There used to be a time when planning a holiday began at least two months before the date of journey, usually with the help of a friendly neighbourhood travel agent. The end point was mostly one’s hometown, and in rare cases, a popular holiday destination.
Today, people not only want to visit family and friends, but also try exotic places and activities typical to those places. Besides, no one has the luxury of time and wants everything organised at short notice.
Both, traditional tour operators with a strong physical store presence and online travel agencies (OTAs) have jumped into action to serve this new Indian traveller. Here’s a look at their core marketing strategies to sell destinations, travel and stay options to the Indian on the move.
Promote innovative packages
Most OTAs offer packages with custom destination, itinerary, flight and hotel bookings and discounts. “At Expedia, we have ‘build your trip’, which encourages travellers to customise their trip and add the components of their choice; ‘flight + hotel’ which offers flexibility at a great price; ‘hotel sales’ across cities to help consumers plan their trips in advance and ‘deep discounts’ (up to 70 per cent) even in peak holiday season to help last minute planners,” explained Vikram Malhi, Country Manager, Expedia India.
Improving accessibility and mobile services
Acknowledging the fact that the Indian traveller relies a lot on his smartphone or tablet, whether booking or looking for locations when on the go, OTAs and tour operators are working on providing a better experience on mobile devices. Last year, MakeMyTrip launched a travel app for iOS besides Android and BlackBerry platforms. “Within a short span of time, we hit a milestone of one million mobile app downloads. Earlier this year, we also launched Routeplanner – an app that makes travel planning faster and easier by displaying all possible connectivity options and offering booking-platforms between any two places in India,” said Deep Kalra, CEO and Founder, MakeMyTrip.
Expansion of services
Portals and tour operators have realised that the best way to expand their services, without spending on inventory, is to tie-up with the best specialists in the business. Cleartrip recently partnered with RedBus and Travel Yaari. “We wanted to provide bus bookings especially in the West and South, the biggest target markets for bus travel,” explained Subramanya Sharma, CMO, Cleartrip. MakeMyTrip too recently tied up with State transport-service carriers such as KSRTC (Karnataka), GSRTC (Gujarat), UPSRTC (Uttar Pradesh), RSRTC (Rajasthan), BRTC (Bihar), HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh), Goa, and Punjab Roadways to offer online, app-based and SMS bus-ticketing services.
Both, online portals and tour operators have been vying for the customer’s attention by offering them extra benefits. Yatra, for instance, has a miles programme that encourages travellers to make repeat purchases. “We stay in touch with our travellers through mailers, update on the latest deals, and making sure that they keep coming back to us,” said Sharat Dhall, President, Yatra Online. “Close to 60 per cent of our business comes from repeat purchases. That’s how the model becomes viable.”
Focus on online marketing
Tour operators with a strong physical presence have realised the importance of being in the online space. “We’re moving away from brochure led-marketing,” said Abraham Alapatt, Marketing Head, Thomas Cook India. “Digital forms about one-fifth of our overall media spends, which will only increase to cater to a swelling young urban demography, who are more comfortable online and use the internet far more than their parents do.”
Search engine marketing, too, is getting increasingly popular among both tour operators and travel portals, especially since it ends up being more cost effective than mainstream advertising
“With online marketing, so many innovations are possible, and reach is never a problem. Whether you develop a YouTube or display advertising strategy, you can get the same reach as TV, although TV does help you establish that big brand effect. So both, mainstream and online have its advantages, and can support each other,” shared Sharma.
Targeting rural markets with a hybrid model
The travel industry in India is set to grow exponentially, with high growth indicated for both, traditional tour operators and travel portals. And as internet penetration rises in tier II and tier III cities and rural areas, experts believe that changes in the industry will be manifold. “Once rural India truly comes into the fold, it will pave the way for a new way of doing business – with new customers, entrepreneurs, products and services added to the value,” said Kalra.
On the other hand, with tour operators like Thomas Cook, Cox & Kings and Kuoni, who’ve been around for decades and have started to utilise online marketing strategies more and more, experts in the domain still believe that the hybrid model will be best for the Indian travel market. “The OTA market can’t sell completely online,” said Alapatt of Thomas Cook. “We have a more physical footprint. Plus our portal is more than just bookings. Our model provides the holistic picture, and includes blogs, foreign exchange, taxi and other bookings, travel insurance etc,” he added.
Then you have an OTA like Expedia that realises the importance of this hybrid model. “We do realise that travel agents are still a preferred medium for travel bookings, especially outside the key metros,” explained Malhi. “Keeping this in mind, we tied up with Track India to almost double the number of travel agents, enhancing Expedia’s penetration in tier II and tier III cities. As part of this tie-up, Track India issues a credit card to the travel agents specifically for Expedia.co.in website,” he added.
Online travel sales: What’s driving most of the business?
Read IMPACT’s Travel special issue here: http://www.impactonnet.com/node/2012