The Singapore Tourism Board for the first time organised the Travel Forum in India in Mumbai as a lead-up to the fourth edition of TravelRave 2013 which will be held from October 21-25 in Singapore. With an aim to create a platform to gain better insights into the travel and tourism industry, the board organised a panel discussion on ‘Online Travel Trends in India: Crossing the Technology Edge to Drive Business Growth’ which had leaders such as Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook India; Rajeev Wagle, managing director, Kuoni India; Stuart Crighton, managing director, Cleartrip; and Mohit Gupta, chief business officer (Holidays), Makemytrip.com. The panel discussion was moderated by Neeta Lachmandas, assistant chief executive, business development group, Singapore Tourism Board. McKinsey & Company is the official knowledge partner for Asia Travel Leaders Summit as part of TravelRave.
Kickstarting the discussion, Gunjan Soni, partner, McKinsey & Company said that the company forecasts that India has the potential to triple its internet user base to about 330-370 million internet users and the GDP contribution of the internet will double to about 3.3 per cent by 2015. Elaborating on the statistical report on how travel businesses in India are riding on the digital economy and harnessing the power of technology to drive business growth, Soni added, “Travel search is on an accelerated phase in the online space and is leading the game as information on products and services has been increasing. Time spent online is also increasing disproportionatly to tablet and mobile among 25-45 year old individuals who are heavy internet users.” However, limited infrastructure, high cost, low user engagement and unfavourable business environment act as deterrents from the consumer’s side.
Taking the discussion forward, Lachmandas highlighted the UNWTO Barometer 2013 report which states that Asia Pacific is expected to grow by five-six per cent and by 2020, two out of five travellers would come in from Asia. Replying to the question raised on the growing reach of digital travel platforms reshaping the way Indian consumers are researching and booking, Menon opined, “Indians have evolved and the retail market is a perfect example of this change. Our belief is that it is the first time travellers that outbeat the repeat travellers. Assumptions are market driven but even today first time travellers need hand holding for their travel planning even after they have researched online.” Adding to the point, Gupta said that it is a myth that Indians are slow to adapt to changes. “Consumers are becoming multi model and we need to build experiences on these devices. But there seems to be inadequate amount of good content which needs to be addressed,” he pointed out.
Even though a third of Asia’s growth is out of India, the travel industry has not yet fully capitalised on the potential of the internet. Depreciation in rupee will have a slight impact on the fringe companies. “As people want real time information we are seeing a rise in the do-it-yourself travellers who use the online amendments. Because of the accessibility of tool, travellers are using these to see value for the price they pay,” observes Crighton. From a development perspective the need seen is towards strengthening the mobile, tablet applications and then addressing desktop experiences, he added.
“We believe that it is important to engage customers even after the bookings are done. We are not into component selling. I don’t believe that itineraries will grow hence we try to customise packages to give the comfort level to travellers,” replied Wagle. For ease of finding information and return strategy of travellers, planning applications for mobiles are important. India is a diverse opportunistic market for travel and the industry is looking at convergence more than divergence in the current market scenario.