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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

Lot Polish Airlines, which generally start thrice a weekly flight for any new long-haul routes, has announced 5 weekly flights on India route.  The airline is also working closely with the Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India to bring inbound tourists from Europe.

You are going to launch New Delhi- Warsaw service from September 17. What kind of response you are expecting from this service keeping that there are many carriers flying between India and Europe?

So far, there has been no direct connectivity between India and Central Europe. Given the strong trade relations between India and Poland and growth of both countries, there was a need for connectivity between these two countries. Generally, when Polish Airlines starts any new long-haul routes, they start with 3 flights a week. In case of India, based on our business case, projection and anticipated demand, we have decided to start with 5 weekly flights already. This already shows the confidence and trust we have in the Indian market as well as other points of sale to sell this flight. This flight will probably be catering to those who want to go to Central Europe. We offer seamless connectivity to many European destinations via Warsaw. We welcome any competition and from our perspective, looking at the current size of the Indian market and projected growth, I think that the market is big enough to cater to more carriers and that why our strategic decision is that India has been defined as a very strategic market for Lot Polish Airlines.

What would be your strategy to divert Indian traffic to Central European destinations?

We are member of Star Alliance. There are certainly benefits for frequent flyers. We are a full service network carrier. We offer seamless transfer experience at Warsaw airport. The minimum connecting time is 40 minutes in Warsaw. You have hassle free transfer experience. Also, our Delhi schedule is designed in such a way that within two hours, passengers have connectivity to almost 40 cities. Moreover, the quality of product we feature and its going to be three class of service: Business, Premium Economy and Economy. This is also the value proposition that other carriers may not have. When you travel Premium Economy, you will be sitting on the Premium Economy for the entire journey. At Lot, we have a dedicated Premium Economy class to your final destination. This is where we differentiate ourselves from the competition.

How do you plan to tap the catchment traffic?

We are currently the fastest growing airline in Europe. For 2019 which is our 90th birthday as well, we expect to carry more than 10 million passengers for the first time. Its more than twice the traffic we had 4 years ago. We have doubled the number of passenger and aircraft. We have gradually increased the number of destinations too. Given the focus on quality, network and benefit of being member of Star Alliance, we see the opportunity. Poland is the central Europe’s largest aviation market. It is an untapped market where we feel we have a role to play. There is no other long-haul network carrier in Central Europe. Baltic States do not have one. Hungary does not have one. Czech Republic flies only thrice a week to Seoul. This is the natural catchment area. Poland has a population of 38 million but the whole catchment area in Central Europe has a population of 180 million. This is the catchment area where we have been growing very strongly and we intend to position ourselves as a primary choice for the Central European guests.

What sort of India centric services that you will be offering on this route?

We will have Indian meals on board. We will be having Indian cabin crew on board. There will be assistance provided at Warsaw airport for those passengers who will require assistance. We will make sure that it will be a hassle free and pleasant experience. We focus very strongly on products. We have the latest B787 aircraft to be deployed into the India market.

What sort of occupancy are you expecting on this route?

In the first year of operation which will be only 4 months of this year, our objective is to bring another alternative to the Indian consumer. We want to bring another Star Alliance alternative to consumer. There are multiple options to Europe on various alliances but we want to bring another alternative. We will cater to the different segments of the market. We will also have introductory fare and programme for small and medium size companies. Right now, we are not focusing much on seat load factor because the flight will be sold in Europe, North America and India. So, there will be multiple markets selling the flights. We want to adequately position ourselves as a full service, quality, and Star Alliance product to the India market.

Is there any plan to connect more Indian destination?

If the forecast and business projections materialize, we are willing to increase Delhi frequency for sure. We have sufficient number of B787 Dreamliner coming into the fleet this year and for the next 4 years the aircraft orders have been placed. We are looking into newer destinations across the world we would like to fly to. Indian market has been defined as a strategic market. Our intention to India for middle to long terms is bigger than just Delhi.

There will be mainly business traffic. Are you planning to be associated with Polish Tourism Organisation or other neighboring tourism boards to grab the leisure Indian outbound traffic as well?

Whenever any airline goes to a new country, it is also an objective to promote your home country as a leisure destination. We would like to give a new destination to Indian outbound leisure market which is Poland, Baltic States, Hungary. We work closely with Polish National Tourist Office but we also engage very strongly with other national tourism offices.  On the flip side, we are also working with Dept of Tourism, Govt of India as an European outbound destination to bring Indian inbound from Europe.

