Neena Jhanjee enters the village cottage in Bali where faith healer Ketut Liyer lives. Ketut is nearly 100 years old and became famous when he was mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love. Ketut looks at Neena’s palm and says, “You are a lucky girl. But you have to be careful when you are driving. You go too fast.” Neena nods and thinks, ‘That is so true. How does he know?’
The members of the all-women group take turns to get their future read by Ketut. “The visit with Ketut was the ‘Diva Surprise’ of the five-day trip to Bali,” says the Goa-based Neena, who runs Diva Odysseys, a travel venture catering exclusively to women.
“I called it Diva because the name denotes that it is for women,” she says. “Odyssey is a term for travel. Of course it will not be as long as the travels of Ulysses (the hero of Homer’s epic poem, Odyssey), but just as memorable,” she beams.
Neena’s target group could be a female suffering from the ‘empty nest syndrome’, or a career woman or a busy mom who wants to take time off with the girls. But Neena operates in the high-end segment. The five-day trip to Bali, with a stay at a five-star hotel, costs `1.05 lakh, excluding air fare.
But those who went are happy and not complaining. Lucie Masson, a French woman who lives in Goa, says, “Being a spiritual person, the Bali trip involved not only seeing temples, but actually experiencing cleansing rituals with local priests and meeting medicine men.”
Overall, the response to Diva Odysseys has been good, because Neena is targeting a niche segment. “Most travel companies don’t cater to the single traveller, particularly women,” she says. “Instead, they prefer to take families or corporate clients.” And Neena’s company also stands apart in another way. She does not do destination trips. Instead, they are theme-based.
So, for an upcoming trip to the Amalfi coast in south Italy, she is offering a gastronomical tour. “This involves trying out the wine and the food from that area, having cooking classes, exploring the vineyards and enjoying the pastas, pizzas as well as the mozzarella cheese, which are the best in the world,” she says. “Of course, we will do other things like sight-seeing in the town of Pompeii and driving through the scenic Amalfi coast, which has one of the most beautiful drives in the world. But the focus will be on gastronomy.”
The aim is to get like-minded women on board. “If it is destination-based, when people come together they want to do different things,” says Neena. “But when they understand that there is a theme to the trip, you get a close-knit group.”
Interestingly, her clients are from an older age group–from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties. “What happens with the younger woman is that she tends to travel with her boyfriend,” says Neena. “But the older women like female-only trips.”
“Girlfriend getaways are special. You get some alone-time, as well as the fun of girl-bonding sessions,” says Lucie.
A banker for 13 years, Neena has worked in companies such as HDFC Bank, IndusInd Bank and the Zurich-based Capvent India Advisors. “I had been working for long with numbers, but what has always fascinated me was travel,” she says. So, last year on March 8 (International Women’s Day), she took the plunge and started Diva Odysseys and has been having a gala time ever since. A diva to cater to other divas.
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