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With the increasing use of the Internet over mobile phones, travel companies say mobile bookings might soon overtake those done through other devices.
According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International, the number of mobile Internet users has witnessed a steady rise to 159 million in October. This is estimated to reach 173 million by the end of December. There were 119 million users in urban India accessing the Internet on mobile devices in October. Rural India is not that far behind, with a base of 40 million mobile Internet users in October 2013.
With e-ticketing one of the largest segments in Indian e-commerce, mobile booking is expected to see a surge in 2015.
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MakeMyTrip, one of the country's largest online travel companies, says more than a third of its unique visitors come via mobile, which represents 24 per cent of all online transactions.
Rajesh Magow, co-founder and chief executive officer (India), MakeMyTrip, feels mobile will continue to drive growth. "Mobile bookings will soon overtake bookings through other devices. SMS booking services are taking off in China, and perhaps a developer or entrepreneur will find a way to create a market for this in India. Mobile technologies will propel e-commerce and the travel buying experience," he says.
Indian Railways, which has the largest share in online bookings, is witnessing surge of mobile bookings as well. According to sources at IRCTC, its mobile ticket booking app receives 8,000-9,000 bookings a day through mobiles. The numbers are low compared with the 600,000 tickets booked online every day, but officials say they expect this segment to grow.
"Our mobile app has been downloaded 15,00,000 times on the Windows platform. On Android it has been downloaded 10,00,000 times. In a month's time we will be launching an app for iOS too," says a senior official on condition of anonymity.
In the case of MakeMyTrip, mobile has become a significant channel of access beyond the top four metros. Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Chandigarh contribute the highest non-metro traffic on the MakeMyTrip app. Mobile contribution to traffic (visitors) grew from 20 per cent in 2013 to 33 per cent in 2014.
Pranav Bhasin, vice-president for online products at MakeMyTrip, said at the recent Mobile Internet Conference 2014, "Mobile Internet has become the game changer in the travel industry. Mobile today is the fastest growing channel in India and more than 13 per cent of our total transactions happen via mobile. A lot of our growth is coming from Tier II and Tier III cities via mobile."
MakeMyTrip's mobile platform is also the preferred channel for booking hotels. Almost 52 per cent of domestic hotel bookings done through mobile are made a day before travel (compared to 27 per cent on the web). Magow also points out the other reason for mobile apps to be successful is the availability of local content. "Vernacularisation will take centrestage in 2015, in line with the philosophy of offering customised services and experiences. There is a tremendous potential in vernacular content and MakeMyTrip is investing in creating vernacular travel-booking services. In October, we introduced India's first flight-booking service in Hindi on our mobile site and we will extend these vernacular services to other languages such as Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam in 2015."