 

Travelport, which become the sole distributor for Air India and already signed a distribution deal with Jet Airways that is coming into effect from April 1, is quite bullish on India market. “India is larger than many territories and its growing faster than any business in terms of aviation. It is already a key country for Travelport and it needs to grow significantly. We have invested significantly in this territory because we believe in it. We have great relationships with our partners here and we are always looking to build on it. In last 6 months or so, we have started seeing the benefits of those relationships. This territory will help us to grow into the future,” Chris Ramm, Vice President – APAC, Travelport, said on the sidelines of CAPA Aviation Summit recently held in New Delhi.

 

And, the consistent focus and investment on India is bringing the desired result for Travelport. “India is currently number 2 country for us behind US. The way India is growing it could become the largest country for Travelport. The kind of growth we have seen and future potential of the country, India can be the top country in couple of years,” Ramm added.

 

Talking about the performance different verticals in India, Sandeep Dwivedi, COO,ITQ, official distributor of Travelport in 6 countries across Asia Pacific region including India, Sri Lanka, said that Travelport is clearly focused on every domain of India growth story. Dwivedi said. Replying to a question over how hotels are coming on Travelport’s platform, Dwivedi opined that the hotel market in India is too fragmented. “The content is not that much available on GDSs platform. It is only like 5 to 4 star properties are available right now on GDS platforms. We have roughly around 650,000 hotels globally and we keep on adding to this numbers. Going forward, hotel is really going to become important for us as new deals are signed; new properties are being produced from hotel perspective. There is a need for the more organized inventory to be available on GDSs platform,” he added.

 

Elaborating the 2019 roadmap for the New Distribution Capability (NDC) of Travelport, Ramm said that NDC is a big focus for Travelport for many years. “We began conversation with airlines all over the world. We are the first GDS to have Level 3 certification and booking capabilities and production environment. It is only going to grow in 2019,” he added.

 

Talking about Indian airlines coming on NDC platform, Ramm said that there is limited conversation with carrier in India as their focus is not NDC as of now. “But, I do see airlines over time in India moving towards NDC as it would provide them the ability to earn more revenue. In India, a lot of airlines use API and the NDC is a standard API. India probably have the most impressive country where leading carriers are already using API,” he added.

 

Visit Finland has re-entered into India last year in order to tap the potential of growing outbound market here. Explaining the rationale behind return to India, Teemu Ahola, Account Manager – Asia, Visit Finland, said that one of the main reasons  for our return is that we not only see the great timing and potential, but also that suppliers and partners from Finland are now more ready and capable to serve Indian travelers.

“We see a great potential in India. There has been a steady growth. 2018 was really good in terms of overnights and also the potential growth from India is really strong. Although the number of overnights is not much more but India market is emerging and developing,” Ahola said. Indian arrivals to Finland grew by 15 per cent in 2018.

Finland receives a lot of corporate and business travel from India due to a stronger trade ties between two nations. “For now, I think it is more leisure. As a lot of Indians are working in some of our neighboring countries, bleisure is one of the emerging segments for us,” he said.

Responding to a question of over India strategy, he said that Finland has not done strong marketing in India yet. “This is due to the fact that we wanted to be sure that our Finnish partners are well prepared. We have few great suppliers joining the India roadshow. We are focusing on India market. Now, suppliers are supporting our aim to develop this emerging market. We also have strong promotional activities. We are certainly focused on b2b market right now. We are targeting some of the MICE companies. We are now widely seen in media. We had a couple of successful media fam trip from India,” he said and added that the marketing budget is limited. “With these activities, we are hoping bigger funding from our stakeholders. We will be working closely with Thomas Cook and Cox&Kings,” he added. Visit Finland is also planning to introduce online agent training programme in India in future.

In order to understand Indian women's participation in adventure travel, Cox & Kings undertook a study of its booking and enquiry trends of about 2000 women travellers in India. Cox & Kings recorded about 32 per cent year-on-year increase in women travellers opting for adventure across soft, medium and extreme activities. The growth is a cumulative reflection of both its domestic as well as international tours.

Driving the growth, the women force largely comprises Millennials or Gen Y women. About 70 per cent  of them come from metro cities while the rest from the tier-2. Most women from this age group are financially independent.  While Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Ladakh and Nepal top the trekking bucket-list for the women, Andaman Islands, Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, Red Sea - Egypt, Bali, Gili Islands, Great Barrier Reef and Mauritius comprise the list of diving destinations. Besides, walking, cycling, biking, rafting and sailing are other activities that Indian women travellers opt for.

It is delightful to note a 9 per cent increase in women solo travellers as compared to 2017. A mix of social media influence and word-of-mouth is fuelling the growth in solo travel. Safety remains a crucial aspect though, that women research about before stepping out.

Commenting on the study, Karan Anand, Head, Relationships, Cox & Kings said, "While women are travelling with their friends and other women's groups, there is also a trend of mothers travelling with their daughters. Adventure has become an enjoyable activity for families to bond. Today women are up for extreme adventure trips and find it liberating as it merges nature, adrenaline and exploration. It also empowers women in several ways and helps curb any inhibitions.”

