Kęstutis Lukoškinas, owner of the inbound tourism company The Beautiful Land of Nevermind, decided to penetrate a new market and introduce the people of India to the beauty of Lithuania and other Baltic countries.
“If we manage to attract and service 0.5 % of the 50 million people in India who travel actively, we could, theoretically, become their local friend-expert and do without searching for other markets,” Lukoškinas says confidently.
Lukoškinas, who lives in Vilnius, got in touch with Indian tourists because of his personal interests.
“I‘ve had an interest in eastern cultures, philosophy and history for a long time, and I also practice yoga. This is why my focus settled on India. I delve into its culture and social structure, admire their food and history. India is mostly an English speaking country, which helps to communicate and cooperate,” the entrepreneur said.
Mr. Lukoškinas says his admiration for India grew even more after he spent a couple of months in the country of over 1.25 billion people.
“I spent a few months in India in hope of understanding how Lithuania, the Baltic countries and Scandinavia could appeal to Indian tourists,” he added.
Working with India requires immense patience and a lot of subtlety.
“For now, I see India as a vacant niche which I want to take over. We’ve been working diligently - for several years now - to find reliable outbound tourism partners and to attract Indians to visit Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,” the businessman explains.
Long road to Indians’ hearts
Mr. Lukoškinas made first contacts over two months he spent in India.
“First, I approached the Lithuanian embassy in India – ambassador Laimonas Tallat-Kelpša, counsellors Diana Mickevičienė and Justinas Bakūnas. Later, I took part in a business mission to India organised by the Indian–Baltic chamber of Commerce (IBCC). After countless business meetings we wrote numerous letters, flew to the central offices of the biggest travel agencies in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi in order to introduce ourselves in person. We also met up with representatives of agencies in the states of Goa, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, among others. We sent out even more letters after this. It seemed like everywhere we went, we were met with interest, we were arranging programmes and counting offers we received,” the Lithuanian said.
However, he ended up realising that communicating and building business ties were done differently in India than in Europe.
“Business communication in the Indian culture is not what we are used to, which is: agreeing on a service of interest, sending out an appealing proposal, perhaps going to a meeting, submitting recommendations and guarantees, and finally, agreeing upon prices and terms,” Lukoškinas explains.
According to him, communication via email is only used as an auxiliary tool when building actual business relationships.
“Genuine business relationships start from a personal acquaintance with the person who actually makes all the decisions, and that person is not always the director of a business. It could be the family patron who spends his time in the garden. Without his approval things can’t move forward. The patron’s decision may not always be based on business logic, but, for example, on trying to show a neighbouring business patron who’s the boss,” Lukoškinas shared his experiences.
The Lithuanian also noted that it was hard to achieve anything in India without references.
“The higher, more influential the state institution that supports you is, the more you are valued. Support by the Lithuanian Embassy was particularly helpful for us,” he confessed.
The businessman notes that you must spend a lot of time with potential business partners by going to dinners, meeting family, tasting and praising dishes made by family women, playing with and befriending children and other visiting family members. You must find a topic of conversation with everybody and also listen to memories of the elders.
“During these ‘negotiations’, your list of contacts expands exponentially, but you can’t tell when these relationships will bear results. Sometimes, we receive orders to organise a big and luxurious holiday for a large family from a guest visiting in the winter, who came to Lithuania because he had a nice talk with us during a wedding in India,” the entrepreneur said.
Attending weddings part of the job
Mr. Lukoškinas points out that when you are trying to build business relationship in India, you should never refuse a wedding invitation.
“During the ‘negotiation’ phase, accepting a wedding invitation is a must, even if you don’t know either the bride or the groom. During the wedding season, you might get several invitations a week, because weddings aren’t held on weekends, but on the day family astrologist picks and the number of guests is in the thousands, not hundreds. A proper wedding must involve two thousand guests, a humble wedding – at least eight hundred. Members of a lower castes can afford only several hundred guests,” he explained Indian wedding traditions.
Mr. Lukoškinas does not say how many Indian people The Beautiful Land of Nevermind has brought to Lithuania, but he notes that for now, Indians make up a small fraction of tourists in Lithuania.
“In statistics, tourists from India still fall into the ‘Other countries’ category. They make up a small fraction in our incoming tourism ‘pie’. However, we need patience and to educate. Right now, we do not count our visitors in numbers, but in terms of how significant those visits are. For example, at this time we are waiting for a group of visitors from a certain corporation. The purpose of their visit is to make sure that Lithuania, specifically Vilnius, is an appropriate place to organise conferences for their organisation. Another family came to see if Lithuania was an attractive place to organise the jubilee for family members,” he said.
In the winter, an influential member of the Brahmin caste came to visit.
“He was happy about his visit, disregarding how cold it was at the time, and recommended us to his friends, who believed his word and bought a trip. After coming back to India, they became our best PR people, talking to everyone about us and praising our service,” Mr. Lukoškinas happily said.
Lithuania has something to offer
What aspects of Lithuania astonish Indian people most? According to Mr. Lukoškinas, the first thing that comes to mind is water.
