Travel and photography often go hand in hand. Most people who love to explore new places also love to record the experience and share. The growth of social platforms and lower entry points with accessible photography equipment led to the evolution of a massive community of photography enthusiasts over the past decade. As spending behaviours changed over time, an increasing number of people were willing to spend on their interests and this shift opened a window for a niche travel company called Toehold.
Born in a family where photography was religiously followed and was a business since the days 35mm referred to film width and not sensor size, Jayanth never really looked at photography as a profession for long time. Around the time digital photography started to catch on, he would often shoot while travelling and over time, his photographs started to get significant attention. That was when he decided to turn it into a profession.
However, he shares that it wasn’t long before he realised that relative to monetising his skills as a photographer, a much bigger opportunity was in enabling enthusiasts to gather those skills generate good images. That was when he came up with the idea of offering service for hobbyists to contribute in the journey they go through and came up with Toehold to marry travel with photography.
Toehold started with four people offering photography education through workshops and then soon moved into photography expeditions. Through Toehold, Jayanth and many other skilled photographers offer tours of different scale crafted around photography. They take care of the entire journey throughout its length and added extensions to the business to make the whole process seamless for enthusiasts travelling with them. Jayanth says that the idea was to enable people with knowledge, travel services and experiences tailored around photography.
Major fraction of the tours hosted on Toehold are created by their network of experienced photographers and fulfilled by own travel team. They are often group tours that involve 8-10 photography enthusiasts travelling with them but the company also hosts highly personalised photography tours as required by individuals or other organisations. Jayant adds that there are certain tours, like an Antarctica photography expedition, which have very high costs involved and require a much bigger scale to organise successfully. For such tours they work with partners from other countries for a collaborative offering.
Scaling at a steady pace, they are hosting between 70 to 100 group tours in a year with an average of eight travellers per trip. According to Jayanth, there is a significant headroom to grow gauging by the demand and they are gradually exploring hybrid models in places to make the business easier to scale without diluting the value and experience.
Of course with digital photography and social media communities growing faster than ever, there is the question of their impact on Toehold. Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and also Twitter to a certain level, have allowed popular photographers to monetise their reach in different ways, including workshops and tours. Jayant however claims that while Toehold is always ready to change and adapt to deal with external factors, there isn’t a real threat to Toehold’s business. According to him, their strength lies in the long chain of offerings at various touchpoints of the journey. Individuals or small groups of photography experts alone can’t replicate that easily. He also adds that such individuals can certainly attract some of the Toehold’s target customers who come for smaller length tours. However, that also creates a pool of potential customers who will be willing to further spend for richer experiences and longer tours, thus helping in long run.
The distribution of their tours is primarily through their own website and their own network which Jayanth claims has worked brilliantly so far. He also shares that as activity platforms compete against each other and try to offer unique options, some popular ones invited Toehold to try them as distribution channel as well. However, he adds that the customers interested in their tours have steep expectations and unique queries that the activity platforms fail to address or answer. He also adds that because of the wide array of audience those platforms attract, there are times when the customers have very different expectations and priorities. To ensure that they attract the right audience, they now distribute only some tours with wider appeal through the activity platforms.
As an increasing number of people are willing to spend towards their interests, the room for platforms like Toehold continues to grow. There are some hurdles in being able to quickly scale such a business but that also serves as a barrier for new entrants in the space. Over the past few years, similar platforms have emerged in other niches as well, like 42Race for marathon runners, and have highlighted the potential of highly focussed travel services. You can find more details about Toehold at www.toehold.in.