Cox & Kings has announced exciting offers on international holidays for summer 2019. The offers include 50 per cent off on select tours and international holiday free on booking of select international holidays.

Besides this there are several offers such as GST free, Child Travel free, Travel gift vouchers and Holiday on EMI depending on the tour you choose. The customers can avail 10 per cent extra cashback on the bookings done using SBI card. Similarly, they can get flat 5000 cashback on Bajaj Finserve Wallet. 

This year Cox & Kings has also expanded its horizon for summer holidays by introducing new group tours to Cambodia, Turkey, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Japan and Morocco starting from INR 79,999. Astounding options available for  popular group holidays across the world including Far East (Starting from 58,110), Middle East (from INR 67,499), Europe (from INR 84,475), North America (from INR 1,19,999), Asia (from INR 1,29,999), Africa (from INR 1,49,999), Australia & New Zealand (from INR 1,64,582) and South America (from INR 3,06,999).

Amhi Travelkar Holidays with Marathi speaking tour manager gives you over 21 tour option from 5 days to 17 days. Similarly, Pure Veg and Jain Tours available under ‘Gaurav Yatra’ start from INR 1,42,684 wherein 12 different tour options are provided from 7 days to 24 days.

Peter Kerkar, Group CEO, Cox & Kings Ltd, discusses the sale of its education and other aspects of the business as well as emerging trends in the Indian industry 

Riding high on a great performance in 2018, travel conglomerate Cox & Kings is further expanding its distribution network in Tier- II & III cities in India. The company notched a net revenue growth in its leisure India business to 12.4 per cent in 2018. Moreover, Meininger Hotels also reported a strong expansion in bed capacity of 25 per cent and reported a revenue growth of over 26 per cent. It has sold its education business in the UK and demerged the forex business into a separate company, Cox & Kings Financial Service (CFS). Excerpts from interview:

Given the fact that Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) during Jan-Nov, 2018 just up by 5.6 per cent compared to 14 per cent witnessed in 2017 and Domestic Tourist Visits grew by 2.3 per cent in 2017 over 2016, how would you explain the emerging scenario for India’s tourism industry?

FTAs have been on a growth trajectory for the last couple of years. According to the Ministry of Tourism figures, the total FTAs increased by 15.9 per cent YoY in 2017. The growth in the first 11 months of 2018 is on the back of this high base and this has to be looked at from this perspective. However, we need to rethink on our strategy in order to grow the inbound market. First, we still rely on long-haul markets such as Europe and USA for our numbers. This must change. Most of the countries that receive a record number of tourists such as Singapore, France or Malaysia receive more than 65 per cent tourists from neighbouring countries, whereas over 60 per cent of our tourists come from long-haul markets. Second, we should focus our attention on China which is one of the biggest inbound markets for many regional and long-haul markets. Finally, we need more air seat capacity from short-haul and medium-haul destinations to encourage tourists to come to India.

In terms of domestic destinations, we are on a sound footing. There is much more that we can do to encourage domestic tourists to visit our picturesque country.  The domestic network of our airlines have been expanding and airlines are opening new routes which were not viable till a few years ago, and this creates demand for destinations.

Cox & Kings is seen as a leader in the outbound market. How do view the growth in the Indian outbound market?

The growth of outbound travel is expected to grow at a compounded rate of over 10 to 12  per cent YoY. One of the drivers for this exceptional growth is the eagerness amongst Indians to take a vacation overseas. More than 60 overseas destinations are represented in India and this is significant in itself as it explains the growing importance of the Indian market.

In 2019, we expect, Indian Low-Cost Carriers to mount flights from India to medium-haul and long-haul destinations thereby disrupting the market in terms of airfares and capacity. We are also witnessing a large number of LCCs from South East Asia targeting Tier 2 airports in India and this helps to increase the base of outbound travel. Overall, the prospects are rosy.

The Indian travel industry has been witnessing many disruptive changes, while a few OTAs have gone bust, others are reworking their business models. In such a scenario, how do you see the emerging situation?

The Indian travel market is highly fragmented but with the implementation of the GST, we expect many of the smaller operators to align with the big players in order to create scale.  While the OTAs have done a good job in expanding the market, most of them are burning cash and pursuing scale. I am not sure if they are building customer loyalty and it will only be known once the heavy discounting pauses.  India is a large market with several customer segments and growing rapidly. Hence, there is room for many players. But customers are demanding better experience rather than cheap holidays. Hence, those with scale or who focus on superior customer experience will thrive. The Indian travel market is a mix of online and offline. It has to be a blend of both in order to be profitable.

