In an exclusive interview, Mr. Vikram Malhi, Managing Director, Asia, Expedia, tells Thinking Aloud, how Expedia are strategizing their business with the digital medium keeping in mind.
TA: Is your company defining a comprehensive omni-channel strategy?
VM: At Expedia, we believe in a holistic strategy to reach out to our consumers. Our strategy is spread across online as well as offline that ensures a presence across channels. Being one of the world’s largest online travel company, we are well poised to capture a larger share of the Indian travellers- outbound and domestic, in the online travel space. Expedia offers a wide inventory of over 2,90,000 hotels, 400+ airlines and 7500 activities across the globe.
To channelize traffic from the upcoming Tier II and Tier III markets, Expedia is running the Travel Agent Affiliate Program, and tied-up with Track India to expand their reach amongst the travel agents. In fact this year, we launched a new TAAP 3.0 portal in India to provide the best booking platform and it has been highly praised by Travel Agents. Our awareness in the TAAP channel has increased to an extent that consumers are now asking for our products while booking travel with their local agents.
TA: In this competitive market space, how does your brand aim to stand out among the crowd?
VM: Today’s consumer is not just looking at online space to book their travel but to plan it as well. To ensure a distinguished presence in this cluttered OTA space, it is essential to play well with our strengths and help our consumers get best value offers. We, at Expedia, try to achieve it with our widest inventory and thereby helping consumers save cash through our special hotel deals for all type of consumers. It’s the niche experience that today’s consumer is looking at and by helping them get the best hotel deals, consumers are able to use the saved money in other leisure activities during their vacation.
In fact, that is also one reason why we decided to use animation this time for our brand campaign. The advertisement helped us in breaking through the usual travel ads and reaching our customer more effectively. Being world’s leading online travel company, we have the forte and experience of global travel and are able to communicate that to our consumers through all channels. The idea is to help them right from the first stage of research till the actual experience at the destination.
TA: Your Travel portal offers Airlines, Hotels, Railways, Buses and Packages? What is bifurcation of sales?
VM: As of now, the hotel business contributes over 60% of the total revenues at Expedia India and we aim to further shift the ratio in favour of the hotel business with a focus on dynamic packages. There is an increased awareness amongst consumers for the ‘Flight+Hotel’ packages that help them save more while allowing them flexibility and choice. Expedia was first brand to introduce this product in India and have helped in creating the understanding and awareness around it. This is the fastest growing segment for us and contributes 15% of total bookings.
TA: Give us an idea of the number of registered users? Are all of them frequently returning consumers/customers? How many new customers register on an average daily?
VM: We have over 700,000 registered users at Expedia. Our primary target audience are majorly the evolved travellers who prefer to research their trip and plan their itinerary rather than buying a pre-packaged trip with a travel agent. With a wide choice & spread of destinations, hotels, airlines and activities, Expedia makes a perfect partner for them while planning their travel.
TA: What are your key learning’s on Social Media. What works, what doesn’t?
VM: We have been present on social channels ever since our launch in the country. We understand the Indian consumer and are cognizant of the fact that hard-selling is not effective on social platforms. What works better is content, to inspire Indians, to create aspiration for travel. We collaborate with global offices for interesting content and increase engagement with the consumer. This also helps us to handhold consumers and guides them while they are planning their trip on what factors they should consider while making a choice.
TA: How popular is your mobile site? How much percentage of your transactions is through your mobile site? Is a Mobile App vital for an OTA? How much percentage of your transactions are through your App?
VM: Today’s well connected traveller not only uses Social media and mobile phones as a primary hub for information on news, entertainment, jobs, products; but also as a platform for actively engaging with brands via forums and consumer groups. Mobile channel that comprises of the mobile website and the application, is further revolutionizing the way in which customers interact with brands. Collectively, Expedia apps have been downloaded nearly 80M times. Mobile is a high growth channel, and contributes 20% of the bookings for Expedia.
At Expedia, our efforts are to simplify planning and booking their trip in the best way possible. To help them stay connected with their friends our webby award winner Expedia app allows the consumers to share their trip with their friends. Apart from this, our app let’s consumers save up to 40% through mobile exclusive deals.
Our app also doubles up as a travel companion for the consumers, by assisting them at every step of their journey through inbuilt reminders for the flight, flashing the boarding gate, guiding to the luggage, and even giving directions to reach the hotel while also giving a status on the flight. Consumers can check if any of their friends are also travelling in the same flight and share their itinerary. Our app, owing to the features and overall design has won multiple awards like- Best android app of 2013 by Google, showcased as the only travel app in Google’s “Beautiful Design Summer 2013” and People’s Voice Webby Award for Best Travel App on Mobile.
TA: What is the favorite part of working in online travel space?
VM: Travel is an exciting industry to work in, as the business is growing rapidly and there is so much more to be done. Definitely, the best part about working with a travel company is one gets to travel and can avail best prices for the trip/stay through higher awareness and deep discounts.