Aloke Bajpai, Co-founder and CEO of ixigo.com speaks with T3 about increasing digitisation in travel
ixigo.com is a comprehensive trip planning website which aggregates and curates information on destinations, through an easy and user friendly interface. Being a meta search engine, we help users compare fares of flights, hotels, trains and buses by aggregating information from multiple travel sites and showing the best options on one page. Thus, in essence, we are not a booking site but provide links to other OTA’s where users can go and book their flights.
With our unique proposition, we have been growing our user-base by over 15 per cent month-on-month currently and get nearly 1.3 million unique visitors per month across our website and mobile touch points.
With more people being educated about the brand and how it adds value to the overall experience for trip planning, our expectations for the upcoming season are positive. With the brand retaining a fairly high rate of returning users, it has already created a high level of relevancy amongst a segment of early evangelists who understand the technology being offered and adapt to it much faster. We are looking forward to seeing at least a 40 per cent growth in traffic in the next peak travel season, i.e., the months of October – December.
ixigo.com was the pioneer in bringing the travel meta-search concept to India in 2007, and has since expanded to become the number one player in the category. Meta search aggregates and curates information across multiple sites and brings a comprehensive database and various options for the consumers to choose from.
With our ‘Trip Planner’ product, we have been at the forefront of innovation in the way travel knowledge is searched and consumed online through the use of semantic search technology. Semantic search drastically improves the quality of travel search results by intelligently deciphering what people are actually looking for and giving a rich and useful page as an output. We use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and intelligent search capabilities to provide the most relevant and useful information to the traveler in a user-friendly form factor. Users can type in their travel queries in simple conversational style, such as “where can I find street food in Delhi”, “beaches in Goa” or “Mumbai to Delhi flight tomorrow” and get relevant results with comprehensive information.
ixigo’s ‘Trip Planner’ is now the most comprehensive travel information site with detailed information, photos, maps, directions, timings and prices for more than 64,000 places to visit, things to do, hotels, restaurants and tourist places across India. For travellers who don’t have a destination or specific holiday plan in mind, the website intelligently picks up the user’s location and provides “Weekend getaway” options along with “Trending Destinations” to choose from.
The other area of innovation has been mobile apps. We have introduced four innovative mobile apps in the Google Play Store (android app market) recently which seek to bring travel information to the palm of the users for specific use cases.
One such use case we aim to solve helping travellers find interesting and useful stoppage points on their road trips. “On the Way - Indian Road Trips” solves this by showing dhabas, restaurants, petrol pumps, ATMs, places to see, medical stores etc. on a map of the road route. Another interesting use case is our ‘Indian rail and trains’ app which simplifies Indian Railway train information search and provides users with a hassle-free, smooth and super-fast way to plan their train journey with specific details on the right train, seat availability, PNR status, current location, routes and accurate fares. The app has already seen nearly four lakh downloads within just two and a half months of its launch.
Yes. There is probably very few online businesses that won’t face competition from Google or Microsoft in the long run, and travel search is definitely not one of them! Google has been strengthening its position in the travel business mainly with acquisitions. With ITA Software, Frommer’s and Zagat under their belt, they definitely have access to all the right data and content for online travel. Google’s flight search and hotel search could significantly impact Online Travel Agencies since it would presumably increase their customer acquisition costs and eat into precious organic search results for their hotels. However, considering their initial market focus on the US, one doesn’t know how much inventory and content access they would have for India, and whether consumers here would change their existing travel planning habits significantly as a result of those products.
With ixigo’s breadth and depth of content that has been curated and created, our product has a headstart over any new entrants. Our relentless focus on the Indian market, deep relationships with airlines, hotels and OTAs, and relentless pursuit of mobile products and services also means that we are quite diversified in terms of our dependence on Google. Over the past few years, we have also created a strong brand through word of mouth amongst our target audience, so we are fully confident of facing any challenge that newer entrants may pose in this market. Having said that, our concern remains around the split of Google content vs. third party content inside Google search results, and we hope that there will continue to be an unbiased and level playing field, when it comes to ranking and visibility on organic search results.
Mobile is rapidly transforming the travel experience. From the pre-planning stage to in-flight to on-premise services, mobile services and apps are changing the way consumers access and process information. Travellers now use mobile to compare airfare prices, as well as check flight schedules, find phone numbers for travel resources, and research airport information. They also use their mobile devices and use various mobile apps to make reservations, get directions, check online reviews, and translate languages. We expect consumption and search for travel to develop higher penetration over mobile than the desktop/laptop.
Increasing digitisation of marketing: As consumers increase their online consumption, digital marketing efforts will get more pronounced with a major uptake in social media platforms and travel apps. Social media is changing the way information is shared and consumed and consumers are now being targeted through various social platforms. We have also created an extremely strong engagement with users on our social media platforms such as Facebook (4,00,000+ fans), Twitter (2700+ followers) & Pinterest (750+ followers).
Semantic search: We believe semantic search technology has the power to change the way travel knowledge is searched and consumed online and we already see that happening with our Trip Planner tool as well as in the industry with Google Knowledge Graph and Facebook Graph Search. It is all about improving the accuracy of results by intelligently deciphering what people are actually looking for. However, the technology is far from perfect and will continue to grow and develop with more consumer data and actual traveller behaviour being used for improving it further. This has been the backbone of ixigo’s Trip Planner and over time we have seen user behaviour changing as they get more comfortable with this new paradigm of search and use queries in a way that they would use for asking their friends.
