Home on the highway

Written by Sukalp Sharma | Sukalp Sharma | Updated: Jan 13 2013, 08:52am hrs
Though the development and popularity of Indias nascent caravan market depends on factors like road surface improvement and the backing of state tourism boards, tourism domain experts are confident about its potential.

For those brought up on a pedigree of Hollywood flicks, the concept of a caravan or motorhome (or simply a recreational vehicle or RV) is not an alien one. Signifying the on-the-road modern nomadic travel experience, these vehicles are hugely popular in the West among travellers who usually hit the road for longer durations. But what we see on screen, we hardly spot on Indian roads. But make no mistake, a nascent caravan market now exists in India, and with new players entering this previously non-existent segment, it may very well find traction in times to come.

Three years ago, the ministry of tourism (MoT) came out with a caravan tourism policy that talked of popularising the concept and developing caravan parks on the PPP model, which would serve as parking bays, will have tourist amenities and will also provide electricity, water and sewerage disposal facilities to the caravans which are parked. However, there hasnt been much movement on the ground with regard to these plans. Notwithstanding, Madhya Pradesh Tourism started caravan tourism services soon after the MoT announced the policy.

Since the past two years, MP tourism has been renting out its fleet of three caravans fitted with modern state-of-the-art facilities to tourists. The officials say the response is good, but not overwhelming. However, the state tourism board plans to continue and even expand the fleet and services with the concept gaining popularity in India. Railway and hotel reservations are a problem these days and the number of travellers looking for options that are a little offbeat is increasing. Thats where we feel caravan tourism can become a sizeable segment in the tourism market. Its still at a nascent stage, the concept is yet to pick up. In spite of it being a niche segment, we are sure the response will improve in the near future and as and when that happens, we, too, will expand our fleet and services, says Vivek Mathur, general manager, Madhya Pradesh tourism. These caravans or motorhomes can carry seven people and apart from various tourist packages being offered by MP tourism, they can be hired for R24 per km, with a minimum of 250 km a day. Mathur says MP tourism is working on around 20 caravan bays that would include washrooms, washing machines, facilities to clean the caravans, etc. Some of these bays are almost ready and will soon be operational.

Gauging the shortage of support facilities on highways for caravan travellers and the absence of caravan parks in India, Basecamp, a one-stop shop for travel and outdoor adventure equipment which is also venturing into the caravan segment, has entered into agreements with Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) and Haryana Tourism as of now, to facilitate parking, cleaning and other basic services at BPCL petrol pumps and Haryana Tourism guesthouses for Basecamp caravans. Meanwhile, Paracoat Products Limited (PCP), an automotive components manufacturer, is all set to launch ready-to-use motorhomes. The vehicle, called PCP Terra, is expected to be launched by the end of this month. Roads, particularly national highways, are getting better in India, particularly with new expressways coming up. This got us thinking and about two years ago, we got this idea of developing and selling motorhomes in India. We have developed and designed the motorhome with a tie-up with Vantech of Japan and Siam Motorhome Co of Thailand, says Rajesh Poddar, director of business development at PCP. The Terra can carry seven people, including a driver, and is based on a standard pick-up vehicle, the base vehicle being small trucks like Mahindra Genio or the Tata Xenon. The rest of the body is imported from Thailand in the form of completely knocked down (CKD) kits, which are assembled in India. The cost of the Terra, which boasts of luxurious comforts, would be roughly around R35-37 lakh, including taxes. PCPs plant has an assembling capacity of 300 and the company plans to take it up to 500 over the next four years. We did a market survey as well which showed us that there was enough demand for motorhomes and caravans in India but due to the non-availability of these products, it remained latent. We built a prototype and showcased it at the Auto Expo 2012 in Delhi. Apart from selling the concept, it was also an exercise to take feedback on Indian needs, requirements and expectations from such a product, adds Poddar. PCP will also be looking at the rental market as Poddar believes that end consumers would be more comfortable hiring the vehicle when needed rather than owning it. PCP is currently working on plans to come up with rental offers and is looking at partnering with tour operators for the same.

Then there is Anish Goel, who started Basecamp a decade ago. Basecamp will be importing two caravan models, Dethleffs Newline 410tk and HYMER Sporting Style 465 from Europe and will sell them in India. Both these vehicles are trailers and need to be attached to an automobile unlike PCP Terra which is actually an automobile itself. The Dethleffs would cost around R14 lakh while the HYMER will set you back by R22 lakh. It is an extension of the same idea which led to Basecamp stores. Basecamp was started with a vision to make it a one-stop shop for all the travel- and adventure-related products and launching the caravan is the next step, says Goel. Basecamp started taking bookings for the two models around three months ago and they already have 15 bookings. But the deliveries havent started yet as they are waiting for a few clarifications on the Motor Vehicle Act from the RTO as the Act doesnt mention anything about caravans. The company is expecting the said clarifications within a couple of weeks and will immediately start the deliveries. Within the next couple of years, there should be enough traction in the market for this segment to be really noticed. Although we welcome institutional buyers and companies, the core of our market has to be the traveller. Only then will the products and, more importantly, the concept become popular, adds Goel.

While it is still a nascent market and the trend is still developing, there are those like Sanjay Saini whove been making and selling caravans for almost two decades now. Delhi-based Saini, the owner of Caravan Conversion, a company that specialises in caravan building and conversions, and also deals in renting caravans, first got this idea around 18 years ago, fuelled by his own desire to read through the Indian mainland on road. His idea soon developed into a business one and in the last 18 years, Saini and his team have fabricated over 100 caravans. We try and understand the customers requirements and needs, and accordingly design and make the caravan. It is all custom-made and we just dont import almost-ready-to-assemble kits. Its totally made in India. Earlier, people were not willing to accept or try this concept. But we have witnessed a boom in our business and the market is also opening up to such segments, says Saini. In the last five years, Saini has seen a boost in both fabrication as well as rentals. Six years ago, they were selling four to five caravans a year. The number has gone up to 15 a year over the last three years. The company owns five caravans for renting out and Saini claims that bookings have started to come thick and fast. The rental is R25-60 per km, depending upon the size and the type of caravan and they are rented out for a range of durations from a few days to a few months at a go. As for the cost, apart from the chasis and shell cost, the customisation and fabrication can be anywhere from R10-50 lakh, depending upon the size and desired features. Developing a caravan on a Tempo traveller chasis can cost anywhere between R10-15 lakh, while in the case of the chasis of an LCV, it would be anywhere between R30-50 lakh. A caravan takes about three months to be completed. Saini, without divulging names, says he has built caravans for some of the top politicians and celebrities. We are currently working on a caravan for a senior politician from Maharashtra, says Saini.

Of course, the development and popularity of this segment will also depend upon other factors like the level of road surface improvement in times to come, particularly on national and state highways and the level of interest that the MoT and state tourism boards show, say tourism domain experts, but theyre also confident about its potential. When youre on the road, its just a matter of time.