StartupTalky presents Recap'22. This is a series of interviews in which we conduct in-depth discussions with founders & industry leaders to understand their growth in 2022 and their predictions for the future.
Hospitality refers to the provision of friendly and generous treatment to guests, visitors, or strangers. It encompasses various industries such as hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, and events, and aims to make guests feel comfortable and valued.
The global hospitality market grew from $4,390.59 billion in 2022 to $4,699.57 billion in 2023 at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 7.0%. However, according to recent reports, the global hospitality industry is expected to have a CAGR of around 4% to 6% over the next few years due Russia-Ukraine War.
According to WTTC, India is ranked 10th among 185 countries in terms of travel & tourism’s total contribution to GDP in 2019. The travel market in India is projected to reach US$ 125 billion by FY27 from an estimated US$ 75 billion in FY20.
For this Interview, we invited Mr. Sanjay Sharma, Founder of Blusalz Hospitality, and we talked about the growth, challenges, insights, and future opportunities in the industry.
StartupTalky: Sanjay, what does Bluesalz do? What was the motivation/ vision with which you started?
Sanjay: BluSalz is all about Involved Living. It’s a natural progression of how the consumer’s journey has evolved, and maybe even pivoted during the Covid era. From Global to Local and now ‘Involved’ – here the Heightened Local and Lifestyle Experiences are the real draw. Come to think of it – it’s a full circle where we are rediscovering the roots of how early travel may have been. Each journey very unique – very individual – very personal.
Having spent a lifetime in Hospitality, the glaring gap was evident in the consumer's wants and the industry’s readiness. All this added up to our Benjamin Button moment!
StartupTalky: What is the USP of your experiences curation platform?
Sanjay: Our inspirations are our USPs. We are inspired by Uncommon Retreats. We are inspired by Diversity and Inclusion. We are inspired by Community and Conservation. These are the core of our ethos, and hence visible in our choices for everything we do. Our original local immersions act like restorative programs for travel curators who want to explore, connect and collect memories. These unconventional and unique spaces are our guests’ playground to leave with nothing but happiness.
StartupTalky: How has the restoration travel market changed in recent years and how has your company adapted to these changes?
Sanjay: The last decade has seen a discontinuous change. The era of consolidation transcended to a period of reflection. The way of doing business was re-evaluated, and consumer behavioral triggers & preferences changed. Our inception was a by-product of these changes. The need for restorative travel is now more than ever and BluSalz is making this fragmented market accessible.
StartupTalky: How do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in the industry?
Sanjay: It's simple. Network – Network – Network. Stay connected in person and digitally. Sometimes we look outside our industry to get inspired and innovate.
StartupTalky: What key metrics do you track to check the company's growth and performance?
Sanjay: As an organization, we believe we are defined by the 3 R's. Reputation – Relationships – Revenue. In that order. Revenue is last on this priority. This is not to say that it can be undermined in any way as it is the only way to survive. However, we believe our Reputation and Relationships are the gateways to
stronger Revenue lines.
All 3 R’s need to be looked at from a 360-degree perspective. Example: When we talk about Reputation it's about the pride that anyone associated with us feels be it owners, vendor partners, staff & their families. To quantitatively identify the growth in our performance we use Balance Score Cards where these parameters are further defined and stressed. These checks and balances help us achieve longer-term stability and not just focus on the short-term gains that may actually
come at a cost and a long-term loss.
StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges Bluesalz faced in the past year and how did you overcome them?
Sanjay: The biggest challenge, and a good problem to have on our hands, is the rate of our growth. We are growing exponentially. In a short span of time, we have grown to 30+ flags, and have a stronger pipeline predominantly for South Asia. What's interesting to note is that we have generated significant overseas interest something we did not anticipate happening this early in our start-up journey. 2023 was targeted at a 2X growth rate but looks like we may very well overshoot the target.
We are humbled by the love that we have received from our Staff, Guests, Owners, and Partners and owe this success to them. This blistering pace comes with its fair share of hair-pulling days, learnings, tempers, and all other piled-up human emotions. But every small success is celebrated like our 83’s world cup win. Extremely gratifying!
StartupTalky: What are the different strategies you use for marketing? Tell us about any growth hack which you pulled off.
Sanjay: Just like the 5 fingers in our hand are different, so are our properties. Acknowledging that is the biggest growth hack that any organization can pull off. More often than not one tries to have a blanket marketing plan that meets mediocre success. One size fits all does not work very well for our industry.
Our patrons are well-traveled - well-read - well connected. Hence, we focus on a 2 pronged strategy-Educate and Distribute. Hard sales don’t work. Content does. We want to be a part of traditional and e-periodicals, trend stories, destination covers, community & conservation features, architectural delights, and more. We want to be in Social Media and Traditional Mediums too.
Our brand is not only for those who travel but also for the people where our properties are located. Once we are a part of their every day – we have created the top-of-the-mind recall that creates a legacy. This along with Distribution on all Platforms that our guests may explore ensure a Billboard effect where the next time they think of a destination they will think of BluSalz.
StartupTalky: What are the important tools and software you use to run your business smoothly?
Sanjay: Technology was one of the main pillars that we knew we had to invest in. From the very beginning, we chose the best. Our technology partners are the best 3rd Party technology providers with global recognition. We understand that choosing a partner whose core business is technology will always give us an edge against making in-house systems where our expertise and resources are limited. We don’t want to be in a position where we have to compromise on technology because we redirected the funds to another vertical.
Our current system is simple communication between 2 platforms a leading Global Central Reservation System and a leading National Property Management System. Between these 2 platforms all our needs end to end from Booking to Billing are covered – hence removing the multiple layers of disconnect and having a seamless interface.
StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in your industry in India and the world? What kind of difference in market behavior have you seen within states in India?
Sanjay: As shared earlier, the future prospect looks very strong. Domestic travel has gained impetus and ease of travel has made borders more blurred. All surveys done in the last 12-18 months highlight travel as the top 2-3 areas for wallet share. Hence investor and consumer confidence are at an all-time high, surpassing the pre-2020 glory days.
More than a difference there is a commonality that is strongly visible, at all ages people want to travel – they want to explore – and they want to experience. Essentially, they want to Keep Discovering.
StartupTalky: What lessons did your team learn in the past year and how will these inform your future plans and strategies?
Sanjay: Resilience – Patience – Endurance – Self Belief. These were our biggest take away from the past year. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe we have been seasoned well for the future and will help us take a longer view of our strategies.
StartupTalky: How do you plan to expand the Customers, product, and team base in the future?
Sanjay: With our strong pipeline we have no choice but to expand our team base. However, we are extremely focused on choosing the right team with the right values. Matching the right candidate to the right job is hard and sometimes time-consuming, a little planning and believing in providing the first opportunity to your existing team is the core of expansion.
StartupTalky: One tip that you would like to share with people reading this article who want to get into entrepreneurship?
Sanjay: There is no right or wrong time to start this journey – savor it like a wine, it gets better as it gets older and is sharp when it's young.
We thank Sanjay Sharma for spending his valuable time and sharing his learnings with all of us.