Outbound Souk | 2017-02-22
Travel-ready to stay on-the-line Online Travel Agents constantly evolving to stay in the game

Travel-ready to stay on-the-line

 

Online Travel Agents constantly evolving to stay in the game

 

The online travel industry is constantly evolving – changes in the offline travel dynamics, new technologies, the flux of short consumer attention spans and more, influence the space and reflect in the blue of the computer screens that house them. All this, along with a space that is becoming increasingly crammed with new players who are jumping on the online bandwagon on a daily basis, makes for a turbulent world as dynamic as the sensex on a heavy trading day. TravelScapes talks to some of the prominent online travel agents in India to find out what keeps them on-the-line.

 

TS GAGNEET KAUR

 

The phenomenon of digitalisation is reaching an inflexion point, largely influenced by three powerful forces driving the shift: consumer demand, the push for new technologies, and the prospect of even greater economic benefits. Consumers are seen much drawn towards the online travel agents who lure with preference tracking, discounts, virtual tours and follow you like Mary’s little lambs wherever you go online.

 

The key to survival is change, evolution and constant up-gradation. Keeping in mind the proactive changes that took place in 2016 in the travel agency business models, particularly in the area of digital transformation, TravelScapes took viewpoints from the top online players who recognised the existing customer needs and contributed in giving a further push to the digital revolution.

 

With the changing market trends and advanced customer needs, Digitalisation is seeing a great evolution in India. What is the USP of your company?

 

 

Samyukth Sridharan, President and COO, Cleartrip

 

At Cleartrip, we have always understood the power of digitisation in empowering customers. Backed by our technological prowess and as frontrunners for most innovations in the travel and leisure space in India, our focus has been and will continue to be on creating long-term customer value by making travel simple. A few of the innovations that we have pioneered include the Air calendar and Train calendar for travellers who are sure of their mode of travel and want to be aware of seat availability, Quikeys offering exclusive hotel deals at the last minute to solve for supplier occupancy, Expressway which is a one-click booking facility and Mobile Apps to solve easy travel booking for on-the-go travellers and help save their time. We spearheaded the cause of removing travellers’ most notorious pain points and take the ease of travel booking to the next level.

 

 

Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), yatra.com

 

Over the years, the evolution of digital technology has enabled us at Yatra.com to create innovations in our services providing a seamless, convenient and connected consumer experience. At Yatra, we have always been at the forefront of technological innovation in the online travel space. We have introduced travel Industry’s First ‘Voice Search’ Feature and also integrated with leading online cab booking apps to provide one stop travel solution to our customers offering the whole gamut of travel offerings from flights, hotels, holiday packages, rail, local activities, cabs and cruises. This is in line with our endeavour to improve user experience and create happy travellers.  We think that these features will become an integral part of the travel booking experience in the future. We also provide the convenience of paying later via our easy EMIs feature.

 

 

Nitin Jain, Director, marveltrip.com

 

Marvel Trip was focused on promoting online bookings and transactions. As a company, we always wanted to develop our own online products, which we have done in past few years successfully. As a result, Marvel Trip has 90 per cent booking online. www.marveltrip.com is 100 per cent in-house developed by an experienced IT team. Today, the company is not only capable of implementing new developments but also can help many more agents to develop online booking systems.

 

 

Vikas Bhola, Regional Manager – India, Booking.com

 

There are absolutely no reservation fees ever and one can pay after they stay at almost all accommodation. Additionally, it offers a maximum flexibility for customers, meaning most accommodations can be cancelled free of charge up to 24 hours before arrival. Booking.com is designed to serve both leisure and business travellers and provide the trustworthy solution to the travel booking market.

 

 

Heena Akhtar, Founder, TripXOXO

 

“We are an online portal offering a plethora of services to our customers with the ease of paying online. Nowadays, people prefer doing online transactions and if they get an opportunity to make that in Indian rupees for international experiences, they prefer to opt for that. And our motive is to make travel experience simpler, easier, more accessible and enjoyable for our customers and partners.”

 

Where the demonetisation seems to hit the tourism industry, the digital business platforms, on the other hand, are seen benefiting. Do you agree?

 

Samyukth Sridharan, President and COO, Cleartrip

 

We have always been pioneering the comprehensiveness of online payment options. We offer one of the most exhaustive sets of payment options and have created benchmarks in the travel world with payment related innovations like India’s first stored card solution- Expressway. Consequently, our dependency on non-digital payments has been minimal. The impact of demonetisation has been negligible expect for the first week where we saw a 15 per cent dip in transactions. Unless the GDP slows down, we shouldn’t be seeing any impact of demonetisation and progress with digitisation will only improve.

 

Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), yatra.com

 

Demonetisation is a huge step forward towards a cashless economy and excellent for online businesses like ours. With this move likely to push people towards e-payments, it is the perfect time for offline travel bookers to move to online travel agencies as we offer price transparency and complete convenience.

 

Nitin Jain, Director, marveltrip.com

 

Of course, this move has been beneficial to online travel agents like us. Cash transactions must have been favoured by small/ local travel agencies, however from day one Marvel Trip Ltd focused on online system (B2C & B2B). Initially, we had to take help from the outsourced service provider, but soon we realised that we can only achieve our goals if we have our own resources/products. It took us some time to develop the digital marketing platform, but gradually we were established in the market.

