Is it possible to create a travel agency business around selling one destination?
So far the odds look pretty good for Allison Rulon-Miller, the founder of From Lost to Found Travel in Philadelphia, who specializes in travel to India.
“As a country, India is on a lot of people’s bucket list, but it’s a very challenging place,” said Rulon-Miller. “I think in the next 20 years there will be a lot of people who will want to go there.
Inspired by Indy
It’s been a long journey from a 20-year career in finance to a second gig as a travel agent, but for Rulon-Miller it was meant to be.
Rulon-Miller became fascinated by Nepal after watching the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, which she first saw at age 11.
Although she did indeed visit Nepal many years later, India became the focus of From Lost To Found Travel.
During her former career in finance, she spent much of her disposable income on travel of all types, ranging from a bus tour through Turkey to building houses in Fiji as part of a Habitat for Humanity project.
While on a trip to India she met a local ground operator and began thinking about the possibility of developing specialty tours to that country. “They wanted a partner in the U.S., and I wanted a new career,” she said. “I lucked out.”
After that original meeting, Rulon-Miller spent two years researching India.
“I went over there a lot to meet with operators,” she said. “They’ve dragged me all over the country introducing me to their subcontractors.”
With the launch of From Lost to Found Travel in 2010, Rulon-Miller began to sell highly customized packages for individuals and groups.
Her business has steadily grown from about 12 departures the first year to more than double that number in 2014.
A custom experience
The packages are totally customized, and the planning usually starts six, 12 or even 18 months before the departure date.
Rulon-Miller creates a massive spreadsheet for each trip, relying on the skills she picked up in finance to build financial models and deal with supplier pricing in Rupees and package pricing to her clients in dollars.
And her clients are mostly women.
“India’s a country that I’ve found appeals more to women than men,” said Rulon-Miller. “There’s this incredible craft tradition, and women are more able to deal with chaos, and there’s plenty of chaos in India.”
Her clients range in age from 55 to 75; the youngest has been 35 and the oldest 85. Because the average length of time of the trips she arranges is three weeks, most of her clients are retired or about to retire and have the time to take them.
A year of planning
The season for travel to India lasts from the end of September through March, but Rulon-Miller spends much of the rest of the year putting the packages together.
They take a lot of work and attention to detail, which she is proficient at, thanks to her career in finance.
While most of her business is FITs for two to four people, she also has put together groups, including a trip to South India focusing on gardens and tea plantations for 16 members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in Philadelphia in 2013.
Rulon-Miller still travels often to India to expand her offerings for current and future clients.
Spurred by requests for wellness travel, last year she visited all of the yoga retreats in Goa and 30 Ayurveda-focused retreats in South India.
This year she plans to go to a Sufi music festival in Rajasthan in order to add more music opportunities to her itineraries.
Rulon-Miller still spends time seeking out new off-the-beaten-track places to include in her packages.
She hopes to one day expand her operation to include Sri Lanka, Dhaka and Bangladesh as well.
“It’s fun to track down different villages where they do the crafts, and send clients there,” said Rulon-Miller.
“A lot of the workers are in tiny workshops down tiny alleys, so you can’t take a big group. It’s better done with two to four people.”