Maria Victor finally quit her job and to form a team of young travel enthusiasts and re-launch “Make It Happen” in 2015, as an experiential travel company specializing in curating heritage trails and cultural experiences conducted by presenters who are deeply rooted in the essence of real Goa. INCUBEES asked her more questions to get to know more on a how a hobby can be turned into business model.
INCUBEES: What made you “Make it Happen”?
MARIA VICTOR: Make it Happen, an experiential travel company, based in Goa has been pioneering in curated travel experiences since 2015. It specializes in curating community led local experiences that connect travelers to the local way of life. Our experiences include heritage walks, e-bike tours, culinary experiences, village experiences and recently launched virtual experiences.
The idea of starting “Make It Happen” came to me in 2011 while I was working in Mumbai. I am a Management Accountant by training and a member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting, UK. Working in the corporate sector gave me an opportunity to travel backed by a stable income. With time on my hands, I used this to explore India. I started going on treks and short weekend getaways around India.
INCUBEES: So when did the idea for launching it as business module emerged?
MARIA VICTOR: Initially, Make It Happen was started as a hobby travel club where like-minded individuals would get together and travel to experience the diverse cultures across India. From exploring the Buddhist culture and the rustic lifestyle of Ladakhi villages to attending the annual Hornbill festival in Nagaland showcasing the tribal culture through music, dance and cuisine to the quiet, introspection-inducing Lahaul Spiti road trip in Himachal, home to some of the most revered ancient Buddhist monasteries and picturesque high-latitude villages, my travels got me connected to various enlightening individuals, communities, and cultures.
Being from Goa, I was not happy with the image it had as a tourist destination. While curating experiences in Goa, I realized that the Goa I grew up in was changing, and its image as a travel destination was restricted to its beaches. Goa’s rich cultural history and colorful local communities were forgotten in a rush to capitalize on the ‘sun, sand & beer’ narrative. I realized that if this narrative had to change, the travellers needed to learn about local culture from the locals themselves.
INCUBEES: Tell us about your services?
MARIA VICTOR: Our unique collaborative approach connects travelers to the local communities to delve deeper into the Goan way of life, through vivid storytelling by local hosts, narrating Goan lore, historical recounts and a passage of evolving cultures.
The Fontainhas Heritage Walk, one of the many experiences m, offers an authentic slice of the capital city, Panjim. For a slow-paced traveller there are fascinating insights about the Indo-Portuguese architecture, local anecdotes and understanding the finer nuances that set apart the Latin quarters from the rest of Panjim. Indulging in authentic Goan delicacies and culminating with a memorable rendezvous with renowned Goan musician makes for a beautiful introduction to Goa for a discerning traveller.
Our experiences cost between Rs 700- 5000 per person and are conducted over a period of two to six hours. Each of the tours explore a different facet of Goa – from the sleepy village of Saligao, to Goa’s old capital, Old Goa to the verdant, charming Campal or even the local gastronomical sojourn, you yearn to see more of Goa that the locals enjoy.
We have 20 unique experiences that are curated for groups across diverse age groups, educational tours for school, architecture colleges, corporate offsite offerings, and bespoke experiences. We have catered to over 10,000 patrons so far.
INCUBEES: During Covid-19 times, what are the new things you have added in your services?
MARIA VICTOR: Recently we have launched a Virtual Experience called the “Heritage Hues of Panjim “, an immersive and interactive online experience using multimedia elements such as audio visuals, animation, music, vivid narration, and storytelling, hosted through video calls and online chat services. We see this as a new avenue to continue our work of showcasing the real essence of Goa given the current pandemic situation. We will be launching several such Virtual Experiences in the coming months.
Through such immersive online experiences, one can explore different destinations, meet a local host, and get a peek into their lifestyle. We are exploring other such platforms to digitize our experiences including travel films and documentaries.
INCUBEES: What makes your services unique and what competition do you see in India and globally?
