In an exclusive interview with Nilotpal Chakravarti, Vikram Malhi, MD – Expedia Asia, talks at length about the travel commerce industry and what is driving the growth in India; besides the challenges the sector faces today.
TA: What would you consider as the highlights of your online initiatives in regards to drive growth for travel commerce in India?
VM: We recently launched Scratchpad, based on our insights from the last 4-5 years, which revealed that 5 years ago consumers used to search 15 times to book a flight, which has now gone up to 48 times. Consumers are not only spending more time on making one flight booking, but also more time researching online, or on the move.
Real Time Feedback, designed following feedback from hoteliers who wanted more support in securing positive hotel reviews, targets the mobile-savvy traveler. The interface of real time reviews is simple. Shortly after a guest checks into an Expedia.com-booked hotel, they receive an email or app notification asking them three short questions: “How was your check in?”; “How is your room?” and “Are you happy with the location?” Guests answer these questions through a simple, intuitive and fun interface and are offered the chance to enter specific feedback, i.e. “I didn’t have towels in my room.” The review is transmitted in real time to the hotelier via Expedia PartnerCentral, giving them the opportunity to act upon the feedback and avoid a potentially negative trip review. These initiatives have helped us reach out more to the consumers and give solutions instantly.
TA: What do you think are the major concerns of consumers in India when they book hotel accommodation or other travel plans online?
VM: As per the recent Expedia Holiday Activity Report, 20% Indians are anxious about budget, 14% are worried about getting others to agree on a same opinion. 40% are anxious of getting the best deals and 21% think that during peak season there is huge crowds which lead to poor service.
TA: How significantly is travel commerce revenue in India growing? Is it on the same page with the other markets in Asia like China & Hong Kong?
VM: Travel industry has seen a boom in the Indian space and by 2016; OTAs will account about 37% of the total travel market. Indian travel gross booking will increase double digit annually from US$ 19.7 billion in 2013 to $27.5 Billion in 2016. India and Indonesia will be the fastest growing APAC travel market from 2013 to 2016, accelerating 39% and 37% respectively. Online travel booking grew 6% to amount to $81.9 billion in 2015.
TA: What do you think are the challenges for suppliers with establishment of online travel agents and now travel search engines in Asia?
VM: We only complement the distribution of products and services and help suppliers reach a much wider audience. OTAs spend millions of dollars on marketing & technology each year and thus are able to channelize this into business for the supplier eventually.
TA: Cross-device tracking & in-house analytics with optimization teams is looking like the trends to watch for. What plans does your company have for it?
VM: We targeted the millennial consumers with our technology offerings like the mobile app-launched in 2011 and the tab app-launched in early 2014 that enable multi-device research and bookings on the go. In fact, we are one of the very few players to have a complete suite of cross-device product, seamlessly integrated to show consumers’ last searches and preferences, regardless of the mediums in use. We have introduced specific features like the scratchpad that make the travel research and booking easier for the consumer.
Typically what we have observed is that the consumers like to research on their tabs and laptops and use the mobile app to research the prices. There is an increased rate of booking on mobiles, also owing to better and exclusive deals available on the medium. Our intuitive mobile app not only serves as a travel companion, with reminders for the holiday, flight, prompts for the flight boarding gate when you reach the airport and baggage belt after landing, followed by the directions to the hotel booked, but also serves as a huge minefield of data on consumer behavior and booking triggers.
Expedia, with its unique capability of tracking a single consumer’s journey across multiple devices including the desktop, laptop, mobile and tablet, has been able to steer ahead of competition with regards to technology and data science. This has not only enabled us in customizing our offerings but also to create a loyal customer base in the long run. We are collecting a huge quantum of data from multiple consumer touch points like –research done on which device, preferred device for bookings, how the reservations are made, how soon the reservations are being made before the travel date, 1 month, 45 days, 10 days or even the same day. We slice data and draw inferences on reservation trends that help us to build and integrate relevant, new products.