Himangshu Baruah is a household name among globetrotters who has made the Northeasterners proud for his achievement of putting the region on the centre stage.
He, along with his dynamic team of travel entrepreneurs and managers, three years ago, had embarked on a journey to conquer their limits and redefine the scenario of Northeast tourism in India.
The organization strives to revamp tourism sector of the Northeast with its unique ideals of promoting ‘responsible tourism’ and they have made the unexplored Northeast a ‘hot-favourite’ tourist destination for travellers from the mainland India as well as from abroad.
His aim to promote Northeastern cultures, tribes, ethnic commodities and destinations reached a milestone this year when his two-year-old venture gained international recognition.
Finderbridge Tourism Pvt. Ltd. was nominated for the category of ‘Best Travel Start up of the Year’ at the 9th Entrepreneur Awards 2019 held in Delhi last month.
Himangshu’s unstoppable warrior-like spirit has earned accolades for his venture.
His organization was the first travel organization from the Northeast to have gained recognition as the “Ashoka Youth Venture” in its very first year of commencement.
He also presented his start up at the 3rd Youth to Youth International Summit 2017, Dubai and through his hardwork and efforts his organization was also selected among the only three start-ups for the Ashoka ChangemakerXChange Summit 2017 held in Philippines.
In an exclusive interview to Rifa Deka, Himangshu talks about his journey of showcasing the wide array of the rich cultural heritage of Northeast and how his start-up earned recognition on a global platform.
Your educational background is technical, how did you land amidst entrepreneurs? What made you step into the risky, uncertain world of business?
I have always been inspired by entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobbs, Elon Musk, and Jack Ma. The more I read about them, their life stories, the more I felt the need to up my game. I studied their lives, their struggles and I learned a lot from their business models and created one for myself.
It took me an entire year to get started. I come from a very humble family. Although my father loves to travel, he is a teacher and a rather simple man. Misconception held by people outside Northeast about our land, was something I just could not let pass.
I wanted to see a change and wanted to change the perspective of people about the Northeast but in an innovative and a completely fresh manner. My ideas, my love towards my land and the determination to start the change I wished to see, made me stumble upon something called ‘entrepreneurship’.
How did you come up with the idea of Finderbridge and why did you choose tourism industry in particular?
In an Industry where people were trying to “sell” Northeast, I wanted to acquaint the world with the true essence of the region. I was pursuing my Bachelors in Computer Engineering from Pondicherry University and when was in my second year of college, I realized how alienated our region was from the mainland.
Some would disagree, but I experienced the negligence myself. If it were a small number, that would’ve been completely different, but surprisingly a large number of people had misconceptions about this part of the country. Some had even heard the names of certain states for the first time.
This kind of ignorance not only affected my confidence as an individual residing outside the Northeast but also hurt my sentiments. I belonged to the same land and the same country as them, yet these people knew very little about the place where I came from. The urge to transform this ignorance into curiosity and make the mainlanders wonder ‘what is Northeast was’ what made me step into the tourism industry.
Do modern Tourism Industry giants pose a threat to the objectives of your organization? How do you survive the competition in an industry driven by profit motives?
Usually, these tourism industry giants, as I mentioned before, focus on how to ‘sell’ the Northeast. That is how the traditional tourism business used to work. We, on the other hand, have made sure to step aside from the conventional methods of promoting tourism and we have approached the whole idea differently.
Our main objective is responsible tourism. We are recreating and redefining tourism keeping in mind sustainable development. A lot of tourism organizations make sure that tourists enjoy all facilities and have a memorable trip without making an effort, to leave the place as it was before it had any visitors. I take pride in mentioning that we are an organization that ensures that the scenic beauty of Northeast remains protected, and that the people there benefit out of tourism.
Speaking of profit, I will not say that my organization does not make any profit at all because that would be a lie. In practicality, you need funds to run an organization and we do make enough to sustain. Having said that let me also mention that we do not work solely for profit. Our organization was started with the motive to promote responsible tourism and it continues to do so even today.
We extend authentic hospitality in home-stays across the region, for travellers to experience a fusion of culture, cuisine, and other such raw yet exquisite elements, making sure that visitors have an unforgettable experience.
This not only boosts local employment, but also ensures livelihood for these villages. We are also working on a local community development tourism model which will soon be implemented across all eight states of the Northeast.
We do not exploit the locals or deprive them of anything to pamper our travellers. We make sincere efforts to ensure that travellers preserve the environment, abstain from using pollutants and make memories without disturbing the eco system of the place. We go that extra mile!
Did you have any financial difficulty or trouble acquiring capital for your start up, initially? What other challenges did you come across while starting your venture?
It was extremely difficult to find skilful people initially and even more difficult to find people with the same vision. My most difficult task at hand was to build a team which would have confidence in me and my start-up.
People came along and some even left, there have been so many people associated with this venture, but not each one of them is around today. When you are starting from scratch, it is very difficult to get people to believe in you.
Nonetheless, I learnt to do a lot on my own during this period. I knew nothing in the beginning, but now I can handle a lot on my own. I can strategize, promote, design campaigns myself and I’m much more pro active today, than I was three years ago.
Acquiring capital was stressful too, but I managed to gather funds for the organization with help from my friends and family who offered to help me raise funds. We saved up from the initial tours and sort of re-invested the money to the point where the organization was self –sufficient.
Two years into the Industry and your organization has already been nominated for prestigious awards and Finderbridge has even represented Northeast in Global Summits. How does it feel to have achieved so much at such a young age?
It was the hard work that paid off, not only mine but of all those associated with my organization. It feels great, it is a feeling that I cannot describe. I would run short of words even if I tried.
When my start up was nominated for the award (Best travel start-up), I got an opportunity to be seated in the same room as those people, whom I have always looked up to. I looked around and to my surprise, I was the youngest person there. I was surrounded by business tycoons, of which some I had read blogs about!
Being able to represent the Northeast in global summits through my organization filled me with joy.
Do you think the government is taking adequate steps to boost tourism in the Northeast?
I’ve wanted to address this issue for quite some time now and I’m glad that you asked. This government has taken steps to boost tourism in the region and I have been reassured with confidence in the government, ever since the Act East Policy has been addressed.
We are finally ‘acting’ on issues we had ‘overlooked’ earlier in the name of ‘looking east’. The government is spending a lot on development of tourism, not only in Assam, but in all eight states of the region.
Globally renowned faces have been ambassadors of our region; we are being able to see progress at a rate never witnessed before. Connecting the Northeastern part of India with the ASEAN countries is what will take tourism ten steps further, but at the same time, we must keep in mind our sustainable development goals.
This is where my organization will put in all efforts to ensure promotion of Responsible Tourism. I think tourism is definitely escalating and there’s no looking back for the East!
Your organization is already popular among the youth in Guwahati, people are surely looking forward to associate with your organization more often now. What more do you have in store for them?
We have specialized trips for all travellers, we don’t just focus on sightseeing and adventure activities. We have a wide range of options for people to choose from such as dark tourism, photography tourism, tea garden tourism, trips where we acquaint people with the rich heritage of the Northeast, where people can not only stay in the region but live the region and experience the region in its purest form.
From ethnic cuisines, folk culture, attire, music to scenic beauty, everything is original; travelers get to explore Northeast in the truest sense. We are also planning to organize cultural exchanges between India and the ASEAN countries in the future to bring the Northeast under spotlight.