MARIA VICTOR: What makes us stand out from the other travel practices is that it highlights the finer details and brings to life stories that are unheard of. We bring ‘People Experiences’ which are not otherwise explored. Through such journeys, we wish to challenge cultural biases and invest in intercultural exchange and understanding to bring out the very essence of India’s diversity.
As an enterprise, we aimto change the face of travel not only for travellers but also for the communities involved. The tours are presented by inspiring locals who are passionate about sharing their culture, giving way for a raw and real experience of the community. We see tourism as a platform to showcase and nurture local talent.
The sector of curated experiences is huge and growing rapidly. Platforms like AirBnB, TripAdvisor and GetYourGuide have heavy invested in the third largest growing sector in tourism which is experiences. We have been pioneering curated experiences in Goa since 2015 and we have seen an emergence of new players in the market ever since which is encouraging and necessary for the growth of this emerging sector in tourism. In fact, we have managed to leverage on strategic collaborations to expand our service offerings which have been hugely rewarding and mutually benefitting for our partners.
INCUBEES: What are the challenges you see in the market at this point of time?
MARIA VICTOR: We are in the midst of the most difficult time in the tourism industry. However, the safety of our communities and travelers is of utmost importance and cannot be compromised.
At present, we are leveraging on our social media campaigns to continue our work of storytelling and sharing the real essence of Goa. Due to travel restrictions and safety precautions, virtual tourism will be inevitably the new norm. Therefore, given the current situation, the need of the hour for us is to digitize our travel experiences.
INCUBEES: Tell us about your team and what inspires them?
MARIA VICTOR: We have a team of passionate tour presenters who make great storytellers. We do not call them just guides, in fact they are friendly, reliable people that present the experience, while showcasing the culture and heritage of a place, host a home-cooked meal, a music performance, and/or other arts. It was the idea of giving tourism in Goa a new narrative, as seen and lived by Goans, that got them interested in working with us.
Even though our team of tour presenters have been hosting experiences for years, it has always been about meeting different people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and intercultural exchange that keeps them inspired and makes every tour different from the other.
INCUBEES: Do you have plans to raise funding to grow your business or allow your business to organically grow?
MARIA VICTOR: We are looking for funding to digitalize travel experiences. Also, we will be venturing into Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality experiences which would require its own dedicated Production & Post-production Suite.
We are also looking for funding to create travel content in form of immersive Audio Visuals like Travel Films and Documentaries that bring out the real essence of the destination keeping sustainability in mind. This would require funding for equipment like specialised cameras, lenses, lights, stabilizers, sliders etc.
INCUBEES: What are the challenges you face as a startup?
MARIA VICTOR: As we are the pioneering company in Experiential Travel offering curated experiences in Goa, we faced challenges in assessing our product viability and communicating the value proposition to the market.
During the initial months of conducting heritage walks, we would often get misunderstood for a company that offers guides and typical tour packages. So, differentiating our offerings as something exclusive and curated, to people and organizations enquiring about us had to be done carefully.
We also had to ensure the quality standards in the experience are maintained while we were rapidly expanding and introducing new offerings such as E-bike tours, culinary experiences, educational experiences etc.
While we were on a rapid expansion path of our in-person experiences, the Covid-19 Pandemic has pushed us to pivot and digitize our experiences. We launched our first Virtual Experience called the ‘Heritage Hues of Panjim’ and we have already been receiving multiple bookings.
INCUBEES: Where do you see your service reaching in the next five-years?
MARIA VICTOR: We want to transform the tourism Industry in India, to make it experiential and community driven, where people and culture are the focal point. We will be expanding our in-person experiences across India. We also see tremendous opportunity in our newly launched Virtual Experiences. The demand for Virtual Experiences is increasing and is here to stay even after travel restrictions are relaxed, as time and budget restrictions do not allow for as much travel as one may desire. Through such immersive online experiences, one can explore different destinations, meet a local host, and get a peek into their lifestyle.