How has the overall performance been for Cox Kings for 2018 and what are your expectations from 2019?

Our performance in 2018 was quite satisfactory. In 2019, we expect to continue to grow our leisure India business with an emphasis on B2C segment. Leisure International business is expected to report double-digit growth in EBITDA. Currently, close to 95 per cent of our business comes from the leisure space. Meininger would witness a capacity expansion of 35 per cent to about 14,000 beds and would hit the 15,000 mark by May 2019. We have announced the sale of our Education business to Midlothian Capital Partners for an enterprise value of £467 mn and expect to complete the sale in January 2019. This will enable us to significantly deleverage our balance sheet. We expect to improve ROCE in our business from next year onwards.   

Cox & Kings has curated many new brands recently that cater to a range of travelers. How do you see these segments shaping up?

It has always been our desire to be part of emerging verticals and we identified a few of them that have potential. Second, some of them were being offered by smaller players and we wanted to expand it on a national scale. We launched Enable Travel—India’s first accessible holiday specialist. Last month, we partnered with Ezy Mov to make Goa an accessible destination. The holiday packages that we create are curated by our expert panel, who are either wheelchair bound or blind. They go out and recee airlines and hotels to confirm whether they are accessible. This brings authenticity to the whole experience.

Finally, last month we launched Tour To Feast to introduce travellers to unique handcrafted delicious journeys across India’s most popular culinary destinations, with a slice of history. Each of these journeys is designed and accompanied by hand-picked experts who will take travellers through the evolution of the indigenous cuisines of each region. Tour to Feast is also considering launching international thematic tours besides the domestic ones currently being offered. All these verticals have had an encouraging response.

There are reports of Indian companies planning to deploy vessels in Indian waters. What your opinion? Do you have any plans to foray into this segment as a cruise liner?

The measures by the government to promote cruise tourism in the Indian waters will encourage more foreign ships to dock at ports in Mumbai thereby increasing the number of foreign tourists visiting the country. One an average a cruise ship has between 2,500 to 4,000 passengers and this will benefit the local economy. Moreover, the Mumbai Port Trust is building a new cruise terminal and it should be complete in a couple of years. We do not have any plans to enter this segment. We are Passenger Sales Agents for large cruise companies and we will limit it to that.

With Cox & Kings selling its Education business, you are left with Meininger and the India business. What will be your strategy?

The strategy is to have a sharper focus on the India travel business and continue to execute well in Meininger. We are focusing on the B2C segment in the India travel business and signed up popular Indian actor, Anushka Sharma as our brand ambassador. We will expand our distribution network in tier-2 and tier-3 cities and leverage our strong brand to attract more retail customers. In Meininger, the strategy will be to execute on our expansion plans and ensure to maintain the same or higher level of customer satisfaction. We would also like to ensure a healthy balance between existing and new hotels to deliver superior margins.   

What are the challenges that you see in 2019, especially as it is an election year?

We have seen many election cycles and people know well in advance the election dates and prioritise their travel accordingly.  Summer is the peak travel season and this is the period when children have their vacations and families plan it accordingly.

Abhinav Sinha, Chief Operating Officer, OYO talks about the strategy behind the Group’s expansion plan

OYO is now present in over 500 cities across India, China, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, UK and the UAE. It has over 12,000 leased and franchised rooms and 3,000 homes part of our chain with over 330,000 rooms. 

There have been innovations one after another at OYO. Recently, you started facilitating micro and small enterprise loans under the Mudra and CGTMSE Schemes. Can you share details about these schemes? How are the schemes for SMEs helping you achieving your goal?

In the recent past, we have seen an increase in demand for affordable and predictable stay experiences among SMEs and MSMEs as there was an uptick in their business travel. In this scenario, it was important to empower small budget hotels and ensure that they receive the best transformation and staff training to deliver good customer experience for travellers.  The micro and small enterprise loans under the Mudra and CGTMSE schemes are to facilitate our hotel owners and support them with technology, operational excellence and award-winning service. Moreover, recently, we have signed MoUs with the State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda to enable financial support for our existing and potential hotel owners for fuelling transformation and standardization at their properties. This will also allow us to create thousands of jobs in Tier II and III cities by nurturing micro-entrepreneurs in the hospitality sector.

Apart from India, you have forayed into China, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, the UK and UAE in the Middle East. Now, you are planning to enter to Japan market. What is your overseas expansion plan and how many countries are on your radar?

While we have nothing new to announce at the moment, we can confirm that we are actively looking at expanding our global footprints. We will be focusing on markets in Southeast Asia, Middle East, and beyond. We will do all of this while not just strengthening our presence and reach in our home markets and other existing markets, but will do all of this while improving our quality and experience for customers and yields for asset owners.

