Online music is here

This is one of the better things to happen for Travellers. As I wait for another delayed flight at Bangalore airport the magic of online music hits me. Switching between Saavn (the online Indian music service funded by Tiger) and TuneIn Radio (a worldwide selection of internet radio stations) I am definitely spoilt for choice.

HolidayIQ in Indonesia

HolidayIQ launched its Indonesia website today, our first real foray outside India. The soft launch is designed to allow domestic Indonesian travellers to add their photos, hotel reviews and the like. What a journey this has been!

A few years ago the only thing one had was this passion for travel and a desire to do something unique around it (read: not become a travel agent). And from an idea sparked off by reading an article about Zagat Survey to a 2-person team in a little room to now 150+ people across three countries, the journey has been a lot of fun and of course an ulcer or two.

From the Economist to Intelligent Life

I dimly remember it as sometime around my 13th year of life that I saw the first copy of The Economist magazine. To a boy brought up in India’s starvation-style socialism of the 60s & the 70s, the paper used looked appropriately ‘foreign’ (read : western & rich). But on glancing inside found it completely unintelligible and therefore grossly boring. Not an auspicious start.

But like most inauspicious starts of my life, this too turned out to be an enduring relationship and I read the densely printed, mostly grey magazine over an unbroken period of 25 years. In 2003, I stopped reading the Economist and took up GQ & the Conde Nast Traveller in as sure a sign of a mid-life crisis as a London stockbroker running off to Tahiti to paint nude women.

But before I stopped, The Economist taught me the following important life-lessons:

that  consistent sticking to an idealogy can result in a cogent explantion for practically everything

that it is possible to explain science in a way that is understood by well-educated and intelligent human beings and that a good Science Writer is a man of Science who can write, not a writer who knows Science.

that the British intellecutual aristocracy is worthy of admiration & respect

that quality of content can triumph extravagance of design 

So, it was with joy that I bought a copy of Intelligent Life at a bookstore at Larnaca airport about a year ago. It seemed to meet my yearning for the familiar of the Economist with my newfound libertine tendency towards Leisure & Lifestyle (incidentally, I actually named the company I founded ‘Leisure & Lifestyle Information Services’ which should give armchair Freuds enough chuckles for a week).

Intelligent Life is a quarterly magazine from the Economist group. It’s tag line is Life.Culture.Style, which presumably means that there are many Tahiti-seeking stockbrokers around to form what the bean-counters at Pearson Media would call a Market.

I liked the first issue I found so much that I subscribed for it. And I must admit. Being back in the warm embrace of an Economist sister is a nice feeling.

HolidayIQ & Google

We finally went public with our deal with Google – Times of India broke the story nationally today.

For those of you who are interested, here are the top level details. Google Local Search is a service where google provides business listings as part of its search results. These listings are procured from a carefully selected group of content partners. The general idea is to have only very high-quality content aggregators and content creators as its content partners.

Over the last 2 to 3 months, Google did a fair bit of evaluation of our India accommodation content and came to the conclusion that it is high quality. They even did independent verification of telephone numbers etc! Anyway, finally, they agreed that our user review & photos content for an unmatched variety of hotels, resorts, home-stay and guest house accommodation in India was exactly what they were looking for. The service goes live sometime in Jan 2008.

Interestingly, most hotel reviews for India hotels is now being provided to Google by Tripadvisor, the world’s leader in travel user-content. The first Indian source for google will be HolidayIQ. It is a nice feeling to be now equated with Tripadvisor.

We might not make much noise and have screaming ads. But we certainly have very good content. Which is what matters, ultimately. A happy development.

Travel shows on Indian TV

God, save me from cut-jeans bimbettes taking us on the world’s most boring journeys. Why, oh why do we have the extraordinarily yawn-inducing travel shows on Indian television?

Good travel shows have a few obvious elements. The first is an interesting anchor – someone with a personality; which means he or she has had a life, has seen the world, has a fresh viewpoint on things and still has the nous to tell a tale. 25 year old cheerleader types from the chattering classes of Delhi & Mumbai DO NOT fall into this category. Neither for that matter does tired editors of news channels. The next requirement is an underlying theme. Food is a great theme. Hotel detectives, the idea of checking out hotels incognito, is another theme that works. Why not also (Frater’s) ‘Follow the monsoon’ or (my very own) ‘Follow the Indian mango trail’ as themes for a uniquely Indian travel show? Or maybe something around Nostalgia. I can think of at least 10 other interesting thematic possibilities. Hey guys, there is no harm in thinking. The last requirement is a storyline that incorporates real human beings in believable situations. Considering India is bursting with interesting characters at every turn, this should be not too difficult to do.

And just in case money is the problem, here is my plea to the bean counters at TV channels, – please release more budgets. Indian travellers are growing up, they are big-spenders, your advertisers salivate at the prospect of reaching out to them – so well made shows with enough money spent is a good investment.

Kunal Vijayakar & the Times Now team do a reasonable job with the Foodie Show, which is the only Indian travel show I can stomach (so to speak). I am waiting for more like this.

11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India

I was doing one of my usual google searches for HolidayIQ and stumbled upon something that is very gratifying. The sentence was – “One of the best travel sites we’ve seen anywhere on the web”. Apparently, IndiaStreet, the online magazine for new projects & investments in India, did a detailed exercise to identify what they called “11 disrupting web 2.0 companies that will Change India” and lo & behold, HolidayIQ is one of them. When one is immersed in work and in creating something new, there is very little time to look up and see how far one has reached. This, for me, is a sure marker of our progress. Obviously, happy about it.

Here is the link>>

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels - 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.