Interesting travel stories with a twist is the latest route that travel companies are taking to inspire people to travel. While such stories ensure that they give the right amount of information, they are extremely high on their aspirational value and aim to grab attention, quicker, by showcasing travel through a unique lens.
One of the biggest changes in travel is the increasingly digitisation of information and the transformation in the way people use and access information. Mobile services and apps, social media, search engine optimization, content marketing, are all changing the way travellers seek out information for their travel planning.
Also, with people opting for travel at short intervals during a year as opposed to one or two vacations, and technology playing an ever-important role in the travel industry, users are constantly looking for quick solutions to their queries. Coupled with robust growth, it will become imperative to provide relevant information and options to travellers, and this is where semantic search will play a crucial role in bringing more and more people online with their thirst for travel queries getting quenched. In turn, the travel businesses we represent will benefit, as customers are able to hone in on the hotel, restaurant or activity that perfectly suits them.
There is also a trend of travellers opting for offbeat places such as Orcha, Drass, etc. for which, we have started receiving more queries on our product in comparison to the same period a year back. We have also seen a sharp growth in ‘event based’ travel. People have started travelling extensively for music or dance concerts or fests, destination weddings, biking or backpacking group getaways, etc.
Finally, we see the emergence of micro-communities or groups of enthusiasts for a common passion or cause, collecting and organizing themselves on social media, and planning trips together. Harley owners, food enthusiasts, bikers, scuba divers - we expect these communities to disrupt the way travel is packaged and marketed.
With the growth in smart phone usage in India, we also lay emphasis on our mobile apps. Our mobile apps are driving much of our brand awareness too; with the growth and distribution reach they are capable of attaining. Our mobile friendly website also has unique features like ‘Near me’ which, once clicked, provides useful information on stay, eat and see options based on the user’s current location.
While for business travellers, the use of mobile apps is mostly limited to navigation and places to eat, which can be served through a simple Google search or the Google maps application, the needs of a leisure traveller are manifold, especially when they’re on the go. Right from knowing your booking and PNR status, to seeking the best places to eat or attractions to visit or even finding utility places, while on a road trip, travellers in India continuously look for solutions to these pain points. With our mobile apps, such as ingoa, myPNR and On the Way! as well as Indian rails and trains; travellers can get all this and much more.
The evolution of mobile and social media has transformed the way people use and consume information. Information is now available to users at the click of a button and consumers have direct access to powerful devices and software, high speed Internet, massive online communities on social media and forums, and an ability to voice their opinion on the smallest to the largest ticket items in travel and be heard and responded to in real time.
People now have the option of getting other travellers and consumers’ feedback on products and services available in the travel market. User generated comments, Facebook comments and Twitter feeds has opened a new world of information for the consumer who wants to now find out what other people’s experiences have been with a certain product and service. This directly impacts the travel industry which will have to constantly innovate to keep pace with the rapid change in technology and access to information.
A travel portal cannot anymore offer the authority on any travel related information, unless it is certified by users’ comments, consumer ‘likes’ and also has the ability to be accessed by people easily and on a regular basis. Even though the traditional travel agent has not been pushed to redundancy just as yet; the coming trends and changes in the travel industry all point to an increasingly digitized travel experience coupled with a strong social angle.
Digital disruption of the traditional travel industry requires the industry to find ways to communicate with the consumer, to get their feedback and provide them information that they can easily access across various social platforms and mobile applications.
Consumers are now using a combination of platforms to book a trip online. From finding information on a place on social media, to finding the best prices on a meta search engine to actually booking on OTA’s – travellers are leveraging the host of options available to them to simplify their travel planning.
Since meta-search engines or social media touch points do not host booking on their website, the OTA’s or direct connect websites are the only sources of online booking. Between online and offline, online booking, with its convenience and stronger accountability standards, is definitely picking up speed with online bookings continuing to grow in double-digit percentages every year.
The next wave of growth will be driven by bookings on smartphones, and the growth data on mobile for smaller value transactions (e.g. trains / buses / domestic flights / budget hotels etc.) is pretty exciting!
In terms of destinations, we see an increasing trend for offbeat experiences at lesser known destinations, to escape the crowd.
Travel used to be a functional aspiration in our country, only invoked at the time of a pilgrimage or family event or a visit to relatives. With travel becoming a hobby and passion among the well-educated and affluent section middle class, people now want to travel to lesser known places than the hugely popular ones. For instance, people are looking at Chail, Shogi, Ranikhet in the north, Wayanad in Kerala and Tawang and Shillong towards the Northeast. Hence the need for information on these lesser known destinations has been growing as travellers want to go informed and planned so that they do not miss out on anything.
With increased personal disposable income, international destinations are also benefitting. The most sought-after destinations this summer have been Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore. Primary reasons are the ease of reach and relatively cheaper air fares. While Singapore and Thailand feature beaches and pleasant weather, Dubai has gone out of its way to make itself a tourist attraction with campaigns such as “Hello Dubai” for the months of April – Aug 2013. All the three destinations are not very far from India and therefore make a good option for a short break. Shopping is one of the added attractions common to all these three places.
Also, theme-based travel is picking up. People are looking at adventure trips, luxury holidays, water sports, wildlife sanctuaries and spa and meditation retreats as we continuously observe, from the kind of searches travellers do on ixigo.com.