Seven years ago, when two youths in Kerala planned to launch a company in the tourism sector, camping was yet to become a trend among those bitten by the travel bug in the state.
There was an obvious element of risk and uncertainty when Prabil M J and Sooraj Rajan ventured into entrepreneurship with a company that aimed to aggregate camping sites for travellers who look to make their trip something beyond a typical vacation. The time, nevertheless, has proven that the off-road the duo took was indeed the right path.
Campper, the startup they founded in 2016, has now become a self-sustaining company that keeps exploring new and unknown terrains of growth despite the pandemic setback.
A trailblazer in the sector, Campper has evolved along with the steady growth of the camping trend. The company launched its pilot project on a leased property in 2015 and had a humble start with 15-odd customers. The company now offers camping experience in over 100 locations across south India in partnership with private property owners. It also records 1,000-odd bookings every monthly, according to its founders.
The company runs on a commission-based revenue model. With its emphasis on enabling travellers to stay close to nature and inculcating the spirit of responsible tourism, Campper facilitates the hassle-free booking of sites for campers and promises them experiential tourism.
Campper has a safety-first policy. “Campper has set certain standards for the campsites and each property owner has to ensure proper service. The Kerala government has prepared its camping guidelines based on our model,” said Prabil, founder and CEO.
Prabil ventured into the world of startups after a long stint in IT. “I wanted to take a break from work and travel a lot. Then I thought of the idea of a tourism-related startup,” Prabil said. He met Sooraj through a common friend. Sooraj was working as assistant vice-president (IT & Systems), State Bank of India in Singapore before that. Sooraj hails from Payyannur in Kannur while Prabil is a native of Tripunithura in Kochi. Campper was launched as part of Kitco’s incubation programme. It is now based at the Kerala Startup Mission’s Kalamassery campus.
Though the company has over 160 sites on its list, it focuses on some 30 sites. Of them, two are exclusive campsites of Campper – Camp Woody in Suryanelli, Idukki, and Urumbi Hill Camp at Wagamon. Asked about the latest trends in the sector, Prabil said Munnar and Wayanad remain hot destinations for those seeking a camping experience. The company is constantly searching for new and lesser-known locations. Once a property is listed, Campper engages in an aggressive campaigning exercise. “We place a property into the digital space,” Prabil said.
Campper selects a site based on the tourist interests in the destinations, scope of related activities like trekking and off-road driving and the operator’s commitment.
Of late, families in the 30-40 age group have started preferring camping to traditional tourism models, said Sooraj. “There’s a visible shift towards experiential tourism,” he said. The company has also observed a good number of customers getting back to them seeking other locations. Part of the Campper’s plan is to launch its Everest base camp programme, Sooraj said.
Campper in its journey so far has identified the lack of adaptable tents as a major hindrance in the sector. The company is now trying to address the problem with its own brand of tents which has been launched on a pilot basis. “At present, camping takes place only in high ranges. However, there’s immense scope for activity in terrains including beaches and backwaters. The problem we face with such locations is that the tents, often small ones, available now are not competent to survive the weather conditions there. We have designed bigger tents which come to around 200 sq ft. They will have facilities including washrooms inside them,” Prabil explained.
Asked about the post-Covid tourism scenario, Sooraj said there is a clear rise in demand these days and the supply side has to increase accordingly.