Of $800 million coming in, OYO is investing $600 million in China. Where do you use in China in next two years?

China is our home market and we will continue to invest in this market, in addition to expanding our business in other international markets. In just one year of our operations in this country, we have now over 180,000 rooms across 285 cities in 4,000+ exclusive franchised and manchised hotels. We have also emerged as one of the top five hotel chains here.

We have invested a significant part of the funds from the recent financing round, approximately $600 Million in this market out of which we will be using $300 million for renovation and infrastructure investments. This additional investment, we believe will help us drive the next wave of growth in China, which is already ahead of India, that too in a much shorter span. We wish to move forward and expand in China with our vision of creating beautiful living spaces for travellers while driving high yields for asset owners.

You aim to become the largest chain of hotels globally by 2023. How do you plan to achieve that?

Our growth and expansion are depended on the kind of competencies we have built for OYO. We have been able to create strong competencies in renovation, asset management, revenue management and skilling. Also, we make sure that any activity we do will revolve around these competencies. The first thing is to create competencies and then scale in a product in the home market. Globally, we are adding over 50,000 new keys a month. It is a pretty meaningful scale that puts us in the league of the world's fastest growing hotel chains.

What is the growth plan for Townhouse?

OYO Townhouse was launched in January 2017 and from then to now, the response to our offering has been overwhelming. Quite recently, we launched our 51st OYO Townhouse in Jaipur. The category enjoys a strong occupancy of 90%+ with 80% and above guests giving us the highest ratings post their stay. Our aim is to continue expanding our presence in the mid-segment category in India with Townhouse and plan to take this number to 400-500 hotels by the end of 2019. 

The 65th Annual Convention and Exhibition of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) recently concluded in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province of China, is expected to give a new dimension to tourism exchange between India and China. The three day conference witnessed the presence of over 485 Indian delegates networking and exchanging their ideas among themselves. Industry leaders also spoke on contemporary issues and suggested road ahead to take the industry on newer heights. The theme of the Convention was ‘Tourism Beyond Boundaries’.

Inaugurating the Convention, Mme Li Milan, Vice Governor of Yunnan province, said that India has emerged as an important source market for China while China is the potential market to send travelers to India.  “Both China and India are developing countries with rapid economic development, increased living standards of the peoples and a fast growing middle class group, which created golden opportunities for tourism development.” She emphasized on focusing on building people- to –people exchange between both countries.  “Social and people to people exchanges with tourism included as one of its integral component, play an important part in enhancing relations between India and China. In April this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Indian Prime Minister Modi during the East Lake meeting in Wuhan. President Xi pointed out that China and India should jointly carry out comprehensive cooperation plan between the two countries and promote more extensive and social and people-to-people exchange. Prime Minister Modi responded that two sides should promote people-to-people friendship and raise bilateral relation to a new level,” she said.

Highlighting the tourism potential of Yunnan, Milan said that Yunnan is one of the most advantageous province in China blessed with abundant tourism resources and endowments. “The province has cultivated a large number of tourist destinations and built brands that are well received by travelers from both domestic and abroad... At present, Yunnan has ushered in a precious development opportunity against the backdrop of the initiatives such as the ‘Belt and Road International cooperation’, the Yangtze River Economic Belt, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and building Yunnan as China’s powerhouse facing South Asia and South East Asia, achieving progress in a quick pace,” she informed.

Addressing the media before the inauguration, He Ligui, Director General, Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, said that the tourism department is keen to woo tourists from India which is close to the province and whose inflow has been limited till now. “Kunming has spring like weather throughout the year as in summer it is not too hot and in winters not too cold,” he said and informed that Kunming is just 4 hours flight from Delhi and 2 hours from Kolkata. He informed that Yunnan welcomed 573 million domestic and foreign tourists to deliver a total of 692.2 billion Yuan. ““In first 10 months of this year we saw 601 million tourists and overall this year we expect some 700 million tourists,” Ligui added.

Talking to media, Li Bijan, Minister-Counselor of the Chinese Embassy in India, informed that this Convention provides a platform for two sides: TAAI and its counterpart to exchange views of how to carry cooperation in the field of tourism. “It would be a model platform for the other platforms of cooperation like cooperation in sports, leisure and culture tourism. Moreover, it will also provide a platform for Chinese tour operators to know the requirements of the Indian tourists. Currently, around 800,000 Chinese visits India and around 200,000 Indian visits China and this number is very small. So, there is a huge opportunity for two way tourism exchange. If we can fly together, we can fly higher,” he added. He also informed that both India and China are organizing people-to-people exchange in New Delhi from December 18-20, 2018 where foreign ministers of both countries will be present.

