Online travel booking is a largely untapped market, especially in Tier-II and Tier-III cities, where it contributes only five per cent to the overall transactions.
A recent study released jointly by Google and management consulting firm Bain & Company shows that despite India’s active internet user base of 390 million in 2018, most users are reluctant to transact online, banking on offline consultation to seal their tour deals.
For Thomas Cook, the expertise of its tour operators continues to hold sway for the family segment, first-time travellers and India’s Tier-II and Tier-III markets.
“Our hybrid clicks & bricks model has seen strong uptake given an omni-channel experience, providing customers with the option to book their travel online and continuing their journey offline at their closest Thomas Cook India outlet. They can also speak to our call centre teams. Additionally, our assisted booking model with our contact centres comes in handy, especially for first-time travelers and customers from regional India,” said Rajeev Kale, president & country head, (Holidays, MICE, Visa), Thomas Cook India.
Kale feels the online bookings segment in lower rung cities is an under-leveraged market with high growth potential. “Thomas Cook Holiday mobile app saw a growth of over 50 per cent month-on-month while leads for the foreign exchange app saw a 100 per cent uptake. A significant highlight was the consumer behaviour to opt for visas online — which saw a growth of over 300 per cent.
The report by Bain & Company forecasts nearly $24 billion more bookings in the online space by 2021. Moreover, the share of online travel bookings is tipped to grow from 25 per cent in 2018 to 35 per cent in 2021. Online bookings in India will be fuelled by deepening internet penetration from 33 per cent to 50 per cent over the same period.
Realising the importance of online research and offline bookings, Cox & Kings has designed Holiday Clubs that offer myriad experiential holidays. This has translated into a surge in walk-ins at its stores.
“Authenticity and safety are the two most significant aspects of any online service. Users expect their personal details, including banking, to be in safe hands while transacting. A user-friendly portal is the second-most desired expectation which is followed by easy access to customer care and immediate help,” said Karan Anand, head, relationships at Cox & Kings.
Pure play online travel portals like Ezeego1 are also bullish on the shift in travel bookings to the digital mode.
“The online travel market is evolving at a faster pace due to the increase in outbound tourism. However, the online travel segment in India is highly under-penetrated as compared to other countries but it is growing every year. When it comes to travel bookings, still a lot of transactions are happening offline but this will change in the coming years with everything moving towards digital,” said Neelu Singh, chief executive officer (CEO) and director at Ezeego1.
The report by Bain & Company estimates that Indian travelers will spend $136 billion in three years. Online players have ground to cover since existing users have shown a marked distrust in using this channel to make bookings.