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Sachin Bhatia

Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer | 04 May 2006

Our marketing strategy is to do intelligent spending. We are targeting netizens and credit card holders. We offer guaranteed low airfare. This apart, we are targeting TV channels, outdoors and print mediums for our campaigns. Terror warnings do affect inbound and outbound traffic. That’s why we are focusing on the NRI market. An NRI has to return home. Moreover, we have found that the travel industry bounces back the fastest despite the terror warnings.

Makemytrip.com has emerged as a major cyber destination for travelers, and its Co-founder, Sachin Bhatia, has a major role in the travel site’s success. Bhatia, who heads all marketing, content and web development activities of the website, has been able to successfully position Makemytrip.com as the No. 1 travel brand among NRIs in the US, and has also instituted successful loyalty and referral programmes. He also heads all CRM and ERP initiatives of the website.

Prior to founding MakeMyTrip, Bhatia was in charge of marketing at AMF Bowling, with responsibility for India and South Asia. He started his career in sales and moved on to Wizcraft Entertainment, India’s largest events and sales promotion company. Subsequently, he was with Grey Advertising in Delhi and Mumbai.

An MBA from Strathclyde Graduate Business School, Scotland, Bhatia has 10 years’ experience in marketing, advertising, public relations and web development. In a freewheeling interview with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha, Bhatia speaks about MakeMyTrip’s marketing strategy and future plans.

Q. How did the idea of MakeMyTrip emerge? How did it develop as online media destination?

Makemytrip.com was co-founded with Deep Kalra. Deep had gone to South East Asia in 1998, where he came face-to-face with the power of the Internet. We decided to set up operations in India and got funding from e-ventures. In the last five years, we have been focusing on the NRI market. From September 2005 onwards, we launched the Indian website. Now, our focus is on inbound NRI traffic.

Q. MakeMyTrip’s viral campaigns have won quite a few awards recently and also featured in the Marketing Sherpa Viral Hall of Fame. Please elaborate on the virals and the thought process behind them.

MakeMyTrip, in a hotly contested market, using their viral coupled with traditional media, reached out to consumers who spend a considerable amount of their time viewing content on the web and could reinforce its ‘Low Airfare Guarantee’. The viral was viewed by 60,000 unique visitors and was forwarded by 5,000 viewers. It also notched 76,000 page views. The click through rate for the banner campaign, which ran for the MakeMyTrip Ravana viral, was a respectable 2 per cent as well.

The promotion was launched in the festive season to latch on to the celebratory mood. The viral saw Dussehra being cancelled as far as Ravana was concerned due to the irresistible nature of the offer. The firm offers lowest airfares guarantee and also promise to pay the difference if a lower airfare is found. A sequel has kicked in, this time the focus being on Hanuman and his plans for Lanka, but it is more of a touristy nature.

Q. Have virals in general been able to deliver? Where do virals stand vis-a-vis other advertising communication?

Certainly, our first one was viewed by 60,000 visitors and the Sholay viral was viewed by 100,000. The advantage is that they reach out to one’s audience free of cost. The only cost is in producing this piece of communication. Then the power of the net takes over and if people find it interesting, they circulate it ahead and there is a huge multiplier effect.

Q. How far has e-commerce developed in India? Is security still an issue?

Consumer e-commerce sales in India are projected to top $550 million in 2006-07. The reason for these staggering numbers is the convenience of shopping on the net vis-à-vis going to a store or a shop. Security is no longer an issue in the minds of consumers. 95 per cent of transactions on MakeMyTrip are consummated by credit cards.

Q. Please comment on the changing profile of the Indian traveler. Is he comfortable planning his travel itinerary on the web or does he prefer doing everything manually?

Online travel purchase is still at a nascent stage, but is catching up fast, especially among the 50-million strong online base. A lot of people are researching on travel destinations online and now even transacting. In just six months, 50,000 people have bought travel products on MakeMyTrip. Most of the travel sales online are for air-tickets, followed by hotels. Complicated travel itineraries for holiday packages are being researched online but bought over the phone.

Q. What are the new promotional activities that you have lined up?

We have just launched the money back guarantee, where we promise on our service delivery. If you don’t get what you were promised by us on your holiday, you get your money back. For example, if you were promised a pool facing room and get a regular garden facing room, we give you your money back. We are confident of our service delivery and can hence, offer this guarantee.

Moreover, we are doing both online and offline promotions. We have done Quickie with Indiatimes.com. We are coming out with TVC on Makemytrip.com. We are doing a viral campaign around travel booking on Makemytrip. The outdoor signs in major airports like Delhi and Mumbai have become quite popular. We have also come out with a new tag line – Wish, Click and Go.

Q. How do you manage the lowest airline fares?

We are a volume player in the air-ticketing business and hence, have access to the best deals in the market. For example, our current promotion for Visa card holders, wherein they get 20 per cent off on Kingfisher airfares, is unheard of in the market and of great value to customers. Also, our online flights booking engine helps configure the lowest airfare for any given sector since it chooses the lowest fare from among all domestic airlines.

Q. What are the challenges in marketing holiday packages online?

Packages are prone to a lot of iterations and here is the challenge. We are developing a dynamic package configurator, which will tackle most of these issues. Also, the plan is to offer thousands of package options so that there is something that will suit a traveller. But complex itineraries will for some time be researched on the net and bought on the phone.

Q. What are the advantages in marketing holiday packages online?

Easy dissemination of information. One can show all sorts of information like route maps, places of interest, distances, weather, places to stay, shopping options, how to get there, etc.

Q. What about tie-ups with other companies?

We’ve had two tie-ups. One is with ICICI Bank for a travel smart card, which offers 10 per cent discount on airfares. Then we’ve had a tie-up for complementary card transfers with Kingfisher. We have also tied up with various hotels and airlines.

Q. What is the rate of inbound traffic and outbound traffic?

7.8 million people travel abroad every year, while 3.8 million is the inbound traffic.

Q. What are the targets that you have set for 2006?

We have plans to consolidate our business growth. We are reaching out to smaller cities like Surat and Ahmedabad. We will also be integrating with Reliance some time in 2006.

Q. Who are your major competitors?

We are lucky to have no online competitors, rather the competition is more from travel agencies.

Q. Could you elaborate on your marketing strategy?

Our marketing strategy is to do intelligent spending. We are targeting netizens and credit card holders. We offer guaranteed low airfare. This apart, we are targeting TV channels, outdoors and print mediums for our campaigns.

Q. How far have terror warnings in the world affected tourist traffic?

Terror warnings do affect inbound and outbound traffic. That’s why we are focusing on the NRI market. An NRI has to return home. Moreover, we have found that the travel industry bounces back the fastest despite the terror warnings.

Q. How have you been developing MakeMyTrip as a brand?

In the US, we are focusing on customer service. We stand by the lowest airfares. We provide 24x7 customer service. Our toll free service is available in 45 cities in India.

Q. How does a website promote itself as a brand?

In India, people have to trust you as a brand. The website gives you branding and it gives you traffic as well.

Q. What is your employee strength in India?

We have 167 employees in India.

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