In conversation with Priyanka Rastogi,
author of “Early Sunrise, Early Sunset”.
Priyanka Rastogi is an author and travel entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in Tourism & Hospitality. She has just published her first book Early Sunrise, Early Sunset : Tales of a Solo Woman Traveler Across North East and East India. The book is an outcome of more than 100 trips done in the region over last 6 years.
Priyanka is an IATA qualified travel and tourism professional with industry experience across contracting, sales, operations, customer care and product development in the domestic travel sector. She has held senior level positions in India Hotel Review, Goibibo and Stayzilla. As a senior marketing manager at Goibibo, she was in charge of operations in the east and north east region - directly responsible for 1200 properties.
Priyanka is currently involved in the incubation of kiomoi.com –a technology-enabled experiential holiday planning & booking platform. Through this innovative business model, she plans to help the under-served markets of north east India.
We now share excerpts of our conversations with Priyanka, where she traces her career path over the years, and talks about developing and promoting the undiscovered tourism-worthy regions of India.
Looking back, how and where did travel take its roots for you?
I am a traveler first and an author next - I would like my readers to know me from this prism. All of us are born travelers as children, but each one of us realizes that potential sooner or later – but it does happen to all of us. My first brush with travel was purely academic - when I joined my Post Graduate Diploma course in Travel and Tourism Management in 2003.
The course was at a branch of India’s premier tourism institute IITTM Gwalior, and helped me crack my first job in UP Government’s State Tourism Development Corporation - as a Tourism Executive.
Priyanka with a homestay host in Itanagar
How did that first job in travel happen?
Cracking that first job at UPSTDC was an unbelievable feeling –especially considering it was in the bureaucratic department of my native state. For me this was the ideal launch platform with wide-ranging responsibilities - I was handling tour fulfillment, sales inquiries and even acting as a tourist guide. I soon observed that my experience here was getting passionate and motivating. The job also gave me the right contacts and helped me network with tourism and travel professionals.
After an18-month stint in Lucknow, I moved on to New Delhi to join Indian Airlines. While my job at UPSTDC was all about exposure within the state, my Indian Airlines assignment was about operational fulfillment linked to leisure destinations –both domestic and international. At this job, in addition to handling individual responsibilities, I also discovered my strengths as a team lead and trainer. With committed team support you can really work wonders down the line.
How did IndiaHotelReview.com come into the picture?
My people skills and risk-taking appetite took a leap of faith, and after two years of voice and email support I moved to a digital travel startup – IndiaHotelReview.com. Part of my job here was to innovate and disrupt travel habits in India. I was based at Noida and worked as a Sales Team Lead and City Expert for Uttar Pradesh.
I was the key stakeholder at IHR, and the second employee of the online travel startup dedicated to Tier-II, III towns of India. This is where we innovated as a small agile team with multiple roles, departments and portfolios - handling destinations, accommodation options, packages, travel guide briefings, monitoring reviews, and handling queries. This was not just a horizontal spread of market reach, but a deeper attempt to win consumers, strengthen supplier trust and make a mark online.
IHR was where I set my sights beyond what I could see, to understand the north east of India. The job wasn’t easy - with sales riding on organic traffic, mobile penetration and a visible shift from offline to online tourism. This is where I learnt about the finer intricacies of the tourism industry, across different formats - pilgrimage, weekend travel, longer holidays, family reunions or individuals keen on backpacking trips.
Priyanka with Mary Kom in Imphal
What were your learnings at IndiaHotelReview.com?
During my 5-year stint at IHR, I evolved from being a mere travel professional to an individual who was gaining confidence in the complex layers of tourism and hospitality. Very soon, I was making significant contributions in terms of research, content planning, destination marketing and devising consumer strategies. I was also raising awareness among Indian suppliers on the need for gaining a digital advantage towards increasing operational excellence.
The north east region led by me and well supported by our team, became a successful corridor within this impactful journey of IHR. That’s when I must have been bitten by the travel bug - I started dreaming of being there and knowing more about the hinterland that was interestingly called India’s chicken neck.
Was the takeover by Goibibo a personal career boost for you?
In 2012 the senior team at IHR was acquired by Goibibo and we became part of a larger OTA assigned with the task of setting up hotels and a focused holiday business. This meant a shift from Noida to Gurgaon. I was also nominated as market manager for North East and East India. At this job, my key result areas included stakeholder interaction as well as scouting, onboarding, listing, engagement, sales & promotions, marketing, post booking, conflict resolution, and re-engagement.
The job involved extensive travel to Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati and beyond. While the footprint of my responsibilities was large, I was fortunate to be also gifted with the neighboring territories of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, supported by local teams. I travelled to these regions extensively, and my trips brought me closer to India’s land of the rising sun. And the more time I spent here, the more I realized that this was a region unknown to the tourism world.
While Goibibo was a major step forward, my shift to Stayzilla was the real career booster, in 2015. Stayzilla was an online startup with a focus on creating an alternate accommodation ecosystem. As Senior Market Manager, I brought in my domain experience of the north east region and put it to good use. In addition to actually travelling deep into the interiors to meet with thousands of house owners, I also managed to conduct hundreds of homestay meets –something I am happy to include in my portfolio of achievements.
Working on the homestay project must have been interesting?
At Stayzilla, I was given the task of building the first professionally managed parallel to Airbnb. Interestingly, my canvas was larger than what Airbnb could visualize, or fathom. Because I had the advantage of local connects - working with capacity building providers like central and state tourism governments, local associations, self-help groups, PR machinery, and tourism management entities.
Stayzilla was not another job in the tourism industry - it had transformed my world. At IHR, I had started with managing budget accommodation, at Goibibo I worked on star categories in travel, and at Stayzilla, I was working with an emerging homestay market.
The homestay platform makes a lot of sense to me, when you compare with commercial hotels and resorts. It is unique and different, because you travel like a local and you do what locals do - in ways and means that are environment friendly.
Coming back to your new book, do give us a curtain raiser …
Like I have said earlier, my book is an outcome of more than 100 trips done in the north eastern region over last 6 years. Staying with native families in the region, I slowly got into the habit of making notes and documenting my experiences. I also began to realize that that this mystical, green and Himalayan heartland of the tribals would also be my playground - with its age-old practices of sustainability and coexistence with nature.
This book is an attempt to bring that joy to the world from a woman's perspective. Tourism and travel are a great means of education – offering opportunities to learn, explore and unwind. A good place to do all of that is the land of rising sun in India. A region that has gone beyond tourism, to becoming the cradle for woman achievers– with stars such as Mary Kom, Deepa Karmakar and Sarita Devi, to name a few.
This book is also my way of paying homage to the people and communities that I interacted with – people who gave me love and affection in immeasurable ways, and can always demonstrate the true meaning of hospitality when they play host for you.
This interview is Segment 01of our interview with Priyanka Rastogi – please watch this space for Segment 02 of this interview.
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