How Rajiv built North East Explorers, an eco-travel company, curating unconventional travel experiences

#travelplanner - Arunachal Pradesh| Assam| Manipur| Meghalaya| Mizoram |Nagaland| Tripura| Bhutan

YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional. We would also love to know about the team.

Rajiv - An Engineer by profession with more than 15+ years of experience and hailing from North East India, travel came naturally to me. Even when I was out in different cities of India, and in the US too, for a little while, I never missed an opportunity to head out from the city and to places with a slow lifestyle. I always enjoyed visiting places that are calm, serene and that give me a glimpse into the daily life of people that live there. Touristy places were never my thing, thankfully. 

When on a trip, I almost always stay at local homestays which give me a fantastic opportunity to meet and know about new cultures, food and in most cases, a different perspective towards all the things we take for granted in our daily lives.

YC - What motivated you to become an entrepreneur – especially a travel planner? 

Rajiv - Even back in the early 2000s, when I left my small town in South Assam, I knew I am never going to settle anywhere else other than North East India (that’s the thing about this part of the country ☺), even though I did not know when I will be returning. By the time I decided to return, I had realized that beyond the northeastern region, there was hardly much awareness about what we had here. 

North East India is unique in more than one ways from the rest of the country. We have been very very good at preserving our centuries’-old cultures, traditional ways of life and most importantly, our deep respect for nature. I and almost all the people from North East are very proud of what we have. So, naturally, I felt very strongly about showing this heaven of a region of our’s to the rest of the world. What was tricky though, was doing it in a very sustainable way because, as heavenly this region, it is also very fragile. 

Also, I did not want to do conventional tourism where people come, see & go. That’s not how I personally travel either, so it was natural. After more than 4 years of being in the business, I am more than glad to share that - “We have not offered Tours but Experiences to our guests”. Many of our guests have become good friends now, long after they came for their tours. That’s what makes it all the more satisfying.

YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging- what challenges did you face in your early days? 

Rajiv - Tourism, the kind of tourism I believe in, needed very active participation of regular local people. The idea of hosting people in your homes, opening them your heart wasn’t very commonplace. It still isn’t but we have made good progress in taking care of the apprehensions of locals and making them stakeholders in a sustainable style of tourism. But this again was one of my best experiences till now in this line of business as in the course of doing all this, I have made relationships for life. I can now proudly say that - “In almost every village of North East, I have someone whom I can call a friend or family.”

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

Rajiv - From day 1, we have been a very personal company. A company that takes care of guests at every step from start to end. So, speaking of that, I wear many shoes. When someone calls for the first time, more often than not, I will be the one to whom they will be talking. You send an email enquiry, chances are, I will be the one responding to them and if I am the one who had the first conversation from North East Explorers, all follow-up calls and discussions & itinerary planning will also be with me.

While time doesn’t allow me to be part of all the tours that we design & execute, I do lead at least one tour a year as a lead too. And believe me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of my job. The Office is, wherever I am ☺

YC - Do you use social media platforms (like Instagram, Facebook etc) to promote your business? Which channels have been very effective for your business?

Rajiv - We do use Instagram & Facebook actively. But it is more about promoting the North East Region than our business. The business becomes a by-product here ☺

YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit NorthEastern States and why?

Rajiv - So, this question can have completely different answers for different people. For someone like me who loves rains in the North East, I would say there’s no better season to visit the region than during the monsoons. While someone who loves clear weather and a warm & pleasant day would say otherwise. To know more about this question’s answer, I suggest you have a look at this small piece we had written a while back -

YC -A memorable trip is a combination of a great stay + lip-smacking food and unique experiences - what are some of the unique experiences around your area which travellers must explore?

Rajiv - Food is one of the most important part of our culture here in the North East, no matter from which part or which tribe of the North East you belong. With our guests, we always make sure they get a good chance to dip their taste buds in the local cuisines of the places they visit. 

From wild berries to meat to local herbs & fruits, the variety of things to eat here are almost countless. 

About experiences, it’s tough to pick one simply because there are so many but still, if I have to suggest one, I would say, if you are a non-vegetarian, the variety of pork that you can find in this region, will blow your mind. And to wash all the tasty food down, every tribe/region has their own version of local liquor which again is an experience in itself.

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

Rajiv - I will keep this one short and to the point. Since it is a company that I am personally involved in at every level, it’s only obvious that I try to share experiences with our guests and not sell them tour packages that primarily involve sightseeing. Human to human interaction and cultural exchanges between regular people is a big part of our tours and it is also the bit that gives me the biggest satisfaction.

YC - COVID 19 has immensely affected the tourism sector. How are you coping with it and what would you suggest to your fellow business owners?

Rajiv - Pandemic has hit North East quite bad. But I don’t think much about things that are not in my control. Basically, I think, they do no good. So, for now, we are staying put indoors. Helping out our partners on the ground in whatever form possible, based on their needs and waiting for this storm to get over.

YC - Based on your experience so far, do you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs?

Rajiv - The only advice I would like to give to all the new entrepreneurs out there,

No matter in which industry you belong to, if you strongly believe in something, persist, keep at it. Don’t expect any rewards. But, if you don’t really believe in something that you are doing and are doing only because you think there’s good money to be made, your joy will be short-lived. So, look for something that you enjoy doing before it’s late.

Get in touch with the NorthEastExplorers the next time you visit to get a real experience of this authentic North East!