“The fact that you can drink it from the tap, they can’t believe it and are still fascinated about it. Also, that you can touch water almost anywhere. We would suggest going for a swim, but swimming is associated with ritual rites for Indians, and splashing in water without a reason is not acceptable,” he said.
According to the businessman, Indians are also amazed by Lithuania’s nature, small population and cleanliness.
“Insanely fast internet,” he adds. Also, the opportunity to go skiing during summer in Druskininkai snow arena and a flight in a hot air balloon over Vilnius were among the things that Indians enjoyed most.
“One of the latest observations is the clouds in Lithuania. They are quite beautiful. In India, there are almost no clouds. The sky is either clear or overcast,” Mr. Lukoškinas kept listing.
According to his observations, the Indian people who can afford to travel do it frequently, often with children. Visiting the most popular travel destinations is a thing of prestige, a lot of Indians have visited London, Paris, Barcelona or Amsterdam.
“It is worth noting that for Indians, traveling to a country generally means visiting the capital city and doing some shopping,” he added.
According to Mr. Lukoškinas, those Indians who can afford traveling usually do it at least three times a year: once with the whole extended family (brothers, sisters, parents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles), then with their children and the third time, just with their significant other.
“For this kind of trip, Indians choose the best hotels that provide as many services as possible, such as a spa, swimming pools and different beauty procedures. For this, Druskininkai could appeal to them,“ the entrepreneur said, referring to a spa town in southern Lithuania.
However, Mr. Lukoškinas also noticed that for Indians, something more important than tourism infrastructure is making friends with local people. It means drinking tea, talking business as well as everyday worries in a pleasant and luxurious environment, and taking pictures together.
“Make lots of pictures, and make them often. History, architecture and culture can wait,” he says smiling. This is how long-lasting relationships that bring in more clients by word of mouth are built.
Problems with diet
When organizing a perfect holiday for Indian people, catering issues can be a hassle for Mr. Lukoškinas.
“In India, a large number of the population are either vegetarians or vegans. Also, food and diet are some of the most important factors Indians look at during tavel. Some prefer strictly Indian food for the entire trip, while others are curious and interested in tasting everything, refusing to visit local Indian restaurants,” he noted.
According to the businessman, there are families where eating any animal products as well as onion and garlic, is a taboo. In these cases, travellers often bring their own food or snacks for the journey, so as not to have any unexpected problems.
“It must be said that in Lithuania, especially outside the capital city, organising catering suitable for [foreign] guests is a real challenge. It’s disappointing: when you order a meat-less soup in a restaurant and you get chicken broth, only with the pieces of meat taken out. Another example is a ‘truly vegetarian šaltibarščiai (cold borscht)’, with eggs in them,” Mr. Lukoškinas talks about his experiences.
The entrepreneur remarks that coordinating Lithuanian restaurant menus with Indian traditions is not easy, and that he went through a similar experience with tourists from France.
On the other hand, Indians who embrace these challenges end up being happy with the Lithuanian cuisine.
“They discover bread, smoked fish, potato pancakes, vėdarai (a kind of sausage, made of grated potatoes stuffed into entrails and baked in the oven), borscht and cold borscht. Cepelinai (a Lithuanian dish, big dumplings made of potato dough and minced eat) are only interesting to the meat-eating Indian travellers,” he explained. “The majority proceed to taste kvass ( a fermented beverage commonly made from black or regular rye bread) , Nalewka, lithuanian mead and beer. Beer made in smaller breweries receives much praise.”
Mr. Lukoškinas also says it is common to eat with your hands in India, and those visitors who do it in Lithuania get strange looks from people.
“It is not a sign of disrespect, but on the contrary, a sign of great respect towards food. You must not touch food with your left hand and if you were to break a piece of bread with both hands and hand it to an elderly guest, you would deeply insult them. The guest wouldn’t show it, but any further relationship would become impossible,” he explains.
One market might be enough
The entrepreneur says that he does not need to invest as much into promotion now, since potential customers discover his services through Indians who have already visited Lithuania.
“If we manage to attract and service 0.5 % of the 50 million people in India who travel actively, we could, theoretically, become their local friend-expert and do without searching for other markets. The most important part is gaining their trust, becoming almost a family member and retaining the highest standard of hospitality. It is worth noting that Indians usually actively travel in summer, so we are looking into ways of attracting them to Lithuania during other seasons, especially winter. To let them feel the temperature of 20 degrees below zero, let them have a walk on a frozen lake and bathe in a sauna,” Mr. Lukoškinas says.
The ways in which Indians travel to Lithuania differ: some visit multiple countries and either start from the Baltic countries or leave them for the end, while others travel alone or on business, and later bring their friends, relatives, families or colleagues.
According to Mr. Lukoškinas, Lithuania interests Indians who have traveled and seen a lot. Here, they are amazed by the links between the Lithuanian language and Sanskrit, by the fact that almost all of the 2,300 lakes have clean water, and that Lithuania has the geographical centre of Europe.