar on board, grabbed headlines. In an interview with Business Today's Manu Kaushik, Shaikh discusses his plans to expand the luxury travel market in India. Edited excerpts:
Question: Tell us about your planned expeditions for this year?
Vasim Shaikh: We will be doing eight experiences this year which includes Antarctica, polar bear migration and the Arctic. Covering the Arctic is going to be unique because the travelers will get to see pristine wildlife. The guests will be cruising for seven nights. We have also planned an African safari on bush planes - the small aircraft that can land anywhere. We will be doing biking tour where a group of friends and extended family can do cycling in Corsica. It will be for five days where people will not stay in hotels but in vineyards properties.
Question: Who comes up with these differentiated travel ideas?
Shaikh: We have a creative lab in Mumbai where people ideate about something unique that we want to do. The team does visit places also. I have myself travelled to about 50 countries and seven continents. I spearhead that department.
Question: Who designs the itineraries, and how do you make sure that the experiences that were promised are delivered?
Shaikh: Whenever we are curating any experience, we take at least seven days to frame the entire story. We have to go through the entire process - from boarding the plane to car coming in to pick up the guests and dropping them to the hotel suites. The food preferences of the guests - vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The closest restaurants that they can visit on their journeys. Every small detail. To know the guests is more important for us. We don't do itineraries. We curate stories for guests. We don't believe in itineraries. It's like a schedule. These people don't want a time table to be given to them. They are going on holidays, they want to be refreshed. For us, each story is different. Even if a guest has specific requirement, we sit with guests a number of times, and then come back with solutions.
Question: How do people get to know about your products?
Shaikh: Last year was our first year. We have been in the travel business for a long time. We realised that our evolved travelers are looking for different kinds of destinations and experiences. I belong to travel business family. I have spent over 18 years in travel. The HNIs (high networth individuals) were forced to go in group travel. That's why we designed something, and founded this company.
The Q Experiences was founded to cater to private travelers. We realised that there are some experiences that these ultra HNIs wanted, and it cannot happen for them alone. It has to happen with like-minded people and in small groups.
Question: Different people have different expectations. How do you manage that in a group travel?
Shaikh: It's valid for them to ask them what they like. Our responsibility is to make sure that they get something better than they are asking for. We had 70 people travelling to Antarctica. Each guest had different needs - meals and demands of going to places. Before and after the cruise, some people went to Machu Picchu, some went to Amazon, Argentina and Patagonia. We curated stories under stories.
Question: Do you plan to add more journeys going forward?
Shaikh: We are planning to take 100 people to Antarctica this year. We are planning to do two departures of 100 people each to Antarctica next year. In addition, we are adding more curated journeys like private jet tours. We are planning to do eight products this year. We are going to add more products. Last year, we had 410 travellers on the outbound division, including a lot of NRIs. We should be clocking in 20-25 per cent growth in our curated journeys in 2018.