Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Road less travelled: Why Indians are embracing the allure of luxury road trips

Travel companies offering experiential road trips, complete with the choicest luxuries, say they are recording high repeat rates among customers, and are getting more ambitious with the tours they curate

Darielle Britto
Published: Feb 7, 2023 01:19:59 PM IST
Updated: Feb 7, 2023 04:41:20 PM IST

Road less travelled: Why Indians are embracing the allure of luxury road tripsOrganised by Gurgaon-based expedition company Adventures Overland, Hemang Thakker and his companion went on an adventure of a lifetime road-tripping through 20 countries across Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Scandinavia, and mainland Europe including a hot air balloon ride in Turkey

In August 2022, Hemang Thakker was on an adventure of a lifetime when he drove his car on a 15,000 km cross-border journey from Iran to London in 60 days, despite a change in route due to post-Covid international land borders and a two-day start delay.

Along the journey, which spanned 20 countries across Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Scandinavia, and mainland Europe, Thakker took a hot air balloon ride in Turkey and glided up to Nordkapp, the northernmost tip of Norway and mainland Europe.

"Just the thrill of being there… it's very different," says Thakker, 60, who runs his own pharmaceutical distribution business in Mumbai.

He was one of 21 road-trippers as part of Gurugram-based expedition company Adventures Overland's Road to London expedition. The Rs22 lakh + 5 percent GST per person package included a meticulously planned itinerary with an experienced crew and stays at high-end hotels, like the Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, Finland, and Britannia hotel in Trondheim, Norway.

The route, which was originally meant to begin in Delhi, was modified due to the high volume of interest in the expedition, says Sanjay Madan, co-founder and director of Adventures Overland.

Growing niche

For over a decade, Adventures Overland has been offering fixed and customised luxurious niche road trip packages for thrill-seekers who want to explore unique travel experiences both in India and abroad.

Their forthcoming trips are priced at Rs3.5 lakh per person for South Africa and Rs4.5 lakh per person for Iceland, excluding GST. An EMI option is also available for each package. “While our trips may seem high-end at first glance, we offer tremendous value propositions to travellers with all our expertise and experiences," says Madan.

Their formula of combining adventure with luxury has helped their business gradually to the point that Madan predicts that trips will be sold at least two years in advance within the next few years.

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Adventures Overland has witnessed a steady growth annually of almost 100 to 150 percent and watched those numbers rapidly exceed post-Covid. "We are expecting Rs20 crore ($2.5 million) turnover (in FY22) and next year (FY24), we are expecting somewhere around Rs35crore ($4 million)," says Madan.

Early in 2021, Delhi-based expedition company OneLatitude Expeditions LLP joined the niche market offering luxury self-drive and overlanding adventures around the world, including India to Thailand (starting at Rs4.5 to 5 lakh per person) and Scotland (starting at Rs3.5 lakh per person).

Some of their trips include a private chef. Guests on their Spiti trip enjoy a picnic in picturesque spots at 14,000 ft. "On our trip to the Baltics, for example, we have a chef for a day who takes us through the markets of Riga on a personal sampling followed by teaching us how to curate one of his dishes," says Simran, co-founder of OneLatitude Expeditions LLP, who only goes by her first name.

When it comes to stays, OneLatitude chooses hotels based on individual requirements, in a way that customers “get a taste of local culture while being in luxury”, says Simran. “We try not just staying at five-star properties but also smaller hotels which may not be a ‘traditional five star’ but offer the same luxuries in a more intimate setting and are more experience-driven.” Mountain Lodge at Bumthang in Bhutan and the Greshornish House in Scotland are some examples of those stays.

The company has seen a 10-fold increase in business since being in this space for under two years. “The market share of this industry (luxury road trips) is maybe over Rs100 crore, and we look forward to being one of the leading players in this space in the years to come,” says Simran.

The travel market in India is set to reach $125 billion by FY27 from an estimated $75 billion in FY20, according to a report titled ‘Travel market in India by RedCore’ by research firm RedSeer’s arm.

According to a Research Dive, the global luxury travel market is set to generate a revenue of $1,369,103.8 million (Rs113,16,110.58 crore) by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.8 percent from 2021 to 2028. Meanwhile, the adventure and safari segment of the global luxury travel market generated a revenue of $189,843.8 million (Rs15,69,220.98 crore) in 2020 and is further expected to register a revenue of $543,892 million (Rs44,96,234.2 crore) during the forecast period.

Road less travelled: Why Indians are embracing the allure of luxury road tripsOn a recent trip to Bhutan by OneLatitude Expeditions LLP that offers luxury self-drive and overlanding adventures around the world, a group of travellers helped a lady travelling with them conquer her fear of heights while trekking up to Tiger's Nest. The lady traveller even got her T-shirt from the trip signed by everyone to commemorate this adventure

Solid Base

Both companies have managed to capture a strong base of repeat customers who have caught the bug for adventures designed to get the full immersive experience with a certain level of luxury.

Thakker, who went on Adventures Overland’s Ladakh Expedition in 2021 and Jordan Expedition in March 2022, wants to re-do the trip to London the way it was meant to be done before the restrictions from Delhi, via Myanmar, China and Russia.

