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How Hemant and Yaiphaba built the first professionally run World War II battlefields tour company in India - Battle of Imphal Tours
#travelplanner - Langthabal Mantrikhong Makha Leikai, Imphal West District, Manipur -795003
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional. We would also love to know about the team.
Yai - My name is Yaiphaba Kangjam or just Yai. I am from Imphal, Manipur. I have a Masters degree in Tourism Management. I have been working in the tourism industry since 2010. Our enterprise, Battle of Imphal Tours, was founded by my colleague Hemant Singh Katoch in 2012. I joined in a year later. Since 2018, Hemant has taken an advisory role and I have been running the business.
YC - What motivated you to become an entrepreneur – especially a travel planner?
Yai - The desire to attract more tourists to Manipur and to make the rest of the world aware of the beautiful places, people, rich history and culture of our state was the sole motive behind our entrepreneurial journey. Keeping the idea of this huge tourism potential of Manipur in mind and the very niche aspect of WWII battlefield tourism in the state, which nobody had thought of with a professional approach then, we set up Battle of Imphal Tours in 2012.
My experience in tourism and Hemant’s love for the history of the Second World War blended well. Over the years, our journey has made rapid progress with the expansion of our tours to the other WWII related sites in Nagaland, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. With further expansion of our tours across the border in Myanmar in 2018, we are now able to provide to our clients, through our battlefield tours, a much clearer and significant picture of the Second World War’s Burma Campaign. We are now happy that our initial idea of promoting our small state of Manipur has now taken a greater shape of cross-border regional tourism.
For the general (non-WWII) sites in the region, I have set up a separate venture, Imphal Walks (www.imphalwalks.com).
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging- what challenges did you face in your early days?
Yai - Although a very niche market, our tours have been attracting a good number of visitors right from the beginning. This is because of the fact that many families of the soldiers who fought or were killed in Northeast India or Myanmar have been longing to visit the battlefields in these places for many years and nobody was there to show them around in an organised and professional manner. And thus, when we launched Battle of Imphal Tours in the market, people (our potential clients) warmly received us as a huge gap-filler rather than just another tour operator.
When we started, our challenges have been more generic in nature. These came in the form of the security situation in the region, special permits, logistical hiccups, etc. which are no longer problems to us now.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how do you typically spend your day in the office?
Yai - We are a very small team. I am the primary point of contact for our business as well as the principal battlefield guide. When not on tours, I respond to emails, phone calls, social media messages. I also deal with business meetings and other marketing matters. When there is a tour, I am the one leading the tour who is responsible for guiding and also for organising every other aspect of the tour.
YC - Do you use social media platforms (like Instagram, Facebook etc) to promote your business? Which channels have been very effective for your business?
Yai - We are active on Facebook - @BattleOfImphal, Instagram - battle_of_imphal_tours and Twitter - @Imphal_Battle. We were awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015. The excellent reviews we get on TripAdvisor have always encouraged us to maintain the quality of our tours. Besides all these, our main marketing channels have always been our website (www.battleofimphal.com) and word of mouth.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit the North Eastern States and why?
Yai - In general, anytime after the rains in October to the beginning of the next monsoon in May is a good time to visit northeast India. However, based on our years of tour operations experience in the region, we feel that the best time to visit the Northeast is from November to February. On a well-timed tour, one can enjoy two big tourism festivals of two beautiful states on a single trip. These are the Sangai Festival of Manipur (24-30 November) and the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland (1-10 December). As for our battlefield tours, we have some really good itineraries for November-December which are a great combination of battlefields and these festivals. Our clients love it very much so far.
YC - A memorable trip is a combination of a great stay + lip-smacking food and unique experiences - what are some of the unique experiences around your area which travellers must explore?
Yai - This is an interesting one. More than our clients, we are very particular about what we eat on our tours. Our mindset is kind of ‘when there is no option for good food, there is no tour’. So, we carefully handpick all other service providers viz. hotels, restaurants, local food stalls, etc. Sometimes, our tours turned out to be more of a gastronomic one than a battlefield tour. This is often the case when our clients are so overwhelmed with the several varieties of interesting food we offer them in different parts of Northeast India and Myanmar. And believe us, they did not complain at all!
YC - What according to you is the USP of your company, for which your customers come back to you?
Yai - Battle of Imphal Tours is the first professionally run WWII battlefield tours company in India. We have been in the business since 2013 with an excellent track record so far, thanks to the great amount of importance we give on every single tour enquiry. We make sure that all our guests (domestic or foreign) went back fully loaded after every tour with many remarkable, treasured experiences much more than they could have ever imagined.
Also, Hemant and I are both published authors. He has written two books -
Imphal 1944 - The Japanese invasion of India
The Battlefields of Imphal: The Second World War and North East India
I (Yai) have written one -
Forgotten Voices of the Japan Laan: The Battle of Imphal and the Second World War in Manipur.
All our books are about war-time Manipur and the battlefields we are visiting on the tours.
YC - COVID 19 has immensely affected the tourism sector. How are you coping with it and what would you suggest to your fellow business owners?
Yai - What is more unfortunate for us is that the tourism industry is the first that was affected by Covid-19 and it will be the last to recover. We know that many people in the industry are suffering just like us. Many have left the industry already. Despite all the hardships now, we are very much optimistic that tourism will revive to its full potential when things become normal and we are making good use of our time now by doing more research for our tours and preparing more interesting itineraries. The only thing we can say to our friends in the tourism industry is ‘let us hold on together for some more days. This too shall pass’.
YC - Based on your experience so far, do you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs?
Our experience all these years after facing many challenges and after dealing with many people have taught us several invaluable lessons. The ultimate advice from our end to any aspiring entrepreneur, however, will be to execute whatever idea he has with the highest possible level of quality and professionalism. Tourism, being a service industry, is very much dependent on many abstract components which we need to take care of. And finally, the pandemic has taught us that things can be very unpredictable and staying in the industry requires patience and perseverance.
For Booking contact on firstname.lastname@example.org to book a tour OR feel free to call Yai at +91 7005013775
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