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Biju Mathews

COO | 16 Dec 2013

According to me, e-commerce is India’s next big story with travel dominating e-commerce in India. Having said that, number of users and ability to raise funds to scale up the business is key to survival. India has the third largest internet population in the world, with nearly 200 million users and is estimated to add 40 million users by end of 2014. It’s good news for online businesses in India because of the growing number of users, increasing credit and debit card holders and increasing online buyers.

Biju Mathews, COO, abhibus.com with has around 18 years of experience. He started his career with Indian Express as Deputy General Manager and later took on the position of Assistant VP. Mathews joined abhibus.com in 2012 and has been instrumental in bringing brand recognition and growth of the company.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Deepa Balasubramanian, Mathews speaks at length about the evolution of travel industry, marketing strategy, innovative initiatives and more...

Q. Please track the evolution of the travel industry in India. What are the changes you have seen in the ways that the Indian traveller has utilised the online space to address his travel needs over the years?

The India tourism story began in the 50’s and the journey has been remarkable in terms of growth, spread and diversification. The tourism story started gaining momentum only in the 80’s, when the national policy on tourism was announced in 1982. And it was only in the last decade that India really made its presence felt on the global tourism map. The Incredible India campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism has been quite successful in building Brand India. Having said that, travel and tourism has been one of the major contributors to the Indian economy and associated industries such as hospitality have also grown because of the focus on travel and tourism in India. The travel industry in India is still in a growth phase and is yet to reach its fullest potential. The international tourist arrivals have grown from mere 25 million to reach 940 million in 2010.

It was almost a decade ago when concept of online as a distribution platform was born in India. The advent of online travel agencies (OTAs) revolutionised travel in India by empowering the Indian consumer to book travel tickets online from the comfort of home. While the rest of the world was quick to take to this trend and evolve at a faster pace, India took some time, but has shown higher volumes due to increase in both outbound and domestic tourism. Rising internet population, access to better bandwidth and higher internet penetration, and mobile apps have catalysed the growth of the online as a distribution platform. According to me, e-commerce is India’s next big story with travel dominating e-commerce in India. You will be surprised to see increasing the number of e-commerce players in India in the next two to three years. Having said that, number of users and ability to raise funds to scale up the business is key to survival. India has the third largest internet population in the world, with nearly 200 million users and is estimated to add 40 million users by end of 2014. It’s good news for online businesses in India because of the growing number of users, increasing credit and debit card holders and increasing online buyers. It’s better for us as we have occupied a niche that is not fully reached its potential.

Q. What were the reasons and deciding factors that made Sudhakar Reddy Chirra pick the two – travel and the online space – to begin his venture in 2007?

Sudhakar Reddy Chirra started this company in 2007. Right from the time of inception, the company focused on providing technology solutions to the bus industry. Abhibus began by providing the online passenger reservation system to private operators and state transport undertakings (STU). Our company was quite instrumental in enabling both the private operators and STUs to distribute their inventory through the online platform. Initially in 2007, the idea was to focus on the consumer segment. However, operators did not have a platform to distribute their inventory online and they were also reluctant of the online distribution channel. So, we then shifted our focus to provide solutions to all operators, both private and government, and enabled them to sell their inventory online.

We kept the online portal live during that period, when we were enabling operators. We had decent bookings from consumers, especially on routes for Uttar Pradesh, as we were the system provider for UPSRTC. By mid-2012 we had enabled most operators and in the process aggregated a sizeable inventory of bus content across India. That is when we kickstarted our consumer campaign and there has been no looking back. As far as the services are concerned, we have a pan-India network with more than 1,500 operators and 15,000 routes aggregated. We are also the source API for other booking portals such as Makemytrip, Goibibo, etc.

Q. In your opinion, which is the TG that the travel industry should focus on and what are the ways of reaching out to this TG?

Today, within the travel industry there is multi-niche content available right from air, train, bus, charters, etc. And there is allied content such as hospitality and services. So, your focus would depend upon what content you are serving in the travel space.

As far as online bus ticketing is concerned, only 10 per cent of the total tickets are sold online. With 200 million internet users and quality bandwidth infrastructure, online bus ticketing is bound to grow phenomenally in the coming years.

Q. Please elaborate on the marketing strategy for abhibus.com.

More than any marketing strategy, we aim to be a total customer company as our customers will determine our future. In a hyper connected world, where billions of people and devices are connected together faster than ever, there are billions of customers behind every connection, technology, application and act – customers who are empowered to exercise their choice and decisions by a click. Customers are adapting and embracing technologies and racing into the future. So, it becomes pertinent for us to reach to the future first and stay ahead of our customers to greet them. So, continuous innovation is the key and delighting our customers with new offerings is an integral part of our strategy.

Growth is bound to happen as there is a huge market which is increasing by the day. We are focused on sustainable growth and if you look at our B2C figures, we have nearly grown 10 times over the last year.

On the marketing side, we have introduced some innovative value-added services such as travel insurance for bus passengers in association with ICICI Lombard, this is the first time an initiative like this has been introduced in India. We have also started something called BusMeal in association with Foodys, which allows passengers booking a ticket through our website to book a meal from one of their favourite restaurants as well. Currently, this service is available only in Hyderabad and will be introduced in other cities very soon. We also have a vehicle drop service for those who have missed the bus.

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