Every travel advisor has a few great stories to tell. But last week, Allison Sodha showed the world what she’s been up to while her agency business stalled due to Covid. She tells some of her very favorite tales, in a new book about travel to India.
It’s the eighth installment of “Go! Girl Guides,” a series dedicated to travel by and for women—and released, appropriately, on International Women’s Day.
Since March 2020, when “we literally shuttered overnight, then had a little break in December when India and Thailand reopened temporarily,” Sodha has been “developing YouTube channels and writing this book, which was a great distraction. It’s my love affair to India.”
And now travel is back; in the past three weeks, bookings have quadrupled. And her book is out!
From an Interest to a Book
One could say Sodha found her niche as a child, growing up in Atlanta with a mom who was a meditation instructor at the Deepak Chopra Cultural Center. But even though her Dad was a pilot for Delta Airlines, the family never actually visited India.
Still, Sodha “found the ideas to be incredibly engaging and they resonated with me,” she says. “I’ve always had an affinity for India. In high school I’d always be researching meditation and levitation—maybe because it was the complete opposite of what I was exposed to in the Deep South.”
She studied Indian religion and history in college, and when she graduated started writing and traveling extensively. In 2007, she and her husband launched Sodha Travel in Portland, Oregon, specializing in travel to Southeast Asia, and especially India.
“I saw a void in truly immersive experiences—stepping off the tourist paths into where the magic happens,” she says.
The agency focuses on 10 destinations “from the UAE to IndoChina,” including Thailand, Cambodia, VietNam, the Maldives, but mostly India.
So when Kelly Lewis—founder and editor of Go! Girl Guides and the Women’s Travel Festival, one of the largest global consumer travel conferences for women—approached her about doing their issue on India, Sodha was in.
In a time of global pandemic—and, indeed, even before that—the crowded subcontinent of India “definitely evokes strong emotions about safety and health,” Sodha says. “I thought it was a great opportunity for me to encourage and inspire women to travel—and to understand the differences between discomfort and danger, and between statistics and sensationalism.”
The book, Sodha’s first, is a travelogue covering 20 destinations and five national parks in northern and western India—”mainly because from a tourism perspective, that’s where most of the destinations are, where most people want to visit.” It suggests where to stay, dine, drink, shop, and explore; offers tips on moving around and transportation options; and provides health and safety advice.
A Good Niche for Travel Advisors
For travel advisors, Sodha says, “specializing in a region that’s very challenging to navigate is definitely beneficial. It’s so common for us to have savvy, upmarket, well-traveled customers. But in this part of the world they rely on experts like us to guide them. It’s definitely worthwhile to learn more and have a different perspective about selling this market, or to plant the seed of inspiration for your customers.”
Of Sodha Travel’s “seven figures” in annual sales, she says, about 60% is from travel to the Indian subcontinent. The YouTube channel has brought in “a lot of universities that want us to coordinate trips for their professors.”
And the market is growing.
“People are becoming more comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable,” she says. “It’s easy to go to Europe—but when you go to India you have to be prepared to really step outside your comfort zone. But it can be incredibly rewarding and transformational. There’s a magic about India, it’s so much greater than what people read or hear or see in a movie. It’s a pulse; it’s a vibe; you have to feel it. It’s not uncommon for clients to come home and say, ‘That was the most transformational experience—and I don’t even know why. It just completely changed my perspective on life.’
From the arts to nature, the country has something for everyone, she says—and there’s so much diversity that travel advisors can truly offer a unique custom-tailored experience to every traveler, male or female.
“India is raw and it’s vibrant and it always shows you exactly what you need to see,” she says.
Full color print versions of Sodha’s book are available at www.sodhatravel.com; black and white paperback guides and full-color ebooks are also available through Amazon. Or check out the Only in India series on the Sodha Travel YouTube channel.
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.