 

Vikas Bhola, Regional Manager – India, Booking.com

 

Yes, we have observed that demonetisation has had a negligible impact on overall bookings made on Booking.com in India and business growth has continued. Apart from initial adjustments, business in microeconomic terms is expected to stabilise. The demonetisation move would fuel the growth of digital payments which is great for our business from the point of scalability. In macroeconomic terms, we hope that it would benefit the overall economy.

 

Heena Akhtar, Founder, TripXOXO

 

Yes, I absolutely agree and I’m sure that with the increase in digital payments, the online businesses will grow as the customer base will automatically increase.

 

As India is now moving rapidly towards digital business transformation, how do you view India as a source market? What are your market development plans in India?

 

Samyukth Sridharan, President and COO, Cleartrip

 

Without a doubt, India is one of the most important markets for Cleartrip. We are highly optimistic about the future of travel in India.  With almost 50 per cent of the market still untapped and government’s push for regional connectivity, India will see more customer segments being added to the base of air travellers in time to come. We are also betting big on hyperlocal activities space through our offering Cleartrip Local. We launched Cleartrip Local in July 2016 as a new category. It is one of the infant businesses wherein we are seeing a great initial response. After simplifying travel for a decade, we are taking the joy of experiencing new to the next level with Cleartrip Local.

 

Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), yatra.com

 

Indian outbound travel is on the rise and growing consistently every year. The rising middle class and increasing disposable incomes are driving more travel spending and the growth of both domestic and outbound tourism.

 

While a large number of Indian travellers come from the metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru, secondary markets such as Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad, Kochi and Ahmedabad are also contributing to the overall growth of the Indian travel market. Over the past few years, we are also seeing excellent growth from tier 2 and tier 3 markets driven by the increased penetration of the internet via cheaper smartphones.

 

Nitin Jain, Director, marveltrip.com

 

With numerous digital platforms today, India is now in a position to compete with other bigger international market players. Marvel Trip has an advantage of being a part of Marvel Group (Marvel Tea). Marvel group further has a deep penetration to tier 2, 3 markets with dealer/ retailer base network of over 4500. With our advanced technology, Marvel Trip shall be able to tap more of tier 2 and tier 3 markets’ to expand its wings throughout India.

 

Vikas Bhola, Regional Manager – India, Booking.com

 

According to a recent Phocuswright report, India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world – and the travel market is growing even faster. In 2015, India’s total travel market grew almost 10 per cent, thanks in large part to rising lodging demand, but also rising consumer spending, infrastructure investment and income supply. This is exciting for us and an opportunity that we are already poised to be part of.

 

India is an extremely important market for us in APAC and it seems to have unending potential. It is an exciting time for the company to be in India. More than the whopping growth in property count, what is more, satisfying for us is the changing complexion of our Indian business. In early 2014 for example, more properties being booked on Booking.com were by international travellers. Since then, the ratio of international bookers to domestic bookers has dramatically changed, meaning we see more domestic bookings than international bookings. To date, we have been able to scale and build a thriving business in India without the large investments that come with advertising campaigns. We have been able to focus 100 per cent on the product and the customer offering, we’ve focused on getting the best accommodation options and availability for our customers.

 

Heena Akhtar, Founder, TripXOXO

India is a potential source market; the sheer size of the market is huge and as customers are going online for travel plans, the potential for our services also gets bigger. Indian outbound travel alone is 18 million plus and the domestic market is much more. This gives us an opportunity to cater to not only the hotel customers but the travellers visiting family and friends as well.

 

What is your future vision to boost the business activities? Any recent initiatives or market development plans that are underway for 2017?

 

Samyukth Sridharan, President and COO, Cleartrip

 

At Cleartrip, we are fanatic about customer experience. As a tech-pivoted organisation that aims to make travel simple and stay meaningful, we will continue to hone our offerings and provide even more customised customer experience on our website and mobile app. We will continue to focus on growing hyperlocal activities category while focusing on extending our lead on consumer innovation in travel.  Some key innovations we introduced for our customers include– Price Lock where a traveller can hold the lowest price well in advance and be protected from price increases a flash sale discovery tool and Pay at Hotel which lets one book a hotel on Cleartrip without making any payment, and then pays for that booking directly when you stay at the hotel. Fiscal prudence has been one of the core strengths at Cleartrip. While achieving all the above, we will continue to deliver the fine balance between growth and profitability.

 

Nitin Jain, Director, marveltrip.com

 

As our diverse online products are ready, we expect to move to different markets in the years to come. We will cater not only to northern India but to western India as well.

 

Vikas Bhola, Regional Manager – India, Booking.com

 

Our mission has always been to assist leisure and business travellers to easily discover, book and enjoy the world’s best places to stay, whatever their budgets are. For us, it has always been about creating a great consumer product to deliver amazing, offering unrivalled travel experiences to our guests and building win-win relationships with our more than one million accommodation partners worldwide and this continues to be our goal. In India, we want to keep adding more amazing and unique accommodation options for our customers to choose from.

 

Heena Akhtar, Founder, TripXOXO

 

At present, we are focused on improvising our product offerings on a regular basis by enhancing the quality of experience we provide to our customers. We aim to offer more than 35,000 activities and experiences in the next three months enabling Indian travellers with a huge range of travel options. We are also growing our network by entering into strategic partnerships with airlines, tourism boards, getting online - offline tour operators onboard and tying up with big travel companies for powering the activities section. Our target is to launch TripXOXO in UAE by early 2017.

 

 





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