Speaking on the occasion, Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI said that the convention will act as a model platform for further boosting closer tourism exchanges between the two countries. He opined that this Convention will make Kunming and Yunnan province household name among Indian travel trade fraternity.  He informed that currently less than 10,000 Indian tourists visit the Yunnan province annually. “Yunnan has huge potential to attract tourists from India. There are a number of exotic spots in Yunnan and people who go to foreign locations for weddings can come here,” Kumar added.

During the Convention TAAI also singed and MoU with Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism to further strengthen the tourism cooperation between India and Yunnan.

Enabling businesses to take immediate decisions as per the changing customer demand and seek out new revenue opportunities. Various industry leaders including; Todd Arthur, Vice President, Sabre; Sandeep Dwivedi, Chief Operating Officer, InterGlobe Technology Quotient; Rakshit Desai, Managing Director, FCM Travel Solutions; Priyanka Chaurasiya - Head of Analytics, Cleartrip spoke to T3 magazine exclusively on how the business dynamics are changing, future and challenges. Excerpt:

 

Q]  There is a current emphasis on big data. How is the travel industry approaching data?

Todd Arthur (TA): More than ever, data is central to the travel industry. It is what enables personalising and enhancing an individual traveller’s journey, while also having the ability to compellingly demonstrate the economic value that a company, be it an airline, agency or hotel, delivers to their clients.

Sandeep Dwivedi (SD): Apart from multitudes of online travel portals, many mobile apps are there to provide real-time travel plans, suggestions regarding hotels, GPS tracking anywhere, booking tickets, comparing prices for the travellers and collect their feedback regarding a travel. Henceforth the introduction of disruptive technology aggregators and their capabilities to ease and deliver customized solutions to the travel provider. Analysing ‘big data’ – the ability to evaluate lots of data points – and artificial intelligence (AI), where machines replace brain power, could be making a difference in predicting a lot more travel behaviour, using algorithms to do more listening, talking and even thinking. In fact, many international airports have increased their food and retail sales through the use of AI and ‘big data’ created experiences that are more seamless and convenient, thanks to a network of IoT devices, cloud-based biometrics and risk-based screening.

Rakshit Desai (RD): Modern-day and Digi-smart travellers leave long trails of data while making travel bookings such as research and planning (including price comparison), booking, cancellation and feedback. This data consists of critical information on consumer behaviour. Big Data therefore offers huge opportunity to assist in analysing the data and offer insights that helps provide the much-needed competitive advantage through improved product and service offerings, processes, experiences, pricing, marketing and other internal and external customer experiences. With the help of Big Data Analytics, Travel Industry is able to manage and analyse vast amount of data and predict and improve the future of travel.

Priyanka Chaurasiya (PC): Travel industry in general has been at the forefront of experimenting with new things. In the recent years, travel has dramatically caught up with the adoption of big data as well, and you see far more travel companies investing in data strategy& data-driven solutions. With big data there is so much to explore that it really provides you the opportunity to do new things & get you that ‘edge’ over competition.

 

Q] What relevance does big data hold in the travel and hotel industry?

TA: Data is what helps to cater to increasing consumer expectations. Agents, airlines, hoteliers and travel managers today have access to a treasure trove of traveller information — historical booking data, traveller profile information, reservation browsing patterns, and much more. Collectively, this data paints a detailed picture about who a traveller is and what they care about, both of which make it much easier to craft personalized offers for travellers.

SD: Using Big Data and Machine Learning, they can build recommendation engines that can help them personalise offers on products from their inventory and from their partners’ catalogues. The internet of things (IoT) is already helping hotels, airlines, and travel companies streamline their operations by connecting smart devices, systems, and processes. This is probably the biggest opportunity travel companies can achieve from big data analysis.

RD: Big Data has been transforming many Industries and it has also started to play a vital role in the Travel and hospitality Industry. Most companies in this domain are rapidly adopting data analytics, tools and services to stay ahead of their competition. It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of these companies have invested in a dedicated research and analysis team. With the help of growing storage capacities, faster processors and powerful data mining and analytics tools, it is becoming easier to make sense of data. Effective use of Big Data analytics can help the Travel and Hospitality Industry to better strategise and bring about higher degree of personalisation.

PC: The size of big data makes it extremely helpful in identifying hidden patterns and the granularity makes it very valuable in customisation & personalisation. In the context of travel & tourism industry as well, big data provides a great opportunity to be able to decode the real requirements, needs & intent of customers at a very granular level and provide them with far more relevant choices at relevant times. In short, big data is what can really enable service providers to go beyond the ‘generic’.

 

Q] How can the industry use data analytics to serve customer better?

