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IAMAI: Online Travel Conference – a roundup

by Asfaq Tapia

“The Indian online travel industry will cater up to 10 million users by 2010”, said Dinesh Agarwal, founder of IndiaMart.com at the Online Travel Conference organised by IAMAI in Mumbai on 2nd May 2008. The conference discussed the future of online travel, consumer trends, and new marketing strategies that can be adopted in India.

by Asfaq Tapia

“The Indian online travel industry will cater up to 10 million users by 2010”, said Dinesh Agarwal, founder of IndiaMart.com at the Online Travel Conference organised by IAMAI in Mumbai on 2nd May 2008. The conference discussed the future of online travel, consumer trends, and new marketing strategies that can be adopted in India.

The event was divided into four discussion sessions, the first being ‘The Future of Online Travel and Consumer Trends’. The panellists of this discussion were Sanjay Aggarwal, GM (Operations), IRCTC, Lalit Sheth, MD, Raj Travels, Dhruv Shringi, Director, Yatra Online, Neeraj Kapoor, VP-Marketing, Go Airline and Anupama Salvi, Director, Avenues India Pvt. Ltd.

The moderator, Deep Karla, Founder and CEO of MakeMyTrip.com spoke of how consumers today check for airline ticket prices online but eventually booked their tickets with travel agents. He went on to mention that this is slowly starting to change with users feeling more secure about paying with their credit cards on the internet.

The panellists also talked of the diversity across India and how that makes the Indian online travel industry different from other countries. According to Sanjay Aggarwal, the key factor in retaining the online customer will be to allow for a multitude of payment methods like credit or debit cards and mobile payment platforms and make the process easier and simpler to use. The panellists agreed that the future of online travel in India would be based on creating awareness about all the other travel services apart from just airline ticket booking that are being sold.

The next discussion on the topic of ‘New Marketing Strategies and Demand Generation For Creating Great Consumer Environments Online’ was moderated by Ram Badrinathan, Senior Director, PhoCuswright Inc. Its panellists were Mahesh Murthy, MD of Pinstorm Technologies, Emmanuel Phillips, Senior Consultant, Cox and Kings, Ashok Lalla, Director–Internet Marketing, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Gulshan Verma, Head of Sales Stratergy, Yahoo! India.

The discussion revolved around how one could make the most of social networking websites by employing brand management techniques. According to Ashok Lalla, “the only hindrance to online hotel booking is the amount of documentation required which can only be maintained offline”. Gulshan Verma mentioned that there are 132 groups dedicated to travel alone on Yahoo! India Answers and the smaller towns and cities are showing an increased level of online participation in them.

Ram Badrinathan talked of dynamic packaging and how it helps increase profitability by ensuring that tickets and other services are sold at a dynamic price depending on their demand and availability. Emmanuel Phillips spoke of how booking online was not just about low rate fairs but about bringing together all travel related services – from airline tickets to car rental services, to hotel bookings, to package tours, and how all this could be bundled into one comprehensive service.

The third discussion after lunch was on the topic of ‘Technology in Travel’ and was moderated by Vinay Gupta, CEO, VIA. The panellists were Bruno Goveas, Head Marketing, Akamai, Manu Agarwal, CEO, ANMSoft, Amarendra Jha, Sr. VP, i2i Telesource, Rahul Joshi, Head–Pre-Sales, Travelport GDS and Gaurav Chiripal, CEO, Quadlabs.

“Today’s online travel companies will have to find a way not dilute the seller’s brand”, said Rahul Joshi as he drew analogy between a ticket reservation website and an airline. According to him, an airline’s branding was being diluted when it put its tickets up for sale on the website because customers are more interested in the cheapest possible rates than the overall flying experience. Manu Agarwal was of the opinion that the customer loyalty in the online travel industry is very low and the only way to fix this was to increase the bouquet of services offered to the customer.

Gaurav Chiripal talked about how customers were researching online but were then buying most of the services offline. To that effect, his company Quadlabs.com has launched FairPool.com, which is a meta-search engine that aggregates the best prices from all sources to provide the best deals to both the travel agent and the end customer.

The final session of the day was moderated by Amitabh Pandey, Head-eBusiness, Thomas Cook and was panelled by Belson Coutinho, GM–eCommerce and Distribution, Jet Airways Dinesh Agarwal, Founder, InterMesh, Himanshu Singh, CEO, Travelocity, Shaun Dubash, AVP-Hotels, TravelGuru.com and Shekher Srivastava, VP-Marketing, ITZ Cash Card. It talked about the ‘Travel Distribution in India’.

Himanshu Singh started the discussion by saying that the two and three star hotels all across India will drive growth in 2010. According to him, while players are aggressively scaling at present, they will have to look at profitability in the near future. The “affiliate distribution model will see the fastest growth in the next six months”, he said when explaining that more and more travel services will look to partner with online travel portals in the future. He also said that 70% of all online travel revenue comes from sub-agents. Shaun Dubash of TravelGuru.com told the audience “70% of their revenue comes from bookings of two and three star hotels”.

Close to approximately 300 delegates from the Indian travel industry attended this Online Travel Conference organised by IAMAI. When asked about takings from this conference, Roshan Mehra, Owner of Carlo Hotels responded by saying that it has helped him network with the online industry and he is now looking to place his hotel online too.

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