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India is a more mobile phone dominated market: Skyscanner

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Leading global travel search engine Skyscanner believes that India is growing very fast as an online market. Hugh Aitken, senior director, strategic partnerships, Skyscanner speaks to Steena Joy on the market dynamics and why the brand adopts a local approach to serve travellers in the local markets

How different is India as an online market?
India is growing very fast in terms of online, maybe not as advanced as countries like Singapore but more of Indians are mobile phone and app users than what we see globally. Globally, users of Skyscanner are 60 per cent mobile phone and app users. But in India this number is slightly higher. In India we see a dominance of the mobile phone as a channel. There is a strong use of internet and apps in India. This is the main difference we see.

Coming from an aviation background (Easyjet), so how do you see India’s aviation scene?
The Indian aviation sector is very dynamic, very fast growing, and there is huge demand for travel and for aircraft specifically. Both LCC and full service sectors show huge demand. In 2015-17 we saw India has grown by 98 per cent while international aviation has grown only by 80 per cent. As for consolidation, often what drives consolidation is demand and there is still strong demand growth in India which means that there is space for airlines to grow. More competition means low prices even in fast growing markets. Fares become cheaper so more people can travel and this is a good thing for the traveller as it makes travel more affordable. And our job is to make it easier for travellers by showing them every option they have for flying from point A to point B.

India being a very train friendly country, will Skyscanner include train bookings on the platform like it did in the UK?
We only recently launched trains in the app in the UK and that is doing really well. At Skyscanner we are very agile when we develop a product and then test it in one market, prove it and consider how we can scale it and right now our focus is on growing and seeing how our real product looks in the UK and later clearly we will look at other markets, including India, given their scale and importance.

Recently Cathay Pacific joined Skyscanner’s direct booking platform. Do you think this is the start of a new trend?
Currently we have 21 airlines and OTAs with direct booking including Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines and there has been good and promising results from this. Direct booking capability is good for customers who can complete their booking with as little friction as possible instead of having to be referred to the airline’s website to complete a booking. It is also good for airlines as they can showcase their up-sell option. We see growth in it and look at more airlines coming on board. In India we are talking to a few airlines but there is nothing concrete as yet.

Future vision?
We are a global brand. We are a mobile phone and app flush company. For us it is about continuing to grow Skyscanner globally. We will continue in our global growth, but more importantly we are focused on making sure our product meets the needs of the local market – the language, currency, the partners, the experience. We continue having a local approach to how we serve our travellers in the local markets.

Your insights on future travel trends?
The move towards mobile phones is the most important trend. You have to try to make travel as frictionless as possible, so make sure you make an app environment and make sure that it works for all users. Markets like India is leading the charge by being more mobile phone dominated than some of the other markets globally. Cash is moving on and trend is towards a cashless economy, like it is happening in India and this is good for us because cash is not conducive to e-commerce. QR codes is huge in China and other markets of Asia. What goes on in Asia will catch on in the world.

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