TA: The travel industry needs operational models that allow for greater adaptability and that cater to a new generation of connected customers who expect experiences. The good news is that in all they do, consumers leave a digital footprint as they go about searching and booking their accommodation – digital breadcrumbs, so to speak. With the use of innovative technology solutions, these traces can now be analysed to help generate offers that respond to guest’s unique priorities through personalization, convenience, immediacy, and differentiation.

SD: It is one of the key factors driving the evolution of the travel industry. The travel industry handles an enormous quantity of data around. Thus, the ever generated data from different sources and actions (reservations, itineraries, accommodation, inquiries, transportation, price, cancellations, customer feedback, geolocation etc.) need to be processed wisely. Travel companies are now embracing Big Data Analytics to leverage this big data to provide their customers more targeted campaigns which ultimately lead to profitable services and products. Personalization and experience carry similar importance for all kinds of travels, whether for business or pleasure. The concept fits in the use of Artificial intelligence – where the software predicts and offers travel choices to its customers.

RD: Enhancing customer experiences is the most important factor for implementing a data analytics program for a travel company. Ability to quickly manage and analyse huge data from various sources has several benefits that can help the Industry serve customers better such as personalization of services, better and relevant recommendations for services, optimum pricing for value maximisation, targeted and efficient marketing, improved product and service offerings and identification of weak spots to improve processes. By using a customers’ available search and booking data, travel companies can provide customized recommendations for services that align with their preferences towards flight timings, in flight services, and hotel services, etc. 

PC: Travel industry has always been using analytics to serve customers right. With big data there is opportunity to take that to a whole new level. User personalization & customisation is just the beginning of what big data can enable. Intelligent products, aptly relevant content, efficient customer service – big data has a use almost everywhere to improve and better things and make you more relevant to your customers.

 

Q] What are the stakes / main challenges to businesses?

TA: To obtain a detailed picture of who a traveller is, agents and TMCs need access to all the right data at the right time. And they also need tools that can convert all the raw information into truly actionable insight. Too often, these conditions are not in place. Instead, data is siloed and stored across a variety of disparate back office systems that don’t communicate with each other (and certainly not in real time). As a result, travel agents are forced to operate with generic information that does little to empower exceptional customer experiences and drive new revenue opportunities.

SD: The evolution of consumer behaviour and the travel industry is a cyclic process, each contributing to the other. Today, consumers seek hassle-free, personalised experiences at every stage of travel. And because they have so many choices for every kind of service, their brand loyalties are fragile. The only way for players in the travel and tourism industry to survive and succeed is by delivering outstanding experiences at every consumer touchpoint and every stage of travel. And this is where emerging technologies – as they are referred to, although they have been around for a while – will have an increasingly important role to play.

RD: Main challenges to businesses / corporates revolve around the pressures to reduce costs while enhancing the technology usage. Moreover, there is high employee reluctance, especially in Indian companies, due to enhanced transparency from higher technology usage. Another challenge is the rapid advancement in technology and keeping pace with it.

PC: With the fast paced innovation happening in this space, acquiring skilled talent is a very common challenge faced. At the same time it’s the key to tapping big data potential. Another potential challenge could be keeping up with big data growth if the right architecture/infrastructure was not chosen initially. If faced with such a situation, upgrading becomes imperative. Of course with the constant tech advancements, this should be more of a nuisance than challenge.

 

Q] How big data analytics is solving the visibility problems and also helping in maximizing revenue? How big data can be used beneficially?

TA: Data is only truly useful to the travel professional if it’s sewn together in a way that tells a complete and meaningful story, and this is exactly what Big Data analytics platforms are designed to address. These platforms aggregate data from a variety of sources — APIs, cached data, third-party apps, etc. — into one platform. This brings everything together into a holistic view across data streams.

SD: Large enterprises with global presence frequently encounter such challenges. Centralising conventional data often posed a challenge and blocked the complete enterprise from working as one team. But big data has entirely solved this problem, offering visibility of the data throughout the organization. Another advantage to big data is that it can help the entire enterprise work as one functional unit. There is no longer any need for data silos for different functions such as marketing, finance, logistics, etc.  Big data techniques allow us to all work from the same data set and pull out what we need. Big Data allows travel providers to not only understand passenger behaviour and choice of travel but also helps in understanding the industry performance as a whole. It also helps in the revenue management and strategic pricing which enables them to maximise their income opportunities and offer best travel experiences to passengers. With the use of Big Data tools, operators in the travel and tourism industry can identify the new patterns evolving in the industry and respond with new product offerings. They can negotiate the rates with suppliers, maximise the revenues of each transaction and uncover hidden sales opportunities. Business analytics enables the operators to understand existing demand for the specific brands and accordingly forecasts the demand and supply position.

