How Amit Sankhala built Jamtara Wilderness Camp, a luxury camping experience

#glamping - Pench National Park, Village Jamatra, MP

YC - What is your background? What motivated you to start and what is it all about?

Amit - My passion for wildlife and a family legacy in conservation inspired me to continue the family. I grew up in a time when going to national parks especially in central India, required a real sense of adventure. A journey from Delhi would take us anywhere from 14-15 hours to reach the jungles. And once you got there, to a large extent, the experience was yours. Leaving right from the lodge on elephants with mahouts, in search of the Tiger, was a thrilling adventure and an experience that very few can speak of. 

I wanted to go back to that era, when there were no other camps in the area, no crowds at the entrance of the parks, a Village that has stopped in time but still battles the human-animal conflict and the wildlife is abundant. Hence, when looking for land, we came upon an age-old Banyan Tree which defined where we would establish this camp - Jamtara Wilderness Camp 

YC - Could you please share with our readers what is your current team size and their roles?

Amit - For Jamtara Wilderness Camp, we have 1 General Manager, 3 naturalists, 1 community liaison person and about 20 other staff which make your experience memorable. 

YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?

Amit - I basically try to spend no time in the office ☺ Our office is the jungle and creating memorable experiences is everything. I have a fantastic team that I rely upon hence I am not only looking after JWC camp but involved in managing other camps and a destination management company. I am always travelling and the more time I can get in the jungles, the better. All international marketing is dependent on me and I spend the majority of my time sharing my passion for creating JWC and the safari experiences we have created around it. 

YC - Have you used social media platforms to promote your CAMP? Which channels have been very effective for your business? Which marketing channels have been super flops for your business?

Amit - We have primarily focused on agent-driven markets. Our marketing within the Travel Agent community is strong, hence social media is primarily used to keep our clients and agent up to date on what’s happening at the camp and in the park. We are present on a few online platforms as well like Mr.&Mrs. Smith, Makemytrip, etc, but since we are not a city destination and a booking process with us involves a lot more than just giving your name and credit card information, online platforms have been slow for us. And maybe, we just have built a business model in a way, where Storytelling is the key, hence referral business, agents, media publications, have all done well for us. 

YC -What according to you is the USP of CAMP, for which your customers come back to you?

Amit - Jamtara took a few years to make, just because our plans kept evolving. We wanted sustainability as our core principle and a camp that does not need to add concrete to a jungle. We came up with innovative ideas to source furniture. From our solid wood dining tables that are made from logs of mango trees to the artistic blue flooring which was reclaimed from government buildings and schools in Central India, each piece has its own story to tell. In all our rooms, you will find 70’s art deco furniture once used by Embassies based in Delhi, desks that belonged to the Supreme Court, and seasoned wooden floors made from the decks of ships. All these made for design elements to the Camp along with an excellent naturalist team, who is super passionate about showing you the best wilderness experience. Armed with bird books, binoculars, maps, they are ready for a safari whether it’s in a jeep, bicycle or on foot. 

In addition to all this, we give a lot of credit to the beautiful village of Jamtara, where the majority of our team comes from. If you want to visit a small village, tranquil and away from any city noise, this is it. And to take this experience to the next level, we have our Star Bed. 

YC - Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your CAMP? What are your views on platforms like Airbnb, RareIndia, Booking.com  etc?

Amit - The majority of the platforms out there are more meant for city hotels. Where it’s all about competition in rates and everything is excluded. i.e. you buy meals separately, taxes extra, all experiences need to pay for, etc etc. Very few rates you on your sustainability scale, the good work you are doing in the community, the long term impact of your presence in that environment, the happy faces of your employees, etc. The experience is everything in Camps like ours. Hence, we are more eager to focus on platforms that use the right tools for marketing like RAREIndia. There will be more in the coming years I feel as the trend is moving that way. To a large extent, Trip Advisor comments help clients understand the experience of a camp better than even the website. 

YC - How are you coping with COVID 19, what would you suggest to your fellow  Camp owners?

Amit - Covid has been hard on our industry especially with almost no government support. Unlike bigger hotels in cities or corporate setups, for us, it’s not about the bottom line. We hired our people (majority from nearby villages), trained them, made them leave farming to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle which is not dependent on the weather or electricity issues for their farm, and now that business has died we immediately fire them? We made a promise and we will support you till we can. Luckily, November through February saw a massive growth in domestic business for us, which was a big relief. But, Covid wiped out our March and April months where we would traditionally do the most business. We have made changes but tried our best to leave enough in everyone’s pocket for 3 meals a day and a decent living. 

YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?

Amit - This is a difficult question to answer. Our camp fluctuates in booking a lot, as we can have 2 rooms or 10 rooms occupied. Hence, expenses keep going up and down as a lot is dependent on what the clients want to do. We run a tented camp, hence unpredictable rains or storms can damage our tents, which would require us to immediately procure new materials. Marketing has more fixed expenses and probably account for 5-7% of our total revenue. Our initial years of marketing were very high as just making professional videos, photography, initial trips abroad to do door to door marketing to agents, probably was as expensive as 20-30% of our initial revenue in those days. But, once the system is set, and you have established a name for your product, the marketing expenses should be in control. 

YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.

Amit -

“If you are passionate about something, do it. Is there risk – YES. But, if you never try, you will never know. I took five years thinking about Jamtara as a project. When we started building, I said never again. And 3 years into operation once all your teething issues are done, you have found the right staff, your frustration turns into – When do we do the next one ☺”

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