Gauri Jayaram talks about her Active Holiday Company, the right place to experience running at different destinations.
To read the first part of Gauri’s journey, click here.
Gauri graduated from the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics (Mumbai) and studied Entrepreneurship Management from IIM(B). She started off her career in the travel industry 27 years ago and has worked for hotels, airlines, a CRS company and in tour operation. She was the Regional Director (South Asia and the Middle East) for the world’s largest coach touring company for 8+ years when she felt the need to step outside her comfort zone, to grow and challenge herself. That’s when she decided to take the plunge and start her second venture.
Given her experience of running races at different destinations and taking other active breaks around the world, she felt a gap in the market. She believed that her vast experience in travel along with her interest to lead an active life, made her believe she was the best person to set up a company that combined the two – travel and active living. Believing in her passion she went ahead and set up ‘Active Holiday Company’, a firm dedicated to activity-based travel, the first of its kind in India.
The romanticized start-up life wasn’t all smooth sailing and remembering the early years of the venture Gauri reminisces, “we were a lovely concept with no takers. That is what we were for a long time!”.
Struggling to keep her start-up afloat and having a horde of people trying to convince her to get back to a corporate job didn’t make life any easier for Gauri. Despite it all, she soldiered on and she remembers what her runner friend, Thomas Bobby Philip said to her at such a time, a few years ago, “If you measure your success only by money it may be a bit unfair because according to me, when it comes to experience, learning and courage you are far richer than most people I know”. Words such as these resounded loudly in her head and gave her the reassurance she needed to keep doing what she set out to do.
Today, Active Holiday Company has created a space that literally helps runners’ dreams come true and Gauri couldn’t be prouder of what they have achieved so far!
Talking about her company being India’s first activity-based experiential adventure travel firm she says, “Our core travel styles are running, walking and cycling tours. So, if it’s not one of these, we don’t service the enquiries at all. We also are the General Sales Agents for Exodus, the world’s oldest adventure travel company and Australia based Intrepid which is one of the largest adventure travel companies in the world. Through them we offer over 2000 small group trips to 100+ countries around the world. We are a very ‘specialist’ type of travel company – we don’t do everything, but “what we do “we pour our heart into it and we do it well”.
What we do – we do it best.
With its recent appointment as the official tour operator for the TCS New York City Marathon in India, Active Holiday Company has become the first company in South Asia to be appointed the official tour operator for all the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.
Gauri proudly says, “We are very proud to have pioneered marathon tourism in India. When we started out, this business literally did not exist. It was extremely hard to find customers; justify how we add value and explain why some tours cost as much as they do”.
Speaking about how they register running aspirants for these races, she states that, “Essentially, we pre-pay for the race entries and the risk is always ours – whether we sell them, or we don’t – is our problem. The only condition the races have is that we can’t sell entries only – we must sell entries as part of a tour and qualifying with timing is not mandatory when you go with us. Other than that, each race has its individual rules – some have limitations on residency or nationality, etc.”.
Constantly looking at new experiences for the runners, Gauri has a wish list of events that she would like to add. She says, “Since we are a niche business in the world of travel, our aim is to serve any runner who wants to travel to any city, country or continent. We have already curated travel experiences for runners going to Rio, Marrakech, Christchurch, Prague, Angkor Wat, and many other places, etc. We also offer a race on Antarctica for those who want to do the 7 continents. We are adding some more international adventure races and few people know that we also offer some superb cycling races – you can go and watch the Tour de France or race in the iconic 100 miler Prudential London Ride with Active Holiday Company!”
Active Holiday Company also caters to races in India and is the official operator for races like the Kaveri Trail Marathon and the Malnad Ultra. “The issue with most of the races in India is that they don’t understand how the relationship between tour operators and race organizers works. Most race organizers freeze when we speak ‘exclusive’ but that is the only way the model works worldwide, be it a boutique race like Medoc or a World Marathon Major race – they all work with travel partners on an exclusive basis. Most Indian race organizers like the benefit of our work but they don’t want to commit to a monogamous relationship,” she says.
As a believer of travel being the best education, in 2017 she designed Active Holiday Company’s signature ‘Young Adult Internships & Leadership Expeditions’ which aim at offering exposure to 13-19-year olds who have an interest in alternate subjects such as environment, wildlife conservation, culinary arts, theatre etc, subjects that are best experienced and learnt outside conventional classrooms.
With an expansive career in the field, it is no surprise that Gauri has collected quite a few accolades for herself. She was voted the ‘Most Influential Person in the Travel Industry’ by NDTV Profit & OTM in 2014. She has also been a member of the jury for Outlook Traveller awards for 2 years, and held the position of ‘President of VUSACom – Bangalore Chapter’ that operated under the guidance of the U.S. Commercial Department,
She also frequently contributes to reviews and analysis of changing trends in the trade and consumer media, addresses various forums as a woman entrepreneur and supports social causes by raising funds for causes she believes in. Her first book, a fictionalized memoir ‘Wise Enough to be Foolish’, was published in August 2013 and sold thousands of copies.
And despite the fact that work has kept her away from training well for races in recent years, she’s never stopped taking part in running events. When she is not travelling for work or pleasure, she is busy enjoying her teenage girls or listening to rock music on a long-distance run.