RD: India is one of the fastest-growing business travel markets globally, and leading Travel Management Companies (TMC) are building capabilities to tap into this market’s likely demand for enhanced business travel management in the near future. While some players are doing this organically, others are taking the inorganic route with mergers and acquisitions. With TMCs evolving with the changing trends and building capabilities in the data analytics space, they are also simultaneously overcoming a host of challenges. These also include overcoming the contentment of a typical travel manager with their existing manual processes to improving data quality and demystifying ‘Big Data’ to enable easier access to valuable insights. Big Data Analytics can help stop leakages and design effective pricing strategies to increase revenue. Ability to offer higher degree of personalisation can lead to competitive advantage consequently business growth.

PC: With the growth of smart-phones and mobile network, most of the users now look at small screen spaces. Real-estate is far more valuable and you only want to show customers what is relevant for them at that point of time. Big data enables you to do exactly that. You can pin-point to a set of customers and identify what is exactly valuable to them vs. others and serve them accordingly. When you take this approach, there is no opportunity lost. This creates an ecosystem which works for everyone –happy customers and happy sellers.

David Lim, General Manager- India, shares his perspective on India market.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group which along with SilkAir and low cost arm Scoot connects 14 points: Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Kochi, Trivandrum, Trichy, Coimbatore, Vizag, Lucknow, Kolkata and Amritsar - in India is bullish over its India operation. SIA is inducting B787-10 on New Delhi – Singapore route from October 2018. 

You are going to induct new aircraft on Delhi-Singapore route from October 28. Could you please tell us more about it?

We are inducting B787-10 Dreamliner on Delhi – Singapore route. We are the first to fly this aircraft. It is a longer version of the Dreamliner. With this, we will have two flights daily by B787-10 and A-380 from Delhi. Currently also we have two flights. The first flight is by B777 which is being replaced by B787-10. The capacity by the replacement increases by 28 per cent. However, holistically it increases by 10 per cent. This aircraft has a capacity of 337 seats – 301 in economy and 36 in business class. The product in business class and economy class is the best in the market.

Have you exhausted your bilaterlas?

We have around 35,000 weekly seats for the SIA Group. We are operating almost full capacity in metros. We are increasing our Ahmadabad service from four weekly flights to five from this winter. We have also been increasing capacity in Kochi, Trivandrum and Vizag. We are increasing in tier –II cities as much as we can. Regarding bilateral, there is unlimited capacity for 18 points in India.

How is the performance in India market?

We are happy with the performance in India. Singapore Airlines has always placed high emphasis on India market as India is an important market for us. We are in India since last 48 years. We started with Chennai and thereafter we have been growing.  As Indian aviation market is the third largest in the world, we want our share in this growth.

We do not disclose our route occupancy but at the system-wise occupancy, we are at 84 per cent.  As far as yield is concern, we are full service carrier and we offer very attractive price point to start with and so far the prices have been stable for us. We see the weak rupee but in terms of rupee we are not reducing the price. Our business class is also performing well.

Vistara is also going to start its international operation. How is this going to further strengthen your position in India?

We treat Vistara as an Indian carrier. Vistara has been growing and bringing a new feeling of flying in India. Vistara and Singapore Airlines will benefit each other. We have reciprocal lounge arrangements, code share and frequent flyers.

How do you see the travellers profile changing over the years from India?

We have a good mix of business and leisure travellers. Leisure travelers are increasing as there is more and more middle income group traveling from India. We also see that Indian travelers are today more sophisticated. We invest in our products. Our cabin products have been constantly changing and improving. We look at good price point for India market. We always have been trying to provide the best service to our customers.

What upgradation in terms service you have implemented in last couple of years?

For Indian market, we came out with Ruchi Thali in last one year. Ruchi Thali is our Indian ethnic meal for business class travelers. We are launching our outer long range aircraft on October 11. We are flying A 350 -900 outer long range from Singapore to Newark. It will fly for nearly 19 hours. We have good cabin products and came out with wellness menu.

What percentage of your Indian outbound traffic goes beyond Singapore?

We are now getting stronger to the US. We started Singapore-San Francisco service two years ago and we have been very happy from the contribution from India. It depends on the travel season. During holidays, the percentage goes up. There is a fare proportion of Indians that go to Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Asia. We offer choice for customers to use SIA to go to west coast as well.

How do you view competition?

Competition is nothing new for us. We have been taking competition head on. We have always been coming out with product innovation. We deal with competition by having a better product and we always focus on improving ourselves. Our focus has always been on service excellence and we constantly improve our connectivity.

What are the challenges that you are facing in the India market?

Indian customers are becoming more sophisticated and they are more demanding. They want good value for money. So, we have to manage and constantly improve our service and product to meet their expectations. 

 

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