No, we are not going to talk about controversial issues here; neither is this post in any way linked to the movie that’s been making waves. This is an article on the rise of the online travel industry. Remember the times when you used to stand in long queues and cribbed at the person sitting on the other side with his hands on the keyboard and an obsolete black and white DOS screen in front. If you had enough cash to spare or were as lazy as me, you would normally pay a coolie or a bystander something extra to get the reservation done for you while you enjoyed a cup of tea. Or, you will go to a travel agent who will get it done for you but charge an obscene premium for it. Well, the queues remain as long as they were, even today. And the 30 year old woman at the counter still works on the DOS software in the age of windows 7. But something has changed, the queues in the railway station now mostly belong to the lower or the lower middle class segment (excluding people who still could not figure out how to use the internet ). People go to travel agents only if they need urgent reservations which only they can provide exploiting certain aces that they have up their sleeves. And a totally new arena has emerged for reservations, Cyber cafes.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”- Bill Gates
This is not an article about how internet changed the world but how a few people recognized the need and provided a service that made most Travel agents put up “To-Let” signs out of their offices. Today, we don’t go to railway stations to book tickets, we open IRCTC and in 10 minutes Voila! You got your ticket. Air travel, we just type ClearTrip or Makemytrip or any other website and a list of cheap airfares come crawling down on your computer screen. You have your ticket within no more than 10 clicks !. But today online reservation is a battlefield and we want to know who is winning or who has a killer strategy up his sleeve.
The graph shows a projection of the online travel industry(source : http://trak.in/tags/business/2011/03/17/indian-e-commerce-market-2011-online-travel-bookings-dominate/). Online travel is one of the most crowded places in e-commerce. And ClearTrip, Makemytrip , TravelGuru and Yatra.com are the big fishes in this segment. Let us analyze each of them at once.
Makemytrip.com : One of the earliest online reservation companies, founded by an IIM-A graduate, Mr. Deep Kalra. And possibly the leader in the OTA industry, It launched its travel operations in 2000 and the business broke even by 2003 (source : http://www.livemint.com/2007/06/06001946/Real-journeys-but-its-still.html ) . With its campaign “ It takes an Indian …. “ , it tried to instill a belief in the citizens that the service it provides is specifically designed to provide the best experience to an Indian. A very strategic positioning of the brand for Indian passengers who travel abroad. It’s a common notion that Indians get homesick when they go abroad, and even a slightest sign that they could connect to their country makes them feel better. To cite an incident , a friend of mine went to US for two months the only thing I heard him say when he returned was, the feeling when you get a ‘Gajar ka Halwa’ on the plane while your flight back to India after eating the low salt, high on cheese, US food for two months, is like none other. No wonder that most of the people abroad would be searching through Makemytrip.com to book their tickets.
The recent memories unlimited ad created by Euro RSCG , the campaign captures MakeMyTrip’s positioning of a complete travel solutions provider offering premium holiday experiences that are unforgettable.
ClearTrip : It launched 6 years later than Makemytrip , in 2006 . But through its aggressive advertising and clearly placed strategy it made a name for itself in the OTA crowd. “The best way to break even quickly is to focus on higher margin products such as hotels and packages. One needs to get into high-margin areas and we are beginning to make that shift now,” says Sandeep Murthy, chief executive officer of Cleartrip Travel Services Pvt. With its “Every travel has a purpose” campaign it has tried to rope in travelers and reasons to travel. So not only this advertisement appeals to people to use cleartrip.com for booking but also tries to influence a common man to become a traveler by citing out reasons to travel. In other words if the market is stagnant, there are two ways to grow, eat your competitors share or increase the market size. Its aiming at the latter.
Yatra.com : Launched in 2006, and with big names such as Reliance ventures and the TV18 group investing in this site ( the names appear even on the homepage! ), it has enough fuel to skyrocket to top in this industry. But it has a pretty crowded homepage (not easy on the eyes). Maybe, cleartrip did one thing right by excluding any advertisements on its website. But apart from the online site Yatra.com has a 24×7 multi-lingual call center, a countrywide network of Holiday Lounges and Yatra Travel Express stores.
With big investors and easy access to funds it roped in Boman Irani for its adverts.
It positioned itself as a one stop solution for all travel related issues and used the age-old formula of using a famous personality to lend credibility to the brand.
A look at how the traffic at the sites has been. Makemytrip is a clear winner, Yatra with its big finance cushion is second, and the late but not the last, cleartrip is 3rd. MakeMyTrip commands a market share of 48%, followed by Yatra at 24% and Cleartrip at 18%, based on gross bookings for 2009.
As pointed out by a friend, People don’t care about the positioning of the sites, all they want are cheap air fares. If a person books a ticket from a site, the person normally remains loyal to the site. Some people may switch sites for lower prices, but its not a majority, otherwise the crowd would have shifted from makemytrip to ezeego.com.
Source : http://india-online-travel.blogspot.com/
Makemytrip, Yatra provide a whole package of services. Cleartrip possesses only half of the services but still commands the third position in the OTA industry despite the fact that Travelocity provides more services than Cleartrip. So in the end, the only thing that matters is QoS (Quality of Service). ClearTrip as the name suggests has a very clean page (no advertisements crowding the page), and a very user-friendly interface, similar to any other OTA site. But, the fact that it has a clean, easy-on-the-eye design makes people come back again.
Many other sites like Travelguru.com, ezeego.com, zoomtra.com, goibibo etc. have also adopted the same business models but they have a long way to go. Yet, they are struggling on. For example ezeego.com provides discount codes on 3rd party sites. As said before, the online travel industry is an overcrowded space and more and more sites with the same business models as core and some unique offers in their periphery are springing up. OTA’s have a long way to go and I cannot help but feel sorry for the old pen and paper travel agents. Like Darwin said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”