Madan claims that 40 percent of their guests are repeat travellers, the reason for which, according to him, is the quality and kind of experience they curate. About 40 percent of OneLatitude Expeditions LLP’s travellers have done more than one trip since they have been operational, claims Simran.

Road trips are becoming a rage among travellers, who either book cars with chauffeurs or self-drive to their destinations. “The pent-up demand has translated into good numbers in 2022,” says Madan. "We are already leaders in the segment and looking to grow further as the pie expands.”

Also read: What will 2023 bring for travel & hospitality

The Big Appeal

While the companies' personal touch, highly curated itineraries, and safety measures are attractive offerings, it's the unique situations guests find themselves in—from the splendid to the challenging—that add to the appeal of the road trips with a touch of luxury.

On a recent trip to Bhutan, Simran shares, the group of travellers helped a lady travelling with them conquer her fear of heights while trekking up to Tiger's Nest. "It was one of her biggest personal accomplishments and it was so much fun motivating each other," says Simran. "She even got her T-shirt from the trip signed by everyone to commemorate this adventure."

Road trippers on OneLatitude Expeditions LLP’s winter Spiti trip last year enjoyed a picturesque tea break by the side of the Spiti River while snow chains were being put on the cars when the road became more treacherous as they were driving up to Chicham.

During Adventures Overland's Road to London trip last year, the group boarded their cars on EV ferries in Norway for approximately 10-kilometre-long ferry route crossing Fjords. The country has taken a leap ahead in decarbonising marine transport. "It was a very unique experience and got us amazed by how Norway is leading the electric revolution," says Madan.

Road less travelled: Why Indians are embracing the allure of luxury road tripsTravellers - on a Kyrgyzstan road trip, at a picnic spot near Kaza Spiti in winter, in a tented meadow in Padum Zanskar - organised by OneLatitude Expeditions LLP that offers luxury self-drive and overlanding adventures around the world

The Demographic

These expeditions have attracted a wide demographic of people. Even though Adventures Overland’s customer base is primarily high net-worth individuals (HNIs), Madan says the segment is continuously growing, among people who are between 35 and 45 years of age.

"While self-drive holidays have always been popular overseas, young travellers in our country prefer a flexible travel lifestyle and desire experiential travel,” says Madan. “We also see solo to group travellers and couples to families participating in our cross-border excursions braving diverse weather conditions and traversing rugged terrains," says Madan.

The age of OneLatitude Expeditions LLP's clients typically range from 35 to 70 years. “It’s a mix of young families, groups of friends and experienced couples who are now finding the time to really get outside and explore,” says Simran.

One of OneLatitude Expeditions LLP's trips last year to Spiti included a mixed group that ranged from a three-year-old to a 74-year-old. "The three kids in the group (aged three, four and seven) started a dance party of their own, and before we knew it, everyone was jiving together," says Simran. "It was such fun evening seeing people who had met for the first time come together."

Also read: International tourist arrival should reach near pre-pandemic levels in 2023: UN report

Epic Bus Journeys

This year, Adventures Overland has hit the accelerator and launched two bus journeys to London and Singapore, from Delhi.

“While we have been offering road trips, we also received inquiries for comfortable journeys where travellers were not keen to drive on their own yet be surrounded with people of similar interests and zest to explore and travel,” says Madan.

The 70-day bus to London, which will be the longest bus journey in the world—spanning two continents and 30 countries and covering 20,000 kilometres in August—costs Rs19.5 lakh + plus taxes.

The 20-day bus journey to Singapore from India was meant to cover a distance of 4,500 kilometres and traverse five countries in 20 days. However, departure dates are on hold due to land border closures between India and Myanmar.

“When we launched this service, after three days, the site crashed because of the traffic,” says Madan. “People from 194 countries visited our website and we received 50,000 queries.”

There were only 20 seats available, which were sold out in 15 days.

Road less travelled: Why Indians are embracing the allure of luxury road tripsAdventures Overland has planned over 100 expeditions across 80 countries for 1000 guests since launching the business in 2012. They have witnessed a steady growth annually of almost 100 /150% and watched those numbers rapidly exceed post-COVID

Road Ahead

In August 2022, Adventures Overland announced the first close of an ongoing funding that puts the company valuation at over $10 million. The funding will go towards the company’s evolution to put it on the map globally. Some of its investors are Shalin Sarvaiya, CEO, Nishita Sarvaiya, director, and Ashok Shah, director, Adam Exports, Mumbai.

While Madan says self-drive holidays are a way of life in the US and UK, there aren’t many players in the guided, small-group self-drive segment that allow travel enthusiasts to drive-in convoys through remote parts of the world.

Also read: No Longer A Mere Possession: Rich Millennials Are Overhauling The Luxury Yacht Industry - Forbes India

“Adventures Overland plans to organise 1,000+ trips globally over the next three years,” says Madan. “Our aim is to become the number one road trip company and we are planning to open offices in different continents with a fleet of cars starting in India.”

OneLatitude Expeditions LLP is focussed on growing and solidifying its client base and opening new destinations for them. “We constantly focus on mapping new destinations, conducting on-ground recce and meeting on-ground partners in different countries,” says Simran.

With plans to expand and grow, the potential in this space is limitless. Simran says, “The more this industry evolves, the pie will only get larger because more and more people will want to experience what’s being offered.”

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